For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And said, O 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? But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him.
~ Acts 4:28, 2 Chronicles 20:6, Job 23:13-14
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: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou? If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him. How much less shall I answer him, and choose out my words to reason with him?Whom, though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.
~ Isaiah 46:10-11, Job 9:12-15
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?
~ Daniel 4:35
The Sovereignty of God: The Appendixes, by Arthur W. Pink.
The Will of God
In treating of the Will of God some theologians have differentiated between His decretive will and His permissive will, insisting that there are certain things which God has positively fore-ordained, but other things which He merely suffers to exist or happen. But such a distinction is really no distinction at all, inasmuch as God only permits that which is according to His will. No such distinction would have been invented had these theologians discerned that God could have decreed the existence and activities of sin without Himself being the Author of sin. Personally, we much prefer to adopt the distinction made by the older Calvinists between God’s secret and revealed will, or, to state it in another way, His disposing and His preceptive will.
God’s revealed will is made known in His Word, but His secret will, is His own hidden counsels. God’s revealed will is the definer of our duty and the standard of our responsibility. The primary and basic reason why I should follow a certain course or do a certain thing is because it is God’s all that I should, His will being clearly defined for me in His Word. That I should not follow a certain course, that I must refrain from doing certain things, is because they are contrary to God’s revealed will. But suppose I disobey God’s Word, then do I not cross His will? And if so, how can it still be true that God’s will is always done and His counsel accomplished at all times? Such questions should make evident the necessity for the distinction here advocated. God’s revealed will is frequently crost, but His secret will is never thwarted. That it is legitimate for us to make such a distinction concerning God’s will is clear from Scripture. Take these two passages: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3) ; “For who hath resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19). Would any thoughtful reader declare that God’s “will” has precisely the same meaning in both of these passages? We surely hope not. The first passage refers to God’s revealed will, the latter to His secret will. The first passage concerns our duty, the latter declares that God’s secret purpose is immutable and must come to pass notwithstanding the creature’s insubordination. God’s revealed will is never done perfectly or fully by any of us, but His secret will never fails of accomplishment even in the minutest particular. His secret will mainly concerns future events; His revealed will, our present duty: the one has to do with His irresistible purpose, the other with His manifested pleasure: the one is wrought upon us and accomplished through us, the other is to be done by us.
The secret will of God is His eternal, unchanging purpose concerning all things which He hath made, to be brought about by certain means to their appointed ends: of this God expressly declares “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). This is the absolute, efficacious will of God, always effected, always fulfilled. The revealed will of God contains not His purpose and decree but our duty, not what He will do according to His eternal counsel, but what we should do if we would please Him, and this is expressed in the precepts and promises of His Word. Whatever God has determined within Himself, whether to do Himself, or to do by others, or to suffer to be done, whilst it is in His own breast, and is not made known by any event in providence, or by precept, or by prophecy, is His secret will. Such are the deep things of God, the thoughts of His heart, the counsels of His mind, which are impenetrable to all creatures. But when these are made known they become His revealed will: such is almost the whole of the book of Revelation, wherein God has made known to us “things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1–“must” because He has eternally purposed that they should).
It has been objected by Arminian theologians that the division of God’s will into secret and revealed is untenable, because it makes God to have two different wills, the one opposed to the other. But this is a mistake, due to their failure to see that the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects. If God should require and forbid the same thing, or if He should decree the same thing should and should not exist, then would His secret and revealed will be contradictory and purposeless. If those who object to the secret and revealed will of God being inconsistent would only make the same distinction in this case that they do in many other cases, the seeming inconsistency would at once disappear. How often do men draw a sharp distinction between what is desirable in its own mature and what is not desirable all things considered. For example, the fond parent does not desire simply considered to punish his offending child, but, all things considered, he knows it is his bounden duty, and so corrects his child. And though he tells his child he does not desire to punish him, but that he is satisfied it is for the best all things considered to do so, then an intelligent child would see no inconsistency in what his father says and does. Just so the All-wise Creator may consistently decree to bring to pass things which He hates, forbids and condemns. God chooses that some things shall exist which He thoroughly hates (in their intrinsic nature), and He also chooses that some things shall not yet exist which He perfectly loves (in their intrinsic nature). For example: He commanded that Pharaoh should let His people go, because that was right in the nature of things, yet, He had secretly declared that Pharaoh should not let His people go, not because it was right in Pharaoh to refuse, but because it was best all things considered that he should not let them go–i.e. best because it subserved God’s larger purpose.
