In the following pages an attempt has been made to examine anew in the light of God's Word some of the profoundest questions which can engage the human mind. Others have grappled with these mighty problems in days gone by and from their labors we are the gainers. While making no claim for originality the writer, nevertheless, has endeavored to examine and deal with his subject from an entirely independent viewpoint. We have studied diligently the writings of such men as Augustine and Acquinas, Calvin and Melanethon, Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller and Robert Haldane*. And sad it is to think that these eminent and honored names are almost entirely unknown to the present generation. Though, of course, we do not endorse all their conclusions, yet we gladly acknowledge our deep indebtedness to their works. We have purposely refrained from quoting freely from these deeply taught theologians, because we desired that the faith of our readers should stand not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. For this reason we have quoted freely from the Scriptures and have sought to furnish proof-texts for every statement we have advanced.
It would be foolish for us to expect that this work will meet with general approval. The trend of modern theology-if theology it can be called-is ever toward the deification of the creature rather than the glorification of the Creator, and the leaven of present-day Rationalism is rapidly permeating the whole of Christendom. The malevolent effects of Darwinianism are more far reaching than most are aware. Many of those among our religious leaders who are still regarded as orthodox would, we fear, be found to be very heterodox if they were weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary. Even those who are clear intellectually, upon
*Among those who have dealt most helpfully with the subject of God's Sovereignty in recent years we mention Drs. Rice, J. B. Moody, and George S. Bishop, from whose writings we have also received instruction.
other truths, are rarely sound in doctrine. Few, very few, today, really believe in the complete ruin and total depravity of man. Those who speak of man's "free will," and insist upon his inherent power to either accept or reject the Saviour, do but voice their ignorance of the real condition of Adam's fallen children. And if there are few who believe that, so far as he is concerned, the condition of the sinner is entirely hopeless, there are fewer still who really believe in the absolute Sovereignty of God.
In addition to the widespread effects of unscriptural teaching, we also have to reckon with the deplorable superficiality of the present generation. To announce that a certain book is a treatise on doctrine is quite sufficient to prejudice against it the great bulk of church-members and most of our preachers as well. The craving today is for something light and spicy, and few have patience, still less desire, to examine carefully that which would make a demand both upon their hearts and their mental powers. We remember, also, how that it is becoming increasingly difficult in these strenuous days for those who are desirous of studying the deeper things of God to find the time which such study requires. Yet, it is still true that "Where there's a will, there's a way," and in spite of the discouraging features referred to, we believe there is even now a godly remnant who will take pleasure in giving this little work a careful consideration, and such will, we trust, find in it "Meat in due season."
We do not forget the words of one long since passed away, namely, that "Denunciation is the last resort of a defeated opponent." To dismiss this book with the contemptuous epithet--"Hyper-Calvinism!" will not be worthy of notice. For controversy we have no taste, and we shall not accept any challenge to enter the lists against those who might desire to debate the truths discussed in these pages. So far as our personal reputation is concerned, that we leave our Lord to take care of, and unto Him we would now commit this volume and whatever fruit it may bear, praying Him to use it for the enlightening of His own dear people (insofar as it is in accord with His Holy Word) and to pardon the writer for and preserve the reader from the injurious effects of any false teaching that may have crept into it. If the joy and comfort which have come to the author while penning these pages are shared by those who may scan them, then we shall be devoutly thankful to the One whose grace alone enables us to discern spiritual things.
June 1918 Arthur W. Pink.
It is now two years since the first edition of this work was presented to the Christian public. Its reception has been far more favorable than the author had expected. Many have notified him of the help and blessing received from a perusal of his attempts to expound what is admittedly a difficult subject. For every word of appreciation we return hearty thanks to Him in Whose light we alone "see light." A few have condemned the book in unqualified terms, and these we commend to God and to the Word of His grace, remembering that it is written, "a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven" (John 3:27). Others have sent us friendly criticisms and these have been weighed carefully, and we trust that, in consequence, this revised edition will be unto those who are members of the household of faith more profitable than the former one.
One word of explanation seems to be called for. A number of respected brethren in Christ felt that our treatment of the Sovereignty of God was too extreme and one-sided. It has been pointed out that a fundamental requirement in expounding the Word of God is the need of preserving the balance of Truth. With this we are in hearty accord. Two things are beyond dispute: God is Sovereign, and man is a responsible creature. But in this book we are treating of the Sovereignty of God, and while the responsibility of man is readily owned, yet, we do not pause on every page to insist on it; instead, we have sought to stress that side of the Truth which in these days is almost universally neglected. Probably 95 per cent of the religious literature of the day is devoted to a setting forth of the duties and obligations of men. The fact is that those who undertake to expound the Responsibility of man are the very ones who have lost 'the balance of Truth' by ignoring, very largely, the Sovereignty of God. It is perfectly right to insist on the responsibility of man, but what of God?-has He no claims, no rights! A hundred such works as this are needed, ten thousand sermons would have to be preached throughout the land on this subject, if the 'balance of Truth' is to be regained. The 'balance of Truth' has been lost, lost through a disproportionate emphasis being thrown on the human side, to the minimizing, if not the exclusion, of the Divine side. We grant that this book is one-sided, for it only pretends to deal with one side of the Truth and that is, the neglected side, the Divine side. Furthermore, the question might be raised: Which is the more to be deplored-an over emphasizing of the human side and an insufficient emphasis on the Divine side, or, an over emphasizing of the Divine side and an insufficient emphasis on the human side? Surely, if we err at all it is on the right side. Surely, there is far more danger of making too much of man and too little of God, than there is of making too much of God and too little of man. Yea, the question might well be asked, Can we press God's claims too far? Can we be too extreme in insisting upon the absoluteness and universality of the Sovereignty of God?
It is with profound thankfulness to God that, after a further two years diligent study of Holy Writ, with the earnest desire to discover what almighty God has been pleased to reveal to His children on this subject, we are able to testify that we see no reason for making any retractions from what we wrote before, and while we have re-arranged the material of this work, the substance and doctrine of it remains unchanged. May the One Who condescended to bless the first edition of this work be pleased to own even more widely this revision.
ARTHUR W. PINK, 1921 SWENGEL, PA.
That a third edition of this work is now called for, is a cause of fervent praise to God. As the darkness deepens and the pretentions of men are taking on an ever-increasing blatancy, the need becomes greater for the claims of God to be emphasized. As the twentieth century Babel of religious tongues is bewildering so many, the duty of God's servants to point to the one sure anchorage for the heart, is the more apparent. Nothing is so tranquilizing and so stabilishing as the assurance that the Lord Himself is on the Throne of the universe, "working all things after the counsel of His own will."
The Holy Spirit has told us that there are in the Scriptures some things hard to be understood," but mark it is "hard" not "impossible!" A patient waiting on the Lord, a diligent comparison of Scripture with Scripture, often issues in a fuller apprehension of that which before was obscure to us. During the last ten years it has pleased God to grant us further light on certain parts of His Word, and this we have sought to use in improving our expositions of different passages. But it is with unfeigned thanksgiving that we find it unnecessary to either change or modify any doctrine contained in the former editions. Yea, as time goes by, we realize (by Divine grace) with ever-increasing force, the truth, the importance, and the value of the Sovereignty of God as it pertains to every branch of our lives.
Our hearts have been made to rejoice again and again by unsolicited letters which have come to hand from every quarter of the earth, telling of help and blessing received from the former editions of this work. One Christian friend was so stirred by reading it and so impressed by its testimony, that a check was sent to be used in sending free copies to missionaries in fifty foreign countries, "that its glorious message may encircle the globe"; numbers of whom have written us to say how much they have been strengthened in their fight with the powers of darkness. To God alone belongs all the glory. May He deign to use this third edition to the honor of His own great Name, and to the feeding of His scattered and starved sheep.
Morton's Gap, A. W. P. Kentucky 1929
It is with profound praise to "God most high" that another edition of this valuable and helpful book is now called for. Though its teaching runs directly counter to that which is being promulgated on every hand today, yet we are happy to be able to say that its circulation is increasing to the strengthening of the faith, comfort and hope of an increasing number of God's elect. We commit this new edition to Him whom we "delight to honor," praying that He may be pleased to bless its circulation to the enlightening of many more of His own, to the "praise of the glory of His grace," and a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His Sovereign mercy. I. C. HERENDEEN. 1949.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today-God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in Heaven is generally conceded; that He does so over this world, is almost universally denied-if not directly, then indirectly. More and more are men in their philosophizing and theorizing relegating God to the background. Take the material realm. Not only is it denied that God created everything by personal and direct action, but few believe that He has any immediate concern in regulating the works of His own hands. Everything is supposed to be ordered according to the (impersonal and abstract) "laws of Nature." Thus is the Creator banished from His own creation. Therefore we need not be surprised that men, in their degrading conceptions, exclude Him from the realm of human affairs. Throughout Christendom, with an almost negligible exception, the theory is held that man is "a free agent," and therefore, lord of his fortunes and the determiner of his destiny. That Satan is to be blamed for much of the evil which is in the world is freely affirmed by those who, though having so much to say about "the responsibility of man," often deny their own responsibility, by attributing to the Devil what, in fact, proceeds from their own evil hearts (Mark 7:21-23).
But who is regulating affairs on this earth today-God, or the Devil? Attempt to take a serious and comprehensive view of the world. What a scene of confusion and chaos confronts us on every side! Sin is rampant; lawlessness abounds; evil men and seducers are waxing "worse and worse" (2 Tim. 3:13). Today, everything appears to be out of joint. Thrones are creaking and tottering, ancient dynasties are being overturned, democracies are revolting, civilization is a demonstrated failure; half of Christendom was but recently locked-together in a death grapple; and now that the titantic conflict is over, instead of the world having been made "safe for democracy," we have discovered that democracy is very unsafe for the world. Unrest, discontent, and lawlessness are rife everywhere, and none can say how soon another great war will be set in motion. Statesmen are perplexed and staggered. Men's hearts are "failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:26). Do these things look as though God had full control?
But let us confine our attention to the religious realm. After nineteen centuries of Gospel preaching, Christ is still "despised and rejected of men." Worse still, He (the Christ of Scripture) is proclaimed and magnified by very few. In the majority of modern pulpits He is dishonored and disowned. Despite frantic efforts to attract the crowds, the majority of the churches are being emptied rather than filled. And what of the great masses of non-church goers? In the light of Scripture we are compelled to believe that the "many" are on the Broad Road that leadeth to destruction, and that only "few" are on the Narrow Way that leadeth unto life. Many are declaring that Christianity is a failure, and despair is settling on many faces. Not a few of the Lord's own people are bewildered, and their faith is being severely tried. And what of God? Does He see and hear? Is He impotent or indifferent? A number of those who are regarded as leaders of Christian-thought told us that God could not help the coming of the late awful War, and that He was unable to bring about its termination. It was said, and said openly, that conditions were beyond God's control. Do these things look as though God were ruling the world?
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today-God, or the Devil? What impression is made upon the minds of those men of the world who, occasionally, attend a Gospel service? What are the conceptions formed by those who hear even those preachers who are counted as "orthodox?" Is it not that a disappointed God is the One whom Christians believe in? From what is heard from the average evangelist today, is not any serious hearer obliged to conclude that he professes to represent a God who is filled with benevolent intentions, yet unable to carry them out; that He is earnestly desirous of blessing men, but that they will not let Him? Then, must not the average hearer draw the inference that the Devil has gained the upper hand, and that God is to be pitied rather than blamed?
But does not everything seem to show that the Devil has far more to do with the affairs of earth than God has? Ah, it all depends upon whether we are walking by faith, or walking by sight. Are your thoughts, my reader, concerning this world and God's relation to it, based upon what you see? Face this question seriously and honestly. And if you are a Christian you will, most probably, have cause to bow your head with shame and sorrow, and to acknowledge that it is so. Alas, in reality, we walk very little "by faith." But what does "walking by faith" signify? It means that our thoughts are formed, our actions regulated, our lives molded by the Holy Scriptures, for, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). It is from the Word of Truth, and that alone, that we can learn what is God's relation to this world.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today-God or the Devil? What saith the Scriptures? Ere we consider the direct reply to this query, let it be said that the Scriptures predicted just what we now see and hear. The prophecy of Jude is in course of fulfillment. It would lead us too far astray from our present inquiry to fully amplify this assertion, but what we have particularly in mind is a sentence in verse 8-"Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion and speak evil of dignities." Yes, they "speak evil" of the Supreme Dignity, the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords." Ours is peculiarly an age of irreverence, and as the consequence, the spirit of lawlessness, which brooks no restraint and which is desirous of casting off everything which interferes with the free course of self-will, is rapidly engulfing the earth like some giant tidal wave. The members of the rising generation are the most flagrant offenders, and in the decay and disappearing of parental authority we have the certain precursor of the abolition of civic authority. Therefore, in view of the growing disrespect for human law and the refusal to "render honor to whom honor is due," we need not be surprised that the recognition of the majesty, the authority, the Sovereignty of the Almighty law-giver should recede more and more into the background, and the masses have less and less patience with those who insist upon them. And conditions will not improve; instead, the more sure Word of Prophecy makes known to us that they will grow worse and worse. Nor do we expect to be able to stem the tide-it has already risen much too high for that. All we can now hope to do is warn our fellow-saints against the spirit of the age, and thus seek to counteract its baneful influence upon them.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today-God, or the Devil? What saith the Scriptures? If we believe their plain and positive declarations, no room is left for uncertainty. They affirm, again and again, that God is on the throne of the universe; that the sceptre is in His hands; that He is directing all things "after the counsel of His own will." They affirm, not only that God created all things, but also that God is ruling and reigning over all the works of His hands. They affirm that God is the "Almighty," that His will is irreversible, that He is absolute Sovereign in every realm of all His vast dominions. And surely it must be so. Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own will, or be thwarted by His creatures. Accepting the fact that He is the "Most High," the only Potentate and King of kings, vested with perfect wisdom and illimitable power, and the conclusion is irresistible that He must be God in fact as well as in name.
It is in view of what we have briefly referred to above that we say, Present-day conditions call loudly for a new examination and new presentation of God's omnipotency, God's sufficiency, God's Sovereignty. From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth that God still lives, that God still observes, that God still reigns. Faith is now in the crucible, it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed and sufficient resting-place for the heart and mind but in the Throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhood of God. Drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. People are weary of platitudes and mere generalizations-the call is for something definite and specific. Soothing-syrup may serve for peevish children, but an iron tonic is better suited for adults, and we know of nothing which is more calculated to infuse spiritual vigor into our frames than a scriptural apprehension of the full character of God. It is written, "The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits" (Dan. 11:32).
Without a doubt a world-crisis is at hand, and everywhere men are alarmed. But God is not! He is never taken by surprise. It is no unexpected emergency which now confronts Him, for He is the One who "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11). Hence, though the world is panic-stricken, the word to the believer is, "Fear not!" "All things" are subject to His immediate control: "all things" are moving in accord with His eternal purpose, and therefore "all things" are "working together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." It must be so, for "of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). Yet how little is this realized today even by the people of God! Many suppose that He is little more than a far-distant Spectator, taking no immediate hand in the affairs of earth. It is true that man is endowed with power, but God is all-powerful. It is true that, speaking generally, the material world is regulated by law, but behind that law is the law-Giver and law-Administrator. Man is but the creature. God is the Creator, and endless ages before man first saw the light "the mighty God" (Isa. 9:6) existed, and ere the world was founded, made His plans; and being infinite in power and man only finite, His purpose and plan cannot be withstood or thwarted by the creatures of His own hands.
We readily acknowledge that life is a profound problem, and that we are surrounded by mystery on every side; but we are not like the beasts of the field-ignorant of their origin, and unconscious of what is before them. No: "We have also a more sure Word of Prophecy," of which it is said ye do well that ye "take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19). And it is to this Word of Prophecy we indeed do well to "take heed," to that Word which had not its origin in the mind of man but in the Mind of God, for, "the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake moved by the Holy Spirit." We say again, it is to this "Word" we do well to take heed. As we turn to this Word and are instructed thereout, we discover a fundamental principle which must be applied to every problem: Instead of beginning with man and his world and working back to God, we must begin with God and work down to man-"In the beginning God!" Apply this principle to the present situation. Begin with the world as it is today and try and work back to God, and everything will seem to show that God has no connection with the world at all. But begin with God and work down to the world, and light, much light, is cast on the problem. Because God is holy His anger burns against sin; because God is righteous His judgments fall upon those who rebel against Him; because God is faithful the solemn threatenings of His Word are fulfilled; because God is omnipotent none can successfully resist Him, still less overthrow His counsel; and because God is omniscient no problem can master Him and no difficulty baffle His wisdom. It is just because God is who He is and what He is that we are now beholding on earth what we do-the beginning of His outpoured judgments: in view of His inflexible justice and immaculate holiness we could not expect anything other than what is now spread before our eyes.
But let it be said very emphatically that the heart can only rest upon and enjoy the blessed truth of the absolute Sovereignty of God as faith is in exercise. Faith is ever occupied with God. That is the character of it; that is what differentiates it from intellectual theology. Faith endures "as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27): endures the disappointments, the hardships, and the heartaches of life by recognizing that all comes from the hand of Him who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. But so long as we are occupied with any other object than God Himself there will be neither rest for the heart nor peace for the mind. But when we receive all that enters our lives as from His hand, then, no matter what may be our circumstances or surroundings-whether in a hovel, a prison-dungeon, or a martyr's stake-we shall be enabled to say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places" (Psa. 16:6). But that is the language of faith, not of sight or of sense.
But if instead of bowing to the testimony of Holy Writ, if instead of walking by faith, we follow the evidence of our eyes, and reason therefrom, we shall fall into a quagmire of virtual atheism. Or, if we are regulated by the opinions and views of others, peace will be at an end. Granted that there is much in this world of sin and suffering which appalls and saddens us; granted that there is much in the providential dealings of God which startle and stagger us; that is no reason why we should unite with the unbelieving worldling who says, "If I were God, I would not allow this or tolerate that," etc. Better far, in the presence of bewildering mystery, to say with one of old, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because Thou didst it" (Psa. 39:9). Scripture tells us that God's judgments are "unsearchable," and His ways "past finding out" (Rom. 11:33). It must be so if faith is to be tested, confidence in His wisdom and righteousness strengthened, and submission to His holy will fostered.
Here is the fundamental difference between the man of faith and the man of unbelief. The unbeliever is "of the world," judges everything by worldly standards, views life from the standpoint of time and sense, and weighs everything in the balances of his own carnal making. But the man of faith brings in God, looks at everything from His standpoint, estimates values by spiritual standards, and views life in the light of eternity. Doing this, he receives whatever comes as from the hand of God. Doing this, his heart is calm in the midst of the storm. Doing this, he "rejoices in hope of the glory of God."