Again; God commands us to be perfectly holy in this life (Matt. 5:48), because this is right in the nature of things, but He has decreed that no man shall be perfectly holy in this life, because this is best all things considered that none shall be perfectly holy (experimentally) before they leave this world. Holiness is one thing, the taking place of holiness is another; so, sin is one thing, the taking place of sin is another. When God requires holiness His preceptive or revealed will respects the nature or moral excellence of holiness;’but when He decrees that holiness shall not take place (fully and perfectly) His secret or decretive will respects only the event of it not taking place. So, again, when He forbids sin, His preceptive or revealed will respects only the nature or moral evil of sin; but when He decrees that sin shall take place, His secret will respects only its actual occurrence to serve His good purpose. Thus the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects.
God’s will of decree is not His will in the same sense as His will of command is. Therefore, there is no difficulty in supposing that one may be contrary to the other. His will, in both senses, is His inclination. Everything that concerns His revealed will is perfectly agreeable to His nature, as when He commands love, obedience, and service from His creatures. But that which concerns His secret will has in view His ultimate end, that to which all things are now working. Thus, He decreed the entrance of sin into His universe, though His own holy nature hates all sin with infinite abhorrence, yet, because it is one of the means by which His appointed end is to be reached He suffered it to enter. God’s revealed will is the measure of our responsibility and the determiner of our duty. With God’s secret will we have nothing to do: that is His concern. But, God knowing that we should fail to perfectly do His revealed will ordered His eternal counsels accordingly, and these eternal counsels, which make up His secret will, though unknown to us are, though unconsciously, fulfilled in and through us.
Whether the reader is prepared to accept the above distinction in the will of God or not he must acknowledge that the commands of Scripture declare God’s revealed will, and he must also allow that sometimes God wills not to hinder a breach of those commands, because He does not as a fact so hinder it. God wills to permit sin as is evident, for He does permit it. Surely none will say that God Himself does what He does not will to do.
Finally, let it be said again that, my responsibility with regard to the will of God is measured by what He has made known in His Word. There I learn that it is my duty to use the means of His providing, and to humbly pray that He may be pleased to bless them to me. To refuse so to do on the ground that I am ignorant of what may or may not be His secret counsels concerning me, is not only absurd, but the height of presumption. We repeat: the secret will of God is none of our business; it is His revealed will which measures our accountability. That there is no conflict whatever between the secret and the revealed will of God is made clear from the fact that, the former is accomplished by my use of the means laid down in the latter.
The Case of Adam
In our chapter on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility we dealt only with the responsibility of man considered as a fallen creature, and at the close of the discussion it was pointed out how that the measure and extent of our responsibility varies in different individuals, according to the advantages they have received and the privileges they have enjoyed, which is a truth clearly established by the declaration of the Saviour recorded in Luke 12:47, 48, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did not commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more”.
Now, strictly speaking, there are only two men who have ever walked this earth which were endowed with full and unimpaired responsibility, and they were the first and last Adam’s. The responsibility of each of the rational descendants of Adam, while real, and sufficient to establish them accountable to their Creator is, nevertheless, limited in degree, limited because impaired through the effects of the Fall.
Not only is the responsibility of each descendant of Adam sufficient to constitute him, personally an accountable creature (that is, as one so constituted that he ought to do right and ought not to do wrong), but originally every one of us was also endowed, judicially, with full and unimpaired responsibility, not in ourselves, but, in Adam. It should ever be borne in mind that not only was Adam the father of the human race seminally, but he was also the head of the race legally. When Adam was placed in Eden he stood there as our representative, so that what he did is reckoned to the account of each for whom he acted.
It is beside our present purpose to enter here into a lengthy discussion of the Federal Headship of Adam*, suffice it now to refer the reader to Romans 5:I2-19 where this truth is dealt with by the Holy Spirit. In the heart of this most important passage we are told that Adam was “the figure of Him that was to come” (v. I4), that is, of Christ. In what sense, then, was Adam “the figure” of Christ? The answer must be, In that he was a Federal Head; in that he acted on the behalf of a race of men; in that he was one who has legally, as well as vitally, affected all connected with him. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is in 1 Cor. I5:45 denominated “the last Adam”, that is, the Head of the new creation, as the first Adam was the Head of the old creation.
In Adam, then, each of us stood. As the representative of the human race the first man acted. As then Adam was created with full and unimpaired responsibility, unimpaired because there was no evil nature within him; and as we were all “in Adam”, it necessarily follows that all of us, originally, were also endowed with full and unimpaired responsibility. Therefore, in Eden, it was not merely the responsibility of Adam as a single person that was tested, but it was Human Responsibility, the Responsibility of the Race, as a whole and in part, which was on trial.
Webster defines responsibility first, as “liable to account”; second, as “able to discharge an obligation”. Perhaps the meaning and scope of the term responsibility might be expressed and summed up in the one word oughtness. Godwards, responsibility respects that which is due the Creator from the creature, and which the creature is under moral obligations to render.
In the light of the above definition it is at once apparent that responsibility is something that must be placed on trial. And as a fact, this is, as we learn from the Inspired Record, exactly what transpired in Eden. Adam was placed on probation. His obligations to God were put to the test. His loyalty to the Creator was tried out. The test consisted of obedience to his Maker’s command. Of a certain tree he was forbidden to eat.
But right here a very formidable difficulty confronts us. From Gods standpoint the result of Adam’s probation was not left in uncertainty. Before He formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, God knew exactly how the appointed test would terminate. With this statement every Christian reader must be in accord, for, to deny God’s foreknowledge is to deny His omniscience, and this is to repudiate one of the fundamental attributes of Deity. But we must go further: not only had God a perfect foreknowledge of the outcome of Adam’s trial, not only did His omniscient eye see Adam eating of the forbidden fruit, but He decreed beforehand that he should do so. This is evident not only from the general fact that nothing happens save that which the Creator and Governor of the universe has eternally purposed, but also from the express declaration of Scripture that Christ as a Lamb “verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). If, then, God had foreordained before the foundation of the world that Christ should, in due time, be offered as a Sacrifice for sin, then it is unmistakably evident that God had also foreordained sin should enter the world, and if so, that Adam should transgress and fall. In full harmony with this, God Himself placed in Eden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also allowed the Serpent to enter and deceive Eve.
Here then is the difficulty: If God has eternally decreed that Adam should eat of the tree, how could he be held responsible not to eat of it? Formidable as the problem appears, nevertheless, it is capable of a solution, a solution, moreover, which can be grasped even by the finite mind. The solution is to be found in the distinction between God’s secret will and His revealed will. As stated in Appendix I, human responsibility is measured by our knowledge of God’s revealed will; what God has told us, not what He has not told us, is the definer of our duty. So it was with Adam. That God had decreed sin should enter this world through the disobedience of our first parents was a secret hid in His own breast. Of this Adam knew nothing, and that made all the difference so far as his responsibility was concerned. Adam was quite unacquainted with the Creator’s hidden counsels. What concerned him was God’s revealed will. And that was plain. God had forbidden him to eat of the tree, and that was enough. But God went further: He even warned Adam of the dire consequences which would follow should he disobey–death would be the penalty. Transgression, then, on the part of Adam was entirely excuseless. Created with no evil nature in him, with a will in perfect equipoise, placed in the fairest environment, given dominion over all the lower creation, allowed full liberty with only a single restriction upon him, plainly warned of what would follow an act of insubordination to God, there was every possible inducement for Adam to preserve his innocence; and, should he fail and fall, then by every principle of righteousness his blood must lie upon his own head, and his guilt be imputed to all in whose behalf he acted.
Had God disclosed to Adam His purpose that sin would enter this world, and that He had decreed Adam should eat of the forbidden fruit, it is obvious that Adam could not have been held responsible for the eating of it. But in that God withheld the knowledge of His counsels from Adam, his accountability was not interfered with.
Again; had God created Adam with a bias toward evil, then human responsibility had been impaired and man’s probation merely one in name. But inasmuch as Adam was included among that which God at the end of the sixth day, pronounced “Very good.”, and, inasmuch as man was made “upright” (Ecc. 7:29), then every mouth must be “stopped” and “the whole world” must acknowledge itself “guilty before God” (Rom 3:I9).
Once more, it needs to be carefully borne in mind that God did not decree that Adam should sin and then inject into Adam an inclination to evil, in order that His decree might be carried out. No; “God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth He any man” (Jas. I:I3). Instead, when the Serpent came to tempt Eve, God caused her to remember His command forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and of the penalty attached to disobedience. Thus, though God had decreed the Fall, in no sense was He the Author of Adam’s sin, and at no point was Adam’s responsibility impaired. Thus may we admire and adore the “manifold wisdom of God”, in devising a way whereby His eternal decree should be accomplished, and yet the responsibility of His creatures be preserved intact.