In these opening paragraphs we have indicated the lines of thought followed out in this book. Our first postulate is, that because God is God He does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that His great concern is the accomplishment of His own pleasure and the promotion of His own glory; that He is the Supreme Being, and therefore Sovereign of the universe. Starting with this postulate we have contemplated the exercise of God's Sovereignty, first in Creation, second in Governmental Administration over the works of His hands, third in the Salvation of His own elect, fourth in the Reprobation of the wicked, and fifth in Operation upon and within men. Next we have viewed the Sovereignty of God as it relates to the human Will in particular and human Responsibility in general, and have sought to show what is the only becoming attitude for the creature to take in view of the majesty of the Creator. A separate chapter has been set apart for a consideration of some of the difficulties which are involved, and to answering the questions which are likely to be raised in the minds of our readers; while one chapter has been devoted to a more careful yet brief examination of God's Sovereignty in relation to prayer. Finally, we have sought to show that the Sovereignty of God is a truth revealed to us in Scripture for the comfort of our hearts, the strengthening of our souls, and the blessing of our lives. A due apprehension of God's Sovereignty promotes the spirit of worship, provides an incentive to practical godliness, and inspires zeal in service. It is deeply humbling to the human heart, but in proportion to the degree that it brings man into the dust before his Maker, to that extent is God glorified.
We are well aware that what we have written is in open opposition to much of the teaching that is current both in religious literature and in the representative pulpits of the land. We freely grant that the postulate of God's Sovereignty with all its corollaries is at direct variance with the opinions and thoughts of the natural man, but the truth is, we are quite unable to think upon these matters: we are incompetent for forming a proper estimate of God's character and ways, and it is because of this that God has given us a revelation of His mind, and in that revelation He plainly declares, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8, 9). In view of this Scripture, it is only to be expected that much of the contents of the Bible conflicts with the sentiments of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Our appeal then is not to the popular beliefs of the day, nor to the creeds of the churches, but to the Law and Testimony of Jehovah. All that we ask for is an impartial and attentive examination of what we have written, and that made prayerfully in the light of the Lamp of Truth. May the reader heed the Divine admonition to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
"Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as Head above all" (1 Chron. 29:11).
The Sovereignty of God is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase commonly used in religious literature. It was a theme frequently expounded in the pulpit. It was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention of God's Sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue. Were we to announce from the average pulpit that the subject of our discourse would be the Sovereignty of God, it would sound very much as though we had borrowed a phrase from one of the dead languages. Alas! that it should be so. Alas! that the doctrine which is the key to history, the interpreter of Providence, the warp and woof of Scripture, and the foundation of Christian theology should be so sadly neglected and so little understood.
The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is "The Governor among the nations" (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.
How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence. To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent that the great majority of our fellowmen are dying in sin, and passing into a hopeless eternity; is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue baldly, but there is no escaping the conclusion. To argue that God is "trying His best" to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God, then, Satan is Almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being.
To declare that the Creator's original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God. To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most High to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of Omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the bounds assigned by his Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless Spectator before the sin and suffering entailed by Adam's fall, is to repudiate the express declaration of Holy Writ, namely, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain" (Psa. 76:10). In a word, to deny the Sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism.
The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.
Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture. For a long season that power appears to be dormant, and then it is put forth in irresistible might. Pharaoh dared to hinder Israel from going forth to worship Jehovah in the wilderness-what happened? God exercised His power, His people were delivered and their cruel task-masters slain. But a little later, the Amalekites dared to attack these same Israelites in the wilderness, and what happened? Did God put forth His power on this occasion and display His hand as He did at the Red Sea? Were these enemies of His people promptly overthrown and destroyed? No, on the contrary, the Lord swore that He would "have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (Exo. 17:16). Again, when Israel entered the land of Canaan, God's power was signally displayed. The city of Jericho barred their progress-what happened? Israel did not draw a bow nor strike a blow: the Lord stretched forth His hand and the walls fell down flat. But the miracle was never repeated! No other city fell after this manner. Every other city had to be captured by the sword!
Many other instances might be adduced illustrating the Sovereign exercise of God's power. Take one other example. God put forth His power and David was delivered from Goliath, the giant; the mouths of the lions were closed and Daniel escaped unhurt; the three Hebrew children were cast into the burning fiery furnace and came forth unharmed and unscorched. But God's power did not always interpose for the deliverance of His people, for we read: "And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Heb. 11:36, 37). But why? Why were not these men of faith delivered like the others? Or, why were not the others suffered to be killed like these? Why should God's power interpose and rescue some and not the others? Why allow Stephen to be stoned to death, and then deliver Peter from prison?
God is Sovereign in the delegation of His power to others. Why did God endow Methuselah with a vitality which enabled him to outlive all his contemporaries? Why did God impart to Samson a physical strength which no other human has ever possessed? Again; it is written, "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18), but God does not bestow this power on all alike. Why not? Why has He given such power to men like Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller? The answer to all of these questions is, Because God is Sovereign, and being Sovereign He does as He pleases.
God is Sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Necessarily so, for mercy is directed by the will of Him that showeth mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that adorable attribute of God by which He pities and relieves the wretched. But under the righteous government of God no one is wretched who does not deserve to be so. The objects of mercy, then, are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms.
God bestows His mercies on whom He pleases and withholds them as seemeth good unto Himself. A remarkable illustration of this fact is seen in the manner that God responded to the prayers of two men offered under very similar circumstances. Sentence of death was passed upon Moses for one act of disobedience, and he besought the Lord for a reprieve. But was his desire gratified? No; he told Israel, "The LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the LORD said unto me, Let it suffice thee" (Deut. 3:26). Now mark the second case: "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech Thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years" (2 Kings 20:1-6). Both of these men had the sentence of death in themselves, and both prayed earnestly unto the Lord for a reprieve: the one wrote: "The Lord would not hear me," and died; but to the other it was said, "I have heard thy prayer," and his life was spared. What an illustration and exemplification of the truth expressed in Romans 9:15!-"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."
The Sovereign exercise of God's mercy-pity shown to the wretched-was displayed when Jehovah became flesh and tabernacled among men. Take one illustration. During one of the Feasts of the Jews, the Lord Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He came to the Pool of Bethesda where lay "a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water." Among this "great multitude" there was "a certain man which had an infirmity thirty and eight years." What happened? "When Jesus saw him He, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answer Him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but when I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked" (John 5:3-9). Why was this one man singled out from all the others? We are not told that he cried "Lord, have mercy on me." There is not a word in the narrative which intimates that this man possessed any qualifications which entitled him to receive special favor. Here then was a case of the Sovereign exercise of Divine mercy, for it was just as easy for Christ to heal the whole of that "great multitude" as this one "certain man." But He did not. He put forth His power and relieved the wretchedness of this one particular sufferer, and for some reason known only to Himself, He declined to do the same for the others. Again, we say, what an illustration and exemplification of Romans 9:15!-"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love. Ah! that is a hard saying, who then can receive it? It is written, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven" (John 3:27). When we say that God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom He chooses. God does not love everybody*; if He did, He would love the Devil. Why does not God love the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God. Nor is there anything to attract God's love in any of the fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). If then there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God's love,
*John 3:16 will be examined later.
and if, notwithstanding, He does love some, then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself, which is only another way of saying that the exercise of God's love towards the fallen sons of men is according to His own good pleasure.
In the final analysis, the exercise of God's love must he traced back to His Sovereignty or, otherwise, He would love by rule; and if He loved by rule, then is He under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love then is He not supreme, but is Himself ruled by law. "But," it may be asked, "Surely you do not deny that God loves the entire human family?" We reply, it is written, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13). If then God loved Jacob and hated Esau, and that before they were born or had done either good or evil, then the reason for His love was not in them, but in Himself.
That the exercise of God's love is according to His own Sovereign pleasure is also clear from the language of Ephesians 1:3-5, where we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will." It was "in love" that God the Father predestined His chosen ones unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, "according"-according to what? According to some excellency He discovered in them? No. What then? According to what He foresaw they would become? No; mark carefully the inspired answer-"According to the good pleasure of His will."
We are not unmindful of the fact that men have invented the distinction between God's love of complacency and His love of compassion, but this is an invention pure and simple. Scripture terms the latter God's "pity" (see Matt. 18:33), and "He is kind unto the unthankful and the evil" (Luke 6:35)!
God is Sovereign in the exercise of His grace. This of necessity, for grace is favor shown to the undeserving, yea, to the Hell-deserving. Grace is the antithesis of justice. Justice demands the impartial enforcement of law. Justice requires that each shall receive his legitimate due, neither more nor less. Justice bestows no favors and is no respecter of persons. Justice, as such, shows no pity and knows no mercy. But after justice has been fully satisfied, grace flows forth. Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of justice, but "grace reigns through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21), and if grace "reigns," then is grace Sovereign.
Grace has been defined as the unmerited favor of God*; and if unmerited, then none can claim it as their inalienable right. If grace is unearned and undeserved, then none are entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then none can demand it. Therefore, as salvation is by grace, the free gift of God, then He bestows it on whom He pleases. Because salvation is by grace, the very chief of sinners is not beyond the reach of Divine mercy. Because salvation is by grace, boasting is excluded and God gets all the glory.
The Sovereign exercise of grace is illustrated on nearly every page of Scripture. The Gentiles are left to walk in their own ways while Israel becomes the covenant people of Jehovah. Ishmael the firstborn is cast out comparatively unblest, while Isaac the son of his parents' old age is made the child of promise. Esau the generous-hearted and forgiving-spirited is denied the blessing, though he sought it carefully with tears, while the worm Jacob receives the inheritance and is fashioned into a vessel of honor. So in the New Testament. Divine Truth is hidden from the wise and prudent, but is revealed to babes. The Pharisees and Sadducees
*An esteemed friend who kindly read through this book in its manuscript form, and to whom we are indebted for a number of excellent suggestions, has pointed out that grace is something more than "unmerited favor." To feed a tramp who calls on me is "unmerited favor," but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me I should feed this starving tramp-that would be "grace." Grace, then, is favor shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.
are left to go their own way, while publicans and harlots are drawn by the cords of love.
In a remarkable manner Divine grace was exercised at the time of the Saviour's birth. The incarnation of God's Son was one of the greatest events in the history of the universe, and yet its actual occurrence was not made known to all mankind; instead, it was specially revealed to the Bethlehem shepherds and wise men of the East. And this was prophetic and indicative of the entire course of this dispensation, for even today Christ is not made known to all. It would have been an easy matter for God to have sent a company of angels to every nation and to have announced the birth of His Son. But He did not. God could have readily attracted the attention of all mankind to the "star"; but He did not. Why? Because God is Sovereign and dispenses His favors as He pleases. Note particularly the two classes to whom the birth of the Saviour was made known, namely, the most unlikely classes-illiterate shepherds and heathen from a far country. No angel stood before the Sanhedrin and announced the advent of Israel's Messiah! No "star" appeared unto the scribes and lawyers as they, in their pride and self-righteousness, searched the Scriptures! They searched diligently to find out where He should be born, and yet it was not made known to them when He was actually come. What a display of Divine Sovereignty-the illiterate shepherds singled out for peculiar honor, and the learned and eminent passed by! And why was the birth of the Saviour revealed to these foreigners, and not to those in whose midst He was born? See in this a wonderful foreshadowing of God's dealings with our race throughout the entire Christian dispensation-Sovereign in the exercise of His grace, bestowing His favors on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy. *
It has been pointed out to us that God's Sovereignty was signally displayed in His choice of the place where His Son was born. Not to Greece or Italy did the Lord of Glory come, but to the insignificant land of Palestine! Not in Jerusalem-the royal city-was Immanuel born, but in Bethlehem, which was "little among the thousands (of towns and villages) in Judah" (Micah 5:2)! And it was in despised Nazareth that He grew up!! Truly, God's ways are not ours.
"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11).
Having shown that Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God, let us now observe how it marks all His ways and dealings.
In the great expanse of eternity which stretches behind Genesis 1:1, the universe was unborn and creation existed only in the mind of the great Creator. In His Sovereign majesty God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God's praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought into subjection. The great God was all alone amid the awful Silence of His own vast universe. But even at that time, if time it could be called, God was Sovereign. He might create or not create according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds, and who was there to resist His will? He might call into existence a million different creatures and place them on absolute equality, endowing them with the same faculties and placing them in the same environment; or, He might create a million creatures each differing from the others, and possessing nothing in common save their creaturehood, and who was there to challenge His right? If He so pleased, He might call into existence a world so immense that its dimensions were utterly beyond finite computation; and were He so disposed, He might create an organism so small that nothing but the most powerful microscope could reveal its existence to human eyes. It was His Sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around His throne, and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to have one vast gradation in His universe, from loftiest seraph to creeping reptile, from revolving worlds to floating atoms, from macrocosm to microcosm, instead of making everything uniform, who was there to question His Sovereign pleasure?
Behold then the exercise of Divine Sovereignty long before man ever saw the light. With whom took God counsel in the creation and disposition of His creatures? See the birds as they fly through the air, the beasts as they roam the earth, the fishes as they swim in the sea, and then ask, Who was it that made them to differ? Was it not their Creator who Sovereignly assigned their various locations and adaptations to them!
Turn your eye to the heavens and observe the mysteries of Divine Sovereignty which there confront the thoughtful beholder: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory" (1 Cor. 15:41). But why should they? Why should the sun be more glorious than all the other planets? Why should there be stars of the first magnitude and others of the tenth? Why such amazing inequalities? Why should some of the heavenly bodies be more favorably placed than others in their relation to the sun? And why should there be "shooting stars," falling stars, "wandering stars" (Jude 13), in a word, ruined stars? And the only possible answer is, "For Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11).
Come now to our own planet. Why should two thirds of its surface be covered with water, and why should so much of its remaining third be unfit for human cultivation or habitation? Why should there be vast stretches of marshes, deserts and ice-fields? Why should one country be so inferior, topographically, from another? Why should one be fertile, and another almost barren? Why should one be rich in minerals and another own none? Why should the climate of one be congenial and healthy, and another uncongenial and unhealthy? Why should one abound in rivers and lakes, and another be almost devoid of them? Why should one be constantly troubled with earthquakes, and another be almost entirely free from then? Why? Because thus it pleased the Creator and Upholder of all things.
Look at the animal kingdom and note the wondrous variety. What comparison is possible between the lion and the lamb, the bear and the kid, the elephant and the mouse? Some, like the horse and the dog, are gifted with great intelligence; while others, like sheep and swine, are almost devoid of it. Why? Some are designed to be beasts of burden, while others enjoy a life of freedom. But why should the mule and the donkey be shackled to a life of drudgery while the lion and tiger are allowed to roam the jungle at their pleasure? Some are fit for food, others unfit; some are beautiful, others ugly; some are endowed with great strength, others are quite helpless; some are fleet of foot, others can scarcely crawl-contrast the hare and the tortoise; some are of use to man, others appear to be quite valueless; some live for centuries, others a few months at most; some are tame, others fierce. But why all these variations and differences? What is true of the animals is equally true of the birds and fishes.
But consider now the vegetable kingdom. Why should roses have thorns, and lilies grow without them? Why should one flower emit a fragrant aroma and another have none? Why should one tree bear fruit which is wholesome and another that which is poisonous? Why should one vegetable be capable of enduring frost and another wither under it? Why should one apple tree be loaded with fruit, and another tree of the same age and in the same orchard be almost barren? Why should one plant flower a dozen times in a year and another bear blossoms but once a century? Truly, "whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did He in Heaven, and in the earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Psa. 135:6).
Consider the angelic hosts. Surely we shall find uniformity here. But no; there, as elsewhere, the same Sovereign pleasure of the Creator is displayed. Some are higher in rank than others; some are more powerful than others; some are nearer to God than others. Scripture reveals a definite and well-defined gradation in the angelic orders. From arch-angel, past seraphim and cherubim, we come to "principalities and powers" (Eph. 3:10), and from principalities and powers to "rulers" (Eph. 6:12), and then to the angels themselves, and even among them we read of "the elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21). Again we ask, Why this inequality, this difference in rank and order? And all we can say is "Our God is in the heavens, He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased" (Psa. 115:3).
If then we see the Sovereignty of God displayed throughout all creation, why should it be thought a strange thing if we behold it operating in the midst of the human family? Why should it be thought strange if to one God is pleased to give five talents and to another only one? Why should it be thought strange if one is born with a robust constitution and another of the same parents is frail and sickly? Why should it be thought strange if Abel is cut off in his prime, while Cain is suffered to live on for many years? Why should it be thought strange that some should be born black and others white; some be born idiots and others with high intellectual endowments; some be born constitutionally lethargic and others full of energy; some be born with a temperament that is selfish, fiery, egotistical, others who are naturally self-sacrificing, submissive and meek? Why should it be thought strange if some are qualified by nature to lead and rule, while others are only fitted to follow and serve? Heredity and environment cannot account for all these variations and inequalities. No; it is God who maketh one to differ from another. Why should He? "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight" must be our reply.
Learn then this basic truth, that the Creator is absolute Sovereign, executing His own will, performing His own pleasure, and considering nought but His own glory. "The LORD hath made all things FOR HIMSELF" (Prov. 16:4). And had He not a perfect right to? Since God is God, who dare challenge His prerogative? To murmur against Him is rank rebellion. To question His ways is to impugn His wisdom. To criticize Him is sin of the deepest dye. Have we forgotten who He is? Behold, "All nations before Him as are nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God?" (Isa. 40:17, 18).
"The LORD hath prepared His Throne In the heavens; and His Kingdom ruleth over all" (Psa. 103:19).
First, a word concerning the need for God to govern the material world. Suppose the opposite for a moment. For the sake of argument, let us say that God created the world, designed and fixed certain laws (which men term "the laws of Nature"), and that He then withdrew, leaving the world to its fortune and the out-working of these laws. In such a case, we should have a world over which there was no intelligent, presiding Governor, a world controlled by nothing more than impersonal laws-a concept worthy of gross Materialism and blank Atheism. But, I say, suppose it for a moment; and in the light of such a supposition weigh well the following question: What guaranty have we that some day ere long the world will not be destroyed? A very superficial observation of 'the laws of Nature' reveals the fact that they are not uniform in their working. The proof of this is seen in the fact that no two seasons are alike. If then Nature's laws are irregular in their operations, what guaranty have we against some dreadful catastrophe striking our earth? "The wind bloweth where it listeth" (pleaseth), which means that man can neither harness nor hinder it. Sometimes the wind blows with great fury, and it might be that it should suddenly gather in volume and velocity until it became a hurricane earth-wide in its range. If there is nothing more than the laws of Nature regulating the wind, then, perhaps tomorrow, there may come a terrific tornado and sweep everything from the surface of the earth! What assurance have we against such a calamity? Again; of late years we have heard and read much about clouds bursting and flooding whole districts, working fearful havoc in the destruction of both property and life. Man is helpless before them, for science can devise no means to prevent clouds bursting. Then how do we know that these bursting clouds will not be multiplied indefinitely and the whole earth be deluged by their downpour? This would be nothing new: why should not the Flood of Noah's day be repeated? And what of earthquakes? Every few years some island or some great city is swept out of existence by one of them-and what can man do? Where is the guaranty that ere long a mammoth earthquake will not destroy the whole world. Science tells us of great subterranean fires burning beneath the comparatively thin crust of our earth. How do we know but what these fires will not suddenly burst forth and consume our entire globe? Surely every reader now sees the point we are seeking to make: Deny that God is governing matter, deny that He is "upholding all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3), and all sense of security is gone!