Perhaps a further word should be added concerning the decretive will of God, particularly in its relation to evil. First of all we take the high ground that, whatever things God does or permits, are right, just, and good, simply because God does or permits them. When Luther gave answer to the question, “Whence it was that Adam was permitted to fall, and corrupt his whole posterity; when God could have prevented him from falling, etc”, he said, “God is a Being whose will acknowledges no cause: neither is it for us to prescribe rules to His sovereign pleasure, or call Him to account for what He does. He has neither superior nor equal; and His will is the rule of all things. He did not thus will such and such things because they were right, and He was bound to will them; but they are therefore equitable and right because He wills them. The will of man, indeed, may be influenced and moved; but God’s will never can. To assert the contrary is to undeify Him” (De Servo, Arb. c/ I53).
To affirm that God decreed the entrance of sin into His universe, and that He foreordained all its fruits and activities, is to say that which, at first may shock the reader; but reflection should show that it is far more shocking to insist that sin has invaded His dominions against His will, and that its exercise is outside His jurisdiction: for in such a case where would be His omnipotency? No; to recognise that God has foreordained all the activities of evil, is to see that He is the Governor of sin: His will determines its exercise, His power regulates its bounds (Psa. 76:10). He is neither the Inspirer nor the Infuser of sin in any of His creatures, but He is its Master, by which we mean God’s management of the wicked is so entire that, they can do nothing save that which His hand and counsel, from everlasting, determined should be done.
Though nothing contrary to holiness and righteousness can ever emanate from God, yet He has, for His own wise ends, ordained His creatures to fall into sin. Had sin never been permitted, how could the justice of God have been displayed in punishing.it? How could the wisdom of God have been manifested in so wondrously overruling it? How could the grace of God have been exhibited in pardoning it? How could the power of God have been exercised in subduing it? A very solemn and striking proof of Christ’s acknowledgment of God’s decretal of sin is seen in His’ treatment of Judas. The Saviour knew full well that Judas would betray Him, yet we never read that He expostulated with him. Instead, He said to him, “That thou doest do quickly” (John I3:27) . Yet, mark this was said after he had received the sop and Satan had taken possession of his heart. Judas was already prepared for and determined on his traiterous work, therefore did Christ permissively (bowing to His Father’s ordination) bid him go forth to his awful work.
Thus, though God is not the Author of sin, and though sin is contrary to His holy nature, yet the existence and operations of it are not contrary to His will, but subservient to it. God never tempts man to sin, but He, has, by His eternal counsels (which He is now executing), determined its course. Moreover, as we have shown in chapter 8, though God has decreed man’s sins, yet is man responsible not to commit them, and blameable because he does. Strikingly were these two sides of this awful subject brought together by Christ in that statement of His: “Woe unto the world because of offences. for it must needs be that offences come (because God has foreordained them) ; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh” (Matt. 18:7). So, too, though all which took place at Calvary was by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), nevertheless, “wicked hands” crucified the Lord of glory, and, in consequence, His blood has righteously rested upon them and on their children. High mysteries are these, yet it is both our happy privilege and bounden duty to humbly receive whatsoever God has been pleased to reveal concerning them in His Word of Truth.
*Though there is deep and widespread need for this, and we hope ere long to write upon this subject in another book.
The Meaning of “Kosmos” in John 3:16
It may appear to some of our readers that the exposition we have given of John 3:i6 in the chapter on “Difficulties and Objections” is a forced and unnatural one, inasmuch as our definition of the term “world” seems to be out of harmony with the meaning and scope of this word in other passages, where, to supply the world of believers (God’s elect) as a definition of “world” would make no sense. Many have said to us, “Surely, ‘world’ means world, that is, you, me, and everybody.” In reply we would say: We know from experience how difficult it is to set aside the “traditions of men” and come to a passage which we have heard explained in a certain way scores of times, and study it carefully for ourselves without bias. Nevertheless, this is essential if we would learn the mind of God.
Many people suppose they already know the simple meaning of John 3:i6, and therefore they conclude that no diligent study is required of them to discover the precise teaching of this verse. Needless to say, such an attitude shuts out any further light which they otherwise might obtain on the passage. Yet, if anyone will take a Concordance and read carefully the various passages in which the term “world” (as a translation of “kosmos”) occurs, he will quickly perceive that to ascertain the precise meaning of the word “world” in any given passage is not nearly so easy as is popularly supposed. The word “kosmos,” and its English equivalent “world,” is not used with a uniform significance in the New Testament. Very far from it. It is used in quite a number of different ways. Below we will refer to a few passages where this term occurs, suggesting a tentative definition in each case:
1. “Kosmos” is used of the Universe as a whole: Acts I7:24–
“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth.”