Let us pursue a similar course of reasoning in connection with the human race. Is God governing this world of ours? Is He shaping the destinies of nations, controlling the course of empires, determining the limits of dynasties? Has He prescribed the limits of evil-doers, saying, Thus far shalt thou go and no further? Let us suppose the opposite for a moment. Let us assume that God has delivered over the helm into the hand of His creatures and see where such a supposition leads us. For the sake of argument we will say that every man enters this world endowed with a will that is absolutely free, and that it is impossible to compel or even coerce him without destroying his freedom. Let us say that every man possesses a knowledge of right and wrong, that he has the power to choose between them, and that he is left entirely free to make his own choice and go his own way. Then what? Then it follows that man is Sovereign, for he does as he pleases and is the architect of his own fortune. But in such a case we can have no assurance that ere long every man will reject the good and choose the evil. In such a case we have no guaranty against the entire human race committing moral suicide. Let all Divine restraints be removed and man be left absolutely free, and all ethical distinctions would immediately disappear, the spirit of barbarism would prevail universally, and pandemonium would reign supreme. Why not? If one nation deposes its rulers and repudiates its constitution, what is there to prevent all nations from doing the same?
If little more than a century ago the streets of Paris ran with the blood of rioters, what assurance have we that before the present century closes every city throughout the world will not witness a similar sight? What is there to hinder earth-wide lawlessness and universal anarchy? Thus we have sought to show the need, the imperative need, for God to occupy the Throne, take the government upon His shoulder, and control the activities and destinies of His creatures.
But has the man of faith any difficulty in perceiving the government of God over this world? Does not the anointed eye discern, even amid much seeming confusion and chaos, the hand of the Most High controlling and shaping the affairs of men, even in the common concerns of every day life? Take for example farmers and their crops. Suppose God left them to themselves: what would prevent them, one and all, from grassing their arable lands and devoting themselves exclusively to rearing of cattle and dairying? In such a case there would be a world-famine of wheat and corn! Take the work of the post office. Suppose that everybody decided to write letters on Mondays only, could the authorities cope with the mail on Tuesdays? and how would they occupy their time the balance of the week? So again with storekeepers. What would happen if every housewife did her shopping on Wednesday, and stayed at home the rest of the week? But instead of such things happening, farmers in different countries both raise sufficient cattle and grow enough grain of various kinds to supply the almost incalculable needs of the human race; the mails are almost evenly distributed over the six days of the week; and some women shop on Monday, some on Tuesday, and so on. Do not these things clearly evidence the overruling and controlling hand of God!
Having shown, in brief, the imperative need for God to reign over our world, let us now observe still further the fact that God does rule, actually rule, and that His government extends to and is exercised over all things and all creatures.
That God governs inanimate matter, that inanimate matter performs His bidding and fulfills His decrees, is clearly shown on the very frontispiece of Divine revelation. God said, "Let there be light," and we read, "There was light." God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear," and "it was so." And again, "God said, Let the earth bring forth grass the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so." And the Psalmist declares, "He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast."
What is stated in Genesis One is afterwards illustrated all through the Bible. After the creation of Adam, sixteen centuries went by before ever a shower of rain fell upon the earth, for before Noah "there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground" (Gen. 2:6). But, when the iniquities of the antediluvians had come to the full, then God said, "And, behold, I even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under Heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die"; and in fulfillment of this we read, "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of Heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights" (Gen. 6:17 and 7:11, 12).
Witness God's absolute (and Sovereign) control of inanimate matter in connection with the plagues of Egypt. At His bidding the light was turned into darkness and rivers into blood; hail fell, and death came down upon the godless land of the Nile, until even its haughty monarch was compelled to cry out for deliverance. Note particularly how the inspired record here emphasizes God's absolute control over the elements-"And Moses stretched forth his rod toward Heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail" (Exo. 9:23-26). The same distinction was observed in connection with the ninth plague: "And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward Heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward Heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Exo. 10:21-23).
The above examples are by no means isolated cases. At God's decree fire and brimstone descended from Heaven and the cities of the Plain were destroyed, and a fertile valley was converted into a loathsome sea of death. At His bidding the waters of the Red Sea parted asunder so that the Israelites passed over dry shod, and at His word they rolled back again and destroyed the Egyptians who were pursuing them. A word from Him, and the earth opened her mouth and Korah and his rebellious company were swallowed up. The furnace of Nebuchadnezzar was heated seven times beyond its normal temperature, and into it three of God's children were cast, but the fire did not so much as scorch their clothes, though it slew the men who cast them into it.
What a demonstration of the Creator's governmental control over the elements was furnished when He became flesh and tabernacled among men! Behold Him asleep in the boat. A storm arises. The winds roar and the waves are lashed into fury. The disciples who are with Him, fearful lest their little craft should founder, awake their Master, saying, "Carest Thou not that we perish?" And then we read, "And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39). Mark again, the sea, at the will of its Creator, bore Him up upon its waves. At a word from Him, the fig-tree withered; at His touch disease fled instantly.
The heavenly bodies are also ruled by their Maker and perform His Sovereign pleasure. Take two illustrations. At God's bidding the sun went back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz to help the weak faith of Hezekiah. In New Testament times, God caused a star to herald the incarnation of His Son-the star which appeared unto the wise men of the East. This star, we are told, "went before them till it came and stood over where the young Child was" (Matt. 2:9).
What a declaration is this: "He sendeth forth His commandment upon earth: His word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool: He scattereth the hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold? He sendeth out His word, and melteth them: He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow" (Psa. 147:15-18). The mutations of the elements are beneath God's Sovereign control. It is God who withholds the rain, and it is God who gives the rain when He wills, where He wills, as He wills, and on whom He wills. Weather Bureaus may attempt to give forecasts of the weather, but how frequently God mocks their calculations! Sun 'spots,' the varying activities of the planets, the appearing and disappearing of comets (to which abnormal weather is sometimes attributed), atmospheric disturbances, are merely secondary causes, for behind them all is God Himself. Let His Word speak once more: "And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereon it rain not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up into your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD" (Amos 4:7-10).
Truly, then, God governs inanimate matter. Earth and air, fire and water, hail and snow, stormy winds and angry seas, all perform the word of His power and fulfill His Sovereign pleasure. Therefore, when we complain about the weather we are, in reality, murmuring against God.
What a striking illustration of God's government over the animal kingdom is found in Genesis 2:19! "And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air: and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." Should it be said that this occurred in Eden, and took place before the fall of Adam and the consequent curse which was inflicted on every creature, then our next reference fully meets the objection: God's control of the beasts was again openly displayed at the Flood. Mark how God caused to "come unto" Noah every specie of living creature "of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, of every creeping thing after his kind: two of every sort shall come unto thee" (Gen. 6:19, 20)-all were beneath God's Sovereign control. The lion of the jungle, the elephant of the forest, the bear of the polar regions; the ferocious panther, the untameable wolf, the fierce tiger; the high-soaring eagle and the creeping crocodile-see them all in their native fierceness, and yet, quietly submitting to the will of their Creator, and coming two by two into the ark!
We referred to the plagues sent upon Egypt as illustrating God's control of inanimate matter, let us now turn to them again to see how they demonstrate His perfect rulership over irrational creatures. At His Word the river brought forth frogs abundantly, and these frogs entered the palace of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants and, contrary to their natural instincts, they entered the beds, the ovens and the kneadingtroughs (Exo. 8:13). Swarms of flies invaded the land of Egypt, but there were no flies in the land of Goshen! (Exo. 8:22). Next, the cattle were stricken, and we read, "Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel. And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, Tomorrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land. And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one" (Exo. 9:3-6). In like manner God sent clouds of locusts to plague Pharaoh and his land, appointing the time of their visitation, determining the course and assigning the limits of their depredations.
Angels are not the only ones who do God's bidding. The brute beasts equally perform His pleasure. The sacred ark, the ark of the covenant, is in the country of the Philistines. How is it to be brought back to its home land? Mark the servants of God's choice, and how completely they were beneath His control: "And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place. And they said... Now therefore make a new cart, and take two mileb kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: And take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return Him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof, and send it away that it may go. And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then He hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us." And what happened? How striking the sequel! "And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left" (1 Sam. 6:12). Equally striking is the case of Elijah: "And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there" (1 Kings 17:2-4). The natural instinct of these birds of prey was held in subjection, and instead of consuming the food themselves, they carried it to Jehovah's servant in his solitary retreat.
Is further proof required? then it is ready at hand. God makes a dumb ass to rebuke the prophet's madness. He sends forth two she-bears from the woods to devour forty and two of Elijah's tormentors. In fulfillment of His word, He causes the dogs to lick up the blood of the wicked Jezebel. He seals the mouths of Babylon's lions when Daniel is cast into the den, though, later, He causes them to devour the prophet's accusers. He prepares a great fish to swallow the disobedient Jonah and then, when His ordained hour struck, compelled it to vomit him forth on dry land. At His biding a fish carries a coin to Peter for tribute money, and in order to fulfill His word He makes the cock crow twice after Peter's denial. Thus we see that God reigns over irrational creatures: beasts of the field, birds of the air, fishes of the sea, all perform His Sovereign bidding.
We fully appreciate the fact that this is the most difficult part of our subject, and, accordingly, it will be dealt with at greater length in the pages that follow; but at present we consider the fact of God's government over men in general, before we attempt to deal with the problem in detail.
Two alternatives confront us, and between them we are obliged to choose: either God governs, or He is governed; either God rules, or He is ruled; either God has His way, or men have theirs.
And is our choice between these alternatives hard to make? Shall we say that in man we behold a creature so unruly that he is beyond God's control? Shall we say that sin has alienated the sinner so far from the thrice Holy One that he is outside the pale of His jurisdiction? Or, shall we say that man has been endowed with moral responsibility, and therefore God must leave him entirely free, at least during the period of his probation? Does it necessarily follow because the natural man is an outlaw against Heaven, a rebel against the Divine government, that God is unable to fulfill His purpose through him? We mean, not merely that He may overrule the effects of the actions of evil-doers, nor that He will yet bring the wicked to stand before His judgment-bar so that sentence of punishment may be passed upon them-multitudes of non-Christians believe these things-but, we mean, that every action of the most lawless of His subjects is entirely beneath His control, yea that the actor is, though unknown to himself, carrying out the secret decrees of the Most High. Was it not thus with Judas? and is it possible to select a more extreme case? If then the arch-rebel was performing the counsel of God is it any greater tax upon our faith to believe the same of all rebels?
Our present object is no philosophic inquiry nor metaphysical causistry, but to ascertain the teaching of Scripture upon this profound theme. To the Law and the Testimony, for there only can we learn of the Divine government-its character, its design, its modus operandi, its scope. What then has it pleased God to reveal to us in His blessed Word concerning His rule over the works of His hands, and particularly, over the one who originally was made in His own image and likeness?
"In Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). What a sweeping assertion is this! These words, be it noted, were addressed, not to one of the churches of God, not to a company of saints who had reached an exalted plane of spirituality, but to a heathen audience, to those who worshipped "the unknown God" and who "mocked" when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. And yet, to the Athenian philosophers, to the Epicureans and Stoics, the Apostle Paul did not hesitate to affirm that they lived and moved and had their being in God, which signified not only that they owed their existence and preservation to the One who made the world and all things therein, but also that their very actions were encompassed and therefore controlled by the Lord of Heaven and earth. Compare Daniel 5:23, last clause!
"The disposings (margin) of the heart, and the answer of the tongue is from the LORD" (Prov. 16:1). Mark that the above declaration is of general application-it is of "man," not simply of believers, that this is predicated. "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps" (Prov. 16:9). If the Lord directs the steps of a man, is it not proof that he is being controlled or governed by God? Again: "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand" (Prov. 19:21). Can this mean anything less than, that no matter what man may desire and plan, it is the will of his Maker which is executed? As an illustration take the "Rich Fool." The "devices" of his heart are made known to us-"And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there I will bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Such were the "devices" of his heart, nevertheless it was "the counsel of the Lord" that stood. The "I will's" of the rich man came to nought, for "God said unto him, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee" (Luke 12:17-20).
"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). What could be more explicit? Out of the heart are "the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23), for as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). If then the heart is in the hand of the Lord, and if "He turneth it whithersoever He will," then is it not clear that men, yea, governors and rulers, and so all men, are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty!
No limitations must be placed upon the above declarations. To insist that some men, at least, do thwart God's will and overturn His counsels, is to repudiate other Scriptures equally explicit. Weigh well the following: "But He is one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth" (Job 23:13). "The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations" (Psa. 33:11). "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD" (Prov. 21:30). "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). "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). There is no ambiguity in these passages. They affirm in the most unequivocal and unqualified terms that it is impossible to bring to naught the purpose of Jehovah.
We read the Scriptures in vain if we fail to discover that the actions of men, evil men as well as good, are governed by the Lord God. Nimrod and his fellows determined to erect the tower of Babel, but ere their task was accomplished God frustrated their plans. God called Abraham "alone" (Isa. 51:2), but his kinsfolk accompanied him as he left Ur of the Chaldees. Was then the will of the Lord defeated? Nay, verily. Mark the sequel. Terah died before Canaan was reached (Gen. 11:32), and though Lot accompanied his uncle into the land of promise, he soon separated from him and settled down in Sodom. Jacob was the child to whom the inheritance was promised, and though Isaac sought to reverse Jehovah's decree and bestow the blessing upon Esau, his efforts came to naught. Esau again swore vengeance upon Jacob, but when next they met they wept for joy instead of fighting in hate. The brethren of Joseph determined his destruction but their evil counsels were overthrown. Pharaoh refused to let Israel carry out the instructions of Jehovah and perished in the Red Sea for his pains. Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites but God compelled him to bless them. Haman erected a gallows for Mordecai but was hanged upon it himself. Jonah resisted the revealed will of God but what became of his efforts?
Ah, the heathen may "rage" and the people imagine a "vain thing"; the kings of earth may "set themselves," and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ, saying, "Let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us (Psa. 2:1-3). But is the great God perturbed or disturbed by the rebellion of his puny creatures? No, indeed: "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision" (v. 4). He is infinitely exalted above all, and the greatest confederacies or earth's pawns, and their most extensive and vigorous preparations to defeat His purpose are, in His sight, altogether purile. He looks upon their puny efforts, not only without any alarm, but He "laughs" at their folly; He treats their impotency with "derision." He knows that He can crush them like moths when He pleases, or consume them in a moment with the breath of His mouth. Ah, it is but "a vain thing" for the potsherds of the earth to strive with the glorious Majesty of Heaven. Such is our God; worship ye Him.
Mark, too, the Sovereignty which God displayed in His dealings with men! Moses who was slow of speech, and not Aaron his elder brother who was not slow of speech, was the one chosen to be His ambassador in demanding from Egypt's monarch the release of His oppressed people. Moses again, though greatly beloved, utters one hasty word and was excluded from Canaan; whereas Elijah, passionately murmurs and suffers but a mild rebuke, and was afterwards taken to Heaven without seeing death! Uzzah merely touched the ark and was instantly slain, whereas the Philistines carried it off in insulting triumph and suffered no immediate harm. Displays of grace which would have brought a doomed Sodom to repentance failed to move an highly privileged Capernaum. Mighty works which would have subdued Tyre and Sidon left the upbraided cities of Galilee under the curse of a rejected Gospel. If they would have prevailed over the former, why were they not wrought there? If they proved ineffectual to deliver the latter then why perform them? What exhibitions are these of the Sovereign will of the Most High!
The angels are God's servants, His messengers, His chariots. They ever hearken to the word of His mouth and do His commands. "And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed. It is enough, stay now thine hand... And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put his sword again into the sheath thereof" (1 Chron. 21:15, 27). Many other Scriptures might be cited to show that the angels are in subjection to the will of their Creator and perform His bidding -"And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod" (Acts 12:11). "And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to shew unto His servants the things which must shortly be done" (Rev. 22:6). So it will be when our Lord returns: "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" (Matt. 13:41). Again, we read, "He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:31).
The same is true of evil spirits: they, too, fulfill God's Sovereign decrees. An evil spirit is sent by God to stir up rebellion in the camp of Abimelech: "Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem," which aided him in the killing of his brethren (Judges 9:23). Another evil spirit He sent to be a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab's prophets-"Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee" (1 Kings 22:23). And yet another was sent by the Lord to trouble Saul-"But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him" (1 Sam. 16:14). So, too, in the New Testament: a whole legion of the demons go not out of their victim until the Lord gave them permission to enter the herd of swine.
It is clear from Scripture, then, that the angels, good and evil, are under God's control, and willingly or unwillingly carry out God's purpose. Yea, SATAN himself is absolutely subject to God's control. When arraigned in Eden, he listened to the awful sentence but answered not a word. He was unable to touch Job until God granted him leave. So, too, he had to gain our Lord's consent before he could "sift" Peter. When Christ commanded him to depart-"Get thee hence, Satan"-we read, "Then the Devil leaveth Him" (Matt. 4:11). And, in the end, he will be cast into the Lake of Fire which has been prepared for him and his angels.
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. His government is exercised over inanimate matter, over the brute beasts, over the children of men, over angels good and evil, and over Satan himself. No revolving world, no shining of star, no storm, no creature moves, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of Devil-nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation of faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory.
"Ten thousand ages ere the skies
Were into motion brought;
All the long years and worlds to come,
Stood present to His thought:
There's not a sparrow nor a worm,
But's found in His decrees,
He raises monarchs to their thrones
And sings as He may please."
"O the depths 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).
"Salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2:9); but the Lord does not save all. Why not? He does save some; then if He saves some, why not others? Is it because they are too sinful and depraved? No; for the Apostle wrote, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). Therefore, if God saved the "chief" of sinners, none are excluded because of their depravity. Why then does not God save all? Is it because some are too stony-hearted to be won? No; because it is written, that God will "take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 11:19). Then is it because some are so stubborn, so intractable, so defiant that God is unable to woo them to Himself? Before we answer this question let us ask another; let us appeal to the experience of the Christian reader.
Friend, was there not a time when you walked in the counsel of the ungodly, stood in the way of sinners, sat in the seat of the scorners, and with them said, "We will not have this Man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14)? Was there not a time when you "would not come to Christ that you might have life" (John 5:40)? Yea, was there not a time when you mingled your voice with those who said unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?" (Job 21:14, 15)? With shamed face you have to acknowledge there was. But how is it that all is now changed? What was it that brought you from haughty self-sufficiency to a humble suppliant; from one that was at enmity with God to one that is at peace with Him; from lawlessness to subjection; from hate to love? And as one 'born of the Spirit' you will readily reply, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). Then do you not see that it is due to no lack of power in God, nor to His refusal to coerce man, that other rebels are not saved too? If God was able to subdue your will and win your heart, and that without interfering with your moral responsibility, then is He not able to do the same for others? Assuredly He is. Then how inconsistent, how illogical, how foolish of you, in seeking to account for the present course of the wicked and their ultimate fate, to argue that God is unable to save them, that they will not let Him. Do you say, "But the time came when I was willing, willing to receive Christ as my Saviour"? True, but it was the Lord who made you willing (Psa. 110:3; Phil. 2:13); why then does He not make all sinners willing? Why, but for the fact that He is Sovereign and does as He pleases! But to return to our opening inquiry.
Why is it that all are not saved, particularly all who hear the Gospel? Do you still answer, Because the majority refuse to believe? Well, that is true, but it is only a part of the truth. It is the truth from the human side. But there is a Divine side too, and this side of the truth needs to be stressed or God will be robbed of His glory. The unsaved are lost because they refuse to believe; the others are saved because they believe. But why do these others believe? What is it that causes them to put their trust in Christ? Is it because they are more intelligent than their fellows, and quicker to discern their need of salvation? Perish the thought-"Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). It is God Himself who maketh the difference between the elect and the non-elect, for of His own it is written, "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true" (1 John 5:20).
Faith is God's gift, and "all men have not faith" (2 Thess. 3:2); therefore, we see that God does not bestow this gift upon all. Upon whom then does He bestow this saving favor? And we answer, upon His own elect-"As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). Hence it is that we read of "the faith of God's elect" (Titus 1:1). But is God partial in the distribution of His favors? Has He not the right to be? Are there still some who murmur against the Goodman of the house'? Then His own words are sufficient reply-"Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own?" (Matt. 20:15). God is Sovereign in the bestowment of His gifts, both in the natural and in the spiritual realms. So much then for a general statement, and now to particularize.
Perhaps the one Scripture which most emphatically of all asserts the absolute Sovereignty of God in connection with His determining the destiny of His creatures, is the Ninth of Romans. We shall not attempt to review here the entire chapter, but will confine ourselves to verses 21-23- "Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?" These verses represent fallen mankind as inert and as impotent as a lump of lifeless clay. This Scripture evidences that there is "no difference," in themselves, between the elect and the non-elect; they are clay of "the same lump," which agrees with Ephesians 2:3, where we are told that all are by nature "children of wrath." It teaches us that the ultimate destiny of every individual is decided by the will of God, and blessed it is that such be the case; if it were left to our wills, the ultimate destination of us all would be the Lake of Fire. It declares that God Himself does make a difference in the respective destinations to which He assigns His creatures, for one vessel is made "unto honor and another unto dishonor"; some are "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction," others are "vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory."
We readily acknowledge that it is very humbling to the proud heart of the creature to behold all mankind in the hand of God as the clay in the potter's hand, yet this is precisely how the Scriptures of Truth represent the case. In this day of human boasting, intellectual pride, and deification of man, it needs to be insisted upon that the potter forms his vessels for himself. Let man strive with his Maker as he will, the fact remains that he is nothing more than clay in the Heavenly Potter's hands, and while we know that God will deal justly with His creatures, that the Judge of all the earth will do right, nevertheless, He shapes His vessels for His own purpose and according to His own pleasure. God claims the indisputable right to do as He wills with His own.
Not only has God the right to do as He wills with the creatures of His own hands, but He exercises this right, and nowhere is that seen more plainly than in His predestinating grace. Before the foundation of the world God made a choice, a selection, an election. Before His omniscient eye stood the whole of Adam's race, and from it He singled out a people and predestinated them "to be conformed to the image of His Son," "ordained" them unto eternal life. Many are the Scriptures which set forth this blessed truth, seven of which will now engage our attention.
"As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed" (Acts 13:48). Every artifice of human ingenuity has been employed to blunt the sharp edge of this Scripture and to explain away the obvious meaning of these words, but it has been employed in vain, though nothing will ever be able to reconcile this and similar passages to the mind of the natural man. "As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed." Here we learn four things: First, that believing is the consequence and not the cause of God's decree. Second, that a limited number only are "ordained to eternal life," for if all men without exception were thus ordained by God, then the words "as many as" are a meaningless qualification. Third, that this "ordination" of God is not to mere external privileges but to "eternal life," not to service but to salvation itself. Fourth, that all-"as many as," not one less-who are thus ordained by God to eternal life will most certainly believe.
The comments of the beloved Spurgeon on the above passage are well worthy of our notice. Said he, "Attempts have been made to prove that these words do not teach predestination, but these attempts so clearly do violence to language that I shall not waste time in answering them. I read: 'As many as were ordained to eternal life believed,' and I shall not twist the text but shall glorify the grace of God by ascribing to that grace the faith of every man. Is it not God who gives the disposition to believe? If men are disposed to have eternal life, does not He-in every case-dispose them? Is it wrong for God to give grace? If it be right for Him to give it, is it wrong for Him to purpose to give it? Would you have Him give it by accident? If it is right for Him to purpose to give grace today, it was right for Him to purpose it before today-and, since He changes not-from eternity."
"Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Rom. 11:5, 6). The words "Even so" at the beginning of this quotation refer us to the previous verse where we are told, "I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Note particularly the word "reserved." In the days of Elijah there were seven thousand-a small minority-who were Divinely preserved from idolatry and brought to the knowledge of the true God. This preservation and illumination was not from anything in themselves, but solely by God's special influence and agency. How highly favored such individuals were to be thus "reserved" by God! Now says the Apostle, Just as there was a "remnant" in Elijah's days "reserved by God," even so there is in this present dispensation.
"A remnant according to the election of grace." Here the cause of election is traced back to its source. The basis upon which God elected this "remnant" was not faith foreseen in them, because a choice founded upon the foresight of good works is just as truly made on the ground of works as any choice can be, and in such a case it would not be "of grace"; for, says the Apostle, "if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace"; which means that grace and works are opposites, they have nothing in common, and will no more mingle than oil and water. Thus the idea of inherent good foreseen in those chosen, or of anything meritorious performed by them, is rigidly excluded. "A remnant according to the election of grace" signifies an unconditional choice resulting from the Sovereign favor of God; in a word, it is absolutely a gratuitous election.
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty: and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Three times over in this passage reference is made to God's choice, and choice necessarily supposes a selection, the taking of some and the leaving of others. The Chooser here is God Himself, as said the Lord Jesus to the Apostles, "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). The number chosen is strictly defined-"not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble," etc., which agree with Matthew 20:16, "So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen." So much then for the fact of God's choice; now mark the objects of His choice.
The ones spoken of above as chosen of God are "the weak things of the world, base things of the world, and things which are despised." But why? To demonstrate and magnify His grace. God's ways as well as His thoughts are utterly at variance with man's. The carnal mind would have supposed that a selection had been made from the ranks of the opulent and influential, the amiable and cultured, so that Christianity might have won the approval and applause of the world by its pageantry and fleshly glory. Ah, but "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). God chooses the "base things." He did so in Old Testament times. The nation which He singled out to be the depository of His holy oracles and the channel through which the promised Seed should come was not the ancient Egyptians, the imposing Babylonians, nor the highly civilized and cultured Greeks. No; that people upon whom Jehovah set His love and regarded as 'the apple of His eye' were the despised, nomadic Hebrews. So it was when our Lord tabernacled among men. The ones whom He took into favored intimacy with Himself and commissioned to go forth as His ambassadors were, for the most part, unlettered fishermen. And so it has been ever since. So it is today: at the present rates of increase, it will not be long before it is manifested that the Lord has more in despised China who are really His, than He has in the highly favored U.S.A.; more among the uncivilized blacks of Africa, than He has in cultured (?) Germany! And the purpose of God's choice, the raison d' etre of the selection He has made is, "that no flesh should glory in His presence"-there being nothing whatever in the objects of His choice which should entitle them to His special favors, then, all the praise will be freely ascribed to the exceeding riches of His manifold grace.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will... In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:3-5, 11). Here again we are told at what point in time-if time it could be called-when God made choice of those who were to be His children by Jesus Christ. It was not after Adam had fallen and plunged his race into sin and wretchedness, but long ere Adam saw the light, even before the world itself was founded, that God chose us in Christ. Here also we learn the purpose which God had before Him in connection with His own elect: it was that they "should be holy and without blame before Him"; it was "unto the adoption of children"; it was that they should "obtain an inheritance." Here also we discover the motive which prompted Him. It was "in love that He predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself"-a statement which refutes the oft made and wicked charge that, for God to decide the eternal destiny of His creatures before they are born, is tyrannical and unjust. Finally, we are informed here, that in this matter He took counsel with none, but that we are "predestinated according to the good pleasure of His will."
"But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). There are three things here which deserve special attention. First, the fact that we are expressly told that God's elect are "chosen to salvation." Language could not be more explicit. How summarily do these words dispose of the sophistries and equivocations of all who would make election refer to nothing but external privileges or rank in service! It is to "salvation" itself that God hath chosen us. Second, we are warned here that election unto salvation does not disregard the use of appropriate means: salvation is reached through "sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." It is not true that because God has chosen a certain one to salvation that he will be saved willy-nilly, whether he believes or not: nowhere do the Scriptures so represent it. The same God who predestined the end also appointed the means; the same God who "chose unto salvation" decreed that His purpose should be realized through the work of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Third, that God has chosen us unto salvation is a profound cause for fervent praise. Note how strongly the Apostle expresses this-"we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation," etc. Instead of shrinking hack in horror from the doctrine of predestination, the believer, when he sees this blessed truth as it is unfolded in the Word, discovers a ground for gratitude and thanksgiving such as nothing else affords, save the unspeakable gift of the Redeemer Himself.
"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1:9). How plain and pointed is the language of Holy Writ! It is man who, by his words, darkeneth counsel. It is impossible to state the case more clearly, or strongly, than it is stated here. Our salvation is not "according to our works"; that is to say, it is not due to anything in us, nor the rewarding of anything from us; instead, it is the result of God's own "purpose and grace"; and this grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. It is by grace we are saved, and in the purpose of God this grace was bestowed upon us not only before we saw the light, not only before Adam's fall, but even before that far distant "beginning" of Genesis 1:1. And herein lies the unassailable comfort of God's people. If His choice has been from eternity it will last to eternity! "Nothing can survive to eternity but what came from eternity, and what has so come, will" (George S. Bishop).
"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). Here again election by the Father precedes the work of the Holy Spirit in, and the obedience of faith by, those who are saved; thus taking it entirely off creature ground, and resting it in the Sovereign pleasure of the Almighty. The "foreknowledge of God the Father" does not here refer to His prescience of all things, but signifies that the saints were all eternally present in Christ before the mind of God. God did not "foreknow" that certain ones who heard the Gospel would believe it apart from the fact that He had "ordained" these certain ones to eternal life. What God's prescience saw in all men was, love of sin and hatred of Himself. The "foreknowledge" of God is based upon His own decrees as is clear from Acts 2:23-"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain"-note the order here: first God's "determinate counsel" (His decree), and second His "foreknowledge." So it is again in Romans 8:28, 29, "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son," but the first word here, "for," looks back to the preceding verse and the last clause of its reads, "to them who are the called according to His purpose"-these are the ones whom He did "foreknow and predestinate." Finally, it needs to be pointed out that when we read in Scripture of God "knowing" certain people the word is used in the sense of knowing with approbation and love: "But if any man love God, the same is known of Him" (1 Cor. 8:3). To the hypocrites Christ will yet say "I never knew you"-He never loved them. "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" signifies, then, chosen by Him as the special objects of His approbation and love.
Summarizing the teaching of these seven passages we learn that, God has "ordained to eternal life" certain ones, and that in consequence of His ordination they, in due time, "believe"; that God's ordination to salvation of His own elect is not due to any good thing in them nor to anything meritorious from them, but solely of "His grace"; that God has designedly selected the most unlikely objects to be the recipients of His special favors in order that "no flesh should glory in His presence"; that God chose His people in Christ before the foundation of the world, not because they were so, but in order that they "should be holy and without blame before Him"; that having selected certain ones to salvation. He also decreed the means by which His eternal counsel should be made good; that the very "grace" by which we are saved was, in God's purpose, "given us in Christ Jesus before the world began"; that long before they were actually created God's elect stood present before His mind, were "foreknown" by Him, i.e., were the definite objects of His eternal love.
Before turning to the next division of this chapter, a further word concerning the subjects of God's predestinating grace. We go over this ground again because it is at this point that the doctrine of God's Sovereignty in predestining certain ones to salvation is most frequently assaulted. Perverters of this truth invariably seek to find some cause outside God's own will which moves Him to bestow salvation on sinners; something or other is attributed to the creature which entitles him to receive mercy at the hands of the Creator. We return then to the question, Why did God choose the ones He did?
What was there in the elect themselves which attracted God's heart to them? Was it because of certain virtues they possessed? because they were generous-hearted, sweet-tempered, truth-speaking? in a word, because they were "good," that God chose them? No; for our Lord said, "There is none good but one, that is God" (Matt. 19:17). Was it because of any good works they had performed? No; for it is written, "There is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12). Was it because they evidenced an earnestness and zeal in inquiring after God? No; for it is written again, "There is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:11). Was it because God foresaw they would believe? No; for how can those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" believe in Christ? How could God foreknow some men as believers when belief was impossible to them? Scripture declares that we "believe through grace" (Acts 18:27). Faith is God's gift, and apart from this gift none would believe. The cause of His choice then lies within Himself and not in the objects of His choice. He chose the ones He did simply because He chose to choose them.
"Sons we are by God's election
Who on Jesus Christ believe,
By eternal destination,
Sovereign grace we now receive,
Lord Thy mercy,
Doth both grace and glory give!"
For whom did Christ die? It surely does not need arguing that the Father had an express purpose in giving Him to die, or that God the Son had a definite design before Him in laying down His life-"Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18). What then was the purpose of the Father and the design of the Son. We answer, Christ died for "God's elect."
We are not unmindful of the fact that the limited design in the death of Christ has been the subject of much controversy-what great truth revealed in Scripture has not? Nor do we forget that anything which has to do with the Person and work of our blessed Lord requires to be handled with the utmost reverence, and that a "Thus saith the Lord" must be given in support of every assertion we make. Our appeal shall be to the Law and to the Testimony.
For whom did Christ die? Who were the ones He intended to redeem by His blood-shedding? Surely the Lord Jesus had some absolute determination before Him when He went to the Cross. If He had, then it necessarily follows that the extent of that purpose was limited, because an absolute determination of purpose must be effected. If the absolute determination of Christ included all mankind, then all mankind would most certainly be saved. To escape this inevitable conclusion many have affirmed that there was not such absolute determination before Christ, that in His death a merely conditional provision of salvation has been made for all mankind. The refutation of this assertion is found in the promises made by the Father to His Son before He went to the Cross, yea, before He became incarnate. The Old Testament Scriptures represent the Father as promising the Son a certain reward for His sufferings on behalf of sinners. At this stage we shall confine ourselves to one or two statements recorded in the well known Fifty-third of Isaiah. There we find God saying, "When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed," that "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied," and that God's righteous Servant "should justify many" (vv. 10 and 11). But here we would pause and ask, How could it be certain that Christ should "see His seed," and "see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied," unless the salvation of certain members of the human race had been Divinely decreed, and therefore was sure? How could it be certain that Christ should "justify many," if no effectual provision was made that any should receive Him as their Lord and Saviour? On the other hand, to insist that the Lord Jesus did expressly purpose the salvation of all mankind is to charge Him with that which no intelligent being should be guilty of, namely, to design that which by virtue of His omniscience He knew would never come to pass. Hence, the only alternative left us is that, so far as the pre-determined purpose of His death is concerned Christ died for the elect only. Summing up in a sentence, which we trust will be intelligible to every reader, we would say, Christ died not merely to make possible the salvation of all mankind, but to make certain the salvation of all that the Father had given to Him. Christ died not simply to render sins pardonable, but "to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). As to whose "sin" (i.e., guilt, as in 1 John 1:7, etc.) has been "put away," Scripture leaves us in no doubt-it was that of the elect, the "world" (John 1:29) of God's people!
(1) The limited design in the Atonement follows, necessarily, from the eternal choice of the Father of certain ones unto salvation. The Scriptures inform us that before the Lord became incarnate He said, "Lo, I come, to do Thy will O God" (Heb. 10:7), and after He had become incarnate He declared, "For I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38). If then God had from the beginning chosen certain ones to salvation, then, because the will of Christ was in perfect accord with the will of the Father, He would not seek to enlarge upon His election. What we have just said is not merely a plausible deduction of our own, but is in strict harmony with the express teaching of the Word. Again and again our Lord referred to those whom the Father had "given" Him, and concerning whom He was particularly exercised. Said He, "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out... And this is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:37, 39). And again, "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to Heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee; As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him...I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy Word... I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine... Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:1, 2, 6, 9, 24). Before the foundation of the world the Father predestinated a people to be conformed to the image of His Son, and the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was in order to the carrying out of the Divine purpose.
(2) The very nature of the Atonement evidences that, in its application to sinners, it was limited in the purpose of God. The Atonement of Christ may be considered from two chief viewpoints-Godward and manward. Godward, the Cross-work of Christ was a propitiation, an appeasing of Divine wrath, a satisfaction rendered to Divine justice and holiness; manward, it was a substitution, the Innocent taking the place of the guilty, the Just dying for the unjust. But a strict substitution of a Person for persons, and the infliction upon Him of voluntary sufferings, involve the definite recognition on the part of the Substitute and of the One He is to propitiate of the persons for whom He acts, whose sins He bears, whose legal obligations He discharges. Furthermore, if the Lawgiver accepts the satisfaction which is made by the Substitute, then those for whom the Substitute acts, whose place He takes, must necessarily be acquitted. If I am in debt and unable to discharge it and another comes forward and pays my creditor in full and receives a receipt in acknowledgment, then, in the sight of the law, my creditor no longer has any claim upon me. On the Cross the Lord Jesus gave Himself a ransom, and that it was accepted by God was attested by the open grave three days later; the question we would here raise is, For whom was this ransom offered? If it was offered for all mankind then the debt incurred by every man has been cancelled. If Christ bore in His own body on the tree the sins of all men without exception, then none will perish. If Christ was "made a curse" for all of Adam's race then none are now "under condemnation." "Payment God cannot twice demand, first at my bleeding Surety's hand and then again at mine." But Christ did not discharge the debts of all men without exception, for some there are who will be '"cast into prison" (cf. 1 Peter 3:19 where the same Greek word for "prison" occurs), and they shall "by no means come out thence, till they have paid the uttermost farthing" (Matt. 5:26), which, of course, will never be. Christ did not bear the sins of all mankind, for some there are who "die in their sins" (John 8:21), and whose "sin remaineth" (John 9:41). Christ was not "made a curse" for all of Adam's race, for some there are to whom He will yet say, "Depart from Me ye cursed" (Matt. 25:41). To say that Christ died for all alike, to say that He became the Substitute and Surety of the whole human race, to say that He suffered on behalf of and in the stead of all mankind, is to say that He "bore the curse for many who are now bearing the curse for themselves; that He suffered punishment for many who are now lifting up their own eyes in Hell, being in torments; that He paid the redemption price for many who shall yet pay in their own eternal anguish the wages of sin, which is death" (George S. Bishop). But, on the other hand, to say as Scripture says, that Christ was stricken for the transgressions of God's people, to say that He gave His life "for the sheep," to say He gave His life a ransom "for many," is to say that He made an atonement which fully atones; it is to say He paid a price which actually ransoms; it is to say He was set forth a propitiation which really propitiates; it is to say He is a Saviour who truly saves.