2. “Kosmos” is used of the earth: John I3:1 ; Eph. I:4, etc., etc.–
“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.” “Depart out of this world” signifies, leave this earth.
“According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” This expression signifies, before the earth was founded-compare Job 38:4 etc.
3. “Kosmos” is used of the world-system: John I2:31 etc. “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out-“-compare Matt. 4:8 and 1 John 5:19, R. V.
4. “Kosmos” is used of the whole human race: Rom. 3:19, etc.–
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
5. “Kosmos” is used of humanity minus believers: John I5:i8; Rom. 3:6–
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” Believers do not “hate” Christ, so that “the world” here must signify the world of unbelievers in contrast from believers who love Christ.
“God forbid: for then how shall God Judge the world.” Here is another passage where “the world” cannot mean “you, me, and everybody,” for believers will not be “judged” by God, see John 5:24. So that here, too, it must be the world of unbelievers which is in view.
6. “Kosmos” is used of Gentiles in contrast from Jews: Rom. 11:12 etc.
“Now if the fall of them (Israel) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them (Israel) the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their (Israel’s) fulness.” Note how the first clause in italics is defined by the latter clause placed in italics. Here, again, “the world” cannot signify all humanity for it excludes Israel.
7. “Kosmos” is used of believers only: John 1:29; 3:16, 17; 6:33; I2:47; 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 5:19. We leave our readers to turn to these passages, asking them to note, carefully, exactly what is said and predicated of “the world” in each place.
Thus it will be seen that “kosmos” has at least seven clearly defined different meanings in the New Testament. It may be asked, Has then God used a word thus to confuse and confound those who read the Scriptures? We answer, No. nor has He written His Word for lazy people who are too dilitary, or too busy with the things of this world, or, like Martha, so much occupied with “serving”,” they have no time and no heart to “search” and “study” Holy Writ. Should it be asked further, But how is a searcher of the Scriptures to know which of the above meanings the term “world” has in any given passage? The answer is: This may be ascertained by a careful study of the context, by diligently noting what is predicated of “the world” in each passage, and by prayerfully consulting other parallel passages to the one being studied.
The principal subject of John 3:16 is Christ as the Gift of God. The first clause tells us what moved God to “give” His only begotten Son, and that was His great “love;” the second clause informs us for whom God “gave” His Son, and that is for, “whosoever (or, better, ‘every one’) believeth;” while the last clause makes known why God “gave” His Son (His purpose), and that is, that everyone that believeth “should not perish but have everlasting life.” That “the world” in John 3:i6 refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from “the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:5), is established, unequivocally established, by a comparison of the other passages which speak of God’s “love.” “God commendeth His love toward US”–the saints, Rom. 5:8. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth”–every son, Heb. I2:6. “We love Him, because He first loved us”–believers, 1 John 4:19. The wicked God “pities” (see Matt. 18:33). Unto the unthankful and evil God is “kind” (see Luke 6:35). The vessels of wrath He endures “with much long-suffering” (see Rom. 9:22). But “His own” God “loves”.
1 John 2:2
There is one passage more than any other which is appealed to by those who believe in universal redemption, and which at first sight appears to teach that Christ died for the whole human race. We have therefore decided to give it a detailed examination and exposition.
“And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). This is the passage which, apparently, most favours the Arminian view of the Atonement, yet if it be considered attentively it will be seen that it does so only in appearance, and not in reality. Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.
In the first place, the fact that this verse opens with “and” necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2:1 from Bagster’s Interlinear: “Little children my, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin; and if any one should sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous”. It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold: first, to communicate a message that would keep God’s children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of v. 1 and throughout V. 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1 :9) be assured that, first, he has an “Advocate with the Father”; second, that this Advocate is “the propitiation for our sins”. Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an “Advocate”, for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation (“and”) with “the Advocate” .
In the second place, if other passages in the New Testament which speak of “propitiation,” be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Rom. 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ “a propitiation through faith in His blood”. If Christ is a propitiation “through faith”, then He is not a “propitiation” to those who have no faith. Again, in Heb. 2:17 we read, “To make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:I7, R. V.).
In the third place, who are meant when John says, “He is the propitiation for our sins”? We answer, Jewish believers. And a part of the proof on which we base this assertion we now submit to the careful attention of the reader.