(3) Closely connected with, and confirmatory of what we have said above, is the teaching of Scripture concerning our Lord's priesthood. It is as the great High Priest that Christ now makes intercession. But for whom does He intercede? for the whole human race, or only for His own people? The answer furnished by the New Testament to this question is clear as a sunbeam. Our Saviour has entered into Heaven itself "now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:24), that is, for those who are "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1). And again it is written, "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). This is in strict accord with the Old Testament type. After slaying the sacrificial animal, Aaron went into the holy of holies as the representative and on behalf of the people of God: it was the names of Israel's tribes which were engraven on his breastplate, and it was in their interests he appeared before God. Agreeable to this are our Lord's words in John 17:9-"I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine." Another Scripture which deserves careful attention in this connection is found in Romans 8. In verse 33 the question is asked, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" and then follows the inspired answer-"It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Note particularly that the death and intercession of Christ have one and the same objects! As it was in the type so it is with the antitype-expiation and supplication are co-extensive. If then Christ intercedes for the elect only, and "not for the world," then He died for them only. And observe further, that the death, resurrection, exaltation and intercession of the Lord Jesus are here assigned as the reason why none can lay any "charge" against God's elect. Let those who would still take issue with what we are advancing weigh carefully the following question-If the death of Christ extends equally to all, how does it become security against a "charge," seeing that all who believe not are "under condemnation"? (John 3:18).
(4) The number of those who share the benefits of Christ's death is determined not only by the nature of the Atonement and the priesthood of Christ but also by His power. Grant that the One who died upon the Cross was God manifest in the flesh and it follows inevitably that what Christ has purposed that will He perform; that what He has purchased that will He possess; that what He has set His heart upon that will He secure. If the Lord Jesus possesses all power in Heaven and earth then none can successfully resist His will. But it may be said, This is true in the abstract, nevertheless, Christ refuses to exercise this power, inasmuch as He will never force anyone to receive Him as their Lord and Saviour. In one sense that is true, but in another sense it is positively untrue. The salvation of any sinner is a matter of Divine power. By nature the sinner is at enmity with God, and naught but Divine power operating within him can overcome this enmity; hence it is written, "No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). It is the Divine power overcoming the sinner's innate enmity which makes him willing to come to Christ that he might have life. But this "enmity" is not overcome in all-why? Is it because the enmity is too strong to be overcome? Are there some hearts so steeled against Him that Christ is unable to gain entrance? To answer in the affirmative is to deny His omnipotence. In the final analysis it is not a question of the sinner's willingness or unwillingness, for by nature all are unwilling. Willingness to come to Christ is the finished product of Divine power operating in the human heart and will in overcoming man's inherent and chronic "enmity," as it is written, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" (Psa. 110:3). To say that Christ is unable to win to Himself those who are unwilling is to deny that all power in Heaven and earth is His. To say that Christ cannot put forth His power without destroying man's responsibility is a begging of the question here raised, for He has put forth His power and made willing those who have come to Him, and if He did this without destroying their responsibility, why "cannot" He do so with others? If He is able to win the heart of one sinner to Himself why not that of another? To say, as is usually said, the others will not let Him is to impeach His sufficiency. It is a question of His will. If the Lord Jesus has decreed, desired, purposed the salvation of all mankind, then the entire human race will be saved, or, otherwise, He lacks the power to make good His intentions; and in such a case it could never be said, "He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." The issue raised involves the deity of the Saviour, for a defeated Saviour cannot be God.
Having reviewed some of the general principles which require us to believe that the death of Christ was limited in its design, we turn now to consider some of the explicit statements of Scripture which expressly affirm it. In that wondrous and matchless Fifty-third of Isaiah God tells us concerning His Son, "He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken" (v. 8). In perfect harmony with this was the word of the angel to Joseph, "Thou shalt call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21) i.e., not merely Israel, but all whom the Father had "given" Him. Our Lord Himself declared, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), but why have said "for many" if all without exception were included? It was "His people" whom He "redeemed" (Luke 1:68). It was for "the sheep," and not the "goats," that the Good Shepherd gave His life (John 10:11). It was the "Church of God" which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
If there is one Scripture more than any other upon which we should be willing to rest our case it is John 11:49-52. Here we are told, "And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 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 we are told that Caiaphas "prophesied not of himself," that is, like those employed by God in Old Testament times (see 2 Peter 1:21), his prophecy originated not with himself, but he spake as he was moved by the Holy Spirit; thus is the value of his utterance carefully guarded, and the Divine source of this revelation expressly vouched for. Here, too, we are definitely informed that Christ died for "that nation," i.e., Israel, and also for the One Body, His Church, for it is into the Church that the children of God-"scattered" among the nations-are now being "gathered together in one." And is it not remarkable that the members of the Church are here called "children of God" even before Christ died, and therefore before He commenced to build His Church! The vast majority of them had not then been born, yet they were regarded as "children of God"; children of God because they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and therefore "predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself" (Eph. 1:4, 5). In like manner, Christ said, "Other sheep I have (not "shall have") which are not of this fold" (John 10:16).
If ever the real design of the Cross was uppermost in the heart and speech of our blessed Saviour it was during the last week of His earthly ministry. What then do the Scriptures which treat of this portion of His ministry record in connection with our present inquiry? They say, "When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). They tell us how He said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends" (John 15:13). They record His word, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:19); which means, that for the sake of His own, those "given" to Him by the Father, He separated Himself unto the death of the Cross. One may well ask, Why such discrimination of terms if Christ died for all men indiscriminately?
Ere closing this section of the chapter we shall consider briefly a few of those passages which seem to teach most strongly an unlimited design in the death of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 we read, "One died for all." But that is not all this Scripture affirms. If the entire verse and passage from which these words are quoted be carefully examined, it will be found that instead of teaching an unlimited atonement, it emphatically argues a limited design in the death of Christ. The whole verse reads, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead." It should be pointed out that in the Greek there is the definite article before the last "all," and that the verb here is in the aorist tense, and therefore should read, "We thus judge: that if One died for all, then the all died." The Apostle is here drawing a conclusion as is clear from the words "we thus judge, that if... then were." His meaning is, that those for whom the One died are regarded, judicially, as having died too. The next verse goes on to say, "And He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." The One not only died but "rose again," and so, too, did the "all" for whom He died, for it is here said they "live." Those for whom a substitute acts are legally regarded as having acted themselves. In the sight of the law the substitute and those whom he represents are one. So it is in the sight of God. Christ was identified with His people and His people were identified with Him, hence when He died they died (judicially) and when He rose they rose also. But further we are told in this passage (v. 17), that if any man be in Christ he is a new creation; he has received a new life in fact as well as in the sight of the law, hence the "all" for whom Christ died are here bidden to live henceforth no more unto themselves, "but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." In other words, those who belonged to this "all" for whom Christ died, are here exhorted to manifest practically in their daily lives what is true of them judicially: they are to "live unto Christ who died for them." Thus the "One died for all" is defined for us. The "all" for which Christ died are they which "live," and which are here bidden to live "unto Him." This passage then teaches three important truths, and the better to show its scope we mention them in their inverse order: certain ones are here bidden to live no more unto themselves but unto Christ; the ones thus admonished are "they which live," that is live spiritually, hence, the children of God, for they alone of mankind possess spiritual life, all others being dead in trespasses and sins; those who do thus live are the ones, the "all," the "them," for whom Christ died and rose again. This passage therefore teaches that Christ died for all His people, the elect, those given to Him by the Father; that as the result of His death (and rising again "for them") they "live"-and the elect are the only ones who do thus "live"; and this life which is theirs through Christ must be lived "unto Him," Christ's love must now "constrain" them.
"For there is one God, and one Mediator, between God and men (not "man," for this would have been a generic term and signified mankind. O the accuracy of Holy Writ!), the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:5, 6). It is upon the words "who gave Himself a ransom for all" we would now comment. In Scripture the word "all" (as applied to humankind) is used in two senses-absolutely and relatively. In some passages it means all without exception; in others it signifies all without distinction. As to which of these meanings it bears in any particular passage, must be determined by the context and decided by a comparison of parallel Scriptures. That the word "all" is used in a relative and restricted sense, and in such case means all without distinction and not all without exception, is clear from a number of Scriptures, from which we select two or three as samples. "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:5). Does this mean that every man, woman and child from "all the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem" were baptized of John in Jordan? Surely not. Luke 7:30 distinctly says, "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him." Then what does "all baptized of him" mean? We answer it does not mean all without exception, but all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of men. The same explanation applies to Luke 3:21. Again we read, "And early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them" (John 8:2); are we to understand this expression absolutely or relatively? Does "all the people" mean all without exception or all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of people? Manifestly the latter; for the Temple was not able to accommodate everybody that was in Jerusalem at this time, namely, the Feast of Tabernacles. Again, we read in Acts 22:15, "For thou (Paul) shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard." Surely "all men" here does not mean every member of the human race. Now we submit that the words "who gave Himself a ransom for all" in 1 Timothy 2:6 mean all without distinction, and not all without exception. He gave Himself a ransom for men of all nationalities, of all generations, of all classes; in a word, for all the elect, as we read in Revelation 5:9, "For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." That this is not an arbitrary definition of the "all" in our passage is clear from Matthew 20:28 where we read, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many," which limitation would be quite meaningless if He gave Himself a ransom for all without exception. Furthermore, the qualifying words here, "to be testified in due time" must be taken into consideration. If Christ gave Himself a ransom for the whole human race, in what sense will this be "testified in due time"? seeing that multitudes of men will certainly be eternally lost. But if our text means that Christ gave Himself a ransom for God's elect, for all without distinction, without distinction of nationality, social prestige, moral character, age or sex, then the meaning of these qualifying words is quite intelligible, for in "due time" this will be "testified" in the actual and accomplished salvation of every one of them.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). This passage need not detain us long. A false doctrine has been erected here on a false translation. There is no word whatever in the Greek corresponding to "man" in our English version. In the Greek it is left in the abstract-"He tasted death for every." The Revised Version has correctly omitted "man" from the text, but has wrongly inserted it in italics. Others suppose the word "thing" should be supplied-"He tasted death for every thing"-but this, too, we deem a mistake. It seems to us that the words which immediately follow explain our text: "For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." It is of "sons" the Apostle is here writing, and we suggest an ellipsis of "son"-thus: "He tasted death for every"-and supply son in italics. Thus instead of teaching the unlimited design of Christ's death, Hebrews 2:9, 10 is in perfect accord with the other Scriptures we have quoted which set for the restricted purpose in the Atonement: it was for the "sons" and not the human race our Lord "tasted death." *
In closing this section of the chapter let us say that the only limitation in the Atonement we have contended for arises from pure Sovereignty; it is a limitation not of value and virtue, but of design and application. We turn now to consider-
3. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT IN SALVATION.
Since the Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity, it necessarily follows that He is in full sympathy with the will and design of the other Persons of the Godhead. The eternal purpose of the Father in election, the limited design in the death of the Son, and the restricted scope of the Holy Spirit's operations are in perfect accord. If the Father chose certain ones before the foundation of the world and gave them to His Son, and if it was for them that Christ gave Himself a ransom, then the Holy Spirit is not now working to "bring the world to Christ." The mission of the Holy Spirit in the world today is to apply the benefits of Christ's redemptive sacrifice. The question which is now to engage us is not the extent of the Holy Spirit's power-on that point there can he no doubt, it is infinite-but what we shall seek to show is that His power and operations are directed by Divine wisdom and Sovereignty.
We have just said that the power and operations of the Holy Spirit are directed by Divine wisdom and indisputable Sovereignty. In proof of this assertion we appeal first to our Lord's words to Nicodemus in John 3: 8- "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and
* 1 John 2:2 will be examined in detail in Appendix 4.
thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." A comparison is here drawn between the wind and the Spirit. The comparison is a double one: first, both are Sovereign in their actions, and second, both are mysterious in their operations. The comparison is pointed out in the word "so." The first point of analogy is seen in the words, "where it listeth" or "pleaseth"; the second is found in the words "canst not tell." With the second point of analogy we are not now concerned, but upon the first we would comment further.
"The wind bloweth where it pleaseth... so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The wind is an element which man can neither harness nor hinder. The wind neither consults man's pleasure nor can it be regulated by his devices. So it is with the Spirit. The wind blows when it pleases, where it pleases, as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit. The wind is regulated by Divine wisdom, yet, so far as man is concerned, it is absolutely Sovereign in its operations. So it is with the Spirit. Sometimes the wind blows so softly it scarcely rustles a leaf; at other times it blows so loudly that its roar can be heard for miles. So it is in the matter of the new birth; with some the Holy Spirit deals so gently that His work is imperceptible to human onlookers; with others His action is so powerful, radical, revolutionary, that His operations are patent to many. Sometimes the wind is purely local in its reach, at other times widespread in its scope. So it is with the Spirit: today He acts on one or two souls, tomorrow He may, as at Pentecost, "prick in the heart" a whole multitude. But whether He works on few or many He consults not man. He acts as He pleases. The new birth is due to the Sovereign will of the Spirit
Each of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity is concerned with our salvation: with the Father it is predestination; with the Son propitiation; with the Spirit regeneration. The Father chose us; the Son died for us; the Spirit quickens us. The Father was concerned about us; the Son shed His blood for us, the Spirit performs His work within us. What the One did was eternal, what the Other did was external, what the Spirit does is internal. It is with the work of the Spirit we are now concerned, with His work in the new birth, and particularly His Sovereign operations in the new birth. The Father purposed our new birth; the Son has made possible (by His "travail") the new birth; but it is the Spirit who effects the new birth-"Born of the Spirit" (John 3:6).
The new birth is solely the work of God the Spirit and man has no part or lot in it. This from the very nature of the case. Birth altogether excludes the idea of any effort or work on the part of the one who is born. Personally we have no more to do with our spiritual birth than we had with our natural birth. The new birth is a spiritual resurrection, a "passing from death unto life" (John 5:24) and, clearly, resurrection is altogether outside of man's province. No corpse can re-animate itself. Hence it is written, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). But the Spirit does not "quicken" everybody-why? The usual answer returned to this question is, Because everybody does not trust in Christ. It is supposed that the Holy Spirit quickens only those who believe. But this is to put the cart before the horse. Faith is not the cause of the new birth, but the consequence of it. This ought not to need arguing. Faith (in God) is an exotic, something that is not native to the human heart. If faith were a natural product of the human heart, the exercise of a principle common to human nature, it would never have been written, "All men have not faith" (2 Thess. 3:2). Faith is a spiritual grace, the fruit of the spiritual nature, and because the unregenerate are spiritually dead-"dead in trespasses and sins"-then it follows that faith from them is impossible, for a dead man cannot believe anything. "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8)-but they could if it were possible for the flesh to believe. Compare with this last-quoted Scripture Hebrews 11:6-"But without faith it is impossible to please Him." Can God be "pleased" or satisfied with any thing which does not have its origin in Himself?
That the work of the Holy Spirit precedes our believing is unequivocally established by 2 Thessalonians 2:13-"God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Note that "sanctification of the Spirit" comes before and makes possible "belief of the truth." What then is the "sanctification of the Spirit?" We answer, the new birth. In Scripture "sanctification" always means "separation," separation for something and unto something or someone. Let us now amplify our assertion that the "sanctification of the Spirit" corresponds to the new birth and points to the positional effect of it.
Here is a servant of God who preaches the Gospel to a congregation in which are an hundred unsaved people. He brings before them the teaching of Scripture concerning their ruined and lost condition: he speaks of God, His character and righteous demands; he tells of Christ meeting God's demands, and dying the Just for the unjust, and declares that through "this Man" is now preached the forgiveness of sins; he closes by urging the lost to believe what God has said in His Word and receive His Son as their Lord and Saviour. The meeting is over; the congregation disperses; ninety-nine of the unsaved have refused to come to Christ that they might have life, and go out into the night having no hope, and without God in the world. But the hundredth heard the Word of life; the Seed sown fell into ground which had been prepared by God; he believed the Good News, and goes home rejoicing that his name is written in Heaven. He has been "born again," and just as a newly-born babe in the natural world begins life by clinging instinctively, in its helplessness, to its mother, so this new-born soul has clung to Christ. Just as we read, "The Lord opened" the heart of Lydia "that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14), so in the case supposed above, the Holy Spirit quickened that one before he believed the Gospel message. Here then is the "sanctification of the Spirit": this one soul who has been born again has, by virtue of his new birth, been separated from the other ninety-nine. Those born again are, by the Spirit, set apart from those who are dead in trespasses and sins.
A beautiful type of the operations of the Holy Spirit antecedent to the sinner's "belief of the truth," is found in the first chapter of Genesis. We read in verse 2, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The original Hebrew here might be literally rendered thus: "And the earth had become a desolate ruin, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." In "the beginning" the earth was not created in the condition described in verse 2. Between the first two verses of Genesis 1 some awful catastrophe had occurred-possibly the fall of Satan--and, as the consequence, the earth had been blasted and blighted, and had become a "desolate ruin," lying beneath a pall of "darkness." Such also is the history of man. Today, man is not in the condition in which he left the hands of his Creator: an awful catastrophe has happened, and now man is a "desolate ruin" and in total "darkness" concerning spiritual things. Next we read in Genesis 1 how God refashioned the ruined earth and created new beings to inhabit it. First we read, "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water." Next we are told, "And God said, Let there be light; and there was light." The order is the same in the new creation: there is the first the action of the Spirit, and then the Word of God giving light. Before the Word found entrance into the scene of desolation and darkness, bringing with it the light, the Spirit of God "moved." So it is in the new creation. "The entrance of Thy word giveth light" (Psa. 119:130), but before it can enter the darkened human heart the Spirit of God must operate upon it.*
* The priority contended for above is rather in order of nature than of time, just as the effect must ever be preceded by the cause. A blind man must have his eyes opened before he can see, and yet there is no interval of time between the one and the other. As soon as his eyes are opened, he sees. So a man must be born again before he can "see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Seeing the Son is necessary to believing in Him. Unbelief is attributed to spiritual blindness-those who believed not the "report" of the Gospel "saw no beauty" in Christ that they should desire Him. The work of the Spirit in "quickening" the one dead in sins, precedes faith in Christ, just as cause ever precedes effect. But no sooner is the heart turned toward Christ by the Spirit, than the Saviour is embraced by the sinner.
To return to 2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." The order of thought here is most important and instructive. First, God's eternal choice; second, the sanctification of the Spirit; third, belief of the truth. Precisely the same order is found in 1 Peter 1:2-"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." We take it that the "obedience" here is the "obedience to the faith" (Rom. 1:5), which appropriates the virtues of the sprinkled blood of the Lord Jesus. So then before the "obedience" (of faith, cf. Heb. 5:9), there is the work of the Spirit setting us apart, and behind that is the election of God the Father. The ones "sanctified of the Spirit" then, are they whom "God hath from the beginning chosen to salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13), those who are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:2).
But, it may be said, is not the present mission of the Holy Spirit to "convict the world of sin"? And we answer, it is not. The mission of the Spirit is threefold; to glorify Christ, to vivify the elect, to edify the saints. John 16:8-11 does not describe the "mission" of the Spirit, but sets forth the significance of His presence here in the world. It treats not of His subjective work in sinners, showing them their need of Christ, by searching their consciences and striking terror to their hearts; what we have there is entirely objective. To illustrate. Suppose I saw a man hanging on the gallows, of what would that "convince" me? Why, that he was a murderer. How would I thus be convinced? By reading the record of his trial? by hearing a confession from his own lips? No; but by the fact that he was hanging there. So the fact that the Holy Spirit is here furnishes proof of the world's guilt, of God's righteousness, and of the Devil's judgment.
The Holy Spirit ought not to be here at all. That is a startling statement, but we make it deliberately. Christ is the One who ought to be here. He was sent here by the Father, but the world did not want Him, would not have Him, hated Him, and cast Him out. And the presence of the Spirit here instead evidences its guilt. The coming of the Spirit was a proof to demonstration of the resurrection, ascension, and glory of the Lord Jesus. His presence on earth reverses the world's verdict, showing that God has set aside the blasphemous judgment in the palace of Israel's high priest and in the hall of the Roman governor. The "reproof" of the Spirit abides, and abides altogether irrespective of the world's reception or rejection of His testimony.
Had our Lord been referring here to the gracious work which the Spirit would perform in those who should be brought to feel their need of Him, He had said that the Spirit would convict men of their un-righteousness, their lack of righteousness. But this is not the thought here at all. The descent of the Spirit from Heaven establishes God's righteousness, Christ's righteousness. The proof of that is, Christ has gone to the Father. Had Christ been an Impostor, as the religious world insisted when they cast Him out, the Father had not received Him. The fact that the Father did exalt Him to His own right hand, demonstrates that He was innocent of the charges laid against Him; and the proof that the Father has received Him, is the presence now of the Holy Spirit on earth, for Christ has sent Him from the Father (John 16:7)! The world was unrighteous in casting Him out, the Father righteous in glorifying Him; and this is what the Spirit's presence here establishes.
"Of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged" (v. 11). This is the logical and inevitable climax. The world is brought in guilty for their rejection of, for their refusal to receive, Christ. Its condemnation is exhibited by the Father's exaltation of the spurned One. Therefore nothing awaits the world, and its Prince, but judgment. The "judgment" of Satan is already established by the Spirit's presence here, for Christ, through death, set at nought him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2:14). When God's time comes for the Spirit to depart from the earth then His sentence will be executed, both on the world and its Prince. In the light of this unspeakably solemn passage we need not be surprised to find Christ saying, "The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him." No, the world wants Him not; He condemns the world.
"And when He is come, He will reprove (or, better, "convict"-bring in guilty) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged" (John 16:8-11). Three things, then, the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth demonstrates to the world: first, its sin, because the world refused to believe on Christ; second, God's righteousness in exalting to His own right hand the One cast out, and now no more seen by the world; third, judgment, because Satan the world's prince is already judged, though execution of his judgment is yet future. Thus the Holy Spirit's presence here displays things as they really are. We repeat, John 16:8-11 makes no reference to the mission of the Spirit of God in the world, for during this dispensation, the Spirit has no mission and ministry worldward.
The Holy Spirit is Sovereign in His operations and His mission is confined to God's elect: they are the ones He "comforts," "seals," guides into all truth, shows things to come, etc. The work of the Spirit is necessary in order to the complete accomplishment of the Father's eternal purpose. Speaking hypothetically, but reverently, be it said, that if God had done nothing more than given Christ to die for sinners, not a single sinner would ever have been saved. In order for any sinner to see his need of a Saviour and be willing to receive the Saviour he needs the work of the Holy Spirit upon and within him as imperatively required. Had God done nothing more than given Christ to die for sinners and then sent forth His servants to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ, thus leaving sinners entirely to themselves to accept or reject as they pleased, then every sinner would have rejected, because at heart every man hates God and is at enmity with Him. Therefore the work of the Holy Spirit was needed to bring the sinner to Christ, to overcome his innate opposition, and compel him to accept the provision God has made. We say "compel" the sinner, for this is precisely what the Holy Spirit does, has to do, and this leads us to consider at some length, though as briefly as possible, the parable of the "Marriage Supper."
In Luke 14:16 we read, "A certain man made a great supper, and bade many." By comparing carefully what follows here with Matthew 22:2-10 several important distinctions will be observed. We take it that these passages are two independent accounts of the same parable, differing in detail according to the distinctive purpose and design of the Holy Spirit in each Gospel. Matthew's account-in harmony with the Spirit's presentation there of Christ as the King says, "A certain king made a marriage for his son." Luke's account-where the Spirit presents Christ as the Son of Man-says "A certain man made a great supper and bade many." Matthew 22:3 says, "And sent forth His servants"; Luke 14:17 says, "And sent His servant." Now what we wish particularly to call attention to is, that all through Matthew's account it is "servants," whereas in Luke it is always "servant." The class of readers for whom we are writing are those that believe, unreservedly, in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, and such will readily acknowledge there must be some reason for this change from the plural number in Matthew to the singular number in Luke. We believe the reason is a weighty one and that attention to this variation reveals an important truth. We believe that the "servants" in Matthew, speaking generally, are all who go forth preaching the Gospel, but that the "Servant" in Luke 14 is the Holy Spirit, for God the Son, in the days of His earthly ministry, was the Servant of Jehovah (Isa. 42:1). It will be observed that in Matthew 22 the "servants" are sent forth to do three things: first, to "call" to the wedding (v. 3); second, to "tell those which are bidden.. all things are ready: come unto the marriage" (v. 4); third, to "bid to the marriage" (v. 9); and these three are the things which those who minister the Gospel today are now doing. In Luke 14 the Servant is also sent forth to do three things: first, He is to say to them that were bidden, Come: for all things are now ready" (v. 17); second, He is to "bring in the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" (v. 21); third, He is to "compel them to come in" (v. 23), and the last two of these the Holy Spirit alone can do!
In the above Scripture we see that "the Servant," the Holy Spirit, compels certain ones to come in to the "supper" and herein is seen His Sovereignty, His omnipotency, His Divine sufficiency. The clear implication from this word "compel" is, that those whom the Holy Spirit does "bring in" are not willing of themselves to come. This is exactly what we have sought to show in previous paragraphs. By nature, God's elect are children of wrath even as others (Eph. 2:3), and as such their hearts are at enmity with God. But this "enmity" of theirs is overcome by the Spirit and He "compels" them to come in. Is it not clear then that the reason why others are left outside, is not only because they are unwilling to go in, but also because the Holy Spirit does not "compel" them to come in? Is it not manifest that the Holy Spirit is Sovereign in the exercise of His power, that as the wind "bloweth where it pleaseth" so the Holy Spirit operates where He pleases?
And now to sum up. We have sought to show the perfect consistency of God's ways: that each Person in the Godhead acts in sympathy and harmony with the Others. God the Father elected certain ones to salvation, God the Son died for the elect, and God the Spirit quickens the elect. Well may we sing,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
"Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God" (Rom. 11:22).
In the last chapter when treating of the Sovereignty of God the Father in Salvation, we examined seven passages which represent Him as making a choice from among the children of men, and predestinating certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son. The thoughtful reader will naturally ask, And what of those who were not "ordained to eternal life?" The answer which is usually returned to this question, even by those who profess to believe what the Scriptures teach concerning God's Sovereignty, is, that God passes by the non-elect, leaves them alone to go their own way, and in the end casts them into the Lake of Fire because they refused His way, and rejected the Saviour of His providing. But this is only a part of the truth; the other part-that which is most offensive to the carnal mind-is either ignored or denied.
In view of the awful solemnity of the subject here before us, in view of the fact that today almost all-even those who profess to be Calvinists-reject and repudiate this doctrine, and in view of the fact that this is one of the points in our book which is likely to raise the most controversy, we feel that an extended inquiry into this aspect of God's Truth is demanded. That this branch of the subject of God's Sovereignty is profoundly mysterious we freely allow, yet, that is no reason why we should reject it. The trouble is that, nowadays, there are so many who receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, which means they will accept nothing but that which can be measured in the petty scales of their own limited capacities.
Stating it in its baldest form the point now to be considered is, Has God foreordained certain ones to damnation? That many will be eternally damned is clear from Scripture, that each one will be judged according to his works and reap as he has sown, and that in consequence his "damnation is just" (Rom. 3:8), is equally sure, and that God decreed that the non-elect should choose the course they follow we now undertake to prove.
From what has been before us in the previous chapter concerning the election of some to salvation, it would unavoidably follow, even if Scripture had been silent upon it, that there must be a rejection of others. Every choice evidently and necessarily implies a refusal, for where there is no leaving out there can be no choice. If there be some whom God has elected unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), there must be others who are not elected unto salvation. If there are some that the Father gave to Christ (John 6:37), there must be others whom He did not give unto Christ. If there be some whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 21:27), there must be others whose names are not written there. That this is the case we shall fully prove below.
Now all will acknowledge that from the foundation of the world God certainly foreknew and foresaw who would and who would not receive Christ as their Saviour, therefore in giving being and birth to those He knew would reject Christ, He necessarily created them unto damnation. All that can be said in reply to this is, No, while God did foreknow these would reject Christ, yet He did not decree that they should. But this is a begging of the real question at issue. God had a definite reason why He created men, a specific purpose why He created this and that individual, and in view of the eternal destination of His creatures, He purposed either that this one should spend eternity in Heaven or that this one should spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. If then He foresaw that in creating a certain person that that person would despise and reject the Saviour, yet knowing this beforehand He, nevertheless, brought that person into existence, then it is clear He designed and ordained that that person should be eternally lost. Again; faith is God's gift, and the purpose to give it only to some, involves the purpose not to give it to others. Without faith there is no salvation--"He that believeth not shall be damned"-hence if there were some of Adam's descendants to whom He purposed not to give faith, it must be because He ordained that they should be damned.
Not only is there no escape from these conclusions, but history confirms them. Before the Divine Incarnation, for almost two thousand years, the vast majority of mankind were left destitute of even the external means of grace, being favored with no preaching of God's Word and with no written revelation of His will. For many long centuries Israel was the only nation to whom the Deity vouchsafed any special discovery of Himself- "Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16)--"You only (Israel) have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). Consequently, as all other nations were deprived of the preaching of God's Word, they were strangers to the faith that cometh thereby (Rom. 10:17). These nations were not only ignorant of God Himself, but of the way to please Him, of the true manner of acceptance with Him, and the means of arriving at the everlasting enjoyment of Himself.
Now if God had willed their salvation, would He not have vouchsafed them the means of salvation? Would He not have given them all things necessary to that end? But it is an undeniable matter of fact that He did not. If, then, Deity can, consistently, with His justice, mercy, and benevolence, deny to some the means of grace, and shut them up in gross darkness and unbelief (because of the sins of their forefathers, generations before), why should it be deemed incompatible with His perfections to exclude some persons, many, from grace itself, and from that eternal life which is connected with it? seeing that He is Lord and Sovereign Disposer both of the end to which the means lead, and the means which lead to that end?
Coming down to our own day, and to those in our own country-leaving out the almost unnumerable crowds of unevangelized heathen-is it not evident that there are many living in lands where the Gospel is preached, lands which are full of churches, who die strangers to God and His holiness? True, the means of grace were close to their hand, but many of them knew it not. Thousands are born into homes where they are taught from infancy to regard all Christians as hypocrites and preachers as arch-humbugs. Others, are instructed from the cradle in Roman Catholicism, and are trained to regard Evangelical Christianity as deadly heresy, and the Bible as a book highly dangerous for them to read. Others, reared in "Christian Science" families, know no more of the true Gospel of Christ than do the unevangelized heathen. The great majority of these die in utter ignorance of the Way of Peace. Now are we not obliged to conclude that it was not God's will to communicate grace to them? Had His will been otherwise, would He not have actually communicated His grace to them? If, then, it was the will of God, in time, to refuse to them his grace, it must have been His will from all eternity, since His will is, as Himself, the same yesterday, and today and forever. Let it not be forgotten that God's providences are but the manifestations of His decrees: what God does in time is only what He purposed in eternity-His own will being the alone cause of all His acts and works. Therefore from His actually leaving some men in final impenitency and unbelief we assuredly gather it was His everlasting determination so to do; and consequently that He reprobated some from before the foundation of the world.
In the Westminster Confession it is said, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably foreordain whatsoever comes to pass." The late Mr. F. W. Grant-a most careful and cautious student and writer-commenting on these words said: "It is perfectly, divinely true, that God hath ordained for His own glory whatsoever comes to pass." Now if these statements are true, is not the doctrine of Reprobation established by them? What, in human history, is the one thing which does come to pass every day? What, but that men and women die, pass out of this world into a hopeless eternity, an eternity of suffering and woe. If then God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass then He must have decreed that vast numbers of human beings should pass out of this world unsaved to suffer eternally in the Lake of Fire. Admitting the general premise, is not the specific conclusion inevitable?
In reply to the preceding paragraphs the reader may say, All this is simply reasoning, logical no doubt, but yet mere inferences. Very well, we will now point out that in addition to the above conclusions there are many passages in Holy Writ which are most clear and definite in their teaching on this solemn subject; passages which are too plain to be misunderstood and too strong to be evaded. The marvel is that so many good men have denied their undeniable affirmations.
"Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 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 utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them as the LORD commanded Moses" (Josh. 11:18-20). What could be plainer than this? Here was a large number of Canaanites whose hearts the Lord hardened, whom He had purposed to utterly destroy, to whom He showed "no favor." Granted that they were wicked, immoral, idolatrous; were they any worse than the immoral, idolatrous cannibals of the South Sea Islands (and many other places), to whom God gave the Gospel through John G. Paton! Assuredly not. Then why did not Jehovah command Israel to teach the Canaanites His laws and instruct them concerning sacrifices to the true God? Plainly, because He had marked them out for destruction, and if so, that from all eternity.
"The LORD hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4). That the Lord made all, perhaps every reader of this book will allow: that He made all for Himself is not so widely believed. That God made us, not for our own sakes, but for Himself; not for our own happiness, but for His glory, is, nevertheless, repeatedly affirmed in Scripture-Revelation 4:11. But Proverbs 16:4 goes even farther: it expressly declares that the Lord made the wicked for the Day of Evil: that was His design in giving them being. But why? Does not Romans 9:17 tell us, "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"! God has made the wicked that, at the end, He may demonstrate His power"-demonstrate it by showing what an easy matter it is for Him to subdue the stoutest rebel and to overthrow His mightiest enemy.
"And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23). In the previous chapter it has been shown that the words "know" and "foreknowledge" when applied to God in the Scriptures, have reference not simply to His prescience (i.e., His bare knowledge beforehand), but to His knowledge of approbation. When God said to Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2), it is evident that He meant, "You only had I any favorable regard to." When we read in Romans 11:2 "God hath not cast away His people (Israel) which He foreknew," it is obvious that what was signified is, "God has not finally rejected that people whom He has chosen as the objects of His love"-cf. Deuteronomy 7:8. In the same way (and it is the only possible way) are we to understand Matthew 7:23. In the Day of Judgment the Lord will say unto many, "I never knew you." Note, it is more than simply "I know you not." His solemn declaration will be, "I never knew you"-you were never the objects of My approbation. Contrast this with "I know (love) My sheep, and am known (loved) of Mine" (John 10:14). The "sheep," His elect, the "few" He does "know"; but the reprobate, the non-elect, the "many" He knows not-no, not even before the foundation of the world did He know them-He "NEVER" knew them!
In Romans 9 the doctrine of God's Sovereignty in its application to both the elect and the reprobate is treated of at length. A detailed exposition of this important chapter would be beyond our present scope; all that we can essay is to dwell upon the part of it which most clearly bears upon the aspect of the subject which we are now considering.
Verse 17. "For the Scripture saith unto Pharoah, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth." These words refer us back to verses 13 and 14. In verse 13 God's love to Jacob and His hatred to Esau are declared. In verse 14 it is asked "Is there unrighteousness with God?" and here in verse 17 the Apostle continues his reply to the objection. We cannot do better now than quote from Calvin's comments upon this verse. "There are here two things to be considered-the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God-and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God. As many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must observe, that for the word 'I have raised thee up,' or stirred up, in the Hebrew is, 'I have appointed,' by which it appears, that God, designing to show that the contumacy of Pharaoh would not prevent Him to deliver His people, not only affirms that his fury had been foreseen by Him, and that He had prepared means for restraining it, but that He had also thus designedly ordained it and indeed for this end,-that He might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of His own power." It will be observed that Calvin gives as the force of the Hebrew word which Paul renders "For this cause have I raised thee up,"-"I have appointed." As this is the word on which the doctrine and argument of the verse turns we would further point out that in making this quotation from Exodus 9:16 the Apostle significantly departs from the Septuagint-the version then in common use, and from which he most frequently quotes-and substitutes a clause for the first that is given by the Septuagint: instead of "On this account thou hast been preserved," he gives "For this very end have I raised thee up!"
But we must now consider in more detail the case of Pharaoh which sums up in concrete example the great controversy between man and his Maker. "For now I will stretch out My hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in every deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth" (Exo. 9:15, 16). Upon these words we offer the following comments:
First, we know from Exodus 14 and 15 that Pharaoh was "cut off," that he was cut off by God, that he was cut off in the very midst of his wickedness, that he was cut off not by sickness nor by the infirmities which are incident to old age, nor by what men term an accident, but cut off by the immediate hand of God in judgment.
Second, it is clear that God raised up Pharaoh for this very end-to "cut him off," which in the language of the New Testament means "destroyed." God never does anything without a previous design. In giving him being, in preserving him through infancy and childhood, in raising him to the throne of Egypt, God had one end in view. That such was God's purpose is clear from His words to Moses before he went down to Egypt to demand of Pharaoh that Jehovah's people should be allowed to go a three days' journey into the wilderness to worship Him-"And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all these wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go" (Exo. 4:21). But not only so, God's design and purpose was declared long before this. Four hundred years previously God had said to Abraham, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them: and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge" (Gen. 15:13, 14). From these words it is evident (a nation and its king being looked at as one in the Old Testament) that God's purpose was formed long before He gave Pharaoh being.
Third, an examination of God's dealings with Pharaoh makes it clear that Egypt's king was indeed a "vessel of wrath fitted to destruction." Placed on Egypt's throne, with the reins of government in his hands, he sat as head of the nation which occupied the first rank among the peoples of the world. There was no other monarch on earth able to control or dictate to Pharaoh. To such a dizzy height did God raise this reprobate, and such a course was a natural and necessary step to prepare him for his final fate, for it is a Divine axiom that "pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." Further-and this is deeply important to note and highly significant-God removed from Pharaoh the one outward restraint which was calculated to act as a check upon him. The bestowing upon Pharoah of the unlimited powers of a king was setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom. Had Moses, who not only was skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians but also had been reared in Pharaoh's household, been suffered to remain in close proximity to the throne, there can be no doubt but that his example and influence had been a powerful check upon the king's wickedness and tyranny. This, though not the only cause, was plainly one reason why God sent Moses into Midian, for it was during his absence that Egypt's inhuman king framed his most cruel edicts. God designed, by removing this restraint, to give Pharaoh full opportunity to fill up the full measure of his sins, and ripen himself for his fully-deserved but predestined ruin.
Fourth, God "hardened" his heart as He declared He would (Exo. 4:21). This is in full accord with the declarations of Holy Scripture-"The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD" (Prov. 16:1); "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water, He turneth it withersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1). Like all other kings, Pharaoh's heart was in the hand of the Lord; and God had both the right and the power to turn it whithersoever He pleased. And it pleased Him to turn it against all good. God determined to hinder Pharaoh from granting his request through Moses to let Israel go until He had fully prepared him for his final overthrow, and because nothing short of this would fully fit him, God hardened his heart.
Finally, it is worthy of careful consideration to note how the vindication of God in His dealings with Pharaoh has been fully attested. Most remarkable it is to discover that we have Pharaoh's own testimony in favor of God and against himself! In Exodus 9:15 and 16 we learn how God had told Pharaoh for what purpose He had raised him up, and in verse 27 of the same chapter we are told that Pharaoh said, "I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." Mark that this was said by Pharaoh after he knew that God had raised him up in order to "cut him off," after his severe judgments had been sent upon him, after he had hardened his own heart. By this time Pharaoh was fairly ripened for judgment, and fully prepared to decide whether God had injured him, or whether he had sought to injure God; and he fully acknowledged that he had "sinned" and that God was "righteous." Again; we have the witness of Moses who was fully acquainted with God's conduct toward Pharaoh. He had heard at the beginning what was God's design in connection with Pharaoh; he had witnessed God's dealings with him; he had observed his "long-sufferance" toward this vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and at last he had beheld him cut off in Divine judgment at the Red Sea. How then was Moses impressed? Does he raise the cry of injustice? Does he dare to charge God with unrighteousness? Far from it. Instead, he says, "Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!" (Exo. 15: 11).
Was Moses moved by a vindictive spirit as he saw Israel's archenemy "cut off" by the waters of the Red Sea? Surely not. But to remove forever all doubt upon this score it remains to be pointed out how that saints in Heaven, after they have witnessed the sore judgments of God, join in singing "the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints" (Rev. 15:3). Here then is the climax, and the full and final vindication of God's dealings with Pharaoh. Saints in Heaven join in singing the Song of Moses, in which the servant of God celebrated Jehovah's praise in overthrowing Pharaoh and his hosts, declaring that in so acting God was not unrighteous but just and true. We must believe, therefore, that the Judge of all the earth did right in creating and destroying this vessel of wrath, Pharaoh.
The case of Pharaoh establishes the principle and illustrates the doctrine of Reprobation. If God actually reprobated Pharaoh, we may justly conclude that He reprobates all others whom He did not predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. This inference the Apostle Paul manifestly draws from the fate of Pharaoh, for in Romans 9, after referring to God's purpose in raising up Pharaoh, he continues, "therefore." The case of Pharaoh is introduced to prove the doctrine of Reprobation as the counterpart of the doctrine of Election.
In conclusion, we would say that in forming Pharaoh God displayed neither justice nor injustice, but only His bare Sovereignty. As the potter is Sovereign in forming vessels, so God is Sovereign in forming moral agents.
Verse 18. "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." The "therefore" announces the general conclusion which the Apostle draws from all he had said in the three preceding verses in denying that God was unrighteous in loving Jacob and hating Esau, and specifically it applies the principle exemplified in God's dealings with Pharaoh. It traces everything back to the Sovereign will of the Creator. He loves one and hates another. He exercises mercy toward some and hardens others, without reference to anything save His own Sovereign will.
That which is most repulsive to the carnal mind in the above verse is the reference to hardening-"Whom He will He hardeneth"-and it is just here that so many commentators and expositors have adulterated the truth. The most common view is that the Apostle is speaking of nothing more than judicial hardening, i.e., a forsaking by God because these subjects of His displeasure had first rejected His truth and forsaken Him. Those who contend for this interpretation appeal to such Scriptures as Romans 1: 19-26-"God gave them up," that is (see context) those who "knew God" yet glorified Him not as God (v. 21). Appeal is also made to 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. But it is to be noted that the word "harden" does not occur in either of these passages. But further. We submit that Romans 9:18 has no reference whatever to judicial "hardening." The Apostle is not there speaking of those who had already turned their back on God's truth, but instead, he is dealing with God's Sovereignty, God's Sovereignty as seen not only in showing mercy to whom He wills, but also in hardening whom He pleases. The exact words are "Whom He will"-not, "all who have rejected His truth"-"He hardeneth," and this, coming immediately after the mention of Pharaoh, clearly fixes their meaning. The case of Pharaoh is plain enough, though man by his glosses has done his best to hide the truth.
Verse 18. "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." This affirmation of God's Sovereign "hardening" of sinners' hearts-in contradistinction from judicial hardening-is not alone. Mark the language of John 12:37-40, "But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: that the saying of 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 (why?), because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts (why? Because they had refused to believe on Christ? This is the popular belief, but mark the answer of Scripture) that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." Now, reader, it is just a question as to whether or not you will believe what God has revealed in His Word. It is not a matter of prolonged searching or profound study, but a childlike spirit which is needed in order to understand this doctrine.
Verse 19. "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?" Is not this the very objection which is urged today? The force of the Apostle's questions here seem to be this: Since everything is dependent on God's will, which is irreversible, and since this will of God, according to which He can do everything as Sovereign-since He can have mercy on whom He wills to have mercy, and can refuse mercy and inflict punishment on whom He chooses to do so-why does He not will to have mercy on all, so as to make them obedient, and thus put finding of fault out of court? Now it should be particularly noted that the Apostle does not repudiate the ground on which the objection rests. He does not say God does not find fault. Nor does he say, Men may resist His will. Furthermore; he does not explain away the objection by saying: You have altogether missapprehended my meaning when I said 'Whom He will He treats kindly, and whom He wills He treats severely.' But he says, "first, this is an objection you have no right to make; and then, This is an objection you have no reason to make" (vide Dr. Brown). The objection was utterly inadmissible, for it was a replying against God. It was to complain about, argue against, what God had done!
Verse 19. "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?" The language which the Apostle here puts into the mouth of the objector is so plain and pointed, that misunderstanding ought to be impossible. Why doth He yet find fault? Now, reader, what can these words mean? Formulate your own reply before considering ours. Can the force of the Apostle's question be any other than this: If it is true that God has "mercy" on whom He wills, and also "hardens" whom He wills, then what becomes of human responsibility? In such a case men are nothing better than puppets, and if this be true then it would be unjust for God to "find fault" with His helpless creatures. Mark the word "then"-Thou wilt say then unto me-he states the (false) inference or conclusion which the objector draws from what the Apostle had been saying. And mark, my reader, the Apostle readily saw the doctrine he had formulated would raise this very objection, and unless what we have written throughout this book provokes, in some at least, (all whose carnal minds are not subdued by Divine grace) the same objection, then it must be either because we have not presented the doctrine which is set forth in Romans 9, or else because human nature has changed since the Apostle's day. Consider now the remainder of the verse (19). The Apostle repeats the same objection in a slightly different form-repeats it so that this meaning may not be misunderstood-namely, "For who hath resisted His will?" It is clear then that the subject under immediate discussion relates to God's "will," i.e., His Sovereign ways, which confirms what we have said above upon verses 17 and 18 where we contended that it is not judicial hardening which is in view (that is, hardening because of previous rejection of the truth), but Sovereign "hardening," that is, the "hardening" of a fallen and sinful creature for no other reason than that which inheres in the Sovereign will of God. And hence the question, "Who hath resisted His will?" What then does the Apostle say in reply to these objections?
Verse 20. "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" The Apostle, then, did not say the objection was pointless and groundless, instead, he rebukes the objector for his impiety. He reminds him that he is merely a "man," a creature, and that as such it is most unseemly and impertinent for him to "reply (argue, or reason) against God." Furthermore, he reminds him that he is nothing more than a "thing formed" and, therefore, it is madness and blasphemy to rise up against the Former Himself. Ere leaving this verse it should be pointed out that its closing words, "Why hast thou made me thus," help us to determine, unmistakably, the precise subject under discussion. In the light of the immediate context what can be the force of the "thus"? What, but as in the case of Esau, why hast thou made me an object of "hatred"? What, but as in the case of Pharaoh, Why hast thou made me simply to "harden" me? What other meaning can, fairly, be assigned to it?
It is highly important to keep clearly before us that the Apostle's object throughout this passage is to treat of God's Sovereignty in dealing with, on the one hand, those whom He loves-vessels unto honor and vessels of mercy; and also, on the other hand, with those whom He "hates" and "hardens"-vessels unto dishonor and vessels of wrath.
Verses 21-23. "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory." In these verses the Apostle furnishes a full and final reply to the objections raised in verse 19. First, he asks, "Hath not the potter power over the clay?" etc. It is to be noted the word here translated "power" is a different one in the Greek from the one rendered "power" in verse 22 where it can only signify His might; but here in verse 21, the "power" spoken of must refer to the Creator's rights or Sovereign prerogatives; that this is so, appears from the fact that the same Greek word is employed in John 1: 12-"As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God"-which, as is well known, means the right or privilege to become the sons of God. The R. V. employs "right" both in John 1:12 and Romans 9:21.
Verse 21. "Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonour?" That the "potter" here is God Himself is certain from the previous verse, where the Apostle asks, "Who art thou that repliest against God?" and then, speaking in the terms of the figure he was about to use, continues, "Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it," etc. Some there are who would rob these words of their force by arguing that while the human potter makes certain vessels to be used for less honorable purposes than others, nevertheless, they are designed to fill some useful place. But the Apostle does not here say, Hath not the Potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto an honorable use and another to a less honorable use, but he speaks of some "vessels" being made unto "dishonour." It is true, of course, that God's wisdom will yet be fully vindicated, inasmuch as the destruction of the reprobate will promote His glory-in what way the next verse tells us.
Ere passing to the next verse let us summarize the teaching of this and the two previous ones. In verse 19 two questions are asked, "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?" To those questions a threefold answer is returned. First, in verse 20 the Apostle denies the creature the right to sit in judgment upon the ways of the Creator-"Nay but, O man who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?" The Apostle insists that the rectitude of God's will must not be questioned. Whatever He does must be right. Second, in verse 21 the Apostle declares that the Creator has the right to dispose of His creatures as He sees fit-"Hath not the Potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?" It should be carefully noted that the word for "power" here is exousia-an entirely different word from the one translated "power" in the following verse ("to make known His power"), where it is duaton. In the words "Hath not the Potter power over the clay?" it must be God's power justly exercised which is in view-the exercise of God's rights consistently with His justice-because the mere assertion of His omnipotency would be no such answer as God would return to the questions asked in verse 19. Third, in verses 22, 23 the Apostle gives the reasons why God proceeds differently with one of His creatures from another: on the one hand, it is to "shew His wrath" and to "make His power known"; on the other hand, it is to "make known the riches of His glory."
"Hath not the Potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonour?" Certainly God has the right to do this because He is the Creator. Does He exercise this right? Yes, as verses 13 and 17 clearly show us-"For this same purpose have I raised thee (Pharaoh) up."
Verse 22. "What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Here the Apostle tells us in the second place why God acts thus, i.e., differently with different ones-having mercy on some and hardening others, making one vessel "unto honor" and another "unto dishonour." Observe that here in verse 22 the Apostle first mentions "vessels of wrath" before he refers in verse 23 to the "vessels of mercy." Why is this? The answer to this question is of first importance: we reply, Because it is the "vessels of wrath" who are the subjects in view before the objector in verse 19. Two reasons are given why God makes some "vessels unto dishonour"; first, to "shew His wrath," and secondly "to make His power known"-both of which were exemplified in the case of Pharaoh.
One point in the above verse requires separate consideration-"Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." The usual explanation which is given of these words is that the vessels of wrath fit themselves to destruction, that is, fit themselves by virtue of their wickedness; and it is argued that there is no need for God to "fit them to destruction," because they are already fitted by their own depravity, and that this must be the real meaning of this expression. Now if by "destruction" we understand punishment, it is perfectly true that the non-elect do "fit themselves," for every one will be judged "according to his works"; and further, we freely grant that subjectively the non-elect do fit themselves for destruction. But the point to be decided is, Is this what the Apostle is here referring to? And, without hesitation, we reply it is not. Go back to verses 11-13: did Esau fit himself to be an object of God's hatred, or was he not such before he was born? Again; did Pharaoh fit himself for destruction, or did not God harden his heart before the plagues were sent upon Egypt?-see Exodus 4:21!
Romans 9:22 is clearly a continuation in thought of verse 21, and verse 21 is part of the Apostle's reply to the question raised in verse 20: therefore, to fairly follow out the figure, it must be God Himself who "fits" unto destruction the vessels of wrath. Should it be asked how God does this, the answer, necessarily, is, objectively,-He fits the non-elect unto destruction by His fore-ordinating decrees. Should it be asked why God does this, the answer must be, To promote His own glory, i.e., the glory of His justice, power and wrath. "The sum of the Apostle's answer here is, that the grand object of God, both in the election and the reprobation of men, is that which is paramount to all things else in the creation of men, namely, His own glory" (Robert Haldane).
Verse 23. "And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory." The only point in this verse which demands attention is the fact that the "vessels of mercy" are here said to be "afore prepared unto glory." Many have pointed out that the previous verse does not say the vessels of wrath were afore prepared unto destruction, and from this omission they have concluded that we must understand the reference there to the non-elect fitting themselves in time, rather than God ordaining them for destruction from all eternity. But this conclusion by no means follows. We need to look back to verse 21 and note the figure which is there employed. "Clay" is inanimate matter, corrupt, decomposed, and therefore a fit substance to represent fallen humanity. As then the Apostle is contemplating God's Sovereign dealings with humanity in view of the Fall, He does not say the vessels of wrath were "afore" prepared unto destruction, for the obvious and sufficient reason that it was not until after the Fall that they became (in themselves) what is here symbolized by the "clay." All that is necessary to refute the erroneous conclusion referred to above is to point out that what is said of the vessels of wrath is not that they are fit for destruction (which is the word that would have been used if the reference had been to them fitting themselves by their own wickedness), but fitted to destruction; which, in the light of the whole context, must mean a Sovereign ordination to destruction by the Creator. We quote here the pointed words of Calvin on this passage: "There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction; they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God's vengeance and displeasure. Though in the second clause the Apostle asserts more expressly, that it is God who prepared the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction, there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate gave up or cast themselves into destruction, but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot." With this we are in hearty accord. Romans 9:22 does not say the vessels of wrath fitted themselves, nor does it say they are fit for destruction, instead, it declares they are "fitted to destruction," and the context shows plainly it is God who thus "fits" them-objectively by His eternal decrees.
Though Romans 9 contains the fullest setting forth of the doctrine of Reprobation, there are still other passages which refer to it, one or two more of which we will now briefly notice:
"What then? That which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not, but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened" (Rom. 11:7 R. V.). Here we have two distinct and clearly defined classes which are set in sharp antithesis: the "election" and "the rest"; the one "obtained," the other is "hardened." On this verse we quote from the comments of John Bunyan of immortal memory: "These are solemn words: they sever between men and men-the election and the rest, the chosen and the left, the embraced and the refused. By 'rest' here must needs be understood those not elect, because set the one in opposition to the other, and if not elect, whom then but reprobate?"
Writing to the saints at Thessalonica the Apostle declared, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9). Now surely it is patent to any impartial mind that this statement is quite pointless if God has not "appointed" any to wrath. To say that God "hath not appointed us to wrath" clearly implies that there are some whom He has "appointed to wrath," and were it not that the minds of so many professing Christians are so blinded by prejudice, they could not fail to clearly see this.
"A Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of offence, even to them who stumble at the Word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:8). The "whereunto" manifestly points back to the stumbling at the Word, and their disobedience. Here, then, God expressly affirms that there are some who have been "appointed" (it is the same Greek word as in 1 Thess. 5:9) unto disobedience. Our business is not to reason about it, but to bow to Holy Scripture. Our first duty is not to understand, but to believe what God has said.
"But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Peter 2:12). Here again every effort is made to escape the plain teaching of this solemn passage. We are told that it is the "brute beasts" who are "made to be taken and destroyed," and not the persons here likened to them. All that is needed to refute such sophistory is to inquire wherein lies the point of analogy between the "these" (men) and the "brute beasts"? What is the force of the "as"-but "these as brute beasts'? Clearly, it is that "these" men as brute beasts, are the ones who, like animals, are "made to be taken and destroyed": the closing words confirming this by reiterating the same sentiment-"and shall utterly perish in their own corruption."
"For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). Attempts have been made to escape the obvious force of this verse by substituting a different translation. The R. V. gives: "But there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation." But this altered rendering by no means gets rid of that which is so distasteful to our sensibilities. The question arises, Where were these "of old written of beforehand"? Certainly not in the Old Testament, for nowhere is there any reference there to wicked men creeping into Christian assemblies. If "written of" be the best translation of "prographo," the reference can only be to the book of the Divine decrees. So whichever alternative be selected there can be no evading the fact that certain men are "before of old" marked out by God "unto condemnation."
"And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb that hath been slain" (Rev. 13:8, R. V. compare Rev. 17:8). Here, then, is a positive statement affirming that there are those whose names were not written in the Book of Life.
Here, then, are no less than ten passages which most plainly imply or expressly teach the fact of reprobation. They affirm that the wicked are made for the Day of Evil; that God fashions some vessels unto dishonor; and by His eternal decree (objectively) fits them unto destruction; that they are like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, being of old ordained unto this condemnation. Therefore in the face of these Scriptures we unhesitatingly affirm (after nearly twenty years careful and prayerful study of the subject) that the Word of God unquestionably teaches both Predestination and Reprobation, or to use the words of Calvin, "Eternal Election is God's predestination of some to salvation, and others to destruction."
Having thus stated the doctrine of Reprobation, as it is presented in Holy Writ, let us now mention one or two important considerations to guard it against abuse and prevent the reader from making any unwarranted deductions:
First, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean that God purposed to take innocent creatures, make them wicked, and then damn them. Scripture says, "God hath made man upright: but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:29). God has not created sinful creatures in order to destroy them, for God is not to be charged with the sin of His creatures. The responsibility and criminality is man's.
God's decree of Reprobation contemplated Adam's race as fallen, sinful, corrupt, guilty. From it God purposed to save a few as the monuments of His Sovereign grace; the others He determined to destroy as the exemplification of His justice and severity. In determining to destroy these others, God did them no wrong. They had already fallen in Adam, their legal representative; they are therefore born with a sinful nature, and in their sins He leaves them. Nor can they complain. This is as they wish; they have no desire for holiness; they love darkness rather than light. Where, then, is there any injustice if God "gives them up to their own heart's lusts" (Psa. 81:12).
Second, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean that God refuses to save those who earnestly seek salvation. The fact is that the reprobate have no longing for the Saviour: they see in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. They will not come to Christ-why then should God force them to? He turns away none who do come-where then is the injustice of God foredetermining their just doom? None will be punished but for their iniquities; where then is the supposed tyrannical cruelty of the Divine procedure? Remember that God is the Creator of the wicked, not of their wickedness; He is the Author of their being, but not the Infuser of their sin.
God does not (as we have been slanderously reported to affirm) compel the wicked to sin, as the rider spurs on an unwilling horse. God only says in effect that awful word, "Let them alone" (Matt. 15:14). He needs only to slacken the reins of providential restraint, and withhold the influence of saving grace, and apostate man will only too soon and too surely, of his own accord, fall by his iniquities. Thus the decree of reprobation neither interferes with the bent of man's own fallen nature, nor serves to render him the less inexcusable.
Third, the decree of Reprobation in nowise conflicts with God's goodness. Though the non-elect are not the objects of His goodness in the same way or to the same extent as the elect are, yet are they not wholly excluded from a participation of it. They enjoy the good things of Providence (temporal blessings) in common with God's own children, and very often to a higher degree. But how do they improve them? Does the (temporal) goodness of God lead them to repent? Nay, verily, they do but despise "His goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering," and "after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath" (Rom. 2:4, 5). On what righteous ground, then, can they murmur against not being the objects of His benevolence in the endless ages yet to come? Moreover, if it did not clash with God's mercy and kindness to leave the entire body of the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4) under the guilt of their apostasy still less can it clash with the Divine perfections to leave some of fallen mankind in their sins and punish them for them.
Finally, let us interpose this necessary caution: It is utterly impossible for any of us, during the present life, to ascertain who are among the reprobate. We must not now so judge any man, no matter how wicked he may be. The vilest sinner, may, for all we know, be included in the election of grace and be one day quickened by the Spirit of grace. Our marching orders are plain, and woe unto us if we disregard them-"Preach the Gospel to every creature." When we have done so our skirts are clear. If men refuse to heed, their blood is on their own heads; nevertheless "we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are a savor of death unto death; and to the other we are a savor of life unto life" (2 Cor. 2:15, 16).
We must now consider a number of passages which are often quoted with the purpose of showing that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction or ordained certain ones to condemnation. First, we cite Ezekiel 18:31-"Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" On this passage we cannot do better than quote from the comments of Augustus Toplady:-"This is a passage very frequently, but very idly, insisted upon by Arminians, as if it were a hammer which would at one stroke crush the whole fabric to powder. But it so happens that the 'death' here alluded to is neither spiritual nor eternal death: as is abundantly evident from the whole tenor of the chapter. The death intended by the prophet is a political death; a death of national prosperity, tranquillity, and security. The sense of the question is precisely this: What is it that makes you in love with captivity, banishment, and civil ruin. Abstinence from the worship of images might, as a people, exempt you from these calamities, and once more render you a respectable nation. Are the miseries of public devastation so alluring as to attract your determined pursuit? Why will ye die? die as the house of Israel, and considered as a political body? Thus did the prophet argue the case, at the same time adding-'For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth saith the Lord God, wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye.' This imports: First, the national captivity of the Jews added nothing to the happiness of God. Second, if the Jews turned from idolatry, and flung away their images, they should not die in a foreign, hostile country, but live peaceably in their own land and enjoy their liberties as an independent people." To the above we may add: political death must be what is in view in Ezekiel 18:31, 32 for the simple but sufficient reason that they were already spiritually dead!
Matthew 25:41 is often quoted to show that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction- "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels." This is, in fact, one of the principal verses relied upon to disprove the doctrine of Reprobation. But we submit that the emphatic word here is not "for" but "Devil." This verse (see context) sets forth the severity of the judgment which awaits the lost. In other words, the above Scripture expresses the awfulness of the everlasting fire rather than the subjects of it-if the fire be "prepared for the Devil and his angels" then how intolerable it will be! If the place of eternal torment into which the damned shall be cast is the same as that in which God's arch-enemy will suffer, how dreadful must that place be!
Again: if God has chosen only certain ones to salvation, why are we told that God "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30)? That God commandeth "all men" to repent is but the enforcing of His righteous claims as the moral Governor of the world. How could He do less, seeing that all men everywhere have sinned against Him? Furthermore, that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent argues the universality of creature responsibility. But this Scripture does not declare that it is God's pleasure to "give repentance" (Acts 5:31) everywhere. That the Apostle Paul did not believe God gave repentance to every soul is clear from his words in 2 Timothy 2:25--"In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth."
Again, we are asked, if God has "ordained" only certain ones unto eternal life then why do we read that He "will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4)? The reply is, that the words "all" and "all men," like the term "world," are often used in a general and relative sense. Let the reader carefully examine the following passages: Mark 1:5; John 6:45; 8:2; Acts 21:28; 22:15; 2 Corinthians 3:2, etc., and he will find full proof of our assertion. 1 Timothy 2:4 cannot teach that God wills the salvation of all mankind or otherwise all mankind would be saved-"What His soul desireth even that He doeth" (Job 23:13)!
Again; we are asked, Does not Scripture declare, again and again, that God is no "respecter of persons"? We answer, it certainly does, and God's electing grace proves it. The seven sons of Jesse, though older and physically superior to David, are passed by, while the young shepherd-boy is exalted to Israel's throne. The scribes and lawyers pass unnoticed, and ignorant fishermen are chosen to be the Apostles of the Lamb. Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent and is revealed to babes instead. The great majority of the wise and noble are ignored, while the weak, the base, the despised, are called and saved. Harlots and publicans are sweetly compelled to come in to the Gospel feast while self-righteous Pharisees are suffered to perish in their immaculate morality. Truly, God is "no respecter" of persons or He would not have saved me.
That the Doctrine of Reprobation is a "hard saying" to the carnal mind is readily acknowledged-yet, is it any "harder" than that of eternal punishment? That it is clearly taught in Scripture we have sought to demonstrate, and it is not for us to pick and choose from the truths revealed in God's Word. Let those who are inclined to receive those doctrines which commend themselves to their judgment, and who reject those which they cannot fully understand, remember those scathing words of our Lord's, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25): fools because slow of heart; slow of heart, not dull of head!
Once more we would avail ourselves of the language of Calvin:
"But, as I have hitherto only recited such things as are delivered without any obscurity or ambiguity in the Scriptures, let persons who hesitate not to brand with ignominy those Oracles of Heaven, beware of what kind of opposition they make. For, if they pretend ignorance, with a desire to be commended for their modesty, what greater instance of pride can be conceived, than to oppose one little word to the authority of God! as, 'It appears otherwise to me,' or 'I would rather not meddle with this subject.' But if they openly censure, what will they gain by their puny attempts against Heaven? Their petulance, indeed, is no novelty; for in all ages there have been impious and profane men, who have virulently opposed this doctrine. But they shall feel the truth of what the Spirit long ago declared by the mouth of David, that God 'is clear when He judgest' (Psa. 51:4). David obliquely hints at the madness of men who display such excessive presumption amidst their insignificance, as not only to dispute against God, but to arrogate to themselves the power of condemning Him. In the meantime, he briefly suggests, that God is unaffected by all the blasphemies which they discharge against Heaven, but that He dissipates the mists of calumny, and illustriously displays His righteousness; our faith, also, being founded on the Divine Word, and therefore, superior to all the world, from its exaltation looks down with contempt upon those mists" (John Calvin).
In closing this chapter we propose to quote from the writings of some of the standard theologians since the days of the Reformation, not that we would buttress our own statements by an appeal to human authority, however venerable or ancient, but in order to show that what we have advanced in these pages is no novelty of the twentieth century, no heresy of the "latter days" but, instead, a doctrine which has been definitely formulated and commonly taught by many of the most pious and scholarly students of Holy Writ.
"Predestination we call the decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny: but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death"-from John Calvin's "Institutes" (1536 A. D.) Book III, Chapter XXI entitled "Eternal Election, or God's Predestination of Some to Salvation and of Others to Destruction."
We ask our readers to mark well the above language. A perusal of it should show that what the present writer has advanced in this chapter is not "hyper-Calvinism" but real Calvinism, pure and simple. Our purpose in making this remark is to show that those who, not acquainted with Calvin's writings, in their ignorance condemn as ultra-Calvinism that which is simply a reiteration of what Calvin himself taught-a reiteration because that prince of theologians as well as his humble debtor have both found this doctrine in the Word of God itself.
Martin Luther in his most excellent work "De Servo Arbitrio" (Free Will a Slave), wrote: "All things whatsoever arise from, and depend upon, the Divine appointments, whereby it was preordained who should receive the Word of Life, and who should disbelieve it, who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them, who should be justified and who should be condemned. This is the very truth which razes the doctrine of freewill from its foundations, to wit, that God's eternal love of some men and hatred of others is immutable and cannot be reversed."
John Fox, whose Book of Martyrs was once the best known work in the English language (alas that is not so today, when Roman Catholicism is sweeping upon us like a great destructive tidal wave!), wrote: "Predestination is the eternal decreement of God, purposed before in Himself, what should befall all men, either to salvation, or damnation."
The "Larger Westminster Catechism" (1688)-adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church-declares, "God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of His mere love, for the praise of His glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory, and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof; and also, according to His own will (whereby He extendeth or withholdeth favor as He pleases), hath passed by, and foredained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of His justice."
John Bunyan, author of "The Pilgrim's Progress," wrote a whole volume on "Reprobation." From it we make one brief extract:
"Reprobation is before the person cometh into the world, or hath done good or evil. This is evidenced by Romans 9:11. Here you find twain in their mother's womb, and both receiving their destiny, not only before they had-done good or evil, but before they were in a capacity to do it, they being yet unborn-their destiny, I say, the one unto, the other not unto the blessing of eternal life; the one elect, the other reprobate; the one chosen, the other refused." In his "Sighs from Hell," John Bunyan also wrote: "They that do continue to reject and slight the Word of God are such, for the most part, as are ordained to be damned."
Commenting upon Romans 9:22, "What is God willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction," Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 4, p. 306 - 1743 A.D.) says, "How awful doth the majesty of God appear in the dreadfulness of His anger! This we may learn to be one end of the damnation of the wicked."
Augustus Toplady, author of "Rock of Ages" and other sublime hymns, wrote: "God, from all eternity decreed to leave some of Adam's fallen posterity in their sins, and to exclude them from the participation of Christ and His benefits." And again, "We, with the Scriptures, assert: That there is a predestination of some particular persons to life, for the praise of the glory of Divine grace; and also a predestination of other particular persons to death for the glory of Divine justice-which death of punishment they shall inevitably undergo, and that justly, on account of their sins."
George Whitefield, that stalwart of the eighteenth century, used by God in blessing to so many, wrote: "'Without doubt, the doctrine of election and reprobation must stand or fall together... I frankly acknowledge I believe the doctrine of Reprobation, that God intends to give saving grace, through Jesus Christ, only to a certain number; and that the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left to God to continue in sin, will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages."
"Fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22). After declaring this phrase admits of two interpretations, Dr. Hodge-perhaps the best known and most widely read commentator on Romans-says, "The other interpretation assumes that the reference is to God and that the Greek word for 'fitted' has its full participle force; prepared (by God) for destruction." This, says Dr. Hodge, "Is adopted not only by the majority of Augustinians, but also by many Lutherans."
Were it necessary we are prepared to give quotations from the writings of Wycliffe, Huss, Ridley, Hooper, Cranmer, Ussher, John Trapp, Thomas Goodwin, Thomas Manton (Chaplain to Cromwell), John Owen, Witsius, John Gill (predecessor of Spurgeon), and a host of others. We mention this simply to show that many of the most eminent saints in bye-gone days, the men most widely used of God, held and taught this doctrine which is so bitterly hated in these last days, when men will no longer "endure sound doctrine"; hated by men of lofty pretentions, but who, notwithstanding their boasted orthodoxy and much advertised piety, are not worthy to unfasten the shoes of the faithful and fearless servants of God of other days.
"O the depth of the riches both of wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For what hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever, Amen" (Rom. 11:33-36).*
* "Of Him"-His will is the origin of all existence; "through" or "by Him"-He is the Creator and Controller of all; "to Him"-all things promote His glory in their final end.
"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 fulfillment 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 realized. It is only when they are thus regarded that we can intelligently appreciate the prophecies of Scripture. In prophecy the mighty God has condescended to take us into the secret chamber of His eternal counsels and make known to us what He has purposed to do in the future. The hundreds of prophecies which are found in the Old and New Testaments are not so much predictions of what will come to pass, as they are revelations to us of what God has purposed SHALL come to pass.
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 recognize 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.
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 energizing 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 defenseless 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 energizing power that God exerts upon and within the righteous which enables them to serve Him acceptably. Said the prophet of old, "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord" (Micah 3:8). And 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,
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 honor-"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 neighbors.
2. God exerts upon the wicked a softening influence disposing them contrary to their natural inclinations to do that which will promote His cause.
Above, we referred to Joseph's history as an illustration of God exerting a restraining influence upon the wicked, let us note now his experiences in Egypt as exemplifying our assertion that God also exerts a softening influence upon the unrighteous. We are told that while he was in the house of Potiphar "The LORD was with Joseph, and his master saw the LORD was with him," and in consequence, "Joseph found favor 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 favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Gen. 39:21), and in consequence the prison-keeper showed him much kindness and honor. Finally, after his release from prison, we learn from Acts 7:10 that the Lord "gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house."
An equally striking evidence of God's power to melt the hearts of his enemies, was seen in Pharaoh's daughter's treatment of the infant Moses. The incident is well known. Pharaoh had issued an edict commanding the destruction of every male child of the Israelites. A certain Levite had a son born to him who for three months was kept hidden by his mother. No longer able to conceal the infant Moses she placed him in an ark of bulrushes and laid him by the river's brink. The ark was discovered by none less than the king's daughter who had come down to the river to bathe, but instead of heeding her father's wicked decree and casting the child into the river we are told that "she had compassion on him" (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 favor 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 favor 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 fulfill 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 fulfillment of these prophecies we have clear proof, full demonstration, of the controlling and directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked. Not a thing occurred except as God had ordained, and all that He had ordained took place exactly as He purposed. Had it been decreed (and made known in Scripture) that the 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 fulfillment of all that Scripture had predicted in connection with the Crucifixion, demonstrate beyond all controversy that an Almighty power was directing and superintending everything that was done on that Day of days?
4. God also hardens the hearts of wicked men and blinds their minds.
"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 recognize that we have now reached its most solemn aspect of all, and that here especially, we need to keep very close indeed to the words of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should go one fraction further than His Word goes; but may He give us grace to go as far as His Word goes. It is true that secret things belong unto the Lord, but it is also true that those things which are revealed in Scripture belong unto us and to our children.
"He turned their heart to hate His people, 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 honor 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 honor 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 the modus operandi of 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 energizing, a directing, and a preserving power. Upon the wicked God exerts a restraining, softening, directing, and hardening and blinding power, according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom and unto the outworking of His own eternal purpose. God's decrees are being executed. What He has ordained is being accomplished. Man's wickedness is bounded. The limits of evil-doing and of 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.
"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 disfavor 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, or 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 "Ye 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. *
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 harmonize 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 center 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.
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,
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 realize his own aspirations and materialize his own ideals. He cannot do the things that he would. There is a moral inability which paralyzes him. This is proof positive that he is no free man, but instead, the slave of sin and Satan. "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 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 favorable 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 paralyzed (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).
"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 recognized that the harmonizing 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 honoring 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 from doing what they desire to do, and IMPELLED to do other things they do not desire to do, and yet to preserve their responsibility?
It would seem that if God put forth His power and exerted a direct influence upon men 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 God did prevent certain of His creatures from sinning both against Himself and against His people, in view of which all men's reasonings are utterly worthless. If God could "withhold" Abimelech from sinning against Him then why was He unable to do the same with Adam? Should someone ask, Then why did not God do so? we might return the question by asking, Why did not God "withhold" Satan from falling? or, Why did not God "withhold" the Kaiser from starting the War? The usual reply is, as we have said, God could not without interfering with man's "freedom" and reducing him to a machine. But the case of Abimelech proves conclusively that such a reply is untenable and erroneous-we might add wicked and blasphemous, for who are we to limit the Most High! How dare any finite creature take it upon him to say what the Almighty can and cannot do? Should we be pressed further as to why God refused to exercise His power and prevent Adam's fall, we should say, Because Adam's fall better served His own wise and blessed purpose-among other things, it provided an opportunity to demonstrate that where sin had abounded 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 so controlled them that error on their part was, by Him, made impossible, as they communicated His mind and will to men. But what was it that might have, would have, caused error, had not God controlled as He did the instruments which He employed? The answer is SIN, the sin which was in them. But as we have seen, the holding in check of sin, the preventing of the exercise of the carnal mind in these "holy men" was not a destroying of their "freedom," rather was it the inducting of them into real freedom.
A final word should be added here concerning the nature of true liberty. There are three chief things concerning which men in general greatly err: misery and happiness, folly and wisdom, bondage and liberty. The world counts none miserable but the afflicted, and none happy but the prosperous, because they judge by the present ease of the flesh. Again; the world is pleased with a false show of wisdom (which is "foolishness" with God), neglecting that which makes wise unto salvation. As to liberty, men would be at their own disposal and live as they please. They suppose the only true liberty is to be at the command and under the control of none above themselves, and live according to their heart's desire. But this is a thralldom and bondage of the worst kind. True liberty is not the power to live as we please, but to live as we ought! Hence, the only One Who has ever trod this earth since Adam's fall 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 realize the awful danger of his situation; is for him to see that the sword of Divine justice is suspended over his head; is to awaken to the fact that there is but a step 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 favor; 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 realize the danger of his situation, and in consequence is not in real earnest after his escape; instead, men are for the most part at ease, and apart from the operations of the Holy Spirit whenever they are disturbed by the alarms of conscience or the dispensations of providence they flee to any other refuge but Christ. In the second place, they will not acknowledge that all their 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 tha