In Gal. 2:9 we are told that John, together with James and Cephas, were apostles “unto the circumcision” (i.e. Israel). In keeping with this, the Epistle of James is addressed to “the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad” (1 :1). So, the first Epistle of Peter is addressed to “the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1, R.V.). And John also is writing to saved Israelites, but for saved Jews and saved Gentiles.
Some of the evidences that John is writing to saved Jews are as follows. (a) In the opening verse he says of Christ, “Which we have seen with our eyes . . . . and our hands have handled”. How impossible it would have been for the Apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles to Gentile saints with such language.
(b) “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning” (1 John 2:7). The “beginning” here referred to is the beginning of the public manifestation of Christ–in proof compare 1:1; 2:I3, etc. Now these believers the apostle tells us, had the “old commandment” from the beginning. This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true of Gentile believers.
(c) “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him from the beginning” (2:I3). Here, again, it is, evident that it is Jewish believers that are in view.
(d) “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us” (2:18, 19). These brethren to whom John wrote had “heard” from Christ Himself that Antichrist should come (see Matt. 24). The “many antichrists” whom John declares “went out from us” were all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says “He is the propitiation for our sins” he can only mean for the sins of Jewish believers*.
In the fourth place, when John added, “And not for ours only, but also for the whole world”, he signified that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of Gentile believers too, for, as previously shown, “the world” is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of 1 John 2:2 with John 11:51, 52, which is a strictly parallel passage: “And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”. Here Caiaphas, under inspiration, made known for whom Jesus should “die”. Notice now the correspondency of his prophecy with this declaration of John’s:
“He is the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins”. “He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation”.
“And not for ours only”. “And not for that nation only”.
“But also for the whole world”– That is, Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth. “He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”.
In the fifth place, the above interpretation is confirmed by the fact that no other is consistent or intelligible. If the “whole world” signifies the whole human race, then the first clause and the “also” in the second clause are absolutely meaningless. If Christ is the propitiation for everybody, it would be idle tautology to say, first, “He is the propitiation for our sins and also for everybody”. There could be no “also” if He is the propitiation for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal propitiation he had omitted the first clause of v. 2, and simply said, “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Confirmatory of “not for ours (Jewish believers) only, but also for the whole world–Gentile believers, too; compare John 1O:16; 17:20.
In the sixth place, our definition of “the whole world” is in perfect accord with other passages in the New Testament. For example: “Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world” (Col. 1:5,6). Does “all the world” here mean, absolutely and unqualifiedly, all mankind? Had all the human family heard the Gospel? No; the apostle’s obvious meaning is that, the Gospel, instead of being confined to the land of Judea, had gone abroad, without restraint, into Gentile lands. So in Rom. 1:8: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world”. The apostle is here referring to the faith of these Roman saints being spoken of in a way of commendation. But certainly all mankind did not so speak of their faith. It was the whole world of believers that he was referring to. In Rev. 12:9 we read of Satan “which deceiveth the whole world”. But again this expression cannot be understood as a universal one, for Matt. 24:24 tells us that Satan does not and cannot “deceive” God’s elect. Here it is “the whole world” of unbelievers.
In the seventh place, to insist that “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 signifies the entire human race is to undermine the very foundations of our faith. If Christ is the propitiation for those that are lost equally as much as for those that are saved, then what assurance have we that believers too may not be lost? If Christ is the propitiation for those now in hell, what guarantee have I that I may not end in hell? The blood-shedding of the incarnate Son of God is the only thing which can keep any one out of hell, and if many for whom that precious blood made propitiation are now in the awful place of the damned, then may not that blood prove inefficacious for me. Away with such a God-dishonouring thought.
However men may quibble and wrest the Scriptures, one thing is certain: The Atonement is no failure. God will not allow that precious and costly sacrifice to fail in accomplishing, completely, that which it was designed to effect. Not a drop of that holy blood was shed in vain. In the last great Day there shall stand forth no disappointed and defeated Saviour, but One who “shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11 ). These are not our words, but the infallible assertion of Him who declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (lsa. 64:10). Upon this impregnable rock we take our stand. Let others rest on the sands of human speculation and twentieth-century theorising if they wish. That is their business. But to God they will yet have to render an account. For our part we had rather be railed at as a narrow- minded, out-of-date, hyper-Calvinist, than be found repudiating God’s truth by reducing the Divinely-efficacious atonement to a mere fiction.
*It is true that many things in John’s Epistle apply equally to believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Christ is the Advocate of the one, as much as of the other. The same may be said of many things in the Epistle of James which is also a Catholic, or general epistle, though expressly addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad.