AW Pink (1886-1952) – THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P01 of 05)

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P01 of 05)

By

AW Pink (1886-1952)

Copyright: Public Domain

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FOREWORD TO THE FIRST EDITION

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 labours we are the gainers. While making no claim for originality the writer, nevertheless, has endeavoured 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 Melancthon, Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller and Robert Haldane1. And sad it is to think that these eminent and honoured 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 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 churchmembers 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.

1 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.

June 1918 Arthur W. Pink.

FOREWORD TO THE SECOND EDITION

It is now two years since the first edition of this work was presented to the Christian public. Its reception has been far more favourable 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 minimising, 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 emphasising of the human side and an insufficient emphasis on the Divine side, or, an over emphasising 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.

FOREWORD TO THE THIRD EDITION

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 pretensions of men are taking on an ever-increasing blatancy, the need becomes greater for the claims of God to be emphasised. 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 tranquillising and so stabilising 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 realise (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 honour of His own great Name, and to the feeding of His scattered and starved sheep.

Morton’s Gap, A. W. P. Kentucky 1929

FOREWORD TO THE FOURTH EDITION

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 honour,” 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.

INTRODUCTION

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 philosophising and theorising 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, civilisation is a demonstrated failure; half of Christendom was but recently locked together in a death grapple; and now that the titanic 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 dishonoured 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 nonchurch 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 moulded 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 fulfilment. 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 selfwill, 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 honour to whom honour 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 generalisations—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 vigour 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 realised 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 judgements 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 judgements: 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 recognising 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 judgements 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).

CHAPTER ONE

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY DEFINED

“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.2 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 honour and another unto dishonour. 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 characterises 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?

2 Some years ago an evangelical (?) preacher of nation-wide reputation visited the town in which we then were, and during the course of his address kept repeating, “Poor God! Poor God!” Surely it is this “preacher” who needs to be pitied.

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 favour. 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;3 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, 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.4

In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love must be 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.”

God is Sovereign in the exercise of His grace. This of necessity, for grace is favour 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 favours 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.

3 John 3:16 will be examined later.
4 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)!

Grace has been defined as the unmerited favour of God;5 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 honour. So in the New Testament. Divine Truth is hidden from the wise and prudent, but is revealed to babes. The Pharisees and Sadducees 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 favours 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 honour, 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 favours on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy.6

5 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 favour.” To feed a tramp who calls on me is “unmerited favour,” but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me I should feed this starving tramp—that would be “grace.” Grace, then, is favour shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.

6 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.

CHAPTER TWO

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN CREATION

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

Having shown that Sovereignty characterises 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 favourably 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 criticise 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).

CHAPTER THREE

SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN ADMINISTRATION

“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.

1. GOD GOVERNS INANIMATE MATTER.

That God governs inanimate matter, that inanimate matter performs His bidding and fulfils 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 fulfilment 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 emphasises 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 Bureaux 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.

2. GOD GOVERNS IRRATIONAL CREATURES.

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 kneading troughs (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 milch 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 fulfilment 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.

3. GOD GOVERNS THE CHILDREN OF MEN.

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 judgement-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 casuistry, 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 puerile. 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!

4. GOD GOVERNS ANGELS: BOTH GOOD AND EVIL ANGELS.

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.”

AW Pink (1886-1952) – THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P02 of 05)

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P02 of 05)

By

AW Pink (1886-1952)

Copyright: Public Domain

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LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

CHAPTER FOUR

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN SALVATION

“O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgements, 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 favour? 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 favours? 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 particularise.

1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD THE FATHER IN SALVATION.

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 honour, and another unto dishonour? 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 honour and another unto dishonour”; 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 thousanda 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 favoured 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 favour 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 civilised 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 favoured 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 favoured U.S.A.; more among the uncivilised 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 favours, 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 realised 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.

Summarising 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 favours 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!”

2. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD THE SON IN SALVATION.

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 bloodshedding? 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 acknowledgement, 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 judgement: 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 baptised 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 baptised 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 baptised of him.” Then what does “all baptised 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 honour; 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.”7

7 1 John 2:2 will be examined in detail in Appendix 4.

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 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 piritually 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.8

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 judgement.

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 judgement 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.

8 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.

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 unrighteousness, 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 judgement, 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 judgement. The “judgement” 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 judgement: Of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more; Of judgement, 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, judgement, because Satan the world’s prince is already judged, though execution of his judgement 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” sothe 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.
 

CHAPTER FIVE

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN REPROBATION

“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 mindis 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 favoured 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 innumerable crowds of unevangelised 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 unevangelised 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. Granta 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 favour, 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 favour.” 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 favourable 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 Judgement 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 Pharaoh, 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 judgement.

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 Pharaoh 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 havePharaoh’s own testimony in favour 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 judgements had been sent upon him, after he had hardened his own heart. By this time Pharaoh was fairly ripened for judgement, 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 judgement 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 judgements of God, join in singing “the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous 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 misapprehended 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 inreply 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 honour and vessels of mercy; and also, on the other hand, with those whom He “hates” and “hardens”—vessels unto dishonour and vessels of wrath.

Verses 21-23. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, 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 honour, 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 honourable 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 honourable use and another to a less honourable 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 summarise 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 judgement 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 honour, and another unto dishonour?” 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 honour, 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 honour” 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 symbolised 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 sophistry 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 dishonour; 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 fore-determining 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 savour of death unto death; and to the other we are a savour 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 judgement 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 archenemy 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 acknowledgedyet, 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 judgement, 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 favour as He pleases), hath passed by, and foreordained 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 apredestination 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 Romanssays, “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 pretensions, 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 judgements 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).9

9 “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.

CHAPTER SIX

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN OPERATION

“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

Has God foreordained 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 foreordained 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 foreordination (Acts 2:23). Foreknowledge of future events then is founded upon God’s decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be—”Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), which shows that God has a plan, that God did not begin His work at random or without a knowledge of how His plan would succeed.

God created all things. This truth no one, who bows to the testimony of Holy Writ, will question; nor would any such be prepared to argue that the work of creation was an accidental work. God first formed the purpose to create, and then put forth the creative act in fulfilment of that purpose. All real Christians will readily adopt the words of the Psalmist and say, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all.” Will any who endorse what we have just said, deny that God purposed to govern the world which He created? Surely the creation of the world was not the end of God’s purpose concerning it. Surely He did not determine simply to create the world and place man in it, and then leave both to their fortunes. It must be apparent that God has some great end or ends in view worthy of His infinite perfections, and that He is now governing the world so as to accomplish these ends—”The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psa. 33:11).

“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9, 10). Many other passages might be adduced to show that God has many counsels concerning this world and concerning man, and that all these counsels will most surely be realised. It is only when they are thus regarded that we can intelligently appreciate the prophecies of Scripture. In prophecy the mighty God has condescended to take us into the secret chamber of His eternal counsels and make known to us what He has purposed to do in the future. The hundreds of prophecies which are found in the Old and New Testaments are not so much predictions of what will come to pass, as they are revelations to us of what God has purposed SHALL come to pass.

What then was the great purpose for which this world and the human race were created? The answer of Scripture is, “The LORD hath made all things for Himself” (Prov. 16:4). And again, “Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). The great end of creation was the manifestation of God’s glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork” (Psa. 19:1); but it was by man, originally made in His own image and likeness, that God designed chiefly to manifest His glory. But how was the great Creator to be glorified by man? Before his creation, God foresaw the fall of Adam and the consequent ruin of his race, therefore He could not have designed that man should glorify Him by continuing in a state of innocency. Accordingly we are taught that Christ was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” to be the Saviour of fallen men. The redemption of sinners by Christ was no mere after-thought of God: it was no expediency to meet an un-looked-for calamity. No; it was a Divine provision, and therefore when man fell he found mercy walking hand in hand with justice.

From all eternity God designed that our world should be the stage on which He would display His manifold grace and wisdom in the redemption of lost sinners: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11.) For the accomplishment of this glorious design God has governed the world from the beginning, and will continue it to the end. It has been well said, “We can never understand the providence of God over our world, unless we regard it as a complicated machine having ten thousand parts, directed in all its operations to one glorious end—the display of the manifold wisdom of God in the salvation of the Church,” i.e., the “called out” ones. Everything else down here is subordinated to this central purpose. It was the apprehension of this basic truth that the Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, was led to write, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). What we would now contemplate is the operation of God’s Sovereignty in the government of this world.

In regard to the operation of God’s government over the material world little needs now be said. In previous chapters we have shown that inanimate matter and all irrational creatures are absolutely subject to their Creator’s pleasure. While we freely admit that the material world appears to be governed by laws that are stable and more or less uniform in their operations, yet Scripture, history, and observation, compel us to recognise the fact that God suspends these laws and acts apart from them whenever it pleaseth Him to do so. In sending His blessings or judgements upon His creatures He may cause the sun itself to stand still, and the stars in their courses to fight for His people (Judges 5:20); He may send or withhold “the early and the latter rains” according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom; He may smite with plague or bless with health; in short, being God, being absolute Sovereign, He is bound and tied by no laws of Nature, but governs the material world as seemeth Him best.

But what of God’s government of the human family? What does Scripture reveal in regard to the modus operandi of the operations of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what influence does God control the sons of men? We shall divide our answer to this question into two parts and consider first God’s method of dealing with the righteous, His elect; and then His method of dealing with the wicked.

GOD’S METHOD OF DEALING WITH THE RIGHTEOUS:

1. God exerts upon His own elect a quickening influence or power.

By nature they are spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, and their first need is spiritual life, for “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the new birth God brings us from death unto life (John 5:24). He imparts to us His own nature (2 Peter 1:4). He delivers us from the power of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Now, manifestly, we could not do this ourselves for we were “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), hence it is written, “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10).

In the new birth we are made partakers of the Divine nature: a principle, a “seed,” a life, is communicated to us which is “‘born of the Spirit,” and therefore “is spirit”; is born of the Holy Spirit and therefore is holy. Apart from this Divine and holy nature which is imparted to us at the new birth it is utterly impossible for any man to generate a spiritual impulse, form a spiritual concept, think a spiritual thought, understand spiritual things, still less engage in spiritual works. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” but the natural man has no desire for holiness, and the provision that God has made he does not want. Will then a man pray for, seek for, strive after, that which he dislikes? Surely not. If then a man does “follow after” that which by nature he cordially dislikes, if he does now love the One he once hated, it is because a miraculous change has taken place within him; a power outside of himself has operated upon him, a nature entirely different from his old one has been imparted to him, and hence it is written, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Such an one as we have just described has passed from death unto life, has been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). In no other way can the great change be accounted for.

The new birth is very, very much more than simply shedding a few tears due to a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practising of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.

Here then is the first thing, in time, which God does in His own elect. He lays hold of those who are spiritually dead and quickens them into newness of life. He takes up one who was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, and conforms him to the image of His Son. He seizes a captive of the Devil and makes him a member of the household of faith. He picks up a beggar and makes him joint-heir with Christ. He comes to one who is full of enmity against Him and gives him a new heart that is full of love for Him. He stoops to one who by nature is a rebel and works in him both to will and to do of His own good pleasure. By His irresistible power He transforms a sinner into a saint, an enemy into a friend, a slave of the Devil into a child of God. Surely then we are moved to say,

“When all Thy mercies O my God

My wondering soul surveys,

Transported with the view I’m lost

In wonder, love and praise.”

2. God exerts upon His own elect an energising influence or power.

The Apostle prayed to God for the Ephesian saints that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened in order that, among other things, they might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:19), and that they might be “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). It is thus that the children of God are enabled to fight the good fight of faith and battle with the adverse forces which constantly war against them. In themselves they have no strength: they are but “sheep,” and sheep are one of the most defenceless animals there is; but the promise is sure—”He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29).

It is this energising power that God exerts upon and within the righteous which enables them to serve Him acceptably. Said the prophet of old, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord” (Micah 3:8). And said our Lord to His Apostles, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and thus it proved, for of these same men we read subsequently, “And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So it was, too, with the Apostle Paul, “and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing word of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). But the scope of this power is not confined to service, for we read in 2 Peter 1:3, “According as His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” Hence it is that the various graces of the Christian character, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” are ascribed directly to God Himself, being denominated “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). Compare Ephesians 5:9.

3. God exerts upon His own elect a directing influence or power.

Of old He led His people across the wilderness, directing their steps by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and today He still directs His saints, though now from within rather from without. “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our Guide even unto death” (Psa. 48:14), but He “guides” us by working in us both to will and to do His good pleasure. That He does so guide us is clear from the words of the Apostle in Ephesians 2:10—”For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Thus all ground for boasting is removed and God gets all the glory, for with the prophet we have to say, “LORD, Thou wilt ordain peace for us: for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us” (Isa. 26:12). How true then that “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:29)! Compare Psalm 65:4; Ezekiel 36:27.

4. God exerts upon His own elect a preserving influence or power.

Many are the Scriptures which set forth this blessed truth. “He preserveth the souls of His saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psa. 97:10). “For the LORD loveth judgement, and forsaketh not His saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psa. 37:28). “The LORD preserveth all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy” (Psa. 145:20). It is needless to multiply texts or to raise an argument at this point respecting the believer’s responsibility and faithfulness—we can no more “persevere” without God preserving us than we can breathe when God ceases to give us breath; we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Compare 1 Chronicles 18:6. It remains for us now to consider,

GOD’S METHOD OF DEALING WITH THE WICKED:

In contemplating God’s governmental dealings with the non-elect we find that He exerts upon them a fourfold influence or power. We adopt the clear-cut divisions suggested by Dr. Rice:

1. God exerts upon the wicked a restraining influence by which they are prevented from doing what they are naturally inclined to do.

A striking example of this is seen in Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abraham came down to Gerar and fearful lest he might be slain on account of his wife he instructed her to pose as his sister. Regarding her as an unmarried woman, Abimelech sent and took Sarah unto himself; and then we learn how God put forth His power to protect her honour—”And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her”(Gen. 20:6). Had not God interposed, Abimelech would have grievously wronged Sarah, but the Lord restrained him and allowed him not to carry out the intentions of his heart.

A similar instance is found in connection with Joseph and his brethren’s treatment of him. Owing to Jacob’s partiality for Joseph his brethren “hated him,” and when they thought they had him in their power “they conspired against him to slay him” (Gen. 37:18). But God did not allow them to carry out their evil designs. First He moved Reuben to deliver him out of their hands, and next he caused Judah to suggest that Joseph should be sold to the passing Ishmaelites, who carried him down into Egypt. That it was God who thus restrained them is clear; he made known himself to his brethren; said he, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:8)!

The restraining influence which God exerts upon the wicked was strikingly exemplified in the person of Balaam, the prophet hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. One cannot read the inspired narrative without discovering that, left to himself, Balaam had readily and certainly accepted the offer of Balak. How evidently God restrained the impulses of his heart is seen from his own acknowledgement—”How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied? Behold I have received commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it” (Num. 23:8, 20).

Not only does God exert a restraining influence upon wicked individuals but He does so upon whole peoples as well. A remarkable illustration of this is found in Exodus 34:24—”For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.” Three times every male Israelite, at the command of God, left his home and inheritance and journeyed to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts of the Lord; and in the above Scriptures we learn He promised them that while they were at Jerusalem He would guard their unprotected homes by restraining the covetous designs and desires of their heathen neighbours.

2. God exerts upon the wicked a softening influence disposing them contrary to their natural inclinations to do that which will promote His cause.

Above, we referred to Joseph’s history as an illustration of God exerting a restraining influence upon the wicked, let us note now his experiences in Egypt as exemplifying our assertion that God also exerts a softening influence upon the unrighteous. We are told that while he was in the house of Potiphar “The LORD was with Joseph, and his master saw the LORD was with him,” and in consequence, “Joseph found favour in his sight and he made him overseer over his house” (Gen. 39:2, 3, 4). Later, when Joseph was unjustly cast into prison, we are told “But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen. 39:21), and in consequence the prisonkeeper showed him much kindness and honour. Finally, after his release from prison, we learn from Acts 7:10 that the Lord “gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.”

An equally striking evidence 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 practised upon his father, yet when next he met Jacob, instead of slaying him we are told that Esau “fell on his neck and kissed him” (Gen. 33:4)! Ahab, the weak and wicked consort of Jezebel, was highly enraged against Elijah the prophet, at whose word the heavens had been shut up for three years and a half: so angry was he against the one whom he regarded as his enemy that we are told he searched for him in every nation and kingdom and when he could not be found “he took an oath” (1 Kings 18:10). Yet, when they met, instead of killing the prophet, Ahab meekly obeyed Elijah’s behest and “sent unto all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel” (v. 20). Again; Esther the poor Jewess is about to enter the presence-chamber of the august Medo-Persian monarch which, said she, “is not according to the law” (Esth. 4:16). She went in expecting to “perish,” but we are told “She obtained favour in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre” (5:2). Yet again; the boy Daniel is a captive in a foreign court. The king “appointed” a daily provision of meat and drink for Daniel and his fellows. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the allotted portion, and accordingly made known his purpose to his master, the prince of the eunuchs. What happened? His master was a heathen and “feared” the king. Did he turn then upon Daniel and angrily demand that his orders be promptly carried out? No; for we read, “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” (Dan. 1:9)!

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1). A remarkable illustration of this is seen in Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia. God’s people were in captivity, but the predicted end of their captivity was almost reached. Meanwhile the Temple at Jerusalem lay in ruins, and, as we have said, the Jews were in bondage in a distant land. What hope was there then that the Lord’s house would be re-built? Mark now what God did, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of Heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1, 2). Cyrus, be it remembered, was a pagan, and as secular history bears witness, a very wicked man, yet the Lord moved him to issue this edict that His Word through Jeremiah seventy years before might be fulfilled. A similar and further illustration is found in Ezra 7:27, where we find Ezra returning thanks for what God had caused King Artaxerxes to do in completing and beautifying the house which Cyrus had commanded to be erected—”Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:27).

3. God exerts upon the wicked a directing influence so that good is made to result from their intended evil.

Once more we revert to the history of Joseph as a case in point. In selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites his brethren were actuated by cruel and heartless motives. Their object was to make away with him, and the passing of these travelling traders furnished an easy way out for them. To them the act was nothing more than the enslaving of a noble youth for the sake of gain. But now observe how God was secretly working and over-ruling their wicked actions. Providence so ordered it that these Ishmaelites passed by just in time to prevent Joseph being murdered, for his brethren had already taken counsel together to put him to death. Further; these Ishmaelites were journeying to Egypt, which was the very country to which God had purposed to send Joseph, and He ordained they should purchase Joseph just when they did. That the hand of God was in this incident, that it was something more than a fortunate coincidence, is clear from the words of Joseph to his brethren at a later date, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7).

Another equally striking illustration of God directing the wicked is found in Isaiah 10:5-7: “O Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger, and the staff in their hand is Mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of My wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.” Assyria’s king had determined to be a world-conqueror, to “cut off nations not a few.” But God directed and controlled his military lust and ambition, and caused him to confine his attention to the conquering of the insignificant nation of Israel. Such a task was not in the proud king’s heart—”he meant it not so”—but God gave him this charge and he could do nothing but fulfil it. Compare also Judges 7:22.

The supreme example of the controlling, directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked, is the Cross of Christ with all its attending circumstances. If ever the superintending providence of God was witnessed it was there. From all eternity God had predestined every detail of that event of all events. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. God had decreed when and where and how His blessed Son was to die. Much of what He had purposed concerning the Crucifixion had been made known through the Old Testament prophets, and in the accurate and literal fulfilment of these prophecies we have clear proof, full demonstration, of the controlling and directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked. Not a thing occurred except as God had ordained, and all that He had ordained took place exactly as He purposed. Had it been decreed (and made known in Scripture) that the Saviour should be betrayed by one of His own disciples—by His “familiar friend”see Psalm 41:9 and compare Matthew 26:50—then the Apostle Judas is the one who sold Him. Had it been decreed that the betrayer should receive for his awful perfidy thirty pieces of silver, then are the chief priests moved to offer him this very sum. Had it been decreed that this betrayal sum should be put to a particular use, namely, purchase of the potter’s field, then the hand of God directs Judas to return the money to the chief priests and so guided their “counsel” (Matt. 27:7) that they did this very thing. Had it been decreed that there should be those who bore “false witness” against our Lord (Psa. 35:11), then accordingly such were raised up. Had it been decreed that the Lord of Glory should be spat upon and “scourged” (Isa. 50:6), then there were not found wanting those who were vile enough to do so. Had it been decreed that the Saviour should be “numbered with the transgressors,” then unknown to himself, Pilate, directed by God, gave orders for His crucifixion along with two thieves. Had it been decreed that vinegar and gall should be given Him to drink while He hung upon the Cross, then this decree of God was executed to the very letter. Had it been decreed that the heartless should gamble for His garments, then sure enough they did this very thing. Had it been decreed that not a bone of Him should be broken (Psa. 34:20), then the controlling hand of God which suffered the Roman soldier to break the legs of the thieves, prevented him from doing the same with our Lord. Ah! there were not enough soldiers in all the Roman legions, there were not sufficient demons in all the hierarchies of Satan, to break one bone in the body of Christ. And why? Because the Almighty Sovereign had decreed that not a bone should be broken. Do we need to extend this paragraph any farther? Does not the accurate and literal fulfilment of all that Scripture had predicted in connection with the Crucifixion, demonstrate beyond all controversy that an Almighty power was directing and superintending everything that was done on that Day of days?

4. God also hardens the hearts of wicked men and blinds their minds.

“God hardens men’s hearts! God blinds men’s minds!” Yes, so Scripture represents Him. In developing this theme of the Sovereignty of God in Operation we recognise that we have now reached its most solemn aspect of all, and that here especially, we need to keep very close indeed to the words of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should go one fraction further than His Word goes; but may He give us grace to go as far as His Word goes. It is true that secret things belong unto the Lord, but it is also true that those things which are revealed in Scripture belong unto us and to our children.

“He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal subtly with His servants” (Psa. 105:25). The reference here is to the sojourn of the descendants of Jacob in the land of Egypt when, after the death of the Pharaoh who had welcomed the old patriarch and his family, there “arose up a new king who knew not Joseph”; and in his days the children of Israel had “increased greatly” so that they outnumbered the Egyptians; then it was that God “turned their heart to hate His people.”

The consequence of the Egyptians’ “hatred” is well known: they brought them into cruel bondage and placed them under merciless taskmasters until their lot became unendurable. Helpless and wretched the Israelites cried unto Jehovah, and in response He appointed Moses to be their deliverer. God revealed Himself unto His chosen servant, gave him a number of miraculous signs which he was to exhibit at the Egyptian court, and then bade him to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites should be allowed to go to a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that they might worship the Lord. But before Moses started out on his journey God warned him concerning Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart that he shall not let the people go” (Exo. 4:21). If it be asked, Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? the answer furnished by Scripture itself is, In order that God might show forth His power in him (Rom. 9:17); in other words, it was so that the Lord might demonstrate that it was just as easy for Him to overthrow this haughty and powerful monarch as it was for Him to crush a worm. If it should be pressed further, Why did God select such a method of displaying His power? then the answer must be that being Sovereign God reserves to Himself the right to act as He pleases.

Not only are we told that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the Israelites go, but after God had plagued his land so severely that he reluctantly gave a qualified permission, and after that the first-born of all the Egyptians had been slain, and Israel had actually left the land of bondage, God told Moses, “And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get Me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten Me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen” (Exo. 14:17, 18).

The same thing happened subsequently in connection with Sihon, king of Heshbon, through whose territory Israel had to pass on their way to the promised land. When reviewing their history Moses told the people, “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into thy hand” (Deut. 2:30)!

So it was also after that Israel had entered Canaan. We read, “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:19, 20). From other Scriptures we learn why God purposed to “destroy utterly” the Canaanites—it was because of their awful wickedness and corruption.

Nor is the revelation of this solemn truth confined to the Old Testament. In John 12:37-40 we read, “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: that (in order that) the saying of Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, HE hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” It needs to be carefully noted here that these whose eyes God “blinded” and whose heart He “hardened” were men who had deliberately scorned the Light and rejected the testimony of God’s own Son.

Similarly we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” What God did unto the Jews of old He is yet going to do unto Christendom. Just as the Jews of Christ’s day despised His testimony, and in consequence were “blinded,” so a guilty Christendom which has rejected the Truth shall yet have sent them from God a “strong delusion” that they may believe a lie.

Is God really governing the world? Is He exercising rule over the human family? What is 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 energising, a directing, and a preserving power. Upon the wicked God exerts a restraining, softening, directing, and hardening and blinding power, according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom and unto the outworking of His own eternal purpose. God’s decrees are being executed. What He has ordained is being accomplished. Man’s wickedness is bounded. The limits of evil-doing and of evildoers has been Divinely defined and cannot be exceeded. Though many are in ignorance of it, all men, good and bad, are under the jurisdiction of and are absolutely subject to the administration of the Supreme Sovereign—”Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6)—reigneth over all.

AW Pink (1886-1952) – THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P03 of 05)

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P03 of 05)

By

AW Pink (1886-1952)

Copyright: Public Domain

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CHAPTER SEVEN

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE HUMAN WILL

“It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a “free will,” and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will co-operating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the “free will” of man, i.e., his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, is to bring one into disfavour at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox. And yet Scripture emphatically says, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Which shall we believe: God, or the preachers?

But some one may reply, Did not Joshua say to Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”? Yes, he did; but why not complete his sentence-“whether the gods which your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, 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 co-operation 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.10

10 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.”

1. THE NATURE OF THE HUMAN WILL.

What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference-the desiring one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference, but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be Sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both Sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not Sovereign, and if the will is not Sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it. Acts of the will cannot come to pass of themselves – 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 analyse 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 judgement reminded him that he was feeling far from well himself, that he badly needed a rest, that if he visited the sick his own condition would probably be made worse, and in such case he would be prevented from attending the preaching of the Gospel that night; furthermore, he knew that on the morrow, the Lord willing, he could visit the sick, and this being so, he concluded he ought to rest that afternoon. Here then were two sets of alternatives presented to our Christian brother: on the one side was a sense of duty plus his own sympathy, on the other side was a sense of his own need plus a real concern for God’s glory, for he felt that he ought to attend the preaching of the Gospel that night. The latter prevailed. Spiritual considerations outweighed his sense of duty. Having formed his decision the will acted accordingly and he retired to rest. An analysis of the above case shows that the mind or reasoning faculty was directed by spiritual considerations, and the mind regulated and controlled the will. Hence we say that, if the will is controlled, it is neither Sovereign nor free, but is the servant of the mind.

It is only as we see the real nature of freedom and mark that the will is subject to the motives brought to bear upon it that we are able to discern there is no conflict between two statements of Holy Writ which concern our blessed Lord. In Matthew 4:1 we read, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil”; but in Mark 1:12, 13 we are told, “And immediately the Spirit drift Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan.” It is utterly impossible to harmonise these two statements by the Armenian conception of the will. But really there is no difficulty. That Christ was “driven” implies it was by a forcible motive or powerful impulse, such as was not to be resisted or refused; that He was “led” denotes His freedom in going. Putting the two together we learn that He was driven, with a voluntary condescension thereto. So, there is the liberty of man’s will and the victorious efficacy of God’s grace united together: a sinner may be “drawn” and yet “come” to Christ-the “drawing” presenting to him the irresistible motive, the “coming” signifying the response of his will-as Christ was “driven” and “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Human philosophy insists that it is the will which governs the man, but the Word of God teaches that it is the heart which is the dominating centre of our being. Many Scriptures might be quoted in substantiation of this. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,” etc. (Mark 7:21). Here our Lord traces these sinful acts back to their source and declares that their fountain is the “heart” and not the will! Again: “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8). If further proof were required we might call attention to the fact that the word “heart” is found in the Bible more than three times oftener than is the word “will,” even though nearly half of the references to the latter refer to God’s will!

When we affirm that it is the heart and not the will which governs the man, we are not merely striving about words, but insisting on a distinction that is of vital importance. Here is an individual before whom two alternatives are placed; which will he choose? We answer, the one which is most agreeable to himself, i.e., his “heart”-the innermost core of his being? Before the sinner is set a life of virtue and piety, and a life of sinful indulgence; which will he follow? The latter. Why? Because that is his choice. But does that prove the will is Sovereign? Not at all. Go back from effect to cause. Why does the sinner choose a life of sinful indulgence? Because he prefers it-and he does prefer it, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, though of course he does not enjoy the effects of such a course. And why does he prefer it? Because his heart is sinful. The same alternatives, in like manner, confront the Christian, and he chooses and strives after a life of piety and virtue. Why? Because God has given him a new heart or nature. Hence we say it is not the will which makes the sinner impervious to all appeals to “forsake his way,” but his corrupt and evil heart. He will not come to Christ because he does not want to, and he does not want to because his heart hates Him and loves sin: see Jeremiah 17:9!

In defining the will we have said above, that “the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action.” We say the immediate cause, for the will is not “the primary cause of any action.” We say the immediate cause, for the will is not the primary cause of any action any more than the hand is. Just as the hand is controlled by the muscles and nerves of the arm, and the arm by the brain; so the will is the servant of the mind, and the mind, in turn, is affected by various influences and motives which are brought to bear upon it. But, it may be asked, Does not Scripture make its appeal to man’s will? Is it not written, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17)? And did not our Lord say, “ye will not come to Me that ye might have life” (John 5:40)? We answer; the appeal of Scripture is not always made to man’s “will”; other of his faculties are also addressed. For example: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” “Hear and your soul shall live.” “Look unto Me and be ye saved.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “Come now and let us reason together,” “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” etc., etc.

2. THE BONDAGE OF THE HUMAN WILL.

In any treatise that proposes to deal with the human will, its nature and functions, respect should be had to the will in three different men, namely, unfallen Adam, the sinner, and the Lord Jesus Christ. In unfallen Adam the will was free, free in both directions, free toward good and free toward evil. Adam was created in a state of innocency but not in a state of holiness, as is so often assumed and asserted. Adam’s will was therefore in a condition of moral equipoise: that is to say, in Adam there was no constraining bias in him toward good or evil, and as such Adam differed radically from all his descendants, as well as from “the Man Christ Jesus.” But with the sinner it is far otherwise. The sinner is born with a will that is not in a condition of moral equipoise, because in him there is a heart that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and this gives him a bias toward evil. So, too, with the Lord Jesus it was far otherwise: He also differed radically from unfallen Adam. The Lord Jesus Christ could not sin because He was the “Holy One of God.” Before He was born into this world it was said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Speaking reverently then we say, that the will of the Son of Man was not in a condition of moral equipoise, that is, capable of turning toward either good or evil. The will of the Lord Jesus was biased toward that which is good because, side by side with His sinless, holy, perfect humanity, was His eternal Deity. Now in contradistinction from the will of the Lord Jesus which was biased toward good, and Adam’s will which, before his fall, was in a condition of moral equipoise-capable of turning toward either good or evil-the sinner’s will is biased toward evil, and therefore is free in one direction only, namely, in the direction of evil. The sinner’s will is enslaved because it is in bondage to and is the servant of a depraved heart.

In what does the sinner’s freedom consist? This question is naturally suggested by what we have just said above. The sinner is “free” in the sense of being unforced from without. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not free to do either good or evil because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin. Let us illustrate what we have in mind. I hold in my hand a book. I release it; what happens? It falls. In which direction? Downwards; always downwards. Why? Because, answering the law of gravity, its own weight sinks it. Suppose I desire that book to occupy a position three feet higher; then what? I must lift it; a power outside of that book must raise it. Such is the relationship which fallen man sustains toward God. Whilst Divine power up-holds him he is preserved from plunging still deeper into sin; let that power be withdrawn and he falls-his own weight (of sin) drags him down. God does not push him down anymore than I did that book. Let all Divine restraint be removed and every man is capable of becoming, would become, a Cain, a Pharaoh, a Judas. How then is the sinner to move heavenward? By an act of his own will? Not so. A power outside of himself must grasp hold of him and lift him every inch of the way. The sinner is free, but free in one direction only-free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness” (Rom. 6:20). The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God), but his pleasure is to sin.

In the opening paragraph of this chapter we insisted that a proper conception of the nature and function of the will is of practical importance, nay, that it constitutes a fundamental test of theological orthodoxy or doctrinal soundness. We wish to amplify this statement and attempt to demonstrate its accuracy. The freedom or bondage of the will was the dividing line between Augustinianism and Pelagianism, and in more recent times between Calvinism and Arminianism. Reduced to simple terms this means that the difference involved was the affirmation or denial of the total depravity of man. In taking the affirmative we shall now consider,

3. THE IMPOTENCY OF THE HUMAN WILL.

Does it lie within the province of man’s will to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour? Granted that the Gospel is preached to the sinner, that the Holy Spirit convicts him of his lost condition, does it, in the final analysis, He within the power of his own will to resist or to yield himself up to God? The answer to this question defines our conception of human depravity. That man is a fallen creature all professing Christians will allow, but what many of them mean by “fallen” is often difficult to determine. The general impression seems to be that man is now mortal, that he is no longer in the condition in which he left the hands of his Creator, that he is liable to disease, that he inherits evil tendencies; but, that if he employs his powers to the best of his ability somehow he will be happy at last. O, how far short of the sad truth! Infirmities, sickness, even corporeal death, are but trifles in comparison with the moral and spiritual effects of the Fall! It is only by consulting the Holy Scriptures that we are able to obtain some conception of the extent of that terrible calamity.

When we say that man is totally depraved we mean that the entrance of sin into the human constitution has affected every part and faculty of man’s being. Total depravity means that man is, in spirit and soul and body, the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil-walking “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). This statement ought not to need arguing: it is a common fact of human experience. Man is unable to realise his own aspirations and materialise his own ideals. He cannot do the things that he would. There is a moral inability which paralyses him. This is proof positive that he is no free man, but instead, the slave of sin and Satan. “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts (desires) of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). Sin is more than an act or a series of acts; it is a state or condition. It is that which lies behind and produces the acts. Sin has penetrated and permeated the whole of man’s make-up. It has blinded the understanding, corrupted the heart, and alienated the mind from God. And the will has not escaped. The will is under the dominion of sin and Satan. Therefore, the will is not free. In short, the affections love as they do and the will chooses as it does because of the state of the heart, and because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11).

We repeat our question: Does it lie within the power of the sinner’s will to yield himself up to God? Let us attempt an answer by asking several others: Can water (of itself) rise above its own level? Can a clean thing come out of an unclean? Can the will reverse the whole tendency and strain of human nature? Can that which is under the dominion of sin originate that which is pure and holy? Manifestly not. If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move Godward a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction. This is only another way of saying, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me, draw him (John 6:44). In other words, God’s people must be made willing in the day of His power (Psa. 110:3). As said Mr. Darby, “If Christ came to save that which is lost, free will has no place. Not that God prevents 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 favourable 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, co-operate 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 inactive, 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 dwellingplace. Did all Israel eagerly respond to this offer? No indeed. The vast majority were content to remain in the enemy’s land. Only an insignificant “remnant” availed themselves of this overture of mercy! And why did they? Hear the answer of Scripture: “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all whose spirit God had stirred up, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5)! In like manner, God “stirs up” the spirits of His elect when the effectual call comes to them, and not till then do they have any willingness to respond to the Divine proclamation.

The superficial work of many of the professional evangelists of the last fifty years is largely responsible for the erroneous views now current upon the bondage of the natural man, encouraged by the laziness of those in the pew in their failure to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). The average evangelical pulpit conveys the impression that it lies wholly in the power of the sinner whether or not he shall be saved. It is said that “God has done His part, now man must do his.” Alas, what can a lifeless man do, and man by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)! If this were really believed there would be more dependence upon the Holy Spirit to come in with His miracle-working power and less confidence in our attempts to “win men for Christ.”

When addressing the unsaved, preachers often draw an analogy between God’s sending of the Gospel to the sinner, and a sick man in bed with some healing medicine on a table by his side: all he needs to do is reach forth his hand and take it. But in order for this illustration to be in any wise true to the picture which Scripture gives us of the fallen and depraved sinner, the sick man in bed must be described as one who is blind (Eph. 4:18) so that he cannot see the medicine, his hand paralysed (Rom. 5:6) so that he is unable to reach forth for it, and his heart not only devoid of all confidence in the medicine but filled with hatred against the physician himself (John 15:18). O what superficial views of man’s desperate plight are now entertained! Christ came here not to help those who were willing to help themselves, but to do for His people what they were incapable of doing for themselves: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:7).

Now in conclusion let us anticipate and dispose of the usual and inevitable objection-Why preach the Gospel if man is powerless to respond? why did the sinner come to Christ if sin has so enslaved him that he has no power in himself to come? Reply: We do not preach the Gospel because we believe that men are free moral agents and therefore capable of receiving Christ, but we preach it because we are commanded to do so (Mark 16:15); and though to them that perish it is foolishness yet, “unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and a dead man is utterly incapable of willing anything, hence it is that “they that are in the flesh (the unregenerate) cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

To fleshly wisdom it appears the height of folly to preach the Gospel to those that are dead, and therefore beyond the reach of doing anything themselves. Yes, but God’s ways are different from ours. It pleases God “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Man may deem it folly to prophesy to “dead bones” and to say unto them, “O ye dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord” (Ezek. 37:4). Ah! but then it is the Word of the Lord, and the words He speaks “they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus might pronounce it an evidence of insanity when the Lord addressed a dead man with the words, “Lazarus, Come forth.” Ah! but He who thus spake was and is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and at His word even the dead live! We go forth to preach the Gospel, then, not because we believe that sinners have within themselves the power to receive the Saviour it proclaims but because the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, and because we know that “as many as were ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48) shall believe (John 6:37; 10:16-note the “shall’s”!) in God’s appointed time, for it is written “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Psa. 110:3)!

What we have set forth in this chapter is not a product of “modern thought”; no indeed, it is at direct variance with it. It is those of the past few generations who have departed so far from the teachings of their scripturally-instructed fathers. In the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England we read, “The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us (being before-hand with us), that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will” (Article 10). In the Westminster Catechism of Faith (adopted by the Presbyterians) we read, “The sinfulness of that state whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the wont of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Answer to question 25). So in the Baptists’ Philadelphian Confession of Faith, 1742, we read, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (Chapter 9).

CHAPTER EIGHT

SOVEREIGNTY AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

In our last chapter we considered at some length the much debated and difficult question of the human will. We have shown that the will of the natural man is neither Sovereign nor free but, instead, a servant and slave. We have argued that a right conception of the sinner’s will-its servitude-is essential to a just estimate of his depravity and ruin. The utter corruption and degradation of human nature is something which man hates to acknowledge, and which he will hotly and insistently deny until he is “taught of God.” Much, very much, of the unsound doctrine which we now hear on every hand is the direct and logical outcome of man’s repudiation of God’s expressed estimate of human depravity. Men are claiming that they are “increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and know not that they are “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They prate about the ‘Ascent of Man,’ and deny his Fall. They put darkness for light and light for darkness. They boast of the ‘free moral agency’ of man when, in fact, he is in bondage to sin and enslaved by Satan-“taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). But if the natural man is not a ‘free moral agent,’ does it also follow that he is not accountable?

‘Free moral agency’ is an expression of human invention and, as we have said before, to talk of the freedom of the natural man is flatly to repudiate his spiritual ruin. Nowhere does Scripture speak of the freedom or moral ability of the sinner, on the contrary, it insists on his moral and spiritual inability.

This is, admittedly, the most difficult branch of our subject. Those who have ever devoted much study to this theme have uniformly recognised that the harmonising of God’s Sovereignty with Man’s Responsibility is the gordian knot of theology.

The main difficulty encountered is to define the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Many have summarily disposed of the difficulty by denying its existence. A certain class of theologians, in their anxiety to maintain man’s responsibility, have magnified it beyond all due proportions until God’s Sovereignty has been lost sight of, and in not a few instances flatly denied. Others have acknowledged that the Scriptures present both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man but affirm that in our present finite condition and with our limited knowledge it is impossible to reconcile the two truths, though it is the bounden duty of the believer to receive both. The present writer believes that it has been too readily assumed that the Scriptures themselves do not reveal the several points which show the conciliation of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While perhaps the Word of God does not clear up all the mystery (and this is said with reserve), it does throw much light upon the problem, and it seems to us more honouring to God and His Word to prayerfully search the Scriptures for the completer solution of the difficulty, and even though others have thus far searched in vain that ought only to drive us more and more to our knees. God has been pleased to reveal many things out of His Word during the last century which were hidden from earlier students. Who then dare affirm that there is not much to be learned yet respecting our inquiry!

As we have said above, our chief difficulty is to determine the meeting-point of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. To many it has seemed that for God to assert His Sovereignty, for Him to put forth His power and exert a direct influence upon man, for Him to do anything more than warn or invite, would be to interfere with man’s freedom, destroy his responsibility, and reduce him to a machine. It is sad indeed to find one like the late Dr. Pierson-whose writings are generally so scriptural and helpful-saying, “It is a tremendous thought that even God Himself cannot control my moral frame, or constrain my moral choice. He cannot prevent me defying and denying Him, and would not exercise His power in such directions if He could, and could not if He would” (“A Spiritual Clinique”). It is sadder still to discover that many other respected and loved brethren are giving expression to the same sentiments. Sad, because directly at variance with the Holy Scriptures.

It is our desire to face honestly the difficulties involved, and to examine them carefully in what light God has been pleased to grant us. The chief difficulties might be expressed thus: first, How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men that they are prevented from doing what they desire to do, and impelled to do other things they do not desire to do, and yet to preserve their responsibility? Second, How can the sinner be held responsible for the doing of what he is unable to do? And how can he be justly condemned for not doing what he could not do? Third, How is it possible for God to decree that men shall commit certain sins, hold them responsible in the committal of them, and adjudge them guilty because they committed them? Fourth, How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him, when God had foreordained him to condemnation? We shall now deal with these several problems in the above order. May the Holy Spirit Himself be our Teacher so that in His light we may see light.

1. How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men that they are PREVENTED 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 thraldom 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” (2Peter 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 thraldom and bondage of the worst kind. True liberty is not the power to live as we please, but to live as we ought! Hence, the only One Who has ever trod this earth since Adam’s fall that has enjoyed perfect freedom was the Man Christ Jesus, the Holy Servant of God, Whose meat it ever was to do the will of the Father.

We now turn to consider the question.

2. How can the sinner be held responsible FOR the doing of what he is UNABLE to do? And how can he be justly condemned for NOT DOING what he COULD NOT do?

As a creature the natural man is responsible to love, obey, and serve God; as a sinner he is responsible to repent and believe the Gospel. But at the outset we are confronted with the fact that natural man is unable to love and serve God, and that the sinner, of himself, cannot repent and believe. First, let us prove what we have just said. We begin by quoting and considering John 6:44, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” The heart of the natural man (every man) is so “desperately wicked” that if he is left to himself he will never ‘come to Christ.’ This statement would not be questioned if the full force of the words “coming to Christ” were properly apprehended. We shall therefore digress a little at this point to define and consider what is implied and involved in the words “No man can come to Me”-cf.John 5:40, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.”

For the sinner to come to Christ that he might have life is for him to realise the awful danger of his situation; is for him to see that the sword of Divine justice is suspended over his head; is to awaken to the fact that there is but a step betwixt him and death, and that after death is the “judgement”; 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 agonise to enter in at the “strait gate.”

To come to Christ for life, is for the sinner to feel and acknowledge that he is utterly destitute of any claim upon God’s favour; is to see himself as “without strength,” lost and undone; is to admit that he is deserving of nothing but eternal death, thus taking side with God against himself; it is for him to cast himself into the dust before God, and humbly sue for Divine mercy.

To come to Christ for life is for the sinner to abandon his own righteousness and be ready to be made the righteousness of God in Christ; it is to disown his own wisdom and be guided by His; it is to repudiate his own will and be ruled by His; it is to unreservedly receive the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, as his All in all.

Such, in part and in brief, is what is implied and involved in “coming to Christ.” But is the sinner willing to take such an attitude before God? No; for in the first place he does not realise the danger of his situation, and in consequence is not in real earnest after his escape; instead, men are for the most part at ease, and apart from the operations of the Holy Spirit whenever they are disturbed by the alarms of conscience or the dispensations of providence they flee to any other refuge but Christ. In the second place, they will not acknowledge that all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags but, like the Pharisee, will thank God they are not as the Publican. And in the third place, they are not ready to receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour for they are unwilling to part with their idols; they had rather hazard their soul’s eternal welfare than give them up. Hence we say that, left to himself, the natural man is so depraved at heart that he cannot come to Christ.

The words of our Lord quoted above by no means stand alone. Quite a number of Scriptures set forth the moral and spiritual inability of the natural man. In Joshua 24:19 we read, “And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God.” To the Pharisees Christ said, “Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). And again: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7, 8).

But now the question returns, How can God hold the sinner responsible for failing to do what he is unable to do? This necessitates a careful definition of terms. Just what is meant by “unable” and “cannot”?

Now let it be clearly understood that when we speak of the sinner’s inability, we do not mean that if men desired to come to Christ they lack the necessary power to carry out their desire. No; the fact is that the sinner’s inability or absence of power is itself due to lack of willingness to come to Christ, and this lack of willingness is the fruit of a depraved heart. It is of first importance that we distinguish between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability. For example, we read, “But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age” (1 Kings 14:4); and again, “The men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them” (Jonah 1:13). In both of these passages the words “could not” refer to natural inability. But when we read, “And when his brethren saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen. 37:4), it is clearly moral inability that is in view. They did not lack the natural ability to “speak peaceably unto him” for they were not dumb. Why then was it that they “could not speak peaceably unto him”? The answer is given in the same verse: it was because “they hated him.” Again; in 2 Peter 2:14 we read of a certain class of wicked men “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin.” Here again it is moral inability that is in view. Why is it that these men “cannot cease from sin”? The answer is, Because their eyes were full of adultery. So of Romans 8:8-“They that are in the flesh cannot please God”: here is spiritual inability. Why is it that the natural man “cannot please God”? Because he is “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). No man can choose that from which his heart is averse-“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (Matt. 12:34). “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). Here again it is moral and spiritual inability which is before us. Why is it the sinner cannot come to Christ unless he is “drawn”? The answer is, Because his wicked heart loves sin and hates Christ.

We trust we have made it clear that the Scriptures distinguish sharply between natural ability and moral and spiritual inability. Surely all can see the difference between the blindness of Bartimaeus, who was ardently desirous of receiving his sight, and the Pharisees, whose eyes were closed “lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matt. 13:15). But should it be said, “The natural man could come to Christ if he wished to do so,” we answer, Ah! but in that IF lies the hinge of the whole matter. The inability of the sinner consists of the want of moral power to wish and will so as to actually perform.

What we have contended for above is of first importance. Upon the distinction between the sinner’s natural Ability, and his moral and spiritual Inability rests his Responsibility. The depravity of the human heart does not destroy man’s accountability to God; so far from this being the case the very moral inability of the sinner only serves to increase his guilt. This is easily proven by a reference to the Scriptures cited above. We read that Joseph’s brethren “could not speak peaceably unto him,” and why? It was because they “hated” him. But was this moral inability of theirs any excuse? Surely not: in this very moral inability consisted the greatness of their sin. So of those concerning whom it is said, “They cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14), and why? Because “their eyes were full of adultery,” but that only made their case worse. It was a real fact that they could not cease from sin, yet this did not excuse them-it only made their sin the greater.

Should some sinner here object, I cannot help being born into this world with a depraved heart and therefore I am not responsible for my moral and spiritual inability which accrue from it, the reply would be, Responsibility and Culpability He in the indulgence of the depraved propensities, the free indulgence, for God does not force any to sin. Men might pity me but they certainly would not excuse me if I gave vent to a fiery temper and then sought to extenuate myself on the ground of having inherited that temper from my parents. Their own common sense is sufficient to guide their judgement in such a case as this. They would argue I was responsible to restrain my temper. Why then cavil against this same principle in the case supposed above? “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee thou wicked servant” surely applies here! What would the reader say to a man who had robbed him and who later argued in defence, “I cannot help being a thief, that is my nature”? Surely the reply would be, Then the penitentiary is the proper place for that man. What then shall be said to the one who argues that he cannot help following the bent of his sinful heart? Surely, that the Lake of Fire is where such an one must go. Did ever a murderer plead that he hated his victim so much that he could not go near him without slaying him. Would not that only magnify the enormity of his crime! Then what of the one who loves sin so much that he is at “enmity against God”!

The fact of man’s responsibility is almost universally acknowledged. It is inherent in man’s moral nature. It is not only taught in Scripture but witnessed to by the natural conscience. The basis or ground of human responsibility is human ability. What is implied by this general term “ability” must now be defined. Perhaps a concrete example will be more easily grasped by the average reader than an abstract argument.

Suppose a man owed me $100 and could find plenty of money for his own pleasures but none for me, yet pleaded that he was unable to pay me. What would I say? I would say that the only ability that was lacking was an honest heart. But would it not be an unfair construction of my words if a friend of my dishonest debtor should say I had stated that an honest heart was that which constituted the ability to pay the debt? No; I would reply: the ability of my debtor lies in the power of his hand to write me a check, and this he has, but what is lacking is an honest principle. It is his power to write me a check which makes him responsible to do so, and the fact that he lacks an honest heart does not destroy his accountability.11

11 The terms of this example are suggested by an illustration used by the late Andrew Fuller.

Now, in like manner, the sinner while altogether lacking in moral and spiritual ability does, nevertheless, possess natural ability, and this it is which renders him accountable unto God. Men have the same natural faculties to love God with as they have to hate Him with, the same hearts to believe with as to disbelieve, and it is their failure to love and believe which constitutes their guilt. An idiot or an infant is not personally responsible to God, because lacking in natural ability. But the normal man who is endowed with rationality, who is gifted with a conscience that is capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, who is able to weigh eternal issues IS a responsible being, and it is because he does possess these very faculties that he will yet have to “give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

We say again that the above distinction between the natural ability and the moral and spiritual inability of the sinner is of prime importance. By nature he possesses natural ability but lacks moral and spiritual ability. The fact that he does not possess the latter does not destroy his responsibility, because his responsibility rests upon the fact that he does possess the former. Let me illustrate again. Here are two men guilty of theft: the first is an idiot, the second perfectly sane but the offspring of criminal parents. No just judge would sentence the former; but every right-minded judge would the latter. Even though the second of these thieves possessed a vitiated moral nature inherited from criminal parents that would not excuse him, providing he was a normal rational being. Here then is the ground of human accountability-the possession of rationality plus the gift of conscience. It is because the sinner is endowed with these natural faculties that he is a responsible creature; because he does not use his natural powers for God’s glory, constitutes his guilt.

How can it remain consistent with His mercy that God should require the debt of obedience from him that is not able to pay? In addition to what has been said above it should be pointed out that God has not lost His right, even though man has lost his power. The creature’s impotence does not cancel his obligation. A drunken servant is a servant still, and it is contrary to all sound reasoning to argue that his master loses his rights through his servant’s default. Moreover, it is of first importance that we should ever bear in mind that God contracted with us in Adam, who was our federal head and representative, and in him God gave us a power which we lost through our first parent’s fall; but though our power is gone, nevertheless, God may justly demand His due of obedience and of service.

We turn now to ponder,

3. How is it possible for God to DECREE that men SHOULD commit certain sins, hold them RESPONSIBLE in the committal of them, and adjudge them GUILTY because they committed them?

Let us now consider the extreme case of Judas. We hold that it is clear from Scripture
that God decreed from all eternity that Judas should betray the Lord Jesus. If anyone should challenge this statement we refer him to the prophecy of Zechariah through whom God declared that His Son should be sold for “thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). As we have said in earlier pages, in prophecy God makes known what will be, and in making known what will be He is but revealing to us what He has ordained shall be. That Judas was the one through whom the prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled needs not to be argued. But now the question we have to face is, Was Judas a responsible agent in fulfilling this decree of God? We reply that he was. Responsibility attaches mainly to the motive and intention of the one committing the act. This is recognised on every hand. Human law distinguishes between a blow inflicted by accident (without evil design) and a blow delivered with ‘malice aforethought.’ Apply then this same principle to the case of Judas. What was the design of his heart when he bargained with the priests? Manifestly he had no conscious desire to fulfil any decree of God, though unknown to himself he was actually doing so. On the contrary, his intention was evil only, and therefore, though God had decreed and directed his act, nevertheless his own evil intention rendered him justly guilty as he afterwards acknowledged himself-“I have betrayed innocent blood.” It was the same with the Crucifixion of Christ. Scripture plainly declares that He was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that though “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ” yet, notwithstanding it was but “for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26, 28); which verses teach very much more than a bare permission by God, declaring, as they do, that the Crucifixion and all its details had been decreed by God. Yet, nevertheless, it was by “wicked hands,” not merely “human hands” that our Lord was “crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). “Wicked” because the intention of His crucifiers was only evil.

But it might be objected that if God decreed that Judas should betray Christ, and that the Jews and Gentiles should crucify Him they could not do otherwise, and therefore, they were not responsible for their intentions. The answer is, God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did, but in the actual perpetration of these deeds they were justly guilty because their own purposes in the doing of them was evil only. Let it be emphatically said that God does not produce the sinful dispositions of any of His creatures, though He does restrain and direct them to the accomplishing of His own purposes. Hence He is neither the Author nor the Approver of sin. This distinction was expressed thus by Augustine: “That men sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from the power of God who divideth the darkness according to His pleasure.” Thus it is written, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). What we would here insist upon is, that God’s decrees are not the necessitating cause of the sins of men but the fore-determined and prescribed boundings and directings of men’s sinful acts. In connection with the betrayal of Christ God did not decree that He should be sold by one of His creatures and then take up a good man, instil an evil desire into his heart and thus force him to perform the terrible deed in order to execute His decree. No; not so do the Scriptures represent it. Instead, God decreed the act and selected the one who was to perform the act, but He did not make him evil in order that he should perform the deed; on the contrary, the betrayer was a “devil” at the time the Lord Jesus chose him as one of the twelve (John 6:70), and in the exercise and manifestation of his own deviltry God simply directed his actions, actions which were perfectly agreeable to his own vile heart, and performed with the most wicked intentions. Thus it was with the Crucifixion.

4. How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him, when God FOREORDAINED him TO condemnation?

Really, this question has been covered in what has been said under the other queries, but for the benefit of those who are exercised upon this point we give it a separate, though brief, examination. In considering the above difficulty the following points should be carefully weighed:

In the first place, no sinner, while he is in this world, knows for certain, nor can he know, that he is a “vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.” This belongs to the hidden counsels of God to which he has not access. God’s secret will is no business of his; God’s revealed will (in the Word) is the standard of human responsibility. And God’s revealed will is plain. Each sinner is among those whom God now “commandeth to repent” (Acts 17:30). Each sinner who hears the Gospel is “commanded” to believe (1 John 3:23). And all who do truly repent and believe are saved. Therefore, is every sinner responsible to repent and believe.

In the second place, it is the duty of every sinner to search the Scriptures which “are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). It is the sinner’s “duty” because the Son of God has commanded him to search the Scriptures (John 5:39). If he searches them with a heart that is seeking after God then does he put himself in the way where God is accustomed to meet with sinners. Upon this point the Puritan Manton has written very helpfully.

“I cannot say to every one that ploweth, infallibly, that he shall have a good crop; but this I can say to him, It is God’s use to bless the diligent and provident. I cannot say to every one that desireth posterity, Marry, and you shall have children; I cannot say infallibly to him that goeth forth to battle for his country’s good that he shall have victory and success; but I can say, as Joab (1 Chron. 19:13) ‘Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people and the cities of our God: and let the LORD do that which is good in His sight.’ I cannot say infallibly you shall have grace; but I can say to every one, Let him use the means, and leave the success of his labour and his own salvation to the will and good pleasure of God. I cannot say this infallibly, for there is no obligation upon God. And still this work is made the fruit of God’s will and mere arbitrary dispensation-‘Of His own will begat He us by the Word of Truth’ (James 1:18). Let us do what God hath commanded, and let God do what He will. And I need not say so; for the whole world in all their actings are and should be guided by this principle. Let us do our duty, and refer the success to God, Whose ordinary practice is to meet with the creature that seeketh after Him; yea, He is with us already; this earnest importunity in the use of means proceeding from the earnest impression of His grace. And therefore, since He is beforehand with us, and hath not showed any backwardness to our good, we have no reason to despair of His goodness and mercy, but rather to hope for the best” (Vol. XXI, page 312).

God has been pleased to give to men the Holy Scriptures which “testify” of the Saviour, and make known the way of salvation. Every sinner has the same natural faculties for the reading of the Bible as he has for the reading of the newspaper; and if he is illiterate or blind so that he is unable to read he has the same mouth with which to ask a friend to read the Bible to him, as he has to enquire concerning other matters. If, then, God has given to men His Word, and in that Word has made known the way of salvation, and if men are commanded to search those Scriptures which are able to make them wise unto salvation, and they refuse to do so, then it is plain that they are justly censurable, that their blood lies on their own heads, and that God can righteously cast them into the Lake of Fire.

In the third place, should it be objected, Admitting all you have said above, Is it not still a fact that each of the non-elect is unable to repent and believe? The reply is, Yes. Of every sinner it is a fact that, of himself, he cannot come to Christ. And from God’s side the “cannot” is absolute. But we are now dealing with the responsibility of the sinner (the sinner foreordained to condemnation, though he knows it not), and from the human side the inability of the sinner is a moral one, as previously pointed out. Moreover, it needs to be borne in mind that in addition to the moral inability of the sinner there is a voluntary inability, too. The sinner must be regarded not only as impotent to do good but as delighting in evil. From the human side, then, the “cannot” is a will not; it is a voluntary impotence. Man’s impotence lies in his obstinacy. Hence, is everyone left “without excuse,” and hence, is God “clear” when He judgeth (Psa. 51:4), and righteous in damning all who “love darkness rather than light.”

That God does require what is beyond our own power to render is clear from many Scriptures. God gave the Law to Israel at Sinai and demanded a full compliance with it, and solemnly pointed out what would be the consequences of their disobedience (see Deut. 28). But will any readers be so foolish as to affirm that Israel were capable of fully obeying the Law! If they do, we would refer them to Romans 8:3 where we are expressly told, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”

Come now to the New Testament. Take such passages as Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” 1 Corinthians 15:34. “Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Will any reader say he is capable in himself of complying with these demands of God? If so, it is useless for us to argue with him.

But now the question arises, Why has God demanded of man that which he is incapable of performing? The first answer is, Because God refuses to lower His standard to the level of our sinful infirmities. Being perfect, God must set a perfect standard before us. Still we must ask, If man is incapable of measuring up to God’s standard, wherein lies his responsibility? Difficult as it seems the problem is nevertheless capable of simple and satisfactory solution.

Man is responsible to (first) acknowledge before God his inability, and (second) to cry unto Him for enabling grace. Surely this will be admitted by every Christian reader. It is my bounden duty to own before God my ignorance, my weakness, my sinfulness, my impotence to comply with His holy and just requirements. It is also my bounden duty, as well as blessed privilege, to earnestly beseech God to give me the wisdom, strength, grace, which will enable me to do that which is pleasing in His sight; to ask Him to work in me “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

In like manner, the sinner, every sinner, is responsible to call upon the Lord. Of himself he can neither repent nor believe. He can neither come to Christ nor turn from his sins. God tells him so; and his first duty is to “set to his seal that God is true.” His second duty is to cry unto God for His enabling power; to ask God in mercy to overcome his enmity and “draw” him to Christ; to bestow upon him the gifts of repentance and faith. If he will do so, sincerely from the heart, then most surely God will respond to his appeal, for it is written, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

Suppose I had slipped on the icy pavement late at night, and had broken my hip. I am unable to arise; if I remain on the ground I must freeze to death. What, then, ought I to do? If I am determined to perish I shall He there silent; but I shall be to blame for such a course. If I am anxious to be rescued I shall lift up my voice and cry for help. So the sinner, though unable of himself to rise and take the first step toward Christ, is responsible to cry to God, and if he does (from the heart) there is a Deliverer to hand. God is “not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27); yea, He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1). But if the sinner refuses to cry unto the Lord, if he is determined to perish, then his blood is on his own head, and his “damnation is just” (Rom. 3:8).

A brief word now concerning the extent of human responsibility.

It is obvious that the measure of human responsibility varies in different cases, and is greater or less with particular individuals. The standard of measurement was given in the Saviour’s words, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Surely God did not require as much from those living in Old Testament times as He does from those who have been born during the Christian dispensation. Surely God will not require as much from those who lived during the ‘dark ages,’ when the Scriptures were accessible to but a few, as He will from those of this generation when practically every family in the land owns a copy of His Word for themselves. In the same way, God will not demand from the heathen what He will from those in Christendom. The heathen will not perish because they have not believed in Christ, but because they failed to live up to the light which they did have-the testimony of God in nature and conscience.

To sum up. The fact of man’s responsibility rests upon his natural ability, is witnessed to by conscience, and is insisted on throughout the Scriptures. The ground of man’s responsibility is that he is a rational creature capable of weighing eternal issues, and that he possesses a written Revelation from God in which his relationship with and duty toward his Creator is plainly defined. The measure of responsibility varies in different individuals, being determined by the degree of light each has enjoyed from God. The problem of human responsibility receives at least a partial solution in the Holy Scriptures, and it is our solemn obligation as well as privilege to search them prayerfully and carefully for further light, looking to the Holy Spirit to guide us “into all truth.” It is written, “The meek will He guide in judgement: and the meek will He teach His way” (Psa. 25:9).

In conclusion it remains to point out that it is the responsibility of every man to use the means which God has placed to his hand. An attitude of fatalistic inertia, because I know that God has irrevocably decreed whatsoever comes to pass, is to make a sinful and hurtful use of what God has revealed for the comfort of my heart. The same God who has decreed that a certain end shall be accomplished has also decreed that that end shall be attained through and as the result of His own appointed means. God does not disdain the use of means, nor must I. For example: God has decreed that “while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest… shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22); but that does not mean man’s ploughing of the ground and sowing of the seed are needless. No; God moves men to do those very things, blesses their labours, and so fulfils His own ordination. In like manner, God has, from the beginning, chosen a people unto salvation; but that does not mean there is no need for evangelists to preach the Gospel, or for sinners to believe it; it is by such means that His eternal counsels are effectuated.

To argue that because God has irrevocably determined the eternal destiny of every man, relieves us of all responsibility for any concern about our souls, or any diligent use of the means to salvation, would be on a par with refusing to perform my temporal duties because God has fixed my earthly lot. And that He has is clear from Acts 17:26; Job 7:1; 14:15, etc. If then the foreordination of God may consist with the respective activities of man in present concerns, why not in the future? What God has joined together we must not cut asunder. Whether we can or cannot see the link which unites the one to the other our duty is plain: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

In Acts 27:22 God made known that He had ordained the temporal preservation of all who accompanied Paul in the ship; yet the Apostle did not hesitate to say, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (v. 31). God appointed that means for the execution of what He had decreed. From 2 Kings 20 we learn that God was absolutely resolved to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life, yet he must take a lump of figs and lay it on his boil! Paul knew that he was eternally secure in the hand of Christ (John 10:28), yet he “kept under his body” (1 Cor. 9:27). The Apostle John assured those to whom he wrote, “Ye shall abide in Him,” yet in the very next verse he exhorted them, “And now, little children, abide in Him” (1 John 2:27, 28). It is only by taking heed to this vital principle, that we are responsible to use the means of God’s appointing, that we shall be enabled to preserve the balance of Truth and be saved from a paralysing fatalism.

CHAPTER NINE

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND PRAYER

“If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us” (1 John 5:14).

Throughout this book it has been our chief aim to exalt the Creator and abase the creature. The well-nigh universal tendency now, is to magnify man and dishonour and degrade God. On every hand it will be found that, when spiritual things are under discussion, the human side and element is pressed and stressed, and the Divine side, if not altogether ignored, is relegated to the background. This holds true of very much of the modern teaching about prayer. In the great majority of the books written and in the sermons preached upon prayer the human element fills the scene almost entirely: it is the conditions which we must meet, the promises we must “claim,” the things we must do in order to get our requests granted; and God’s claims, God’s rights, God’s glory are disregarded.

As a fair example of what is being given out today we subjoin a brief editorial which appeared recently in one of the leading religious weeklies entitled “Prayer, or Fate?”

“God in His Sovereignty has ordained that human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man. This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray. Someone has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays; and will not happen if he does not pray.’ A Christian worker was impressed by these sentences as he entered a business office and he prayed that the Lord would open the way to speak to some one about Christ, reflecting that things would be changed because he prayed. Then his mind turned to other things and the prayer was forgotten. The opportunity came to speak to the business man upon whom he was calling, but he did not grasp it, and was on his way out when he remembered his prayer of a half hour before, and God’s answer. He promptly returned and had a talk with the business man, who, though a church-member, had never in his life been asked whether he was saved. Let us give ourselves to prayer, and open the way for God to change things. Let us beware lest we become virtual fatalists by failing to exercise our God-given wills in praying.”

The above illustrates what is being taught on the subject of prayer, and the deplorable thing is that scarcely a voice is lifted in protest. To say that “human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man” is rank infidelity-that is the only proper term for it. Should any one challenge this classification, we would ask them whether they can find an infidel anywhere who would dissent from such a statement, and we are confident that such an one could not be found. To say that “God has ordained that human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man” is absolutely untrue. “Human destiny” is settled not by the will of man, but by the will of God. That which determines human destiny is whether or not a man has been born again, for it is written, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And as to whose will, whether God’s or man’s, is responsible for the new birth is settled, unequivocally, by John 1:13-“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but OF GOD.” To say that “human destiny” may be changed by the will of man is to make the creature’s will supreme, and that is, virtually, to dethrone God. But what saith the Scriptures? Let the Book answer: “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Sam. 2:6-8).

Turning back to the Editorial here under review, we are next told, “This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray.” Almost everywhere we go today one comes across a motto-card bearing the inscription “Prayer Changes Things.” As to what these words are designed to signify is evident from the current literature on prayer-we are to persuade God to change His purpose. Concerning this we shall have more to say below.

Again, the Editor tells us, “Some one has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays, and will not happen if he does not pray.'” That things happen whether a man prays or not is exemplified daily in the lives of the unregenerate, most of whom never pray at all. That ‘other things will happen if he prays’ is in need of qualification. If a believer prays in faith and asks for those things which are according to God’s will he will most certainly obtain that for which he has asked. Again, that other things will happen if he prays is also true in respect to the subjective benefits derived from prayer: God will become more real to him and His promises more precious. That other things ‘will not happen if he does not pray’ is true so far as his own life is concerned-a prayerless life means a life lived out of communion with God and all that is involved by this. But to affirm that God will not and cannot bring to pass His eternal purpose unless we pray is utterly erroneous, for the same God who has decreed the end has also decreed that His end shall be reached through His appointed means, and One of these is prayer. The God who has determined to grant a blessing also gives a spirit of supplication which first seeks the blessing.

The example cited in the above Editorial of the Christian worker and the business man is a very unhappy one to say the least, for according to the terms of the illustration the Christian worker’s prayer was not answered by God at all, inasmuch as, apparently, the way was not opened to speak to the business man about his soul. But on leaving the office and recalling his prayer the Christian worker (perhaps in the energy of the flesh) determined to answer the prayer for himself, and instead of leaving the Lord to “open the way” for him, took matters into his own hand.

We quote next from one of the latest books issued on Prayer. In it the author says, “The possibilities and necessity of prayer, its power and results, are manifested in arresting and changing the purposes of God and in relieving the stroke of His power.” Such an assertion as this is a horrible reflection upon the character of the Most High God, who “doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Dan. 4:35). There is no need whatever for God to change His designs or alter His purpose for the all-sufficient reason that these were framed under the influence of perfect goodness and unerring wisdom. Men may have occasion to alter their purposes, for in their short-sightedness they are frequently unable to anticipate what may arise after their plans are formed. But not so with God, for He knows the end from the beginning. To affirm God changes His purpose is either to impugn His goodness or to deny His eternal wisdom.

In the same book we are told, “The prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock in Heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon earth. The great throes and mighty convulsions on earth are the results of these prayers. Earth is changed, revolutionised, angels move on more powerful, more rapid wing, and God’s policy is shaped as the prayers are more numerous, more efficient.” If possible, this is even worse, and we have no hesitation in denominating it as blasphemy. In the first place, it flatly denies Ephesians 3:11 which speaks of God’s having an “eternal purpose.” If God’s purpose is an eternal one then His “policy” is not being “shaped” today. In the second place, it contradicts Ephesians 1:11 which expressly declares that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,” therefore it follows that, “God’s policy” is not being “shaped” by man’s prayers. In the third place, such a statement as the above makes the will of the creature supreme, for if our prayers shape God’s policy then is the Most High subordinate to worms of the earth. Well might the Holy Spirit ask through the Apostle, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34).

Such thoughts on prayer as we have been citing are due to low and inadequate conceptions of God Himself. It ought to be apparent that there could be little or no comfort in praying to a God that was like the chameleon, which changes its colour every day. What encouragement is there to lift up our hearts to One who is in one mind yesterday and another today? What would be the use of petitioning an earthly monarch if we knew he was so mutable as to grant a petition one day and deny it another? Is it not the very unchangeableness of God which is our greatest encouragement to pray? It is because He is “without variableness or shadow of turning” we are assured that if we ask anything according to His will we are most certain of being heard. Well did Luther remark, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”

And this leads us to offer a few remarks concerning the design of prayer. Why has God appointed that we should pray? The vast majority of people would reply, In order that we may obtain from God the things which we need. While this is one of the purposes of prayer it is by no means the chief one. Moreover, it considers prayer only from the human side, and prayer sadly needs to be viewed from the Divine side. Let us look, then, at some of the reasons why God has bidden us to pray.

First and foremost, prayer has been appointed that the Lord God Himself should be honoured. God requires we should recognise that He is, indeed, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15). God requires that we shall own His universal dominion: in petitioning God for rain Elijah did but confess His control over the elements; in praying to God to deliver a poor sinner from the wrath to come we acknowledge that “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9); in supplicating His blessing on the Gospel unto the uttermost parts of the earth we declare His rulership over the whole world.

Again; God requires that we shall worship Him, and prayer, real prayer, is an act of worship. Prayer is an act of worship inasmuch as it is the prostrating of the soul before Him; inasmuch as it is a calling upon His great and holy name; inasmuch as it is the owning of His goodness, His power, His immutability, His grace, and inasmuch as it is the recognition of His Sovereignty, owned by a submission to His will. It is highly significant to notice in this connection that the Temple wasn’t termed by Christ the House of Sacrifice, but instead, the House of Prayer.

Again; prayer redounds to God’s glory, for in prayer we do but acknowledge dependency upon Him. When we humbly supplicate the Divine Being we cast ourselves upon His power and mercy. In seeking blessings from God we own that He is the Author and Fountain of every good and perfect gift. That prayer brings glory to God is further seen from the fact that prayer calls faith into exercise, and nothing from us is so honouring and pleasing to Him as the confidence of our hearts.

In the second place, prayer is appointed by God for our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. When seeking to learn the design of prayer, this should ever occupy us before we regard prayer as a means for obtaining the supply of our need. Prayer is designed by God for our humbling. Prayer, real prayer, is a coming into the Presence of God, and a sense of His awful majesty produces a realisation of our nothingness and unworthiness. Again; prayer is designed by God for the exercise of our faith. Faith is begotten in the Word (Rom. 10:8), but it is exercised in prayer; hence, we read of “the prayer of faith.” Again; prayer calls love into action. Concerning the hypocrite the question is asked, “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?” (Job 27:10). But they that love the Lord cannot be long away from Him, for they delight in unburdening themselves to Him. Not only does prayer call love into action but through the direct answers vouchsafed to our prayers our love to God is increased-“I love the LORD, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Psa. 116:1). Again; prayer is designed by God to teach us the value of the blessings we have sought from Him, and it causes us to rejoice the more when He has bestowed upon us that for which we supplicate Him.

Third, prayer is appointed by God for our seeking from Him the things which we are in need of. But here a difficulty may present itself to those who have read carefully the previous chapters of this book. If God has foreordained, before the foundation of the world, everything which happens in time, what is the use of prayer? If it is true that “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:30), then why pray? Ere replying directly to these queries it should be pointed out how that there is just as much reason to ask, What is the use of me coming to God and telling Him what He already knows? Wherein is the use of me spreading before Him my need, seeing He is already acquainted with it? as there is to object, What is the use of praying for anything when everything has been ordained beforehand by God? Prayer is not for the purpose of informing God, as if He were ignorant (the Saviour expressly declared “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him”-Matt. 6:8), but it is to acknowledge He does know what we are in need of. Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need, but is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of need. In this, as in everything, God’s thoughts are not as ours. God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honoured by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.

However, the question still returns on us, If God be the Predestinator of everything that comes to pass, and the Regulator of all events, then is not prayer a profitless exercise? A sufficient answer to these questions is that God bids us to pray, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). And again, “men ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). And further: Scripture declares that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick,” and “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:15, 16); while the Lord Jesus Christ, our perfect Example in all things, was pre-eminently a Man of Prayer. Thus, it is evident, that prayer is neither meaningless nor valueless. But still this does not remove the difficulty nor answer the question with which we started out. What then is the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer?

First of all, we would say with emphasis, that prayer is not intended to change God’s purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment. God has elected certain ones to be saved, but He has also decreed that these shall be saved through the preaching the Gospel. The Gospel, then, is one of the appointed means for the working out of the eternal counsel of the Lord; and prayer is another. God has decreed the means as well as the end, and among the means is prayer. Even the prayers of His people are included in His eternal decrees. Therefore, instead of prayers being in vain they are among the means through which God exercises His decrees. “If indeed all things happen by a blind chance, or a fatal necessity prayers in that case could be of no moral efficacy, and of no use; but since they are regulated by the direction of Divine wisdom, prayers have a place in the order of events” (Haldane).

That prayers for the execution of the very things decreed by God are not meaningless is clearly taught in the Scriptures. Elijah knew that God was about to give rain, but that did not prevent him from at once betaking himself to prayer (James 5:17, 18). Daniel “understood” by the writings of the prophets that the captivity was to last but seventy years, yet when these seventy years were almost ended we are told that he set his face “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:2, 3). God told the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”; but instead of adding, there is, therefore, no need for you to supplicate Me for these things, He said, “Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you” (Jer. 29:11, 12).

Here then is the design of prayer: not that God’s will may be altered, but that it may be accomplished in His own good time and way. It is because God has promised certain things that we can ask for them with the full assurance of faith. It is God’s purpose that His will shall be brought about by His own appointed means, and that He may do His people good upon His own terms, and that is, by the ‘means’ and ‘terms’ of entreaty and supplication. Did not the Son of God know for certain that after His death and resurrection He would be exalted by the Father. Assuredly He did. Yet we find Him asking for this very thing: “O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine Own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5)! Did not He know that none of His people could perish? yet He besought the Father to “keep” them (John 17:11)!

Finally, it should be said that God’s will is immutable, and cannot be altered by our cryings. When the mind of God is not toward a people to do them good, it cannot be turned to them by the most fervent and importunate prayer of those who have the greatest interest in Him: “Then said the LORD unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth” (Jer. 15:1). The prayers of Moses to enter the promised land is a parallel case.

Our views respecting prayer need to be revised and brought into harmony with the teaching of Scripture on the subject. The prevailing idea seems to be that I come to God and ask Him for something that I want, and that I expect Him to give me that which I have asked. But this is a most dishonouring and degrading conception. The popular belief reduces God to a servant, our servant: doing our bidding, performing our pleasure, granting our desires. No; prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need, committing my way unto the Lord, and leaving Him to deal with it as seemeth Him best. This makes my will subject to His, instead of, as in the former case, seeking to bring His will into subjection to mine. No prayer is pleasing to God unless the spirit actuating it is “not my will, but Thine be done.” “When God bestows blessings on a praying people, it is not for the sake of their prayers, as if He was inclined and turned by them; but it is for His own sake, and of His own Sovereign will and pleasure. Should it be said, to what purpose then is prayer? it is answered, This is the way and means God has appointed for the communication of the blessing of His goodness to His people. For though He has purposed, provided, and promised them, yet He will be sought unto, to give them, and it is a duty and privilege to ask. When they are blessed with a spirit of prayer it forebodes well, and looks as if God intended to bestow the good things asked, which should be asked always with submission to the will of God, saying, Not my will but Thine be done” (John Gill).

The distinction just noted above is of great practical importance for our peace of heart. Perhaps the one thing that exercises Christians as much as anything else is that of unanswered prayers. They have asked God for something: so far as they are able to judge they have asked in faith believing they would receive that for which they had supplicated the Lord: and they have asked earnestly and repeatedly, but the answer has not come. The result is that, in many cases, faith in the efficacy of prayer becomes weakened, until hope gives way to despair and the closet is altogether neglected. Is it not so?

Now will it surprise our readers when we say that every real prayer of faith that has ever been offered to God has been answered? Yet we unhesitatingly affirm it. But in saying this we must refer back to our definition of prayer. Let us repeat it. Prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need (or the need of others), committing my way unto the Lord, and then leaving Him to deal with the case as seemeth Him best. This leaves God to answer the prayer in whatever way He sees fit, and often, His answer may be the very opposite of what would be most acceptable to the flesh; yet, if we have really LEFT our need in His hands it will be His answer, nevertheless. Let us look at two examples.

In John 11 we read of the sickness of Lazarus. The Lord “loved” him, but He was absent from Bethany. The sisters sent a messenger unto the Lord acquainting Him of their brother’s condition. And note particularly how their appeal was worded-“Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.” That was all. They did not ask Him to heal Lazarus. They did not request Him to hasten at once to Bethany. They simply spread their need before Him, committed the case into His hands, and left Him to act as He deemed best! And what was our Lord’s reply? Did He respond to their appeal and answer their mute request? Certainly He did, though not, perhaps, in the way they had hoped. He answered by abiding “two days still in the same place where He was” (John 11:6), and allowing Lazarus to die! But in this instance that was not all. Later, He journeyed to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. Our purpose in referring here to this case is to illustrate the proper attitude for the believer to take before God in the hour of need. The next example will emphasise rather, God’s method of responding to His needy child.

Turn to 2 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul had been accorded an unheard-of privilege. He had been transported into Paradise. His ears had listened to and his eyes had gazed upon that which no other mortal had heard or seen this side of death. The wondrous revelation was more than the Apostle could endure. He was in danger of becoming “puffed up” by his extraordinary experience. Therefore, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, was sent to buffet him lest he be exalted above measure. And the Apostle spreads his need before the Lord; he thrice beseeches Him that this thorn in the flesh should be removed. Was his prayer answered? Assuredly, though not in the manner he had desired. The “thorn” was not removed but grace was given to bear it. The burden was not lifted but strength was vouchsafed to carry it.

Does someone object that it is our privilege to do more than spread our need before God? Are we reminded that God has, as it were, given us a blank check and invited us to fill it in? Is it said that the promises of God are all-inclusive, and that we may ask God for what we will? If so, we must call attention to the fact that it is necessary to compare Scripture with Scripture if we are to learn the full mind of God on any subject, and that as this is done we discover God has qualified the promises given to praying souls by saying “If ye ask anything according to His will He heareth us” (1 John 5:14). Real prayer is communion with God so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. Here then is the meeting-place between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer: If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us, and if we do not so ask He does not hear us; as saith the Apostle James, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” or desires (4:3).

But did not the Lord Jesus tell His disciples, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you” (John 16:23)? He did; but this promise does not give praying souls carte blanche. These words of our Lord are in perfect accord with those of the Apostle John: “If ye ask anything according to His will He heareth us.” What is it to ask “in the name of Christ”? Surely it is very much more than a prayer formula, the mere concluding of our supplications with the words “in the name of Christ.” To apply to God for anything in the name of Christ, it must needs be in keeping with what Christ is! To ask God in the name of Christ is as though Christ Himself were the suppliant. We can only ask God for what Christ would ask. To ask in the name of Christ is therefore to set aside our own wills, accepting God’s!

Let us now amplify our definition of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude-an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God. Prayer is a confession of creature weakness, yea, of helplessness. Prayer is the acknowledgement of our need and the spreading of it before God. We do not say that this is all there is in prayer, it is not: but it is the essential, the primary element in prayer. We freely admit that we are quite unable to give a complete definition of prayer within the compass of a brief sentence, or in any number of words. Prayer is both an attitude and an act, an human act, and yet there is the Divine element in it too, and it is this which makes an exhaustive analysis impossible as well as impious to attempt. But admitting this, we do insist again that prayer is fundamentally an attitude of dependency upon God. Therefore, prayer is the very opposite of dictating to God. Because prayer is an attitude of dependency, the one who really prays is submissive, submissive to the Divine will; and submission to the Divine will means that we are content for the Lord to supply our need according to the dictates of His own Sovereign pleasure. And hence it is that we say every prayer that is offered to God in this spirit is sure of meeting with an answer or response from Him.

Here then is the reply to our opening question, and the scriptural solution to the seeming difficulty. Prayer is not the requesting of God to alter His purpose or for Him to form a new one. Prayer is the taking of an attitude of dependency upon God, the spreading of our need before Him, the asking for those things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore there is nothing whatever inconsistent between Divine Sovereignty and Christian prayer.

In closing this chapter we would utter a word of caution to safeguard the reader against drawing a false conclusion from what has been said. We have not here sought to epitomise the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject of prayer, nor have we even attempted to discuss in general the problem of prayer; instead, we have confined ourselves, more or less, to a consideration of the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer. What we have written is intended chiefly as a protest against much of the modern teaching, which so stresses the human element in prayer that the Divine side is almost entirely lost sight of.

In Jeremiah 10:23 we are told “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (cf. Prov. 16:9); and yet in many of his prayers man impulse presumes to direct the Lord as to His way, and as to what He ought to do: even implying that if only he had the direction of the affairs of the world and of the church he would soon have things very different from what they are. This cannot be denied: for anyone with any spiritual discernment at all could not fail to detect this spirit in many of our modern prayer-meetings where the flesh holds sway. How slow we all are to learn the lesson that the haughty creature needs to be brought down to his knees and humbled into the dust. And this is where the very act of prayer is intended to put us. But man (in his usual perversity) turns the footstool into a throne from whence he would fain direct the Almighty as to what He ought to do! giving the onlooker the impression that if God had half the compassion that those who pray (?) have, all would quickly be right! Such is the arrogance of the old nature even in a child of God.

Our main purpose in this chapter has been to emphasise the need for submitting, in prayer, our wills to God’s. But it must also be added that prayer is much more than a pious exercise, and far otherwise than a mechanical performance. Prayer is, indeed, a Divinely appointed means whereby we may obtain from God the things we ask, providing we ask for those things which are in accord with His will. These pages will have been penned in vain unless they lead both writer and reader to cry with a deeper earnestness than heretofore, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

AW Pink (1886-1952) – THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P04 of 05)

 

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P04 of 05)

By

AW Pink (1886-1952)

Copyright: Public Domain

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CHAPTER TEN

OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD HIS SOVEREIGNTY

“Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt. 11:26).

In the present chapter we shall consider, somewhat briefly, the practical application to ourselves of the great truth which we have pondered in its various ramifications in earlier pages. In chapter twelve we shall deal more in detail with the value of this doctrine but here we would confine ourselves to a definition of what ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God.

Every truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word is there not only for our information but also for our inspiration. The Bible has been given to us not to gratify an idle curiosity but to edify the souls of its readers. The Sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the Divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear, it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living, it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts. A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.

When we speak of the Sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power, though, of course, that is included in the expression. As we have remarked in an earlier chapter, the Sovereignty of God means the Godhood of God. In its fullest and deepest meaning the title of this book signifies the Character and Being of the One whose pleasure is performed and whose will is executed. To truly recognise the Sovereignty of God is, therefore, to gaze upon the Sovereign Himself. It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on high.” It is to have a sight of the thrice holy God in His excellent glory. The effects of such a sight may be learned from those Scriptures which describe the experience of different ones who obtained a view of the Lord God.

Mark the experience of Job—the one of whom the Lord Himself said “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8). At the close of the book which bears his name we are shown Job in the Divine presence, and how does he carry himself when brought face to face with Jehovah? Hear what he says: “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6). Thus, a sight of God, God revealed in awesome majesty, caused Job to abhor himself, and not only so, but to abase himself before the Almighty.

Take note of Isaiah. In the sixth chapter of his prophecy a scene is brought before us which has few equals even in Scripture. The prophet beholds the Lord upon the Throne, a Throne “high and lifted up.” Above this Throne stood the seraphims with veiled faces, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” What is the effect of this sight upon the prophet? We read “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips:… for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). A sight of the Divine King humbled Isaiah into the dust, bringing him, as it did, to a realisation of his own nothingness.

One more. Look at the prophet Daniel. Toward the close of his life this man of God beheld the Lord in theophanic manifestation. He appeared to His servant in human form “clothed in linen” and with loins “girded with fine gold,” symbolic of holiness and Divine glory. We read that “His body also was like the beryl, and His face as the appearance of lightning, and His eyes as lamps of fire, and His arms and His feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Daniel then tells the effect this vision had upon him and those who were with him: “And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of His words: and when I heard the voice of His words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (Dan. 10:6-9). Once more, then, we are shown that to obtain a sight of the Sovereign God is for creature strength to wither up, and results in man being humbled into the dust before his Maker. What then ought to be our attitude toward the Supreme Sovereign? We reply,

1. ONE OF GODLY FEAR.

Why is it that, today, the masses are so utterly unconcerned about spiritual and eternal things, and that they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? Why is it that even on the battlefields multitudes were so indifferent to their soul’s welfare? Why is it that defiance of Heaven is becoming more open, more blatant, more daring? The answer is, Because “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). Again; why is it that the authority of the Scriptures has been lowered so sadly of late? Why is it that even among those who profess to be the Lord’s people there is so little real subjection to His Word, and that its precepts are so lightly esteemed and so readily set aside? Ah! what needs to be stressed today is that God is a God to be feared.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God’s majesty, that has had a vision of God’s awful greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His Sovereign grace. Does someone say, “But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God”? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with “fear and trembling.” Time was when it was the general custom to speak of a believer as a “God-fearing man”—that such an appellation has become nearly extinct only serves to show whither we have drifted. Nevertheless, it still stands written “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him” (Psa. 103:13)!

When we speak of godly fear, of course, we do not mean a servile fear, such as prevails among the heathen in connection with their gods. No; we mean that spirit which Jehovah is pledged to bless, that spirit to which the prophet referred when he said “To this man will I (the Lord) look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word” (Isa. 66:2). It was this the Apostle had in view when he wrote, “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17). And nothing will foster this godly fear like a recognition of the Sovereign Majesty of God.

What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer again,

2. ONE OF IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE.

A sight of God leads to a realisation of our littleness and nothingness and issues in a sense of dependency and of casting ourselves upon God. Or, again; a view of the Divine Majesty promotes the spirit of godly fear and this, in turn, begets an obedient walk. Here then is the Divine antidote for the native evil of our hearts. Naturally, man is filled with a sense of his own importance, with his greatness and self-sufficiency; in a word, with pride and rebellion. But, as we remarked, the great corrective is to behold the Mighty God, for this alone will really humble him. Man will glory either in himself or in God. Man will live either to serve and please himself, or he will seek to serve and please the Lord. None can serve two masters.

Irreverence begets disobedience. Said the haughty monarch of Egypt “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD; neither will I let Israel go” (Exo. 5:2). To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was merely a god, one among many, a powerless entity who needed not to be feared or served. How sadly mistaken he was, and how bitterly he had to pay for his mistake he soon discovered; but what we are here seeking to emphasise is that Pharaoh’s defiant spirit was the fruit of irreverence, and this irreverence was the consequence of his ignorance of the majesty and authority of the Divine Being.

Now if irreverence begets disobedience, true reverence will produce and promote obedience. To realise that the Holy Scriptures are a revelation from the Most High, communicating to us His mind and defining for us His will, is the first step toward practical godliness. To recognise that the Bible is God’s Word, and that its precepts are the precepts of the Almighty, will lead us to see what an awful thing it is to despise and ignore them. To receive the Bible as addressed to our own souls, given to us by the Creator Himself, will cause us to cry with the Psalmist, “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies…Order my steps in Thy Word” (Psa. 119:36, 133). Once the Sovereignty of the Author of the Word is apprehended it will not longer be a matter of picking and choosing from the precepts and statutes of that Word, selecting those which meet with our approval; but it will be seen that nothing less than an unqualified and whole-hearted submission becomes the creature.

What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God?

3. ONE OF ENTIRE RESIGNATION.

A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty will exclude all murmuring. This is self-evident, yet the thought deserves to be dwelt upon. It is natural to murmur against afflictions and losses. It is natural to complain when we are deprived of those thing upon which we had set our hearts. We are apt to regard our possessions as ours unconditionally. We feel that when we have prosecuted our plans with prudence and diligence that we are entitled to success; that when by dint of hard work we have accumulated a ‘competence’ we deserve to keep and enjoy it; that when we are surrounded by a happy family no power may lawfully enter the charmed circle and strike down a loved one; and if in any of these cases disappointment, bankruptcy, death, actually comes, the perverted instinct of the human heart is to cry out against God. But in the one who, by grace, has recognised God’s Sovereignty, such murmuring is silenced, and instead, there is a bowing to the Divine will and an acknowledgement that He has not afflicted us as sorely as we deserve.

A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty will avow God’s perfect right to do with us as He wills. The one who bows to the pleasure of the Almighty will acknowledge His absolute right to do with us as seemeth Him good. If He chooses to send poverty, sickness, domestic bereavements, even while the heart is bleeding at every pore, it will say, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right! Often there will be a struggle, for the carnal mind remains in the believer to the end of his earthly pilgrimage. But though there may be a conflict within his breast, nevertheless, to the one who has really yielded himself to this blessed truth there will presently be heard that Voice saying, as of old it said to the turbulent Gennesareth, “Peace be still”; and the tempestuous flood within will be quieted and the subdued soul will lift a tearful but confident eye to Heaven and say, “Thy will be done.”

A striking illustration of a soul bowing to the Sovereign will of God is furnished by the history of Eli the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to slay Eli’s two sons for their wickedness, and on the morrow Samuel communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of more appalling intelligence for the heart of a pious parent. The announcement that his child is going to be stricken down by sudden death is, under any circumstances, a great trial to any father, but to learn that his two sons—in the prime of their manhood, and utterly unprepared to die—were to be cut off by a Divine judgement must have been overwhelming. Yet, what was the effect upon Eli when he learned from Samuel the tragic tidings? What reply did he make when he heard the awful news? “And he said, It is the LORD: let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Sam. 3:18). And not another word escaped him. Wonderful submission! Sublime resignation! Lovely exemplification of the power of Divine grace to control the strongest affections of the human heart and subdue the rebellious will, bringing it into unrepining acquiescence to the Sovereign pleasure of Jehovah.

Another example, equally striking, is seen in the life of Job. As is well known, Job was one that feared God and eschewed evil. If ever there was one who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him—we speak as a man—it was Job. Yet, how fared it with him? For a time the lines fell unto him in pleasant places. The Lord filled his quiver by giving him seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his temporal affairs until he owned great possessions. But of a sudden the sun of life was hidden behind dark clouds. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children slain by a cyclone. And how did he receive this intelligence? Hearken to his sublime words: “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away.” He bowed to the Sovereign will of Jehovah. He traced his afflictions back to their First Cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle, and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children, and saw the hand of God. But not only did Job recognise God’s Sovereignty, he rejoiced in it, too. To the words, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away,” he added, “blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Again we say, Sweet submission! Sublime resignation!

A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty causes us to hold our every plan in abeyance to God’s will. The writer well recalls an incident which occurred in England over twenty years ago. Queen Victoria was dead, and the date for the coronation of her eldest son, Edward, had been set for April 1902. In all the announcements which were sent out, two little letters were omitted, D. V.—Deo Volente: God willing. Plans were made and all arrangements completed for the most imposing celebrations that England had ever witnessed. Kings and emperors from all parts of the earth had received invitations to attend the royal ceremony. The Prince’s proclamations were printed and displayed, but, so far as the writer is aware, the letters D. V. were not found on a single one of them. A most imposing program had been arranged, and the late Queen’s eldest son was to be crowned Edward the Seventh at Westminster Abbey at a certain hour on a fixed day. And then God intervened and all man’s plans were frustrated. A still small voice was heard to say, “You have reckoned without Me,” and Prince Edward was stricken down with appendicitis, and his coronation postponed for months!

As remarked, a true recognition of God’s Sovereignty causes us to hold our plan in abeyance to God’s will. It makes us recognise that the Divine Potter has absolute power over the clay and moulds it according to his own imperial pleasure. It causes us to heed that admonition—now, alas! so generally disregarded—”Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:13-15). Yes, it is to the Lord’s will we must bow. It is for Him to say where I shall live, whether in America or Africa. It is for Him to determine under what circumstances I shall live, whether amid wealth or poverty, whether in health or sickness. It is for Him to say how long I shall live, whether I shall be cut down in youth like the flower of the field, or whether I shall continue for three score and ten years. To really learn this lesson is, by grace, to attain unto a high form in the school of God, and even when we think we have learned it we discover, again and again, that we have to relearn it.

What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God?

4. ONE OF DEEP THANKFULNESS AND JOY.

The heart’s apprehension of this most blessed truth of the Sovereignty of God produces something far different than a sullen bowing to the inevitable. The philosophy of this perishing world knows nothing better than to “make the best of a bad job.” But with the Christian it should be far otherwise. Not only should the recognition of God’s supremacy beget within us godly fear, implicit obedience, and entire resignation, but it should cause us to say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Does not the Apostle say, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20)? Ah! it is at this point the state of our souls is so often put to the test. Alas, there is so much self-will in each of us. When things go as we wish them we appear to be very grateful to God; but what of those occasions when things go contrary to our plans and desires?

We take it for granted when the real Christian takes a train—journey that, upon reaching his destination, he devoutly returns thanks unto God—which, of course, argues that He controls everything; otherwise, we ought to thank the engine—driver, the stoker, the signalmen, etc. Or, if in business, at the close of a good week, gratitude is expressed unto the Giver of every good (temporal) and every perfect (spiritual) gift—which again, argues that He directs all customers to your shop. So far, so good. Such examples occasion no difficulty. But imagine the opposites. Suppose my train was delayed for hours, did I fret and fume; suppose another train ran into it and I am injured! Or, suppose I have had a poor week in business, or that lightning struck my shop and set it on fire, or that burglars broke in and rifled it, then what: do I see the hand of God in these things?

Take the case of Job once more. When loss after loss came his way what did he do? Bemoan his “bad luck”? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? No; he bowed before Him in worship. Ah! dear reader, there is no real rest for your poor heart until you learn to see the hand of God in everything. But for that, faith must be in constant exercise. And what is faith? A blind credulity? A fatalistic acquiescence? No, far from it. Faith is a resting on the sure Word of the living God, and therefore says “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28); and therefore faith will give thanks “always for all things.” Operative faith will “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Phil. 4:4).

We turn now to mark how this recognition of God’s Sovereignty which is expressed in godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation, and deep thankfulness and joy was supremely and perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ.

In all things the Lord Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. But is this true in connection with the first point made above? Are the words “godly fear” ever linked with His peerless name? Remembering that “godly fear” signifies not a servile terror, but rather a filial subjection and reverence, and remembering too that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” would it not rather be strange if no mention at all were made of “godly fear” in connection with the One who was wisdom incarnate! What a wonderful and precious word is that of Hebrews 5:7—”Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear” (R. V.). What was it but “godly fear” which caused the Lord Jesus to be “subject” unto Mary and Joseph in the days of His childhood? Was it “godly fear”—a filial subjection to and reverence for God—that we see displayed when we read “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16)? Was it not “godly fear” which caused the incarnate Son to say, when tempted by Satan to fall down and worship him, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve”? Was it not “godly fear” which moved Him to say to the cleansed leper, “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matt. 8:4)? But why multiply illustrations?12

12 Note how Old Testament prophecy also declared that “the Spirit of the Lord” should “rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa.11:1,2).

How perfect was the obedience that the Lord Jesus offered to God the Father! And in reflecting upon this let us not lose sight of that wondrous grace which caused Him, who was in the very form of God, to stoop so low as to take upon Him the form of a Servant and thus be brought into the place where obedience was becoming. As the perfect Servant He yielded complete obedience to His Father. How absolute and entire that obedience was we may learn from the words He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8). That this was a conscious and intelligent obedience is clear from His own language: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh if from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).

And what shall we say of the absolute resignation of the Son to the Father’s will? what, but, between Them there was entire oneness of accord. Said He, “For I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38), and how fully He substantiated that claim all know who have attentively followed His path as marked out in the Scriptures. Behold Him in Gethsemane! The bitter ‘cup,’ held in the Father’s hand, is presented to His view. Mark well His attitude. Learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Remember that there in the Garden we see the Word become flesh, a perfect Man. His body is quivering at every nerve in contemplation of the physical sufferings which await Him; His holy and sensitive nature is shrinking from the horrible indignities which shall be heaped upon Him; His heart is breaking at the awful “reproach” which is before Him; His spirit is greatly troubled as He foresees the terrible conflict with the Power of Darkness; and above all, and supremely, His soul is filled with horror at the thought of being separated from God Himself—thus and there He pours out His soul to the Father, and with strong crying and tears He sheds, as it were, great drops of blood. And now observe and listen. Still the beating of thy heart and hearken to the words which fall from His blessed lips—”Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Here is submission personified. Here is resignation to the pleasure of a Sovereign God superlatively exemplified. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. He who was God became man, and was tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart, to show us how to wear our creature nature!

Above we asked, What shall we say of Christ’s absolute resignation to the Father’s will? We answer further, This, that here, as everywhere, He was unique, peerless. In all things He has the pre-eminence. In the Lord Jesus there was no rebellious will to be broken. In His heart there was nothing to be subdued. Was not this one reason why, in the language of prophecy, He said, “I am a worm, and no man” (Psa. 22:6)—a worm has no power of resistance! It was because in Him there was no resistance that He could say, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me” (John 4:34). Yea, it was because He was in perfect accord with the Father in all things that He said, “I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Psa. 40:8). Note the last clause here and behold His matchless excellency. God has to put His laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts (see Heb. 8:10), but His law was already in Christ’s heart!

What a beautiful and striking illustration of Christ’s thankfulness and joy is found in Matthew 11. There we behold, first, the failure of the faith of His forerunner (vv. 22, 23). Next, we learn of the discontent of the people: satisfied neither with Christ’s joyous message, nor with John’s solemn one (vv. 16-20). Third, we have the non-repentance of those favoured cities in which our Lord’s mightiest works were done (vv. 21-24). And then we read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (v. 25)! Note the parallel passage in Luke 10:21 opens by saying, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank Thee,” etc. Ah! here was submission in its purest form. Here was One by whom the worlds were made, yet, in the days of His humiliation and in the face of His rejection, thankfully and joyously bowing to the will of the “Lord of Heaven and earth.”

What ought to be our attitude toward God’s Sovereignty? Finally,

5. ONE OF ADORING WORSHIP.

It has been well said that “true worship is based upon recognised GREATNESS, and greatness is superlatively seen in Sovereignty, and at no other footstool will men really worship” (J. B. Moody). In the presence of the Divine King upon His throne even the seraphims ‘veil their faces.’

Divine Sovereignty is not the Sovereignty of a tyrannical Despot, but the exercised pleasure of One who is infinitely wise and good! Because God is infinitely wise He cannot err, and because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong. Here then is the preciousness of this truth. The mere fact itself that God’s will is irresistible and irreversible fills me with fear, but once I realise that God wills only that which is good my heart is made to rejoice.

Here then is the final answer to the question of this chapter, What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? The becoming attitude for us to take is that of godly fear, implicit obedience, and unreserved resignation and submission. But not only so: the recognition of the Sovereignty of God, and the realisation that the Sovereign Himself is my Father, ought to overwhelm the heart and cause me to bow before Him in adoring worship. At all times I must say “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” We conclude with an example which well illustrates our meaning.

Some two hundred years ago the saintly Madam Guyon, after ten years spent in a dungeon lying far below the surface of the ground, lit only by a candle at meal-times, wrote these words:

“A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nought have I else to do
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty,
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! it is good to soar
These bolts and bar above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS

“Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal?” (Ezek. 18:25).

A convenient point has been reached when we may now examine, more definitely, some of the difficulties encountered and the objections which might be advanced against what we have written in previous pages. The author deemed it better to reserve these for a separate consideration rather than deal with them as he went along, requiring as that would have done the breaking of the course of thought and destroying the strict unity of each chapter, or else cumbering our pages with numerous and lengthy footnotes.

That there are difficulties involved in an attempt to set forth the truth of God’s Sovereignty is readily acknowledged. The hardest thing of all, perhaps, is to maintain the balance of truth. It is largely a matter of perspective. That God is Sovereign is explicitly declared in Scripture: that man is a responsible creature is also expressly affirmed in Holy Writ. To define the relationship of these two truths, to fix the dividing line betwixt them, to show exactly where they meet, to exhibit the perfect consistency of the one with the other, is the weightiest task of all. Many have openly declared that it is impossible for the finite mind to harmonise them. Others tell us it is not necessary or even wise to attempt it. But, as we have remarked in an earlier chapter, it seems to us more honouring to God to seek in His Word the solution to every problem. What is impossible to man is possible with God, and while we grant that the finite mind is limited in its reach, yet, we remember that the Scriptures are given to us that the man of God may be “thoroughly furnished,” and if we approach their study in the spirit of humility and of expectancy, then, according unto our faith will it be unto us.

As remarked above, the hardest task in this connection is to preserve the balance of truth while insisting on both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the creature. To some of our readers it may appear that in pressing the Sovereignty of God to the lengths we have man is reduced to a mere puppet. Hence, to guard against this, they would modify their definitions and statements relating to God’s Sovereignty, and thus seek to blunt the keen edge of what is so offensive to the carnal mind. Others, while refusing to weigh the evidence that we have adduced in support of our assertions, may raise objections which to their minds are sufficient to dispose of the whole subject. We would not waste time in the effort to refute objections made in a carping and contentious spirit but we are desirous of meeting fairly the difficulties experienced by those who are anxious to obtain a fuller knowledge of the truth. Not that we deem ourselves able to give a satisfactory and final answer to every question that might be asked. Like the reader, the writer knows but in part and sees through a glass “darkly.” All that we can do is to examine these difficulties in the light we now have, in dependence upon the Spirit of God that we may follow on to know the Lord better.

We propose now to retrace our steps and pursue the same order of thought as that followed up to this point. As a part of our “definition” of God’s Sovereignty we affirmed: “To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will… The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite.” To put it now in its strongest form, we insist that God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity. In proof of this assertion we appeal to the following Scripture: “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psa. 115:3). “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27). “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

The above declarations are so plain and positive that any comments of ours upon them would simply be darkening counsel by words without knowledge. Such express statements as those just quoted are so sweeping and so dogmatic that all controversy concerning the subject of which they treat ought for ever to be at an end. Yet, rather than receive them at their face value, every device of carnal ingenuity is resorted to so as to neutralise their force. For example, it has been asked, If what we see in the world today is but the outworking of God’s eternal purpose, if God’s counsel is NOW being accomplished, then why did our Lord teach His disciples to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”? Is it not a clear implication from these words that God’s will is not now being done on earth? The answer is very simple. The emphatic word in the above clause is “as.” God’s will is being done on earth today, if it is not, then our earth is not subject to God’s rule, and if it is not subject to His rule then He is not, as Scripture proclaims Him to be, “The Lord of all the earth” (Josh. 3:13). But God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in Heaven. How is God’s will “done in Heaven”?—consciously and joyfully. How is it “done on earth”? for the most part, unconsciously and sullenly. In Heaven the angels perform the bidding of their Creator intelligently and gladly, but on earth the unsaved among men accomplish His will blindly and in ignorance. As we have said in earlier pages, when Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus and when Pilate sentenced Him to be crucified they had no conscious intentions of fulfilling God’s decrees yet, nevertheless, unknown to themselves they did do so!

But again. It has been objected: If everything that happens on earth is the fulfilling of the Almighty’s pleasure, if God has foreordained—before the foundation of the world everything which comes to pass in human history, then why do we read in Genesis 6:6 “It repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart”? Does not this language intimate that the antediluvians had followed a course which their Maker had not marked out for them, and that in view of the fact they had “corrupted” their way upon the earth the Lord regretted that He had ever brought such a creature into existence? Ere drawing such a conclusion let us note what is involved in such an inference. If the words “It repented the Lord that He had made man” are regarded in an absolute sense, then God’s omniscience would be denied, for in such a case the course followed by man must have been unforeseen by God in the day that He created him. Therefore it must be evident to every reverent soul that this language bears some other meaning. We submit that the words “It repented the Lord” is an accommodation to our finite intelligence, and in saying this we are not seeking to escape a difficulty or cut a knot, but are advancing an interpretation which we shall seek to show is in perfect accord with the general trend of Scripture.

The Word of God is addressed to men, and therefore it speaks the language of men. Because we cannot rise to God’s level He, in grace, comes down to ours and converses with us in our own speech. The Apostle Paul tells us of how he was “caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words which it is not possible (margin) to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Those on earth could not understand the vernacular of Heaven. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite, hence the Almighty deigns to couch His revelation in terms we may understand. It is for this reason the Bible contains many anthropomorphisms—i.e., representations of God in the form of man. God is Spirit, yet the Scriptures speak of Him as having eyes, ears, nostrils, breath, hands, etc., which is surely an accommodation of terms brought down to the level of human comprehension.

Again; we read in Genesis 18:20, 21 “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come up unto Me; and if not, I will know.” Now, manifestly, this is an anthropologism—God speaking in human language. God knew the conditions which prevailed in Sodom, and His eyes had witnessed its fearful sins, yet He is pleased to use terms here that are taken from our own vocabulary.

Again; in Genesis 22:12 we read “And He (God) said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.” Here again, God is speaking in the language of men for He “knew” before He tested Abram exactly how the patriarch would act. So too the expression of God so often in Jeremiah (7:13 etc.) of Him “rising up early” is manifestly an accommodation of terms.

Once more: in the parable of the vineyard Christ Himself represents its Owner as saying, “Then said the Lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send My beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him” (Luke 20:13); and yet, it is certain that God knew perfectly well that the “husbandman” of the vineyard (the Jews) would not “reverence His Son” but, instead, would “despise and reject” Him as His own Word had declared!

In the same way we understand the words of Genesis 6:6—”It repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth”—as an accommodation of terms to human comprehension. This verse does not teach that God was confronted with an unforeseen contingency and therefore regretted that He had made man, but it expresses the abhorrence of a holy God at the awful wickedness and corruption into which man had fallen. Should there be any doubt remaining in the minds of our readers as to the legitimacy and soundness of our interpretation, a direct appeal to Scripture should instantly and entirely remove it—”The Strength of Israel (a Divine title) will not He nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent” (1 Sam. 15:29)! “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17)!

Careful attention to what we have said above will throw light on numerous other passages which, if we ignore their figurative character and fail to note that God applies to Himself human modes of expression, will be obscure and perplexing. Having commented at such length upon Genesis 6:6 there will be no need to give such a detailed exposition of other passages which belong to the same class, yet, for the benefit of those of our readers who may be anxious for us to examine several other Scriptures, we turn to one or two more.

One Scripture which we often find cited in order to overthrow the teaching advanced in this book is our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). The question is asked, Do not these words show that the Saviour acknowledged the defeat of His mission, that as a people the Jews resisted all His gracious overtures toward them? In replying to this question, it should first be pointed out that our Lord is here referring not so much to His own mission as He is upbraiding the Jews for having in all ages rejected His grace—this is clear from His reference to the “prophets.” The Old Testament bears full witness of how graciously and patiently Jehovah dealt with His people, and with what extreme obstinacy, from first to last, they refused to be “gathered” unto Him, and how in the end He abandoned them to follow their own devices, yet, as the same Scriptures declare, the counsel of God was not frustrated by their wickedness, for it had been foretold (and therefore, decreed) by Him: see, for example, 1 Kings 8:33.

Matthew 23:37 may well be compared with Isaiah 65:2 where the Lord says, “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts.” But, it may be asked, Did God seek to do that which was in opposition to His own eternal purpose? In words borrowed from Calvin we reply, “Though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold and various, yet He does not in Himself will things at variance with each other, but astonishes our faculties with His various and ‘manifold’ wisdom, according to the expression of Paul, till we shall be enabled to understand that He mysteriously wills what now seems contrary to His will.” As a further illustration of the same principle we would refer the reader to Isaiah 5:1-4: “Now will I sing to my well Beloved a song of my Beloved touching His vineyard. My well Beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And He fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes?” Is it not plain from this language that God reckoned Himself to have done enough for Israel to warrant an expectation—speaking after the manner of men—of better returns? Yet, is it not equally evident when Jehovah says here “He looked that it should bring forth grapes” that He is accommodating Himself to a form of finite expression? And, so also when He says “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” we need to take note that in the previous enumeration of what He had done—the “fencing” etc.—He refers only to external privileges, means, and opportunities, which had been bestowed upon Israel, for, of course, He could even then have taken away from them their stony heart and given them a new heart, even a heart of flesh, had He so pleased.

Perhaps we should link up with Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, His tears over the City, recorded in Luke 19:41: “He beheld the city, and wept over it.” In the verses which immediately follow we learn what it was that occasioned His tears: “Saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side.” It was the prospect of the fearful judgement which Christ knew was impending. But did those tears make manifest a disappointed God? Nay, verily. Instead, they displayed a perfect Man. The Man Christ Jesus was no emotionless stoic, but One “filled with compassion.” Those tears expressed the sinless sympathies of His real and pure humanity. Had He not “wept” He had been less than human. Those “tears” were one of many proofs that “in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren” (Heb. 2:17).

In Chapter One we have affirmed that God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love, and in saying this we are fully aware that many will strongly resent the statement and that, furthermore, what we have now to say will probably meet with more criticism than anything else advanced in this book. Nevertheless, we must be true to our convictions of what we believe to be the teaching of Holy Scripture, and we can only ask our readers to examine diligently in the light of God’s Word what we here submit to their attention.

One of the most popular beliefs of the day is that God loves everybody, and the very fact that it is so popular with all classes ought to be enough to arouse the suspicions of those who are subject to the Word of Truth. God’s Love toward all His creatures is the fundamental and favourite tenet of Universalists, Unitarians, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Russellites, etc. No matter how a man may live—in open defiance of Heaven, with no concern whatever for his soul’s eternal interests, still less for God’s glory, dying, perhaps with an oath on his lips—notwithstanding, God loves him, we are told. So widely has this dogma been proclaimed, and so comforting is it to the heart which is at enmity with God we have little hope of convincing many of their error. That God loves everybody, is, we may say, quite a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will (we believe) be searched in vain for any such concept. Perhaps the late D. L. Moody captivated by Drummond’s “The Greatest Thing in the World”—did more than anyone else in the last century to popularise this concept.

It has been customary to say God loves the sinner though He hates his sin.13 But that is a meaningless distinction. What is there in a sinner but sin? Is it not true that his “whole head is sick” and his “whole heart faint,” and that “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness” in him? (Isa. 1:5, 6). Is it true that God loves the one who is despising and rejecting His blessed Son? God is Light as well as Love, and therefore His love must be a holy love. To tell the Christ-rejecter that God loves him is to cauterise his conscience as well as to afford him a sense of security in his sins. The fact is, the love of God is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus, the perfect Teacher, telling sinners that God loved them! In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labours and messages of the Apostles, God’s love is never referred to at all! But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of this precious truth—God’s love for His own. Let us seek to rightly divide the Word of God and then we shall not be found taking truths which are addressed to believers and misapplying them to unbelievers. That which sinners need to have brought before them is the ineffable holiness, the exacting righteousness, the inflexible justice and the terrible wrath of God. Risking the danger of being misunderstood let us say and we wish we could say it to every evangelist and preacher in the country—there is far too much presenting of Christ to sinners today (by those sound in the faith), and far too little showing sinners their need of Christ, i.e., their absolutely ruined and lost condition, their imminent and awful danger of suffering the wrath to come, the fearful guilt resting upon them in the sight of God: to present Christ to those who have never been shown their need of Him, seems to us to be guilty of casting pearls before swine.14

13 Romans 5:8 is addressed to saints, and the “we” are the same ones as those spoken of in 8:29, 30.

14 Concerning the rich young ruler of whom it is said Christ “loved him” (Mark 10:21), we fully believe that he was one of God’s elect, and was “saved” sometime after his interview with our Lord. Should it be said this is an arbitrary assumption and assertion which lacks anything in the Gospel record to substantiate it, we reply, It is written, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out,” and this man certainly did “come” to Him. Compare the case of Nicodemus. He, too, came to Christ, yet there is nothing in John 3 which intimates he was a saved man when the interview closed; nevertheless, we know from his later life that he was not “cast out.”

If it be true that God loves every member of the human family then why did our Lord tell His disciples “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father… If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him” (John 14:21, 23)? Why say “he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father” if the Father loves everybody? The same limitation is found in Proverbs 8:17: “I love them that love Me.” Again; we read, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity”—not merely the works of iniquity. Here then is a flat repudiation of present teaching that, God hates sin but loves the sinner; Scripture says, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psa. 5:5)! “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). “He that believeth not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”—not “shall abide,” but even now—”abideth on him” (John 3:36). Can God “love” the one on whom His “wrath” abides? Again; is it not evident that the words “The love of God which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39) marks a limitation, both in the sphere and objects of His love? Again; is it not plain from the words “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13) that God does not love everybody? Again; it is written, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Does not this verse teach that God’s love is restricted to the members of His own family? If He loves all men without exception then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless. Finally, we would ask, Is it conceivable that God will love the damned in the Lake of Fire? Yet, if He loves them now He will do so then, seeing that His love knows no change—He is “without variableness or shadow of turning”!

Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world.” Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Saviour came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world,” and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).

Scripture declares that “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgements which will be poured out from Heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgement, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love.

But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world.” True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said “Show Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind”? When the Pharisees said “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19) did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the Apostle wrote “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on earth? When Revelation 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast,” are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force.

Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus, a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond.” In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world,” then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.

In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly.” If then, there is a world of the ungodly there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider. “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from Heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offereth life unto the world,” but “giveth.” What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused, but a thing “given,” necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted it is not “given,” it is simply proffered. Here, then, is a Scripture that positively states Christ giveth life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly,” i.e., God’s own people.

One more: in 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read “To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Here again “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly,” for their “trespasses are imputed” to them, as the judgement of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Corinthians 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled,” reconciled unto God because their trespasses are not reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible—the world of God’s people!

In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people—search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since then.15

15 For a further discussion of John 3:16 see Appendix 3.

Coming now to Chapter Three, The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, innumerable are the questions which might be raised here. It is strange, yet it is true, that many who acknowledge the Sovereign rule of God over material things will cavil and quibble when we insist that God is also Sovereign in the spiritual realm. But their quarrel is with God and not with us. We have given Scripture in support of everything advanced in these pages, and if that will not satisfy our readers it is idle for us to seek to convince them. What we write now is designed for those who do bow to the authority of Holy Writ, and for their benefit we propose to examine several other Scriptures which have purposely been held for this chapter.

Perhaps the one passage which has presented the greatest difficulty to those who have seen that passage after passage in Holy Writ plainly teaches the election of a limited number unto salvation is 2 Peter 3:9: “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The first thing to be said upon the above passage is that, like all other Scripture, it must be understood and interpreted in the light of its context. What we have quoted in the preceding paragraph is only part of the verse, and the last part if it at that! Surely it must be allowed by all that the first half of the verse needs to be taken into consideration. In order to establish what these words are supposed by many to mean, viz., that the words “any” and “all” are to be received without any qualification, it must be shown that the context is referring to the whole human race! If this cannot be shown, if there is no premise to justify this, then the conclusion also must be unwarranted. Let us then ponder the first part of the verse.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” Note “promise” in the singular number, not “promises.” What promise is in view? The promise of salvation? Where, in all Scripture, has God ever promised to save the whole human race! Where indeed? No, the “promise” here referred to is not about salvation. What then is it? The context tells us.

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” (vv. 3, 4). The context then refers to God’s promise to send back His beloved Son. But many long centuries have passed and this promise has not yet been fulfilled. True, but long as the delay may seem to us, the interval is short in the reckoning of God. As the proof of this we are reminded “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). In God’s reckoning of time less than two days have yet passed since He promised to send back Christ.

But more, the delay in the Father sending back His beloved Son is not only due to no “slackness” on His part, but it is also occasioned by His “longsuffering.” His longsuffering to whom? The verse we are now considering tells us: “but His longsuffering to us-ward.” And whom are the “us-ward”?—the human race, or God’s own people? In the light of the context this is not an open question upon which each of us is free to form an opinion. The Holy Spirit has defined it. The opening verse of the chapter says, “This second Epistle, beloved, I now write unto you.” And again, the verse immediately preceding declares, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing etc.,” (v. 8). The “us-ward” then are the “beloved” of God. They to whom this Epistle is addressed are “them that have obtained (not “exercised,” but “obtained” as God’s Sovereign gift) like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Therefore we say there is no room for a doubt, a quibble or an argument—the “us-ward” are the elect of God.

Let us now quote the verse as a whole: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Could anything be clearer? The “any” that God is not willing should perish are the “us-ward” to whom God is “longsuffering,” the “beloved” of the previous verses. 2 Peter 3:9 means, then, that God will not send back His Son until “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). God will not send hack Christ till that “people” whom He is now “taking out of the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14) are gathered in. God will not send back His Son till the Body of Christ is complete, and that will not be till the ones whom He has elected to be saved in this dispensation shall have been brought to Him. Thank God for His “longsuffering to us-ward.” Had Christ come back twenty years ago the writer had been left behind to perish in His sins. But that could not be so God graciously delayed the Second Coming. For the same reason He is still delaying His Advent. His decreed purpose is that all His elect will come to repentance, and repent they shall. The present interval of grace will not end until the last of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are safely folded—then will Christ return.

In expounding the Sovereignty of God the Spirit in Salvation we have shown that His power is irresistible, that, by His gracious operations upon and within them He “compels” God’s elect to come to Christ. The Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is set forth not only in John 3:8 where we are told “The wind bloweth where it pleaseth… so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” but is affirmed in other passages as well. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 we read “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” And again; we read in Acts 16:6, 7 “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia. After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” Thus we see how the Holy Spirit interposed His imperial will in opposition to the determination of the Apostles.

But, it is objected against the assertion that the will and power of the Holy Spirit are irresistible that here are two passages, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New, which appear to militate against such a conclusion. God said of old “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3), and to the Jews Stephen declared “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” (Acts 7:51, 52). If then the Jews “resisted” the Holy Spirit how can we say His power is irresistible? The answer is found in Nehemiah 9:30 “Many years didst Thou forbear them, and testifiedest against them by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets: yet would they not give ear.” It was the external operations of the Spirit which Israel “resisted.” It was the Spirit speaking by and through the prophets to which they “would not give ear.” It was not anything which the Holy Spirit wrought in them that they “resisted” but the motives presented to them by the inspired messages of the prophets. Perhaps it will help the reader to catch our thought better if we compare Matthew 11:20-24 “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee Chorazin,” etc. Our Lord here pronounces woe upon these cities for their failure to repent because of the “mighty works” (miracles) which He had done in their sight, and not because of any internal operations of His grace! The same is true of Genesis 6:3. By comparing 1 Peter 3:18-20 it will be seen that it was by and through Noah that God’s Spirit “strove” with the antediluvians. The distinction noted above was ably summarised by Andrew Fuller (another writer long deceased from whom our moderns might learn much) thus: “There are two kinds of influences by which God works on the minds of men. First, That which is common, and which is effected by the ordinary use of motives presented to the mind for consideration: Secondly, That which is special and supernatural. The one contains nothing mysterious, anymore than the influence of our words and actions on each other; the other is such a mystery that we know nothing of it but by its effects—The former ought to be effectual; the latter is so.” The work of the Holy Spirit upon or towards men is always “resisted” by them; His work within is always successful. What saith the Scriptures? This: “He which hath begun a good work IN you,” will finish it (Phil. 1:6).

The next question to be considered is: Why preach the Gospel to every creature? If God the Father has predestined only a limited number to be saved, if God the Son died to effect the salvation of only those given to Him by the Father, and if God the Spirit is seeking to quicken none save God’s elect, then what is the use of giving the Gospel to the world at large, and where is the propriety of telling sinners that “Whosoever believeth in Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life”?

First; it is of great importance that we should be clear upon the nature of the Gospel itself. The Gospel is God’s good news concerning Christ and not concerning sinners: “Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God… concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:1, 3).

God would have proclaimed far and wide the amazing fact that His own blessed Son “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). A universal testimony must be borne to the matchless worth of the Person and work of Christ. Note the word witness in Matthew 24:14. The Gospel is God’s “witness” unto the perfections of His Son. Mark the words of the Apostle: “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish” (2 Cor. 2:15)!

Concerning the character and contents of the Gospel the utmost confusion prevails today. The Gospel is not an “offer” to be bandied around by evangelical peddlers. The Gospel is no mere invitation but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ; true whether men believe it or not. No man is asked to believe that Christ died for him in particular. The Gospel, in brief, is this: Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the Gospel God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved (namely, repentance and faith) and, indiscriminately, all are commanded to fulfill them.

Second, repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus “among all the nations” (Luke 24:47), because God’s elect are “scattered abroad” (John 11:52) among all nations, and it is by the preaching and hearing of the Gospel that they are called out of the world. The Gospel is the means which God uses in the saving of His own chosen ones. By nature God’s elect are children of wrath “even as others”; they are lost sinners needing a Saviour, and apart from Christ there is no salvation for them. Hence, the Gospel must be believed by them before they can rejoice in the knowledge of sins forgiven. The Gospel is God’s winnowing fan: it separates the chaff from the wheat, and gathers the latter into His garner.

Third; it is to be noted that God has other purposes in the preaching of the Gospel than the salvation of His own elect. The world exists for the elect’s sake yet others have the benefit of it. So the Word is preached for the elect’s sake yet others have the benefit of an external call. The sun shines though blind men see it not. The rain falls upon rocky mountains and waste deserts as well as on the fruitful valleys; so also, God suffers the Gospel to fall on the ears of the non-elect. The power of the Gospel is one of God’s agencies for holding in check the wickedness of the world. Many who are never saved by it are reformed, their lusts are bridled, and they are restrained from becoming worse. Moreover, the preaching of the Gospel to the non-elect is made an admirable test of their characters. It exhibits the inveteracy of their sin: it demonstrates that their hearts are at enmity against God: it justifies the declaration of Christ that “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

Finally; it is sufficient for us to know that we are bidden to preach the Gospel to every creature. It is not for us to reason about the consistency between this and the fact that “few are chosen.” It is for us to obey. It is a simple matter to ask questions relating to the ways of God which no finite mind can fully fathom. We, too, might turn and remind the objector that our Lord declared “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith so ever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness” (Mark 3:28, 29), and there can be no doubt whatever but that certain of the Jews were guilty of this very sin (see Matt. 12:24, etc.) and hence their destruction was inevitable. Yet, notwithstanding, scarcely two months later, He commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature. When the objector can show us the consistency of these two things—the fact that certain of the Jews had committed the sin for which there is never forgiveness, and the fact that to them the Gospel was to be preached—we will undertake to furnish a more satisfactory solution than the one given above to the harmony between an universal proclamation of the Gospel and a limitation of its saving power to those only that God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.

Once more, we say, it is not for us to reason about the Gospel; it is our business to preach it. When God ordered Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt-offering he might have objected that this command was inconsistent with His promise “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” But instead of arguing he obeyed, and left God to harmonise His promise and His precept. Jeremiah might have argued that God had bade him to do that which was altogether unreasonable when He said “Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee; thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee” (Jer. 7:27), but instead, the prophet obeyed. Ezekiel, too, might have complained that the Lord was asking of him a hard thing when He said “Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard hearted” (Ezek. 3:4-7).

“But, O my soul, if truth so bright

Should dazzle and confound thy sight,

Yet still His written Word obey,

And wait the great decisive day.”

- Watts.

It has been well said, “The Gospel has lost none of its ancient power. It is, as much today as when it was first preached, ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ It needs no pity, no help, and no handmaid. It can overcome all obstacles, and break down all barriers. No human device need be tried to prepare the sinner to receive it, for if God has sent it no power can hinder it; and if He has not sent it, no power can make it effectual” (Dr. Bullinger).

This chapter might be extended indefinitely, but it is already too long so a word or two more must suffice. A number of other questions will be dealt with in the pages yet to follow, and those that we fail to touch upon the reader must take to the Lord Himself who has said “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5).

CHAPTER TWELVE

THE VALUE OF THIS DOCTRINE

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). “Doctrine” means “teaching,” and it is by doctrine or teaching that the great realities of God and of our relation to Him—of Christ, the Spirit, salvation, grace, glory—are made known to us. It is by doctrine (through the power of the Spirit) that believers are nourished and edified, and where doctrine is neglected growth in grace and effective witnessing for Christ necessarily cease. How sad then that doctrine is now decried as “unpractical” when, in fact, doctrine is the very base of the practical life. There is an inseparable connection between belief and practice: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). The relation between Divine truth and Christian character is that of cause to effect: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)—free from ignorance, free from prejudice, free from error, free from the wiles of Satan, free from the power of evil; and if the truth is not “known” then such freedom will not be enjoyed. Observe the order of mention in the passage with which we have opened. All Scripture is profitable first for “doctrine”! The same order is observed throughout the Epistles, particularly in the great doctrinal treatises of the Apostle Paul. Read the Epistle of “Romans” and it will be found that there is not a single admonition in the first five chapters. In the Epistle of “Ephesians” there are no exhortations till the fourth chapter is reached. The order is first doctrinal exposition and then admonition or exhortation for the regulation of the daily walk.

The substitution of so-called “practical” preaching for the doctrinal exposition which it has supplanted is the root cause of many of the evil maladies which now afflict the Church of God. The reason why there is so little depth, so little intelligence, so little grasp of the fundamental verities of Christianity is because so few believers have been established in the faith through hearing expounded and through their own personal study of the doctrines of grace. While their soul is unestablished in the doctrine of the Divine Inspiration of the Scripture, their full and verbal inspiration, there can be no firm foundation for faith to rest upon. While the soul is ignorant of the doctrine of Justification there can be no real and intelligent assurance of its acceptance in the Beloved. While the soul is unacquainted with the teaching of the Word upon Sanctification it is open to receive all the crudities and errors of the Perfectionists or “Holiness” people. While the soul knows not what Scripture has to say upon the doctrine of the New Birth there can be no proper grasp of the two natures in the believer, and ignorance here inevitably results in the loss of peace and joy. And so we might go on right through the list of Christian doctrine. It is ignorance of doctrine that has rendered the professing church helpless to cope with the rising tide of infidelity. It is ignorance of doctrine which is mainly responsible for thousands of professing Christians being captivated by the numerous false isms of the day. It is because the time has now arrived when the bulk of our churches “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3) that they so readily receive false doctrines. Of course it is true that doctrine, like anything else in Scripture, may be studied from a merely cold intellectual viewpoint, and thus approached, doctrinal teaching and doctrinal study will leave the heart untouched, and will naturally be “dry” and profitless. But, doctrine properly received, doctrine studied with an exercised heart, will ever lead into a deeper knowledge of God and of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty then is no mere metaphysical dogma which is devoid of practical value, but is one that is calculated to produce a powerful effect upon Christian character and the daily walk. The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty lies at the foundation of Christian theology, and in importance is perhaps second only to the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures. It is the centre of gravity in the system of Christian truth: the sun around which all the lesser orbs are grouped. It is the golden milestone to which every highway of knowledge leads and from which they all radiate. It is the cord upon which all other doctrines are strung like so many pearls, holding them in place and giving them unity. It is the plumb line by which every creed needs to be measured, the balance in which every human dogma must be weighed. It is designed as the sheet-anchor for our souls amid the storms of life. The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is a Divine cordial to refresh our spirits. It is designed and adapted to old the affections of the heart and to give a right direction to conduct. It produces gratitude in prosperity and patience in adversity. It affords comfort for the present and a sense of security respecting the unknown future. It is, and it does all, and much more than we have just said because it ascribes to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the glory which is His due, and places the creature in his proper place before Him—in the dust.

We shall now consider the Value of the doctrine in detail.

1. IT DEEPENS OUR VENERATION OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER.

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty as it is unfolded in the Scriptures affords an exalted view of the Divine perfections. It maintains His creatorial rights. It insists that “to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). It declares that His rights are those of the “potter” who forms and fashions the clay into vessels of whatever type and for whatever use He may please. Its testimony is “Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). It argues that none has any right to “reply” against God, and that the only becoming attitude for the creature to take is one of reverent submission before Him. Thus the apprehension of the absolute supremacy of God is of great practical importance, for unless we have a proper regard to His high Sovereignty He will never be honoured in our thoughts of Him, nor will He have His proper place in our hearts and lives.

It exhibits the inscrutableness of His wisdom. It shows that while God is immaculate in His holiness He has permitted evil to enter His fair creation; that while He is the Possessor of all power He has allowed the Devil to wage war against Him for six thousand years at least; that while He is the perfect embodiment of love He spared not His own Son; that while He is the God of all grace multitudes will be tormented for ever and ever in the Lake of Fire. High mysteries are these. Scripture does not deny them, but acknowledges their existence: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

It makes known the irreversibleness of His will. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). From the beginning God purposed to glorify Himself “in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph. 3:21). To this end He created the world and formed man. His all-wise plan was not defeated when man fell, for in the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) we behold the Fall anticipated. Nor will God’s purpose be thwarted by the wickedness of men since the Fall, as is clear from the words of the Psalmist “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psa. 76:10). Because God is the Almighty His will cannot be withstood. “His purposes originated in eternity, and are carried forward without change to eternity. They extend to all His works, and control all events. He ‘worketh all things after the counsel of His own will'” (Dr. Rice). Neither man nor Devil can successfully resist Him, therefore is it written, “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble” (Psa. 99:1).

It magnifies His grace. Grace is unmerited favour, and because grace is shown to the undeserving and Hell-deserving, to those who have no claim upon God, therefore is grace free and can be manifested toward the chief of sinners. But because grace is exercised toward those who are destitute of worthiness or merit grace is Sovereign; that is to say, God bestows grace upon whom He pleases. Divine Sovereignty has ordained that some shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to show that all deserved such a doom. But grace comes in like a dragnet and draws out from a lost humanity a people for God’s name, to be throughout all eternity the monuments of His inscrutable favour. Sovereign grace reveals God breaking down the opposition of the human heart, subduing the enmity of the carnal mind, and bringing us to love Him because He first loved us.

2. IT IS THE SOLID FOUNDATION OF ALL TRUE RELIGION.

This naturally follows from what we have said above under the first head. If the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty alone gives God His rightful place, then it is also true that it alone can supply a firm base for practical religion to build upon. There can be no progress in Divine things until there is the personal recognition that God is Supreme, that He is to be feared and revered and He is to be owned and served as Lord. We read the Scriptures in vain unless we come to them earnestly desiring a better knowledge of God’s will for us: any other motive is selfish and utterly inadequate and unworthy. Every prayer we send up to God is but carnal presumption unless it be offered “according to His will”: anything short of this is to ask ‘amiss’ that we might consume upon our own lusts the thing requested! Every service we engage in is but a “dead work” unless it be done for the glory of God. Experimental religion consists mainly in the perception and performance of the Divine will, performance both active and passive. We are predestinated to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” whose meat it ever was to do the will of the One that sent Him, and the measure in which each saint is becoming “conformed” practically, in his daily life, is largely determined by his response to our Lord’s word “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

3. IT REPUDIATES THE HERESY OF SALVATION BY WORKS.

“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). The way which “seemeth right” and which ends in “death,” death eternal, is salvation by human effort and merit. The belief in salvation by works is one that is common to human nature. It may not always assume the grosser form of Popish penances, or even of Protestant “repentance,” i.e., sorrowing for sin, which is never the meaning of repentance in Scripture; anything which gives man a place at all is but a variety of the same evil genus. To say, as alas! many preachers, are saying, God is willing to do His part if you will do yours, is a wretched and excuseless denial of the Gospel of His grace. To declare that God helps those who help themselves is to repudiate one of the most precious truths taught in the Bible, and in the Bible alone; namely, that God helps those who are unable to help themselves, who have tried again and again only to fail. To say that the sinner’s salvation turns upon the action of his own will is another form of the God-dishonouring dogma of salvation by human efforts. In the final analysis, any movement of the will is a work: it is something from me, something which I do. But the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty lays the axe at the root of this evil by declaring “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Does some one say, Such a doctrine will drive sinners to despair. The reply is, Be it so; it is just such despair the writer longs to see prevail. It is not until the sinner despairs of any help from himself that he will ever fall into the arms of Sovereign mercy; but if once the Holy Spirit convicts him that there is no help in himself then he will recognise that he is lost, and will cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and such a cry will be heard. If the author may be allowed to bear personal witness, he has found during the course of his ministry that the sermons he has preached on human depravity, the sinner’s helplessness to do anything himself, and the salvation of the soul turning upon the Sovereign mercy of God, have been those most owned and blessed in the salvation of the lost. We repeat, then, a sense of utter helplessness is the first prerequisite to any sound conversion. There is no salvation for any soul until it looks away from itself, looks to something, yea, to Someone, outside of itself.

4. IT IS DEEPLY HUMBLING TO THE CREATURE.

This doctrine of the absolute Sovereignty of God is a great battering-ram against human pride, and in this it is in sharp contrast from the “doctrines of men.” The spirit of our age is essentially that of boasting and glorying in the flesh. The achievements of man, his development and progress, his greatness and self-sufficiency, are the shrine at which the world worships today. But the truth of God’s Sovereignty, with all its corollaries, removes every ground for human boasting and instills the spirit of humility in its stead. It declares that salvation is of the Lord—of the Lord in its origination, in its operation, and in its consummation. It insists that the Lord has to apply as well as supply, that He has to complete as well as begin His saving work in our souls, that He has not only to reclaim but to maintain and sustain us to the end. It teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, and that all our works (before conversion), good as well as evil, count for nothing toward salvation. It tells us we are “born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). And all this is most humbling to the heart of man who wants to contribute something to the price of his redemption and do that which will afford ground for boasting and self-satisfaction.

But if this doctrine humbles us it results in praise to God. If, in the light of God’s Sovereignty, we have seen our own worthlessness and helplessness we shall indeed cry with the Psalmist “All my springs are in Thee” (Psa. 87:7). If by nature we were “children of wrath,” and by practice rebels against the Divine government and justly exposed to the “curse” of the Law, and if God was under no obligation to rescue us from the fiery indignation and yet, notwithstanding, He delivered up His well-beloved Son for us all; then how such grace and love will melt our hearts, how the apprehension of it will cause us to say in adoring gratitude “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psa. 115:1). How readily shall each of us acknowledge “By the grace of God I am what I am! With what wondering praise shall we exclaim—

“Why was I made to hear His voice,

And enter while there’s room,

When thousands make a wretched choice,

And rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast,

That sweetly forced us in;

Else we had still refused to taste

And perished in our sin.”

5. IT AFFORDS A SENSE OF ABSOLUTE SECURITY.

God is infinite in power and therefore it is impossible to withstand His will or resist the outworking of His decrees. Such a statement as that is well calculated to fill the sinner with alarm, but from the saint it evokes naught but praise. Let us add a word and see what a difference it makes: My God is infinite in power! then “I will not fear what man can do unto me.” My God is infinite in power, then “what time I am afraid I will trust in Him.” My God is infinite in power, then I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: “for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Psa. 4:8). Right down the ages this has been the source of the saints’ confidence. Was not this the assurance of Moses when, in his parting words to Israel, he said “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rideth upon the Heaven in Thy help, and in His excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:26, 27)? Was it not this sense of security that caused the Psalmist, moved by the Holy Spirit to write “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God: in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler: Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right band, but it shall not come nigh thee. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High thy Habitation; There shall no evil befall thee (instead, all things will work together for good), neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psa. 91:1-7, 9-10)?

“Death and plagues around me fly,

Till He bid, I cannot die;

Not a single shaft can hit,

Till the God of love sees fit.”

Oh the preciousness of this truth! Here am I, a poor, helpless, senseless “sheep,” yet am I secure in the hand of Christ. And why am I secure there? None can pluck me thence because the hand that holds me is that of the Son of God, and all power in Heaven and earth is His! Again; I have no strength of my own: the world, the flesh, and the Devil, are arrayed against me so I commit myself into the care and keeping of the Lord and say with the Apostle “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). And what is the ground of my confidence? How do I know that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him? I know it because God is almighty, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

6. IT SUPPLIES COMFORT IN SORROW.

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is one that is full of consolation and imparts great peace to the Christian. The Sovereignty of God is a foundation that nothing can shake and is more firm than the heavens and earth. How blessed to know there is no corner of the universe that is out of His reach! as said the Psalmist, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee” (Psa. 139:7-12). How blessed it is to know that God’s strong hand is upon every one and every thing! How blessed to know that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without His notice!

How blessed to know that our very afflictions come not by chance, nor from the Devil, but are ordained and ordered by God: “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess. 3:3)!

But our God is not only infinite in power. He is infinite in wisdom and goodness too. And herein is the preciousness of this truth. God wills only that which is good and His will is irreversible and irresistible! God is too wise to err and too loving to cause His child a needless tear. Therefore if God be perfect wisdom and perfect goodness how blessed is the assurance that everything is in His hand and moulded by His will according to His eternal purpose! “Behold, He taketh away, who can hinder Him? who will say unto Him what doest Thou?” (Job 9:12). Yet, how comforting to learn that it is “He,” and not the Devil, who “taketh away” our loved ones! Ah! what peace for our poor frail hearts to be told that the number of our days is with Him (Job 7:1; 14:5); that disease and death are His messengers and always march under His orders; that it is the Lord who gives and the Lord who takes away!

7. IT BEGETS A SPIRIT OF SWEET RESIGNATION.

To bow before the Sovereign will of God is one of the great secrets of peace and happiness. There can be no real submission with contentment until we are broken in spirit, that is, until we are willing and glad for the Lord to have His way with us. Not that we are insisting upon a spirit of fatalistic acquiescence: far from it. The saints are exhorted to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).

We touched upon this subject of resignation to God’s will in the chapter upon our Attitude toward God’s Sovereignty, and there, in addition to the supreme Pattern, we cited the examples of Eli and Job: we would now supplement their cases with further examples. What a word is that in Leviticus 10:3 “And Aaron held his peace.” Look at the circumstances: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord… And Aaron held his peace.” Two of the high priests’ sons were slain, slain by a visitation of Divine judgement, and they were probably intoxicated at the time; moreover, this trial came upon Aaron suddenly, without anything to prepare him for it; yet he “held his peace.” Precious exemplification of the power of God’s all-sufficient grace!

Consider now an utterance which fell from the lips of David: “And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and shew me both it, and His habitation. But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him” (2 Sam. 15:25, 26). Here, to, the circumstances which confronted the speaker were exceedingly trying to the human heart. David was sore pressed with sorrow. His own son was driving him from the throne and seeking his very life. Whether he would ever see Jerusalem and the Tabernacle again he knew not. But he was so yielded up to God, he was so fully assured that His will was best, that even though it meant the loss of the throne and the loss of his life he was content for Him to have His way—”let Him do to me as seemeth Him good.”

There is no need to multiply examples, but a reflection upon the last case will be in place. If amid the shadows of the Old Testament dispensation David was content for the Lord to have His way, now that the heart of God has been fully revealed at the Cross how much more ought we to delight in the execution of His will! Surely we shall have no hesitation in saying—

ill that He blesses is our good,

And unblest good is ill,

And all is right that seems most wrong,

If it be His sweet will.”

8. IT EVOKES A SONG OF PRAISE.

It could not be otherwise. Why should I, who am by nature no different from the careless and godless throngs all around, have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and now blest with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Him! Why was I, that once was an alien and a rebel, singled out for such wondrous favours! Ah! that is something I cannot fathom. Such grace, such love, “passeth knowledge.” But if my mind is unable to discern a reason my heart can express its gratitude in praise and adoration. But not only should I be grateful to God for His grace toward me in the past, His present dealings will fill me with thanksgiving. What is the force of that word “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Phil. 4:4)? Mark it is not “Rejoice in the Saviour,” but we are to “Rejoice in the Lord” as “Lord,” as the Master of every circumstance. Need we remind the reader that when the Apostle penned these words he was himself a prisoner in the hands of the Roman government. A long course of affliction and suffering lay behind him. Perils on land and perils on sea, hunger and thirst, scourging and stoning, had all been experienced. He had been persecuted by those within the church as well as by those without: the very ones who ought to have stood by him had forsaken him. And still he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord alway”! What was the secret of his peace and happiness? Ah! had not this same Apostle written “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)? But how did he, and how do we, “know” that all things work together for good? The answer is, Because all things are under the control of and are being regulated by the Supreme Sovereign, and because He has naught but thoughts of love toward His own, then “all things” are so ordered by Him that they are made to minister to our ultimate good. It is for this cause we are to give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Yes, give thanks for “all things” for, as it has been well said “Our disappointments are but His appointments.” To the one who delights in the Sovereignty of God the clouds not only have a ‘silver lining’ but they are silver all through, the darkness only serving to offset the light—

“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread,

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings o’er your head.”

9. IT GUARANTEES THE FINAL TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL.

Ever since the day that Cain slew Abel, the conflict on earth between good and evil has been a sore problem to the saints. In every age the righteous have appeared to defy God with impunity. The Lord’s people, for the most part, have been poor in this world’s good whereas the wicked in their temporal prosperity have flourished like the green bay tree. As one looks around and beholds the oppression of believers and the earthly success of unbelievers, and notes how few are the former and how numerous the latter; as he sees the apparent defeat of the right and the triumphing of might and the wrong; as he hears the roar of battle, the cries of the wounded, and the lamentations of the bereaved; as he discovers that almost everything down here is in confusion, chaos, and ruins, it seems as though Satan were getting the better of the conflict. But as one looks above, instead of around, there is plainly visible to the eye of faith a Throne, a Throne unaffected by the storms of earth, a Throne that is “set,” stable and secure; and upon it is seated One whose name is the Almighty, and who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). This then is our confidence—God is on the Throne. The helm is in His hand, and being Almighty His purpose cannot fail for “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job. 23:13). Though God’s governing hand is invisible to the eye of sense it is real to faith, that faith which rests with sure confidence upon His Word, and therefore is assured He cannot fail. What follows below is from the pen of our brother, Mr. A. C. Gaebelein.

“There can be no failure with God. ‘God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the Son of man, that He should repent: hath He said and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). All will be accomplished. The promise made to His own beloved people to come for them and take them from hence to glory will not fail. He will surely come and gather them in His own presence. The solemn words spoken to the nations of the earth by the different prophets will also not fail. ‘Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies: He hath utterly destroyed them, He hath delivered them to the slaughter’ (Isa. 34:1, 2). Nor will that day fail in which ‘the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted’ (Isa. 2:11). The day in which He is manifested, when His glory shall cover the heavens and His feet will stand again upon this earth, will surely come. His kingdom will not fail, nor all the promised events connected with the end of the age and the consummation.

“In these dark and trying times how well it is to remember that He is on the throne, the throne which cannot be shaken, and that He will not fail in doing all He has spoken and promised. ‘Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: No one of these shall fail’ (Isa. 34:16). In believing, blessed anticipation, we can look on to the glory—time when His Word and His Will is accomplished, when through the coming of the Prince of Peace, righteousness and peace comes at last. And while we wait for the supreme and blessed moment when His promise to us is accomplished, we trust Him, walking in His fellowship and daily find afresh, that He does not fail to sustain and keep us in all our ways.”

10. IT PROVIDES A RESTING-PLACE FOR THE HEART.

Much that might have been said here has already been anticipated under previous heads. The One seated upon the Throne of Heaven, the One who is Governor over the nations and who has ordained and now regulates all events, is infinite not only in power but in wisdom and goodness as well. He who is Lord over all creation is the One that was “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Ah! here is a theme no human pen can do justice to. The glory of God consists not merely in that He is Highest, but in that being high He stooped in lowly love to bear the burden of His own sinful creatures, for it is written “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The Church of God was purchased “with His own Blood” (Acts 20:28). It is upon the gracious self-humiliation of the King Himself that His kingdom is established. O wondrous Cross! By it He who suffered upon it has become not the Lord of our destinies (He was that before), but the Lord of our hearts. Therefore, it is not in abject terror that we bow before the Supreme Sovereign, but in adoring worship we cry “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).

Here then is the refutation of the wicked charge that this doctrine is a horrible calumny upon God and dangerous to expound to His people. Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” that gives God His true place, that maintains His rights, that magnifies His grace, that ascribes all glory to Him and removes every ground of boasting from the creature? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” which affords the saints a sense of security in danger, that supplies them comfort in sorrow, that begets patience within them in adversity, that evokes from them praise at all times? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” which assures us of the certain triumph of good over evil, and which provides a sure resting place for our hearts, and that place, the perfections of the Sovereign Himself? No; a thousand times, no! Instead of being “horrible and dangerous” this doctrine of the Sovereignty of God is glorious and edifying, and a due apprehension of it will but serve to make us exclaim with Moses, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo. 15:11).

AW Pink (1886-1952) – THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P05 of 05)

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P05 of 05)

By

AW Pink (1886-1952)

Copyright: Public Domain

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CONCLUSION

“Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).

In our Foreword to the Second Edition we acknowledge the need for preserving the balance of Truth. Two things are beyond dispute: God is Sovereign, man is responsible. In this book we have sought to expound the former; in our other works we have frequently pressed the latter. That there is real danger of over-emphasising the one and ignoring the other, we readily admit; yea, history furnishes numerous examples of cases of each. To emphasise the Sovereignty of God without also maintaining the accountability of the creature tends to fatalism; to be so concerned in maintaining the responsibility of man as to lose sight of the Sovereignty of God is to exalt the creature and dishonour the Creator.

Almost all doctrinal error is really, Truth perverted, Truth wrongfully divided, Truth disproportionately held and taught. The fairest face on earth, with the most comely features, would soon become ugly and unsightly if one member continued growing while the others remained undeveloped. Beauty is, primarily, a matter of proportion. Thus it is with the Word of God: its beauty and blessedness are best perceived when its manifold wisdom is exhibited in its true proportions. Here is where so many have failed in the past. A single phase of God’s Truth has so impressed this man or that he has concentrated his attention upon it, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Some portion of God’s Word has been made a “pet doctrine,” and often this has become the distinctive badge of some party. But it is the duty of each servant of God to “declare all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

It is true that the degenerate days in which our lot is cast, when on every side man is exalted and “superman” has become a common expression, there is real need for a special emphasis upon the glorious fact of God’s supremacy. The more so where this is expressly denied. Yet even here much wisdom is required lest our zeal should not be “according to knowledge.” The words “meat in due season” should ever be before the servant of God. What is needed, primarily, by one congregation may not be specifically needed by another. If called to labour where Arminian preachers have preceded, then the neglected truth of God’s Sovereignty should be expounded, though with caution and care lest too much “strong meat” be given to “babes.” The example of Christ in John 16:12 “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” must be borne in mind. On the other hand, if I am called to take charge of a distinctly Calvinistic pulpit, then the truth of human responsibility (in its many aspects) may be profitably set forth. What the preacher needs to give out is not what his people most like to hear, but what they most need, i.e., those aspects of truth they are least familiar with, or least exhibiting in their walk.

To carry into actual practice what we have inculcated above will, most probably, lay the preacher open to the charge of being a Turncoat. But what matters that if he has his Master’s approval? He is not called upon to be “consistent” with himself nor with any rules drawn up by man; his business is to be consistent with Holy Writ. And in Scripture each part or aspect of Truth is balanced by another aspect of Truth. There are two sides to everything, even to the character of God for He is “light” (1 John 1:5) as well as “love” (1 John 4:8), and therefore are we called upon to “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). To be all the time preaching on the one to the exclusion of the other caricatures the Divine character.

When the Son of God became incarnate He came here in “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7); nevertheless, in the manger He was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)! All things are possible with God (Matt. 19:26) yet God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Scripture says “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), yet the same chapter insists “every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:5). We are enjoined to take “no thought for the morrow” (Matt. 6:34), yet “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). No sheep of Christ’s can perish (John 10:28, 29), yet the Christian is bidden to make his “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). And so we might go on multiplying illustrations. These things are not contradictions but complementaries: the one “balances the other.” Thus, the Scriptures set forth both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. So, too, should every servant of God, and that, in their proper proportion.

But we return now to a few closing reflections upon our present theme, “And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, ) LORD God of our fathers, art not Thou God in Heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee?” (2 Chron. 20:5, 6). Yes, the Lord is God, ruling in supreme majesty and might. Yet in our day, a day of boasted enlightenment and progress, this is denied on every hand. A materialistic science and atheistic philosophy have bowed God out of His own world, and everything is regulated, forsooth, by (impersonal) laws of Nature. So in human affairs: at best God is a far-distant spectator, and a helpless one at that. God could not help the launching of the dreadful war, and though He longed to put a stop to it He was unable to do so—and this in the face of 1 Chronicles 5:22; 2 Chronicles 24:24! Having endowed man with “free agency” God is obliged to let man make his own choice and go his own way, and He cannot interfere with him, or otherwise his moral responsibility would be destroyed! Such are the popular beliefs of the day. One is not surprised to find these sentiments emanating from German theologians, but how sad that they should be taught in many of our Seminaries, echoed from many of our pulpits, and accepted by many of the rank and file of professing Christians.

One of the most flagrant sins of our age is that of irreverence—the failure to ascribe the glory which is due the august majesty of God. Men limit the power and activities of the Lord in their degrading concepts of His being and character. Originally, man was made in the image and likeness of God, but today we are asked to believe in a god made in the image and likeness of man. The Creator is reduced to the level of the creature: His omniscience is called into question, His omnipotency is no longer believed in, and His absolute Sovereignty is flatly denied. Men claim to be the architects of their own fortunes and the determiners of their own destiny. They know not that their lives are at the disposal of the Divine Despot. They know not they have no more power to thwart His secret decrees than a worm has to resist the tread of an elephant. They know not that “The LORD hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa. 103:19).

In the foregoing pages we have sought to repudiate such paganistic views as the abovementioned, and have endeavoured to show from Scripture that God is God, on the Throne, and that so far from the recent war being an evidence that the helm had slipped out of His hand it was a sure proof that He still lives and reigns, and is now bringing to pass that which He had fore-determined and fore-announced (Matt. 24:6-8 etc.). That the carnal mind is enmity against God, that the unregenerate man is a rebel against the Divine government, that the sinner has no concern for the glory of his Maker, and little or no respect for His revealed will, is freely granted. But, nevertheless, behind the scenes God is ruling and overruling, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of but also by means of those who are His enemies.

How earnestly are the claims of man contended for against the claims of God! Has not man power and knowledge, but what of it? Has God no will, or power, or knowledge? Suppose man’s will conflicts with God’s, then what? Turn to the Scripture of Truth for answer. Men had a will on the plains of Shinar and determined to build a tower whose top should reach unto Heaven, but what came of their purpose? Pharaoh had a will when He hardened his heart and Pharaoh refused to allow Jehovah’s people to go and worship Him in the wilderness, but what came of his rebellion? Balak had a will when he hired Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews, but of what avail was it? The Canaanites had a will when they determined to prevent Israel occupying the land of Canaan, but how far did they succeed? Saul had a will when he hurled his javelin at David, but it entered the wall instead! Jonah had a will when he refused to go and preach to the Ninevites, but what came of it? Nebuchadnezzar had a will when he thought to destroy the three Hebrew children, but God had a will too, and the fire did not harm them. Herod had a will when he sought to slay the Child Jesus, and had there been no living, reigning God, his evil desire would have been effected: but in daring to pit his puny will against the irresistible will of the Almighty his efforts came to nought. Yes, my reader, and you, too, had a will when you formed your plans without first seeking counsel of the Lord, therefore did He overturn them! “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of LORD, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21).

What a demonstration of the irresistible Sovereignty of God is furnished by that wonderful statement found in Revelation 17:17: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” The fulfilment of any single prophecy is but the Sovereignty of God in operation. It is the demonstration that what He has decreed He is able also to perform. It is proof that none can withstand the execution of His counsel or prevent the accomplishment of His pleasure. It is evidence that God inclines men to fulfil that which He has ordained and perform that which He has fore-determined. If God were not absolute Sovereign then Divine prophecy would be valueless, for in such case no guarantee would be left that what He had predicted would surely come to pass.

“For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17). We can not do better than quote here the excellent comments of our esteemed friend, Mr. Walter Scott, upon this verse—”God works unseen, but not the less truly, in all the political changes of the day. The astute statesman, the clever diplomatist, is simply an agent in the Lord’s hands. He knows it not. Self-will and motives of policy may influence to action, but God is steadily working toward an end—to exhibit the heavenly and earthly glories of His Son. Thus, instead of kings and statesmen thwarting God’s purpose, they unconsciously forward it. God is not indifferent, but is behind the scenes of human action. The doings of the future ten kings in relation to Babylon and the Beast—the ecclesiastical and secular powers—are not only under the direct control of God, but all is done in fulfilment of His words.”

Closely connected with Revelation 17:17 is that which is brought before us in Micah 4:11, 12: “Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, neither understand they His counsel: for He shall gather them as sheaves into the floor.” This is another remarkable statement, inspired of God, and three things in it deserve special notice. First, a day is coming when “many nations” shall “gather against” Israel with the express purpose of humiliating her. Second, quite unconsciously to themselves—for they “understand not” His counsel they are “gathered” together by God, for “He shall gather them.” Third, God gathers these “many nations” against Israel in order that the daughter of Zion may “beat them in pieces” (v. 13). Here then is another instance which demonstrates God’s absolute control of the nations, of His power to fulfil His secret counsel or decrees through and by them, and of His inclining men to perform His pleasure though it be performed blindly and unwittingly by them.

Once more. What a word was that of the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate! Who can depict the scene! There was the Roman official, and there also was the Servant of Jehovah standing before him. Said Pilate, “Whence art Thou?” And we read “Jesus gave him no answer.” Then said Pilate unto Him “Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?” (John 19:10). Ah! that is what Pilate thought. That is what many another has thought. He was merely voicing the common conviction of the human heart, the heart which leaves God out of its reckoning. But hear the Lord Jesus as He corrects Pilate, and at the same time repudiates the proud boasting of men in general: “thou couldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). How sweeping is this assertion! Man—even though he be a prominent official in the most influential empire of his day—has no power except that which is given him from above, no power, even, to do that which is evil, i.e., carry out his own evil designs unless God empowers him so that His purpose may be forwarded. It was God who gave Pilate the power to sentence to death His well-beloved Son! And how this rebukes the sophistries and reasonings of men who argue that God does nothing more than permit evil! Why, go right back to the very first words spoken by the Lord God to man after the Fall and hear Him saying “I will put ENMITY between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15)! Bare permission of sin does not cover all the facts which are revealed in Scripture touching this mystery. As Calvin succinctly remarked “But what reason shall we assign for His permitting it but because it is His will?”

At the close of Chapter Eleven we promised to give attention to one or two other difficulties which were not examined at that time. To them we now turn. If God has not only predetermined the salvation of His own but has also foreordained the good works which they are to walk in (Eph. 2:10), then what incentive remains for us to strive after practical godliness? If God has fixed the number of those who are to be saved, and the others are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, then what encouragement have we to preach the Gospel to the lost? Let us take up these questions in the order of mention.

1. GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE BELIEVER’S GROWTH IN GRACE.

If God has foreordained everything that comes to pass, of what avail is it for us to “exercise” ourselves “unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7)? If God has before ordained the good works in which we are to walk (Eph. 2:10) then why should we be “careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8)? This only raises once more the problem of human responsibility. Really, it should be enough for us to reply, God has bidden us do so. Nowhere does Scripture inculcate or encourage a spirit of fatalistic indifference. Contentment with our present attainments is expressly disallowed. The word to every believer is “Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). This was the Apostle’s aim, and it should be ours. Instead of hindering the development of Christian character, a proper apprehension and appreciation of God’s Sovereignty will forward it. Just as the sinner’s despair of any help from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer’s growth in grace; and just as the sinner despairing of help from himself will cast him into the arms of Sovereign mercy so the Christian, conscious of his own frailty, will turn unto the Lord for power. It is when we are weak we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10): that is to say, there must be consciousness of our weakness before we shall turn to the Lord for help. While the Christian allows the thought that he is sufficient in himself, while he imagines that by mere force of will he shall resist temptation, while he has any confidence in the flesh then, like Peter who boasted that though all forsook the Lord yet should not he, so we shall certainly fail and fall. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). The promise of God is “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might (of their own) He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29).

The question now before us is of great practical importance, and we are deeply anxious to express ourselves clearly and simply. The secret of development of Christian character is the realisation of our own powerlessness, acknowledged powerlessness, and the consequent turning unto the Lord for help. The plain fact is that of ourselves we cannot do this, or make ourselves do it. “In nothing be anxious”—but who can avoid and prevent anxiety when things go wrong? “Awake to righteousness and sin not”—but who can help sinning? These are merely examples selected at random from scores of others. Does then God mock us by biding us do what He knows we are unable to do? The answer of Augustine to this question is the best we have met with—”God gives commands we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request from Him.” A consciousness of our powerlessness should cast us upon Him who has all power. Here then is where a vision and view of God’s Sovereignty helps, for it reveals His sufficiency and shows us our insufficiency.

2. GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND CHRISTIAN SERVICE.

If God has determined before the foundation of the world the precise number of those who shall be saved then why should we concern ourselves about the eternal destiny of those with whom we come into contact? What place is left for zeal in Christian service? Will not the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, and its corollary of predestination, discourage the Lord’s servants from faithfulness in evangelism? No; instead of discouraging His servants a recognition of God’s Sovereignty is most encouraging to them. Here is one, for example, who is called upon to do the work of an evangelist, and he goes forth believing in the freedom of the will and in the sinner’s own ability to come to Christ. He preaches the Gospel as faithfully and zealously as he knows how; but he finds the vast majority of his hearers are utterly indifferent and have no heart at all for Christ. He discovers that men are, for the most part, thoroughly wrapped up in the things of the world, and that few have any concern about the world to come. He beseeches men to be reconciled to God and pleads with them over their soul’s salvation. But it is of no avail. He becomes thoroughly disheartened and asks himself, What is the use of it all? Shall he quit, or had he better change his mission and message? If men will not respond to the Gospel, had he not better engage in that which is more popular and acceptable to the world? Why not occupy himself with humanitarian efforts, with social uplift work, with the purity campaign? Alas! that so many men who once preached the Gospel are now engaged in these activities instead.

What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? First, he needs to learn from Scripture that God is not now seeking to convert the world, but that in this Age He is “taking out of the Gentiles” a people for His name (Acts 15:14). What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? This: a proper apprehension of God’s plan for this Dispensation. Again: what is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labours? This: the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plans cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done. Our labours are not intended to bring about that which God has not decreed. Once more: what is God’s word of cheer for the one who is thoroughly disheartened at the lack of response to his appeals and the absence of fruit, for his labours? This: that we are not responsible for results: that is God’s side, and God’s business. Paul may “plant,” and Apollos may “water,” but it is God who “gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6). Our business is to obey Christ and preach the Gospel to every creature, to emphasise the “Whosoever believeth” and then to leave the Sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word in quickening power to whom He wills, resting on the sure promise of Jehovah: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from Heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please (it may not be that which we please), and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:10, 11). Was it not this assurance that sustained the beloved Apostle when he declared “Therefore (see context) I endure all things for the elect’s sake” (2 Tim. 2:10)! Yea, is not this same lesson to be learned from the blessed example of the Lord Jesus! When we read that He said to the people “Ye also have seen Me, and believe not,” He fell back upon the Sovereign pleasure of the One who sent Him, saying “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He knew that His labour would not be in vain. He knew God’s Word would not return unto Him “void.” He knew that “God’s elect” would come to Him and believe on Him. And this same assurance fills the soul of every servant who intelligently rests upon the blessed truth of God’s Sovereignty.

Ah, fellow-Christian-worker, God has not sent us forth to “draw a bow at a venture.” The success of the ministry which He has committed into our hands is not left contingent on the fickleness of the wills in those to whom we preach. How gloriously encouraging, how soul-sustaining the assurance are those words of our Lord’s if we rest on them in simple faith: “And other sheep I have (“have” mark you, not “will have”; “have” because given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world), which are not of this fold (i.e. the Jewish fold then existing): them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice” (John 10:16). Not simply, “they ought to hear My voice,” not simply “they may hear My voice,” not “they will if they are willing.” There is no “if,” no uncertainty about it. “They shall hear My voice” is His own positive, unqualified, absolute promise. Here then is where faith is to rest! Continue your quest, dear friend, after the “other sheep” of Christ’s. Be not discouraged because the “goats” heed not His voice as you preach the Gospel. Be faithful, be scriptural, be persevering, and Christ may use even you to be His mouthpiece in calling some of His lost sheep unto Himself. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

It now remains for us to offer a few closing reflections and our happy task is finished.

God’s Sovereign election of certain ones to salvation is a MERCIFUL provision. The sufficient answer to all the wicked accusations that the doctrine of Predestination is cruel, horrible, and unjust, is that unless God had chosen certain ones to salvation none would have been saved, for “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). This is no mere inference of ours but the definite teaching of Holy Scripture. Attend closely to the words of the Apostle in Romans 9 where this theme is fully discussed: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved… And as Esaias (Isaiah) said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah” (Rom. 9:27, 29). The teaching of this passage is unmistakable: but for Divine interference Israel would have become as Sodom and Gomorrah. Had God left Israel alone human depravity would have run its course to its own tragic end. But God left Israel a “remnant” or “seed.” Of old the cities of the plain had been obliterated for their sin and none was left to survive them; and so it would have been in Israel’s case had not God “left” or spared a remnant. Thus it is with the human race: but for God’s Sovereign grace in sparing a remnant all of Adam’s descendants had perished in their sins. Therefore, we say that God’s Sovereign election of certain ones to salvation is a merciful provision. And, be it noted, in choosing the ones He did God did no injustice to the others who were passed by, for none had any right to salvation. Salvation is by grace, and the exercise of grace is a matter of pure Sovereignty—God might save all or none, many or few, one or ten thousand, just as He saw best. Should it be replied, But surely it were “best” to save all, the answer would be: We are not capable of judging. We might have thought it “best” never to have created Satan, never to have allowed sin to enter the world, or having entered to have brought the conflict between good and evil to an end long before now. Ah! God’s ways are not ours, and His ways are “past finding out.”

God foreordains everything which comes to pass. His Sovereign rule extends throughout the entire Universe and is over every creature. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36). God initiates all things, regulates all things, and all things are working unto His eternal glory. “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). And again, “According to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). Surely if anything could be ascribed to chance it is the drawing of lots, and yet the Word of God expressly declares “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD” (Prov. 16:33)!

God’s wisdom in the government of our world shall yet be completely vindicated before all created intelligences. God is no idle Spectator, looking on from a distant world at the happenings, on our earth, but is Himself shaping everything to the ultimate promotion of His own glory. Even now He is working out His eternal purpose, not only in spite of human and Satanic opposition but by means of them. How wicked and futile have been all efforts to resist His will shall one day be as fully evident as when of old He overthrew the rebellious Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea.

It has been well said “The end and object of all is the glory of God. It is perfectly, divinely true, that ‘God hath ordained for His own glory whatsoever comes to pass.’ In order to guard this from all possibility of mistake, we have only to remember who is this God, and what the glory that He seeks. It is He who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—of Him in whom divine love came seeking not her own, among us as ‘One that serveth.’ It is He who, sufficient in Himself, can receive no real accession of glory from His creatures, but from whom—’Love,’ as He is ‘Light’—cometh down every good and every perfect gift, in whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. Of His own alone can His creatures give to Him.”

“The glory of such an one is found in the display of His own goodness, righteousness, holiness, truth; in manifesting Himself as in Christ He has manifested Himself and will forever. The glory of this God is what of necessity all things must serve—adversaries and evil as well as all else. He has ordained it; His power will insure it; and when all apparent clouds and obstructions are removed, then shall He rest—’rest in His love’ forever, although eternity only will suffice for the apprehension of the revelation. ‘God shall be all in all’ (italics ours throughout this paragraph) gives in six words the ineffable result” (F. W. Grant on “Atonement”).

That what we have written gives but an incomplete and imperfect presentation of this most important subject we must sorrowfully confess. Nevertheless, if it results in a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His Sovereign mercy we shall be amply repaid for our labours. If the reader has received blessing from the perusal of these pages let him not fail to return thanks to the Giver of every good and every perfect gift, ascribing all praise to His inimitable and Sovereign grace.

“The Lord, our God, is clothed with might,

The winds and waves obey His will;

He speaks, and in the shining height

The sun and rolling worlds stand still.

Rebel ye waves, and o’er the land

With threatening aspect foam and roar,

The Lord hath spoken His command

That breaks your rage upon the shore.

Ye winds of night, your force combine—

Without His holy high behest

You shall not in a mountain pine

Disturb the little swallow’s nest.

His voice sublime is heard afar;

In distant peals it fades and dies;

He binds the cyclone to His car

And sweeps the howling murky skies.

Great God! how infinite art Thou,

What weak and worthless worms are we,

Let all the race of creatures bow

And seek salvation now from Thee.
Eternity, with all its years

Stands ever-present to Thy view,

To Thee there’s nothing old appears
Great God! There can be nothing new.

Our lives through varied scenes are drawn,

And vexed with mean and trifling cares;

While Thine eternal thought moves on

Thy fixed and undisturbed affairs.”

“Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).

APPENDIX 1

THE WILL OF GOD

In treating of the Will of God some theologians have differentiated between His decretive will and His permissive will, insisting that there are certain things which God has positively fore-ordained, but other things which He merely suffers to exist or happen. But such a distinction is really no distinction at all, inasmuch as God only permits that which is according to His will. No such distinction would have been invented had these theologians discerned that God could have decreed the existence and activities of sin without Himself being the Author of sin. Personally, we much prefer to adopt the distinction made by the older Calvinists between God’s secret and revealed will, or, to state it in another way, His disposing and His preceptive will.

God’s revealed will is made known in His Word, but His secret will is His own hidden counsels. God’s revealed will is the definer of our duty and the standard of our responsibility. The primary and basic reason why I should follow a certain course or do a certain thing is because it is God’s will that I should, His will being clearly defined for me in His Word. That I should not follow a certain course, that I must refrain from doing certain things, is because they are contrary to God’s revealed will. But suppose I disobey God’s Word, then do I not cross His will? And if so, how can it still be true that God’s will is always done and His counsel accomplished at all times? Such questions should make evident the necessity for the distinction here advocated. God’s revealed will is frequently crossed, but His secret will is never thwarted. That it is legitimate for us to make such a distinction concerning God’s will is clear from Scripture. Take these two passages: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3); “For who hath resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19). Would any thoughtful reader declare that God’s “will” has precisely the same meaning in both of these passages? We surely hope not. The first passage refers to God’s revealed will, the latter to His secret will. The first passage concerns our duty, the latter declares that God’s secret purpose is immutable and must come to pass notwithstanding the creature’s insubordination. God’s revealed will is never done perfectly or fully by any of us, but His secret will never fails of accomplishment even in the minutest particular. His secret will mainly concerns future events; His revealed will, our present duty: the one has to do with His irresistible purpose, the other with His manifested pleasure: the one is wrought upon us and accomplished through us, the other is to be done by us.

The secret will of God is His eternal, unchanging purpose concerning all things which He bath made, to be brought about by certain means to their appointed ends: of this God expressly declares “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). This is the absolute, efficacious will of God, always effected, always fulfilled. The revealed will of God contains not His purpose and decree but our duty,—not what He will do according to His eternal counsel, but what we should do if we would please Him, and this is expressed in the precepts and promises of His Word. Whatever God has determined within Himself, whether to do Himself, or to do by others, or to suffer to be done, whilst it is in His own breast, and is not made known by any event in providence, or by precept, or by prophecy, is His secret will. Such are the deep things of God, the thoughts of His heart, the counsels of His mind, which are impenetrable to all creatures. But when these are made known they become His revealed will: such is almost the whole of the book of Revelation, wherein God has made known to us “things which must shortly come to pass (Rev. 1:1—”must” because He has eternally purposed that they should).

It has been objected by Arminian theologians that the division of God’s will into secret and revealed is untenable, because it makes God to have two different wills, the one opposed to the other. But this is a mistake, due to their failure to see that the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects. If God should require and forbid the same thing, or if He should decree the same thing should and should not exist, then would His secret and revealed will be contradictory and purposeless. If those who object to the secret and revealed will of God being inconsistent would only make the same distinction in this case that they do in many other cases, the seeming inconsistency would at once disappear. How often do men draw a sharp distinction between what is desirable in its own nature. and what is not desirable all things considered. For example, the fond parent does not desire simply considered to punish his offending child, but, all things considered, he knows it is his bounden duty, and so corrects his child. And though he tells his child he does not desire to punish him, but that he is satisfied it is for the best all things considered to do so, then an intelligent child would see no inconsistency in what his father says and does. Just so the All-wise Creator may consistently decree to bring to pass things which He hates, forbids and condemns. God chooses that some things shall exist which He thoroughly hates (in their intrinsic nature), and He also chooses that some things shall not yet exist which He perfectly loves (in their intrinsic nature). For example: He commanded that Pharaoh should let His people go, because that was right in the nature of things, yet, He had secretly declared that Pharaoh should not let His people go, not because it was right in Pharaoh to refuse, but because it was best all things considered that he should not let them go—i.e. best because it subserved God’s larger purpose.

Again; God commands us to be perfectly holy in this life (Matt. 5:48), because this is right in the nature of things, but He has decreed that no man shall be perfectly holy in this life, because this is best all things considered that none shall be perfectly holy (experimentally) before they leave this world. Holiness is one thing, the taking place of holiness is another; so, sin is one thing, the taking place of sin is another. When God requires holiness His preceptive or revealed will respects the nature or moral excellence of holiness; but when He decrees that holiness shall not take place (fully and perfectly) His secret or decretive will respects only the event of it not taking place. So, again, when He forbids sin, His preceptive or revealed will respects only the nature or moral evil of sin; but when He decrees that sin shall take place, His secret will respects only its actual occurrence to serve His good purpose. Thus the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects.

God’s will of decree is not His will in the same sense as His will of command is. Therefore, there is no difficulty in supposing that one may be contrary to the other. His will, in both senses, is His inclination. Everything that concerns His revealed will is perfectly agreeable to His nature, as when He commands love, obedience, and service from His creatures. But that which concerns His secret will has in view His ultimate end, that to which all things are now working. Thus, He decreed the entrance of sin into His universe, though His own holy nature hates all sin with infinite abhorrence, yet, because it is one of the means by which His appointed end is to be reached He suffered it to enter. God’s revealed will is the measure of our responsibility and the determiner of our duty. With God’s secret will we have nothing to do: that is His concern. But, God knowing that we should fail to perfectly do His revealed will ordered His eternal counsels accordingly, and these eternal counsels, which make up His secret will, though unknown to us are, though unconsciously, fulfilled in and through us.

Whether the reader is prepared to accept the above distinction in the will of God or not he must acknowledge that the commands of Scripture declare God’s revealed will, and he must also allow that sometimes God wills not to hinder a breach of those commands, because He does not as a fact so hinder it. God wills to permit sin as is evident, for He does permit it. Surely none will say that God Himself does what He does not will to do.

Finally, let it be said again that, my responsibility with regard to the will of God is measured by what He has made known in His Word. There I learn that it is my duty to use the means of His providing, and to humbly pray that He may be pleased to bless them to me. To refuse so to do on the ground that I am ignorant of what may or may not be His secret counsels concerning me, is not only absurd, but the height of presumption. We repeat: the secret will of God is none of our business; it is His revealed will which measures our accountability. That there is no conflict whatever between the secret and the revealed will of God is made clear from the fact that, the former is accomplished by my use of the means laid down in the latter.

APPENDIX 2

THE CASE OF ADAM

In our chapter on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility we dealt only with the responsibility of man considered as a fallen creature, and at the close of the discussion it was pointed out how that the measure and extent of our responsibility varies in different individuals, according to the advantages they have received and the privileges they have enjoyed, which is a truth clearly established by the declaration of the Saviour recorded in Luke 12:47, 48, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did not commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more”.

Now, strictly speaking, there are only two men who have ever walked this earth which were endowed with full and unimpaired responsibility, and they were the first and last Adam’s. The responsibility of each of the rational descendants of Adam, while real, and sufficient to establish them accountable to their Creator is, nevertheless, limited in degree, limited because impaired through the effects of the Fall.

Not only is the responsibility of each descendant of Adam sufficient to constitute him, personally an accountable creature (that is, as one so constituted that he ought to do right and ought not to do wrong), but originally every one of us was also endowed, judicially, with full and unimpaired responsibility, not in ourselves, but, in Adam. It should ever be borne in mind that not only was Adam the father of the human race seminally, but he was also the head of the race legally. When Adam was placed in Eden he stood there as our representative, so that what he did is reckoned to the account of each for whom he acted.

It is beside our present purpose to enter here into a lengthy discussion of the Federal Headship of Adam (Though there is deep and widespread need for this, and we hope ere long to write upon this subject in another book.), suffice it now to refer the reader to Romans 5:12-19 where this truth is dealt with by the Holy Spirit. In the heart of this most important passage we are told that Adam was “the figure of Him that was to come” (v. 14), that is, of Christ. In what sense, then, was Adam “the figure” of Christ? The answer must be, In that he was a Federal Head; in that he acted on the behalf of a race of men; in that he was one who has legally, as well as vitally, affected all connected with him. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is in 1 Corinthians 15:45 denominated “the last Adam”, that is, the Head of the new creation, as the first Adam was the Head of the old creation.

In Adam, then, each of us stood. As the representative of the human race the first man acted. As then Adam was created with full and unimpaired responsibility, unimpaired because there was no evil nature within him; and as we were all “in Adam”, it necessarily follows that all of us, originally, were also endowed with full and unimpaired responsibility. Therefore, in Eden, it was not merely the responsibility of Adam as a single person that was tested, but it was Human Responsibility, the Responsibility of the Race, as a whole and in part, which was on trial.

Webster defines responsibility first, as “liable to account”; second, as “able to discharge an obligation”. Perhaps the meaning and scope of the term responsibility might be expressed and summed up in the one word oughtness. Godwards, responsibility respects that which is due the Creator from the creature, and which the creature is under moral obligations to render.

In the light of the above definition it is at once apparent that responsibility is something that must be placed on trial. And as a fact, this is, as we learn from the Inspired Record, exactly what transpired in Eden. Adam was placed on probation. His obligations to God were put to the test. His loyalty to the Creator was tried out. The test consisted of obedience to his Maker’s command. Of a certain tree he was forbidden to eat.

But right here a very formidable difficulty confronts us. From God’s standpoint the result of Adam’s probation was not left in uncertainty. Before He formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, God knew exactly how the appointed test would terminate. With this statement every Christian reader must be in accord, for, to deny God’s foreknowledge is to deny His omniscience, and this is to repudiate one of the fundamental attributes of Deity. But we must go further: not only had God a perfect foreknowledge of the outcome of Adam’s trial, not only did His omniscient eye see Adam eating of the forbidden fruit, but He decreed beforehand that he should do so. This is evident not only from the general fact that nothing happens save that which the Creator and Governor of the universe has eternally purposed, but also from the express declaration of Scripture that Christ as a Lamb “verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20). If, then, God had foreordained before the foundation of the world that Christ should, in due time, be offered as a Sacrifice for sin, then it is unmistakably evident that God had also foreordained sin should enter the world, and if so, that Adam should transgress and fall. In full harmony with this, God Himself placed in Eden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also allowed the Serpent to enter and deceive Eve.

Here then is the difficulty: If God has eternally decreed that Adam should eat of the tree, how could he be held responsible not to eat of it? Formidable as the problem appears, nevertheless, it is capable of a solution, a solution, moreover, which can be grasped even by the finite mind. The solution is to be found in the distinction between God’s secret will and His revealed will. As stated in Appendix I, human responsibility is measured by our knowledge of God’s revealed will; what God has told us, not what He has not told us, is the definer of our duty. So it was with Adam.

That God had decreed sin should enter this world through the disobedience of our first parents was a secret hid in His own breast. Of this Adam knew nothing, and that made all the difference so far as his responsibility was concerned. Adam was quite unacquainted with the Creator’s hidden counsels. What concerned him was God’s revealed will. And that was plain! God had forbidden him to eat of the tree, and that was enough. But God went further: He even warned Adam of the dire consequences which would follow should he disobey—death would be the penalty. Transgression, then, on the part of Adam was entirely excuseless. Created with no evil nature in him, with a will in perfect equipoise, placed in the fairest environment, given dominion over all the lower creation, allowed full liberty with only a single restriction upon him, plainly warned of what would follow an act of insubordination to God, there was every possible inducement for Adam to preserve his innocence; and, should he fail and fall, then by every principle of righteousness his blood must lie upon his own head, and his guilt be imputed to all in whose behalf he acted.

Had God disclosed to Adam His purpose that sin would enter this world, and that He had decreed Adam should eat of the forbidden fruit, it is obvious that Adam could not have been held responsible for the eating of it. But in that God withheld the knowledge of His counsels from Adam, his accountability was not interfered with.

Again; had God created Adam with a bias toward evil, then human responsibility had been impaired and man’s probation merely one in name. But inasmuch as Adam was included among that which God, at the end of the sixth day, pronounced “Very good”, and, inasmuch as man was made “upright” (Eccl. 7:29), then every mouth must be “stopped” and “the whole world” must acknowledge itself “guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).

Once more, it needs to be carefully borne in mind that God did not decree that Adam should sin and then inject into Adam an inclination to evil, in order that His decree might be carried out. No; “God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth He any man” (James 1:13). Instead, when the Serpent came to tempt Eve, God caused her to remember His command forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and of the penalty attached to disobedience! Thus, though God had decreed the Fall, in no sense was He the Author of Adam’s sin, and at no point was Adam’s responsibility impaired. Thus may we admire and adore the “manifold wisdom of God”, in devising a way whereby His eternal decree should be accomplished, and yet the responsibility of His creatures be preserved intact.

Perhaps a further word should be added concerning the decretive will of God, particularly in its relation to evil. First of all we take the high ground that, whatever things God does or permits, are right, just, and good, simply because God does or permits them. When Luther gave answer to the question, “Whence it was that Adam was permitted to fall, and corrupt his whole posterity; when God could have prevented him from falling, etc”, he said, “God is a Being whose will acknowledges no cause: neither is it for us to prescribe rules to His sovereign pleasure, or call Him to account for what He does. He has neither superior nor equal; and His will is the rule of all things. He did not thus will such and such things because they were right, and He was bound to will them; but they are therefore equitable and right because He wills them. The will of man, indeed, may be influenced and moved; but God’s will never can. To assert the contrary is to undeify Him” (De Servo, Arb. c/ 153).

To affirm that God decreed the entrance of sin into His universe, and that He foreordained all its fruits and activities, is to say that which, at first may shock the reader; but reflection should show that it is far more shocking to insist that sin has invaded His dominions against His will, and that its exercise is outside His jurisdiction: for in such a case where would be His omnipotency? No; to recognise that God has foreordained all the activities of evil, is to see that He is the Governor of sin: His will determines its exercise, His power regulates its bounds (Ps. 76:10). He is neither the Inspirer nor the Infuser of sin in any of His creatures, but He is its Master, by which we mean God’s management of the wicked is so entire that, they can do nothing save that which His hand and counsel, from everlasting, determined should be done.

Though nothing contrary to holiness and righteousness can ever emanate from God, yet He has, for His own wise ends, ordained His creatures to fall into sin. Had sin never been permitted, how could the justice of God have been displayed in punishing it? How could the wisdom of God have been manifested in so wondrously over-ruling it? How could the grace of God have been exhibited in pardoning it? How could the power of God have been exercised in subduing it? A very solemn and striking proof of Christ’s acknowledgement of God’s decretal of sin is seen in His treatment of Judas. The Saviour knew full well that Judas would betray Him, yet we never read that He expostulated with him! Instead, He said to him, “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27)! Yet, mark this was said after he had received the sop and Satan had taken possession of his heart. Judas was already prepared for and determined on his traitorous work, therefore did Christ permissively (bowing to His Father’s ordination) bid him go forth to his awful work.

Thus, though God is not the Author of sin, and though sin is contrary to His holy nature, yet the existence and operations of it are not contrary to His will, but subservient to it. God never tempts man to sin, but He has, by His eternal counsels (which He is now executing), determined its course. Moreover, as we have shown in chapter 8, though God has decreed man’s sins, yet is man responsible not to commit them, and blameable because he does. Strikingly were these two sides of this awful subject brought together by Christ in that statement of His: “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come (because God has foreordained them); but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh” (Matt. 18:7). So, too, though all which took place at Calvary was by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), nevertheless, “wicked hands” crucified the Lord of glory, and, in consequence, His blood has righteously rested upon them and on their children. High mysteries are these, yet it is both our happy privilege and bounden duty to humbly receive whatsoever God has been pleased to reveal concerning them in His Word of Truth.

APPENDIX 3

THE MEANING OF “KOSMOS” IN JOHN 3:16

It may appear to some of our readers that the exposition we have given of John 3:16 in the chapter on “Difficulties and Objections” is a forced and unnatural one, inasmuch as our definition of the term “world” seems to be out of harmony with the meaning and scope of this word in other passages, where, to supply the world of believers (God’s elect) as a definition of “world” would make no sense. Many have said to us, “Surely, ‘world‘ means world, that is, you, me, and everybody.” In reply we would say: We know from experience how difficult it is to set aside the “traditions of men” and come to a passage which we have heard explained in a certain way scores of times, and study it carefully for ourselves without bias Nevertheless, this is essential if we would learn the mind of God.

Many people suppose they already know the simple meaning of John 3:16, and therefore they conclude that no diligent study is required of them to discover the precise teaching of this verse. Needless to say, such an attitude shuts out any further light which they otherwise might obtain on the passage. Yet, if anyone will take a Concordance and read carefully the various passages in which the term “world” (as a translation of “kosmos“) occurs, he will quickly perceive that to ascertain the precise meaning of, the word “world” in any given passage is not nearly so easy as is popularly supposed. The word “kosmos,” and its English equivalent “world,” is not used with a uniform significance in the New Testament. Very far from it. It is used in quite a number of different ways. Below we will refer to a few passages where this term occurs, suggesting a tentative definition in each case:

Kosmos” is used of the Universe as a whole: Acts 17:24 — “God that made the world and all things therein seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth.”

Kosmos” is used of the earth: John 13:1; Ephesians 1:4, etc., etc.— “When Jesus knew that his hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end.” “Depart out of this world” signifies, leave this earth. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” This expression signifies, before the earth was founded—compare Job 38:4 etc.

Kosmos” is used of the world-system: John 12:31 etc. “Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out”— compare Matthew 4:8 and 1 John
5:19, R. V.

Kosmos” is used of the whole human race: Romans 3:19, etc.—”Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”

Kosmos” is used of humanity minus believers: John 15:18; Romans 3:6 “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” Believers do not “hate” Christ, so that “the world” here must signify the world of unbelievers in contrast from believers who love Christ. “God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world.” Here is another passage where “the world” cannot mean “you, me, and everybody,” for believers will not be “judged” by God, see John 5:24. So that here, too, it must be the world of unbelievers which is in view.

Kosmos” is used of Gentiles in contrast from Jews: Romans 11:12 etc. “Now if the fall of them (Israel) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them (Israel) the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their (Israel’s) fullness.” Note how the first clause in italics is defined by the latter clause placed in italics. Here, again, “the world” cannot signify all humanity for it excludes Israel!

Kosmos” is used of believers only: John 1:29; 3:16, 17; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 5:19. We leave our readers to turn to these passages, asking them to note, carefully, exactly what is said and predicated of “the world” in each place.

Thus it will be seen that “kosmos” has at least seven clearly defined different meanings in the New Testament. It may be asked, Has then God used a word thus to confuse and confound those who read the Scriptures? We answer, No! nor has He written His Word for lazy people who are too dilatory, or too busy with the things of this world, or, like Martha, so much occupied with “serving,” they have no time and no heart to “search” and “study” Holy Writ! Should it be asked further, But how is a searcher of the Scriptures to know which of the above meanings the term “world” has in any given passage? The answer is: This may be ascertained by a careful study of the context, by diligently noting what is predicated of “the world” in each passage, and by prayer fully consulting other parallel passages to the one being studied. The principal subject of John 3:16 is Christ as the Gift of God. The first clause tells us what moved God to “give” His only begotten Son, and that was His great “love;” the second clause informs us for whom God “gave” His Son, and that is for, “whosoever (or, better, ‘every one’) believeth;” while the last clause makes known why God “gave” His Son (His purpose), and that is, that everyone that believeth “should not perish but have everlasting life.” That “the world” in John 3:16 refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from “the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:5), is established, unequivocally established, by a comparison of the other passages which speak of God’s “love.” “God commendeth His love toward US”—the saints, Romans 5:8. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth”—every son, Hebrews 12:6. “We love Him, because He first loved US”—believers, 1 John 4:19. The wicked God “pities” (see Matt. 18:33). Unto the unthankful and evil God is “kind” (see Luke 6:35). The vessels of wrath He endures “with much long-suffering” (see Rom. 9:22). But “His own” God “loves”!!

APPENDIX 4

1 JOHN 2:2

There is one passage more than any other which is appealed to by those who believe in universal redemption, and which at first sight appears to teach that Christ died for the whole human race. We have therefore decided to give it a detailed examination and exposition.

“And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). This is the passage which, apparently, most favours the Arminian view of the Atonement, yet if it be considered attentively it will be seen that it does so only in appearance, and not in reality. Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.

In the first place, the fact that this verse opens with “and” necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2:1 from Bagster’s Interlinear: “Little children my, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin; and if any one should sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous”. It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold: first, to communicate a message that would keep God’s children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of verse 1 and throughout verse 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1:9) be assured that, first, he has an “Advocate with the Father”; second, that this Advocate is “the propitiation for our sins”. Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an “Advocate”, for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation (“and”) with “the Advocate”!

In the second place, if other passages in the New Testament which speak of “propitiation,” be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Romans 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ “a propitiation through faith in His blood”. If Christ is a propitiation “through faith”, then He is not a “propitiation” to those who have no faith! Again, in Hebrews 2:17 we read, “To make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17, R. V.).

In the third place, who are meant when John says, “He is the propitiation for our sins”? We answer, Jewish believers. And a part of the proof on which we base this assertion we now submit to the careful attention of the reader.

In Galatians 2:9 we are told that John, together with James and Cephas, were apostles “unto the circumcision” (i.e. Israel). In keeping with this, the Epistle of James is addressed to “the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad” (1:1). So, the first Epistle of Peter is addressed to “the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion” (1 Pet.1:1, R. V.). And John also is writing to saved Israelites, but for saved Jews and saved Gentiles.

Some of the evidences that John is writing to saved Jews are as follows.

(a) In the opening verse he says of Christ, “Which we have seen with our eyes . . . . and our hands have handled”. How impossible it would have been for the Apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles to Gentile saints with such language!

(b) “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning” (1 John 2:7). The “beginning” here referred to is the beginning of the public manifestation of Christ—in proof compare 1:1; 2:13, etc. Now these believers the apostle tells us, had the “old commandment” from the beginning. This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true of Gentile believers.

(c) “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him from the beginning” (2:13). Here, again, it is evident that it is Jewish believers that are in view.

(d) “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us” (2:18, 19).

These brethren to whom John wrote had “heard” from Christ Himself that Antichrist should come (see Matt. 24). The “many antichrists” whom John declares “went out from us” were all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says “He is the propitiation for our sins” he can only mean for the sins of Jewish believers. 16

16 It is true that many things in John’s Epistle apply equally to believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Christ is the Advocate of the one, as much as of the other. The same may be said of many things in the Epistle of James which is also a catholic, or general epistle, though expressly addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad.

In the fourth place, when John added, “And not for ours only, but also for the whole world”, he signified that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of Gentile believers too, for, as previously shown, “the world” is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of 1 John 2:2 with John 11:51,52, which is a strictly parallel passage: “And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”. Here Caiaphas, under inspiration, made known for whom Jesus should “die”. Notice now the correspondency of his prophecy with this declaration of John’s:


1 John 2:2

John 11:51, 52

“He is the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins”.

“He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation”.

“And not for ours only”.

“And not for that nation only”.

“But also for the whole world”—That is, Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth.

“He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”.

In the fifth place, the above interpretation is confirmed by the fact that no other is consistent or intelligible. If the “whole world” signifies the whole human race, then the first clause and the “also” in the second clause are absolutely meaningless. If Christ is the propitiation for everybody, it would be idle tautology to say, first, “He is the propitiation for our sins and also for everybody”. There could be no “also” if He is the propitiation for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal propitiation he had omitted the first clause of verse 2, and simply said, “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Confirmatory of “not for ours (Jewish believers) only, but also for the whole world”—Gentile believers, too; compare John 10:16; 17:20.

In the sixth place, our definition of “the whole world” is in perfect accord with other passages in the New Testament. For example: “Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world”(Col. 1:5, 6). Does “all the world” here mean, absolutely and unqualifiedly, all mankind? Had all the human family heard the Gospel? No; the apostle’s obvious meaning is that, the Gospel, instead of being confined to the land of Judea, had gone abroad, without restraint, into Gentile lands. So in Romans 1:8: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world”. The apostle is here referring to the faith of these Roman saints being spoken of in a way of commendation. But certainly all mankind did not so speak of their faith! It was the whole world of believers that he was referring to! In Revelation 12:9 we read of Satan “which deceiveth the whole world”. But again this expression cannot be understood as a universal one, for Matthew 24:24 tells us that Satan does not and cannot “deceive” God’s elect. Here it is “the whole world” of unbelievers.

In the seventh place, to insist that “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 signifies the entire human race is to undermine the very foundations of our faith. If Christ is the propitiation for those that are lost equally as much as for those that are saved, then what assurance have we that believers too may not be lost? If Christ is the propitiation for those now in hell, what guarantee have I that I may not end in hell? The blood-shedding of the incarnate Son of God is the only thing which can keep any one out of hell, and if many for whom that precious blood made propitiation are now in the awful place of the damned, then may not that blood prove inefficacious for me! Away with such a God-dishonouring thought.

However men may quibble and wrest the Scriptures, one thing is certain: The Atonement is no failure. God will not allow that precious and costly sacrifice to fail in accomplishing, completely, that which it was designed to effect. Not a drop of that holy blood was shed in vain. In the last great Day there shall stand forth no disappointed and defeated Saviour, but One who “shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). These are not our words, but the infallible assertion of Him who declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 64:10). Upon this impregnable rock we take our stand. Let others rest on the sands of human speculation and twentieth-century theorising if they wish. That is their business. But to God they will yet have to render an account. For our part we had rather be railed at as a narrow-minded, out-of-date, hyper-Calvinist, than be found repudiating God’s truth by reducing the Divinely-efficacious atonement to a mere fiction.

John Owen (1616-1683) – CHRISTOLOGIA (P01 of 08)

CHRISTOLOGIA (P01 of 08)

By

John Owen (1616-1683)

Copyright: Public Domain

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Christologia: or a Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ – God and Man:

ΧΡΙΣΤΟΛΟΓΙΑ: OR, A DECLARATION OF THE GLORIOUS MYSTERY OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST – GOD AND MAN:

WITH

THE INFINITE WISDOM, LOVE, AND POWER OF GOD IN THE

CONTRIVANCE AND CONSTITUTION THEREOF;

AS ALSO,

OF THE GROUNDS AND REASONS OF HIS INCARNATION;

THE NATURE OF HIS MINISTRY IN HEAVEN;

THE PRESENT STATE OF THE CHURCH ABOVE THEREON;

AND THE USE OF HIS PERSON IN RELIGION:

WITH

AN ACCOUNT AND VINDICATION OF THE HONOUR, WORSHIP, FAITH,

LOVE, AND OBEDIENCE DUE UNTO HIM, IN AND FROM THE CHURCH.

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of

Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them

but dung, that I may win Christ.” — Phil. iii. 8.

 

Prefatory Note.

The object of Dr Owen in this treatise is to illustrate the mystery of divine grace in the person of Christ. It bears the title, “Christologia;” but it differs considerably from modern works of the same title or character. It is not occupied with a formal induction from Scripture in proof of the supreme Godhead of the Saviour. Owen assumes the truth of this doctrine, and applies all his powers and resources to expound its relations in the Christian system, and its bearings on Christian duty and experience.

Chapter I. of the work is devoted to an exposition of Matt. xvi. 16, as a warrant and basis for his inquiry respecting the person of Christ. Chapter II. contains some historical references to the opposition encountered by this doctrine in past ages. From Chapter III. to VII. inclusive, the person of Christ is exhibited as the origin of all true religion, the foundation of the divine counsel, the representation of the divine nature and will, the embodiment and sum of divine truth, and the source of divine and gracious efficacy for the salvation of the church. The faith of the Old Testament Church respecting it is illustrated in Chapter VIII. Then follows the second leading division of the treatise, in which the divine honours and obedience due to Christ, and our obligation to seek conformity to him, are urged at some length, from Chapter IX. to XV. It is followed in Chapters XVI. and XVII. with an inquiry into the divine wisdom as manifested in the person of Christ. The hypostatical union is explained, Chapter XVIII. Two more Chapters, XIX. and XX., close the work, with a dissertation on the exaltation of Christ, and the mode in which he discharges his mediatorial functions in heaven.

The treatise was first published in 1679. We are not informed under what particular circumstances Owen was led to prepare it. There is internal evidence in the work itself that he laboured under a strong impression of the peril in which evangelical religion would be involved, if views of the person of Christ, either positively unsound or simple vague and defective, obtained currency in the British churches. His acquaintance with the early history of the church taught him that against this doctrine the persevering assaults of Satan had been directed; and, with sagacious foresight, he anticipated the rise of heresy on this point in England. He speaks of “woeful contests” respecting it, — increasing rather than abating “unto this very day;” and intimates his conviction, in language which elucidates his main design in this work, that the only way by which they could be terminated was to enthrone Christ anew in the hearts and consciences of men.

Events ensued which justified these apprehensions of Owen. A prolonged controversy on the subject of the Trinity arose, which drew forth the works of Bull (1686), Sherlock (1690), and South (1695). In 1710, Whiston was expelled from Oxford for his Arianism. Dr S. Clarke, in 1712, published Arian views, for which he was summoned before the Convocation. Among the Presbyterian Dissenters, Pierce and Hallet (1717) became openly committed to Arianism. Dr Isaac Watts who succeeded (1702) to the charge of the same congregation in London which had been under the care of Owen, broached the Indwelling Scheme; according to which the Father is so united to the man Christ Jesus, whose human soul pre-existed his coming in the flesh, that, through this indwelling of the Godhead, he became properly God.

The Christology of Owen has always been highly valued, and will be of use to all ages of the church: — “A work,” says the late Dr M’Crie, “which, together with its continuation, the ‘Meditations on the Glory of Christ,’ of all the theological works published by individuals since the Reformation, next to ‘Calvin’s Institutions’, we would have deemed it our highest honour to have produced.” — Ed.

The Preface.

It is a great promise concerning the person of Christ, as he was to be given unto the church, (for he was a child born, a son given unto us, Isa. ix. 6,) that God would “lay him in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation,” whereon “he that believeth shall not make haste:” Isa. xxviii. 16. Yet was it also foretold concerning him, that this precious foundation should be “for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel; for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;” so as that “many among them should stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken:” Isa. viii. 14, 15. According unto this promise and prediction it hath fallen out in all ages of the church; as the apostle Peter declares concerning the first of them. “Wherefore also,” saith he, “it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto ye therefore which believe, he is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed:” 1 Epist. chap. ii. ver. 6–8.

Unto them that believe unto the saving of the soul, he is, he always hath been, precious — the sun, the rock, the life, the bread of their souls — every thing that is good, useful, amiable, desirable, here or unto eternity. In, from, and by him, is all their spiritual and eternal life, light, power, growth, consolation, and joy here; with everlasting salvation hereafter. By him alone do they desire, expect, and obtain deliverance from that woeful apostasy from God, which is accompanied with — which containeth in it virtually and meritoriously — whatever is evil, noxious, and destructive unto our nature, and which, without relief, will issue in eternal misery. By him are they brought into the nearest cognation, alliance, and friendship with God, the firmest union unto him, and the most holy communion with him, that our finite natures are capable of, and so conducted unto the eternal enjoyment of him. For in him “shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory;” (Isa. xlv. 25;) for “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation;” they “shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end:” verse 17.

On these and the like accounts, the principal design of their whole lives unto whom he is thus precious, is to acquaint themselves with him — the mystery of the wisdom, grace, and love of God, in his person and mediation, as revealed unto us in the Scripture, which is “life eternal;” (John xvii. 3) — to trust in him, and unto him, as to all the everlasting concernments of their souls — to love and honour him with all their hearts — to endeavour after conformity to him, in all those characters of divine goodness and holiness which are represented unto them in him. In these things consist the soul, life, power, beauty, and efficacy of the Christian religion; without which, whatever outward ornaments may be put upon its exercise, it is but a useless, lifeless carcass. The whole of this design is expressed in these heavenly words of the apostle: (Phil. iii. 8–12). “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” This is a divine expression of that frame of heart — of that design — which is predominant and efficacious in them unto whom Christ is precious.

But, on the other hand, (according unto the fore-mentioned prediction,) as he hath been a sure foundation unto all that believe, so he hath in like manner been “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence unto them that stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” There is nothing in him — nothing wherein he is concerned — nothing of him, his person, his natures, his office, his grace, his love, his power, his authority, his relation unto the church — but it hath been unto many a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. Concerning these things have been all the woeful contests which have fallen out and been managed among those that outwardly have made profession of the Christian religion. And the contentions about them do rather increase than abate, unto this very day; the dismal fruits whereof the world groaneth under, and is no longer able to bear. For, as the opposition unto the Lord Christ in these things, by men of perverse minds, hath ruined their own souls — as having dashed themselves in pieces against this everlasting rock — so in conjunction with other lusts and interests of the carnal minds of men, it hath filled the world itself with blood and confusion.

The re-enthroning of the Person, Spirit, Grace, and Authority of Christ, in the hearts and consciences of men, is the only way whereby an end may be put unto these woeful conflicts. But this is not to be expected in any degree of perfection amongst them who stumble at this stone of offence, whereunto they were appointed; though in the issue he will herein also send forth judgment unto victory, and all the meek of the earth shall follow after it. In the meantime, as those unto whom he is thus a rock of offence — in his person, his spirit, his grace, his office, and authority — are diligent and restless (in their various ways and forms, in lesser or higher degrees, in secret artifices, or open contradictions unto any or all of them, under various pretences, and for divers ends, even secular advantages some of them, which the craft of Satan hath prepared for the ensnaring of them) in all ways of opposition unto his glory; so it is the highest duty of them unto whom he is precious, whose principal design is to be found built on him as the sure foundation, as to hold the truth concerning him, (his person, spirit, grace, office, and authority,) and to abound in all duties of faith, love, trust, honour, and delight in him — so also to declare his excellency, to plead the cause of his glory, to vindicate his honour, and to witness him the only rest and reward of the souls of men, as they are called and have opportunity.

This, and no other, is the design of the ensuing treatise; wherein, as all things fall unspeakably short of the glory, excellency, and sublimity of the subject treated of, (for no mind can conceive, no tongue can express, the real substantial glory of them,) so there is no doubt but that in all the parts of it there is a reflection of failings and imperfections, from the weakness of its author. But yet I must say with confidence, that in the whole, that eternal truth of God concerning the mystery of his wisdom, love, grace, and power, in the person and mediation of Christ, with our duties towards himself therein, even the Father, Son, and eternal Spirit, is pleaded and vindicated, which shall never be shaken by the utmost endeavours and oppositions of the gates of hell.

And in the acknowledgment of the truth concerning these things consists, in an especial manner, that faith which was the life and glory of the primitive church, which they earnestly contended for, wherein and whereby they were victorious against all the troops of stumbling adversaries by whom it was assaulted. In giving testimony hereunto, they loved not their lives unto the death, but poured out their blood like water, under all the pagan persecutions, which had no other design but to cast them down and separate them from this impregnable rock, this precious foundation. In the defence of these truths did they conflict, in prayers, studies, travels, and writings, against the swarms of seducers by whom they were opposed. And, for this cause, I thought to have confirmed the principal passages of the ensuing discourse with some testimonies from the most ancient writers of the first ages of the church; but I omitted that cause, as fearing that the interposition of such passages might obstruct instead of promoting the edification of the common sort of readers, which I principally intended. Yet, withal, I thought not good utterly to neglect that design, but to give at least a specimen of their sentiments about the principal truths pleaded for, in this preface to the whole. But herein, also, I met with a disappointment; for the bookseller having, unexpectedly unto me, finished the printing of the discourse itself, I must be contented to make use of what lieth already collected under my hand, not having leisure or time to make any farther inquiry.

I shall do something of this nature, the rather because I shall have occasion thereby to give a summary account of some of the principal parts of the discourse itself, and to clear some passages in it, which by some may be apprehended obscure.

Chap. I. The foundation of the whole is laid in the indication of those words of our blessed Saviour, wherein he declares himself to be the rock whereon the church is built: Matt. xvi. 18. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The pretended ambiguity of these words hath been wrested by the secular interests of men, to give occasion unto that prodigious controversy among Christians, viz., whether Jesus Christ or the Pope of Rome be the rock whereon the church is built. Those holy men of old unto whom Christ was precious, being untainted with the desires of secular grandeur and power, knew nothing hereof. Testimonies may be — they have been — multiplied by others unto this purpose. I shall mention some few of them.

Οὗτός ἔστιν ἡ πρὸσ τὸν Πατέρα ἄγουσα ὁδὸς, ἡ πέτρα, ἡ κλεὶς, ὁ ποιμὴν, &c., saith Ignatius: Epist. ad Philadelph. — “He” (that is, Christ) “is the way leading unto the Father, the rock, the key, the shepherd” — wherein he hath respect unto this testimony. And Origen expressly denies the words to be spoken of Peter, in Matt. xvi: (Tract. i.:) “ Quod si super unum illum Petrum tantum existimes totam ecclesiam ædificari, quid dicturus es de Johanne, et apostolorum unoquoque? Num audebimus dicere quod adversus Petrum unum non prevalituræ sunt portæ inferorum? ” — “If you shall think that the whole church was built on Peter alone, what shall we say of John, and each of the apostles? What! shall we dare to say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Peter only?” So he [held,] according unto the common opinion of the ancients, that there was nothing peculiar in the confession of Peter, and the answer made thereunto as unto himself, but that he spake and was spoken unto in the name of all the rest of the apostles. Euseb.Præparat. Evang., lib. i. cap. 3: Ἥτε ὀνομαστὶ προθεσπισθεῖσα ἐκκλεσία αὐτοῦ ἕστηκε κατὰ βάθους ἐῤῥιζωμένη, καὶ μέχρις οὐρανίων ἁψίδων εὐχαῖς ὁσίων καὶ θεοφιλῶν ἀνδρῶν μετεωριζομένη — διὰ μίαν ἐκείνην, ἥν αὐτὸς ἀπεφήνατο λέξιν, εἴπων, Ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλεσίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσυσιν αὐτῆς. He proves the verity of divine predictions from the glorious accomplishment of that word, and the promise of our Saviour, that he would build his church on the rock, (that is, himself,) so as that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. For “Unum hoc est immobile fundamentum, una hæc est felix fidei Petra, Petri ore confessa, Tu es filius Dei vivi,” says Hilaryde Trin., lib. ii. — “This is the only immovable foundation, this is the blessed rock of faith confessed by Peter, Thou art the Son of the living God.” And Epiphanius, Hær. xxxix.: Ἐπὶ τῇ πέτρᾳ ταύτῃ τῆς ἀσφαλοῦς πίστεως οἰκοδομήσω μοῦ τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. — “Upon this rock” of assured faith “I will build my church.” For many thought that faith itself was metonymically called the Rock, because of its object, or the person of Christ, which is so.

One or two more out of Augustine shall close these testimonies: “ Super hanc Petram, quam confessus es, super meipsum filium Dei vivi, ædificabo ecclesiam meam. Super me ædificabo te, non me super te :” De Verbis Dom., Serm. xiii. — “Upon this rock which thou hast confessed — upon myself, the Son of the living God — I will build my church. I will build thee upon myself, and not myself on thee.” And he more fully declareth his mind: (Tract. cxxiv., in Johan.:) “Universam significabat ecclesiam, quæ in hoc seculo diversis tentationibus, velut imbribus, fluminibus, tempestatibusque quatitur, et non cadit; quoniam fundata est supra Petram; unde et Petrus nomen accepit. Non enim a Petro Petra, sed Petrus a Petra; sicut non Christus a Christiano, sed Christianus a Christo vocatur. Ideo quippe ait Dominus, ‘Super hanc Petram ædificabo ecclesiam meam,’ quia dixerat Petrus, ‘Tu es Christus filius Dei vivi.’ ‘Super hanc ergo’ (inquit) ‘Petram quam confessus es, ædificabo eccleaism meam.’ Petra enim erat Christus, super quod fundamentum etiam ipse ædificatus est Petrus. Fundamentum quippe aliud nemo potest ponere, præter id quod positum est, quod est Jesus Christus.” — “He (Christ) meant the universal church, which in this world is shaken with divers temptations, as with showers, floods, and tempests, yet falleth not, because it is built on the rock (Petra) from whence Peter took his name. For the rock is not called Petra from Peter, but Peter is so called from Petra the rock; as Christ is not so called from Christian, but Christian from Christ. Therefore, said the Lord, ‘Upon this rock will I build my church;’ because Peter said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Upon this rock, which thou hast confessed, will I build my church. For Christ himself was the rock on which foundation Peter himself was built. For other foundation can no man lay, save that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Chap. II. Against this rock, this foundation of the church — the person of Christ, and the faith of the church concerning it — great opposition hath been made by the gates of hell. Not to mention the rage of the pagan world, endeavouring by all effects of violence and cruelty to cast the church from this foundation; all the heresies wherewith from the beginning, and for some centuries of years ensuing, it was pestered, consisted in direct and immediate oppositions unto the eternal truth concerning the person of Christ. Some that are so esteemed, indeed, never pretended unto any sobriety, but were mere effects of delirant [raving] imaginations; yet did even they also, one way or other, derive from an hatred unto the person of Christ, and centred therein. Their beginning was early in the church, even before the writing of the gospel by John, or of his Revelation, and indeed before some of Paul’s epistles. And although their beginning was but small, and seemingly contemptible, yet, being full of the poison of the old serpent, they diffused themselves in various shapes and forms, until there was nothing left of Christ — nothing that related unto him, not his natures, divine or human, not their properties nor acting, not his person, nor the union of his natures therein — that was not opposed and assaulted by them. Especially so soon as the gospel had subdued the Roman empire unto Christ, and was owned by the rulers of it, the whole world was for some ages filled with uproars, confusion, and scandalous disorders about the person of Christ, through the cursed oppositions made thereunto by the gates of hell. Neither had the church any rest from these conflicts for about five hundred years. But near that period of time, the power of truth and religion beginning universally to decay among the outward professors of them, Satan took advantage to make that havoc and destruction of the church — by superstition, false worship, and profaneness of life — which he failed of in his attempt against the person of Christ, or the doctrine of truth concerning it.

It would be a tedious work, and, it may be, not of much profit unto them who are utterly unacquainted with things so long past and gone, wherein they seem to have no concernment, to give a specimen of the several heresies whereby attempts were made against this rock and foundation of the church. Unto those who have inquired into the records of antiquity, it would be altogether useless. For almost every page of them, at first view, presents the reader with an account of some one or more of them. Yet do I esteem it useful, that the very ordinary sort of Christians should, at least in general, be acquainted with what hath passed in this great contest about the person of Christ, from the beginning. For there are two things relating thereunto wherein their faith is greatly concerned. First, There is evidence given therein unto the truth of those predictions of the Scripture, wherein this fatal apostasy from the truth, and opposition unto the Lord Christ, are foretold: and, secondly, An eminent instance of his power and faithfulness, in the appointment and conquest of the gates of hell in the management of this opposition. But they have been all reckoned up, and digested into methods of time and matter, by many learned men, (of old and of late,) so that I shall not in this occasional discourse represent them unto the reader again. Only I shall give a brief account of the ways and means whereby they who retained the profession of the truth contended for it, unto a conquest over the pernicious heresies wherewith it was opposed.

The defence of the truth, from the beginning, was left in charge unto, and managed by, the guides and rulers of the church in their several capacities. And by the Scripture it was that they discharged their duty confirmed with apostolical tradition consonant thereunto. This was left in charge unto them by the great apostle, Acts xx. 28–31; 1 Tim. vi. 13, 14; 2 Tim. ii. 1, 2, 15, 23, 24, iv. 1–5, and wherein any of them failed in this duty, they were reproved by Christ himself: Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20. Nor were private believers (in their places and capacities) either unable for this duty or exempt from it, but discharged themselves faithfully therein, according unto commandment given unto them: 1 John ii. 20, 27, iv. 1–3; 2 John 8, 9. All true believers, in their several stations — by mutual watchfulness, preaching, or writing, according unto their calls and abilities — effectually used the outward means for the preservation and propagation of the faith of the church. And the same means are still sufficient unto the same ends, were they attended unto with conscience and diligence. The pretended defence of truth with arts and arms of another kind hath been the bane of religion, and lost the peace of Christians beyond recovery. And it may be observed, that whilst this way alone for the preservation of the truth was insisted on and pursued, although innumerable heresies arose one after another, and sometimes many together, yet they never made any great progress, nor arrived unto any such consistency as to make a stated opposition unto the truth; but the errors themselves and their authors, were as vagrant meteors, which appeared for a little while, and vanished away. Afterwards it was not so, when other ways and means for the suppression of heresies were judged convenient and needful.

For in process of time, when the power of the Roman empire gave countenance and protection unto the Christian religion, another way was fixed on for this end, viz., the use of such assemblies of bishops and others as they called General Councils, armed with a mixed power, partly civil and partly ecclesiastical — with respect unto the authority of the emperors and that jurisdiction in the church which began then to be first talked of. This way was begun in the Council of Nice, wherein, although there was a determination of the doctrine concerning the person of Christ — then in agitation, and opposed, as unto his divine nature therein — according unto the truth, yet sundry evils and inconveniences ensued thereon. For thenceforth the faith of Christians began greatly to be resolved into the authority of men, and as much, if not more weight to be laid on what was decreed by the fathers there assembled, than on what was clearly taught in the Scriptures. Besides, being necessitated, as they thought, to explain their conceptions of the divine nature of Christ in words either not used in the Scripture, or whose signification unto that purpose was not determined therein, occasion was given unto endless contentions about them. The Grecians themselves could not for a long season agree among themselves whether οὐσία and ὑπόστασις were of the same signification or no, (both of them denoting essence and substance,) or whether they differed in their signification, or if they did, wherein that difference lay. Athanasius at first affirmed them to be the same: Orat. v. con. Arian., and Epist. ad African.Basil denied them so to be, or that they were used unto the same purpose in the Council of Nice: Epist. lxxviii. The like difference immediately fell out between the Grecians and Latins about “hypostasis” and “persona.” For the Latins rendered “hypostasis” by “substantia,” and πρόσωπον by “persona.” Hereof Jerome complains, in his Epistle to Damasus, that they required of him in the East to confess “tres hypostases,” and he would only acknowledge “tres personas:” Epist. lxxi. And Augustine gives an account of the same difference: De Trinitate, lib v. cap. 8, 9. Athanasius endeavoured the composing of this difference, and in a good measure effected it, as Gregory Nazianzen affirms in his oration concerning his praise. It was done by him in a synod at Alexandria, in the first year of Julian’s reign. On this occasion many contests arose even among them who all pleaded their adherence unto the doctrine of the Council of Nice. And as the subtle Arians made incredible advantage hereof at first, pretending that they opposed not the deity of Christ, but only the expression of it by of ὁμοούσιος, so afterwards they countenanced themselves in coining words and terms, to express their minds with, which utterly rejected it. Hence were their ὁμοιούσιος, ἑτερούσιος, ἐξ οὐκ ὂντων, and the like names of blasphemy, about which the contests were fierce and endless. And there were yet farther evils that ensued hereon. For the curious and serpentine wits of men, finding themselves by this means set at liberty to think and discourse of those mysteries of the blessed Trinity, and the person of Christ, without much regard unto plain divine testimonies, (in such ways wherein cunning and sophistry did much bear sway,) began to multiply such new, curious, and false notions about them, especially about the latter, as caused new disturbances, and those of large extent and long continuance. For their suppression, councils were called on the neck of one another, whereon commonly new occasions of differences did arise, and most of them managed with great scandal unto the Christian religion. For men began much to forego the primitive ways of opposing errors and extinguishing heresies; betaking themselves unto their interest, the number of their party, and their prevalence with the present emperors. And although it so fell out — as in that at Constantinople, the first at Ephesus, and that at Chalcedon — that the truth (for the substance of it) did prevail, (for in many others it happened quite otherwise,) yet did they always give occasions unto new divisions, animosities, and even mutual hatreds, among the principal leaders of the Christian people. And great contests there were among some of those who pretended to believe the same truth, whether such or such a council should be received — that is, plainly, whether the church should resolve its faith into their authority. The strifes of this nature about the first Ephesian Council, and that at Chalcedon, not to mention those wherein the Arians prevailed, take up a good part of the ecclesiastical story of those days. And it cannot be denied, but that some of the principal persons and assemblies who adhered unto the truth did, in the heat of opposition unto the heresies of other men, fall into unjustifiable excess themselves.

We may take an instance hereof with respect unto the Nestorian heresy, condemned in the first Ephesian Council, and afterwards in that at Chalcedon. Cyril of Alexandria, a man learned and vehement, designed by all means to be unto it what his predecessor Athanasius had been to the Arian; but he fell into such excesses in his undertakings, as gave great occasion unto farther tumults. For it is evident that he distinguisheth not between ὑπόστασις and φύσις, and therefore affirms, that the divine Word and humanity had μία φύσιν, one nature only. So he doth plainly in Epist. ad Successum: “They are ignorant,” saith he, ὅτι κατʼ ἀλήθειαν ἐστὶ μία φύσις τοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη. Hence Eutyches the Archimandrite took occasion to run into a contrary extreme, being a no less fierce enemy to Nestoriusthan Cyril was. For to oppose him who divided the person of Christ into two, he confounded his natures into one — his delirant folly being confirmed by that goodly assembly, the second at Ephesus. Besides, it is confessed that Cyril — through the vehemency of his spirit, hatred unto Nestorius, and following the conduct of his own mind in nice and subtle expressions of the great mystery of the person of Christ — did utter many things exceeding the bounds of sobriety prescribed unto us by the apostle, (Rom. xii. 3, if not those of truth itself. Hence it is come to pass, that many learned men begin to think and write that Cyril was in the wrong, and Nestorius by his means condemned undeservedly. However, it is certain to me, that the doctrine condemned at Ephesus and Chalcedon as the doctrine of Nestorius, was destructive of the true person of Christ; and that Cyril, though he missed it in sundry expressions, yet aimed at the declaration and confirmation of the truth; as he was long since vindicated by Theorianus: Dialog. con. Armenios.

However, such was the watchful care of Christ over the church, as unto the preservation of this sacred, fundamental truth, concerning his divine person, and the union of his natures therein, retaining their distinct properties and operations, that — notwithstanding all the faction and disorder that were in those primitive councils, and the scandalous contests of many of the members of them; notwithstanding the determination contrary unto it in great and numerous councils — the faith of it was preserved entire in the hearts of all that truly believed, and triumphed over the gates of hell.

I have mentioned these few things, which belong unto the promise and prediction of our blessed Saviour in Matt. xvi. 18, (the place insisted on,) to show that the church, without any disadvantage to the truth, may be preserved without such general assemblies, which, in the following ages, proved the most pernicious engines for the corruption of the faith, worship, and manners of it. Yea, from the beginning, they were so far from being the only way of preserving truth, that it was almost constantly prejudiced by the addition of their authority unto the confirmation of it. Nor was there any one of them wherein “the mystery of iniquity” did not work, unto the laying of some rubbish in the foundation of that fatal apostasy which afterwards openly ensued. The Lord Christ himself hath taken it upon him to build his church on this rock of his person, by true faith of it and in it. He sends his Holy Spirit to bear testimony unto him, in all the blessed effects of his power and grace. He continueth his Word, with the faithful ministry of it, to reveal, declare, make known, and vindicate his sacred truth, unto the conviction of gainsayers. He keeps up that faith in him, that love unto him, in the hearts of all his elect, as shall not be prevailed against. Wherefore, although the oppositions unto this sacred truth, this fundamental article of the church and the Christian religion — concerning his divine person, its constitution, and use, as the human nature conjoined substantially unto it, and subsisting in it — are in this last age increased; although they are managed under so great a variety of forms, as that they are not reducible unto any heads of order; although they are promoted with more subtlety and specious pretences than in former ages; yet, if we are not wanting unto our duty, with the aids of grace proposed unto us, we shall finally triumph in this cause, and transmit this sacred truth inviolate unto them that succeed us in the profession of it.

Chap. III. This person of Christ, which is the foundation whereon the church is built, whereunto all sorts of oppositions are endeavoured and designed, is the most ineffable effect of divine goodness and wisdom — whereof we treat in the next place. But herein, when I speak of the constitution of the person of Christ, I intend not his person absolutely, as he is the eternal Son of God. He was truly, really, completely, a divine person from eternity, which is included in the notion of his being the Son, and so distinct from the Father, which is his complete personality. His being so was not a voluntary contrivance or effect of divine wisdom and goodness, his eternal generation being a necessary internal act of the divine nature in the person of the Father.

Of the eternal generation of the divine person of the Son, the sober writers of the ancient church did constantly affirm that it was firmly to be believed, but as unto the manner of it not to be inquired into. “Scrutator majestatis absorbetur a gloria,” was their rule; and the curious disputes of Alexander and Arius about it, gave occasion unto that many-headed monster of the Arian heresy which afterwards ensued. For when once men of subtile heads and unsanctified hearts gave themselves up to inquire into things infinitely above their understanding and capacity — being vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds — they fell into endless divisions among themselves, agreeing only in an opposition unto the truth. But those who contented themselves to be wise unto sobriety, repressed this impious boldness. To this purpose speaks Lactantius: (lib. iv., De Verâ Sapient.:) “Quomodo igitur procreavit? Nec sciri a quoquam possunt, nec narrari, opera divina; sed tamen sacræ literæ docent illum Dei filium, Dei esse sermonem.” — “How, therefore, did the Father beget the Son? These divine works can be known of none, declared by none; but the holy writings” (wherein it is determined) “teach that he is the Son of God, that he is the Word of God.” And Ambrose: (De Fide, ad Gratianum:) “Quæro abs te, quando aut quomodo putes filium esse generatum? Mihi enim impossibile est scire generationis secretum. Mens deficit, vox silet, non mea tantum, sed et angelorum. Supra potestates, supra angelos, supra cherubim, supra seraphim, supra omnem sensum est. Tu quoque manum ori admove; scrutari non licet superna mysteria. Licet scire quod natus sit, non licet discutere quomodo natus sit; illud negare mihi non licet, hoc quærere metus est. Nam si Paulus ea quæ audivit, raptus in tertium coelum, ineffabilia dicit, quomodo nos exprimere possumus paternæ generationis arcanum, quod nec sentire potuimus nec audire? Quid te ista questionum tormenta delectant?” — “I inquire of you when and how the Son was begotten? Impossible it is to me to know the mystery of this generation. My mind faileth, my voice is silent — and not only mine, but of the angels; it is above principalities, above angels, above the cherubim, above the seraphim, above all understanding. Lay thy hand on thy mouth; it is not lawful to search into these heavenly mysteries. It is lawful to know that he was born — it is not lawful to discuss how he was born; that it is not lawful for me to deny — this I am afraid to inquire into. For if Paul, when he was taken into the third heaven, affirms that the things which he heard could not be uttered; how can we express the mystery of the divine generation, which we can neither apprehend nor hear? Why do such tormenting questions delight thee?”

Ephraim Syrus wrote a book to this purpose, against those who would search out the nature of the Son of God. Among many other things to the same purpose are his words: (cap. ii.:) “Infelix profecto, miser, atque impudentissimus est, qui scrutari cupot Opificem suum. Millia millium, et centies millies millena millia angelorum et archangelorum, cum horrore glorificant, et trementes adorant; et homines lutei, pleni peccatis, de divinitate intrepide disserunt? Non illorum exhorrescit corpus, non contremescit animus; sed securi et garruli, de Christo Dei filio, qui pro me indigno peccatore passus est, deque ipsius utraque generatione loquuntur; nec saltem quod in luce cæcutiunt, sentiunt.” — “He is unhappy, miserable, and most impudent, who desires to examine or search out his Maker. Thousands of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of millions of angels and archangels, do glorify him with dread, and adore him with trembling; and shall men of clay, full of sins, dispute of the Deity without fear? Horror doth not shake their bodies, their minds do not tremble, but being secure and prating, they speak of the Son of God, who suffered for me, unworthy sinner, and of both his nativities or generations; at least they are not sensible how blind they are in the light.” To the same purpose speaks Eusebius at large: Demonstratio Evang., lib. v. cap. 2.

Leo well adds hereunto the consideration of his incarnation, in these excellent words: (Serm. ix., De Nativit.:) “Quia in Christo Jesu Filio Dei non solum ad divinam essentiam, sed etiam ad humanam spectat naturam, quo dictum est per prophetam — ‘generationem ejus quis enarrabit?’ — (utramque enim substantiam in unam convenisse personam, nisi fides credat, sermo non explicat; et ideo materia nunquam deficit laudis; qui nunquam sufficit copia laudatoris) — gaudeamus igitur quod ad eloquendum tantum, misericordiæ sacramentum impares sumus; et cum salutis nostræ altitudinem promere non valeamus, sentiamus nobis bonum esse quod vincimur. Nemo enim ad cognitionem veritatis magis propinquat, quam qui intelligit, in rebus divinis, etiamsi multum proficiat, semper sibi superesse quod quærat.” See also Fulg., lib. ii. ad Thrasimund.

But I speak of the person of Christ as unto the assumption of the substantial adjunct of the human nature, not to be a part whereof his person is composed, but as unto its subsistence therein by virtue of a substantial union. Some of the ancients, I confess, speak freely of the composition of the person of Christ in and by the two natures, the divine and human. That the Son of God after his incarnation had one nature, composed of the Deity and humanity, was the heresy of Apollinarius, Eutyches, the Monothelites, or Monophysites, condemned by all. But that his most simple divine nature, and the human, composed properly of soul and body, did compose his one person, or that it was composed of them, they constantly affirmed. Τὸν Θεοῦ μεσίτην καὶ ἀνθρώπων, κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς συγκεῖσθαι φάμεν ἔκ τε τῆς καθʼ ἡμας ἀνθρωπότητος τελείως ἐχοῦσας κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον λόγον, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πεφηνότος, ἐκ Θεοῦ κατὰ φύσιν υἱοῦ, saith Cyril of Alexandria. — “A sanctis patribus adunatione ex divinitate et humanitate Christus Dominus noster compositus prædicatur:” Pet. Diacon., Lib. De Incarnat. et Grat. Christi, ad Fulgentium. And the union which they intended by this composition they called ἕνωσιν φυσικὴν, because it was of diverse natures, and ἕνωσιν κατὰ σύνθεσιν, a union by composition.

But because there neither was nor can be any composition, properly so called, of the divine and human natures, and because the Son of God was a perfect person before his incarnation, wherein he remained what he was, and was made what he was not, the expression hath been forsaken and avoided; the union being better expressed by the assumption of a substantial adjunct, or the human nature into personal subsistence with the Son of God, as shall be afterwards explained. This they constantly admire as the most ineffable effect of divine wisdom and grace: Ὁ ἄσαρκος σαρκοῦται, ὁ λόγος παχύνεται, ὁ ἀόρατος ὁρᾶται, ὁ ἀναφὴς ψηλαφᾶται, ὁ ἄχρονος ἄρχεται, ὁ υἱὸς Θεοῦ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου γίνεται, saith Gregory Nazianzen, (Orat. xii.,) in admiration of this mystery. Hereby God communicates all things unto us from his own glorious fulness, the near approaches whereof we are not able to bear.

So is it illustrated by Eusebius: (Demonst. Evang., lib. iv. cap.5, &c.:) Οὓτω δὲ φωτὸς ἡλίου μία καὶ ἡ αὐτὴ προσβολὴ ὁμοῦ καὶ κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ καταυγάζει μὲν ἀέρα, φωτίζει δὲ ὀφθαλμοὺς, ἁφὴν δὲ θερμαίνει, πιαίνει δὲ γῆν, αὔξει δὲ φυτὰ, κ. τ. λ. (cap. vi.) Εἰ γοῦν ὥς ἐν ὑποθέσει λόγου, καθεὶς οὐρανόθεν αὐτὸς ἑαυτὸν παμφαὴς ἥλιος σὺν ἀνθρώποις ἐπὶ γῆς πολιτευοίτο, οὐδένα τῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς μείναι ἂν ἀδιάφορον, πάντων συλλήβδην ἐμψύχων ὁμοῦ καὶ ἀψυχων ἀθρόᾳ τῃ τοῦ φωτὸς προσβολῇ διαφθαρησομένων. The sense of which words, with some that follow in the same place, is unto this purpose: By the beams of the sunlight, and life, and heat, unto the procreation, sustentation, refreshment, and cherishing of all things, are communicated. But if the sun itself should come down unto the earth, nothing could bear its heat and lustre; our eyes would not be enlightened but darkened by its glory, and all things be swallowed up and consumed by its greatness; whereas, through the beams of it, every thing is enlightened and kindly refreshed. So is it with this eternal beam or brightness of the Father’s glory. We cannot bear the immediate approach of the Divine Being; but through him, as incarnate, are all things communicated unto us, in a way suited unto our reception and comprehension.

So it is admired by Leo: (Serm. iii., De Nativit.:) “Natura humana in Creatoris societatem assumpta est, non ut ille habitator, et illa esset habitaculum; sed ut naturæ alteri sic misceretur altera, ut quamvis alia sit quæ suscipitur, alia vero quæ suscepit, in tantam tamen unitatem conveniret utriusque diversitas, ut unus idemque sit filius, qui se, et secundum quod verus est homo, Patre dicit minorem, et secundum quod verus est Deus Patri se profitetur æqualem.” — “Human nature is assumed into the society of the Creator, not that he should be the inhabitant, and that the habitation,” (that is, by an inhabitation in the effects of his power and grace, for otherwise the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily,) “but that one nature should be so mingled” (that is, conjoined) “with the other, that although that be of one kind which assumeth, and that of another which is assumed, yet the diversity of them both should concur in such a unity or union, as that it is one and the same Son — who, as he was a true man, said that he was less than the Father, or the Father was greater than he — so as he was true God, professeth himself equal unto the Father.” See also AugustinusDe Fide, ad Pet. Diacon., cap. xvii.; Justitianus ImperatorEpist. ad Hormisdam, Romæ Episcop.

And the mystery is well expressed by Maxentius: (Biblioth. Patr. pars prima:) “Non confundimus naturarum diversitatem; veruntamen Christum non ut tu asseris Deum factum, sed Deum factum Christum confitemur. Quia non cum pauper esset, dives factus est, sed cum dives esset, pauper factus est, ut nos divites faceret; neque enim cum esset in formâ servi, formam Dei accepit; sed cum esset in formâ Dei, formam servi accepit; similiter etiam nec, cum esset caro, verbum est factum; sed cum esset verbum, caro factum est.” — “We do not confound the diversity of the natures, howbeit we believe not what you affirm, that Christ was made God; but we believe that God was made Christ. For he was not made rich when he was poor; but being rich, he was made poor, that he might make us rich. He did not take the form of God when he was in the form of a servant; but being in the form of God, he took on him the form of a servant. In like manner, he was not made the Word when he was flesh; but being the Word, he was made flesh.”

And Jerome, speaking of the effects of this mystery: (Comment. in Ezekiel, cap. xlvi.:) “Ne miretur lector si idem et Princeps est et Sacerdos, et Vitulus, et Aries, et Agnus; cum in Scripturis sanctis pro varietate causarum legamus eum Dominum, et Deum, et Hominem, et Prophetam, et Virgam, et Radicem, et Florem, et Principem, et Regem justum, et Justitiam, Apostolum, et Episcopum, Brachium, Servum, Angelum, Pastorem, Filium, et Unigenitum, et Promogenitum, Ostium, Viam, Sagittam, Sapientiam, et multa alia.” — “Let not the reader wonder if he find one and the same to be the Prince and Priest, the Bullock, Ram, and Lamb; for in the Scripture, on variety of causes, we find him called Lord, God, and Man, the Prophet, a Rod, and the Root, the Flower, Prince, Judge, and Righteous King; Righteousness, the Apostle and Bishop, the Arm and Servant of God, the Angel, the Shepherd, the Son, the Only-begotten, the First-begotten, the Door, the Way, the Arrow, Wisdom, and sundry other things.” And Ennodius hath, as it were, turned this passage of Jerome into verse:—

“Corda domat, qui cuncta videt, quem cuncta tremiscunt; Fons, via, dextra, lapis, vitulus, leo, lucifer, agnus; Janua, spes, virtus, verbum, sapientia, vates. Ostia, virgultum, pastor, mons, rete, columba, Flama, gigas, aquila, sponsus, patientia, nervus, Filius, excelsus, Dominus, Deus; omnia Christus.”

(In natalem Papæ Epiphanii.)

“Quod homo est esse Christus voluit; ut et homo possit esse quod Christus est,” saith Cyprian: De Idolorum Vanitate, cap. iii. And, “Quod est Christus erimus Christiani, si Christum fuerimus imitati:” Ibid. And he explains his mind in this expression by way of admiration: (Lib. de Eleemosyn.:) “Christus hominis filius fieri voluit, ut nos Dei filios faceret; humiliavit se, ut populum qui prius jacebat, erigeret; vulneratus est, ut vulnera nostra curaret.”

Chap. IV. That he was the foundation of all the holy counsels of God, with respect unto the vocation, sanctification, justification, and eternal salvation of the church, is, in the next place, at large declared. And he was so on a threefold account. 1. Of the ineffable mutual delight of the Father and the Son in those counsels from all eternity. 2. As the only way and means of the accomplishment of all those counsels, and the communication of their effects, unto the eternal glory of God. 3. As he was in his own person, as incarnate, the idea and exemplar in the mind of God of all that grace and glory in the church which was designed unto it in those eternal counsels. As the cause of all good unto us, he is on this account acknowledged by the ancients. Οὗτος γοῦν ὁ λόγος, ὁ Χριστὸς καὶ τοῦ εἶναι πάλαι ἡμᾶς, ἦν γὰρ ἐν Θεῷ, καὶ τοῦ εὖ ἐὶναι ἄιτιος. Νῦν δὲ ἐτεφάνη ἀνθρώποις, αὐτὸς οὗτος ὁ λόγος, ὁ μόνος ἄμφω Θεός τε καὶ ἄνθρωπος, ἁπάντων ἡμῖν αἴτιος ἀγαθων, saith Clemens, Adhort. ad Gentes. — “He, therefore, is the Word, the Christ, and the cause of old of our being; for he was in God, and the cause of our wellbeing. But now he hath appeared unto men, the same eternal Word, who alone is both God and man, and unto us the cause of all that is good.” As he was in God the cause of our being and wellbeing from eternity, he was the foundation of the divine counsels in the way explained; and in his incarnation, the execution of them all was committed unto him, that through him all actual good, all the fruits of those counsels, might be communicated unto us.

Chap. V. He is also declared in the next place, as he is the image and great representative of God, even the Father, unto the church. On what various accounts he is so called, is fully declared in the discourse itself. In his divine person, as he was the only begotten of the Father from eternity, he is the essential image of the Father, by the generation of his person, and the communication of the divine nature unto him therein. As he is incarnate, he is both in his own entire person God and man, and in the administration of his office, the image or representative of the nature and will of God unto us, as is fully proved. So speaks Clem. Alexandrin., Adhort. ad Gentes: Ἡ μεν γὰρ τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰκὼν ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ, καὶ υἱὸς τοῦ νοῦ γνήσιος, ὁ θεῖος λόγος, φωτὸς ἀρχέτυπον φῶς, εἰκὼν δὲ τοῦ λόγου ὁ ἄνθπώπος. — “The image of God is his own Word, the natural Son of the (eternal) Mind, the divine Word, the original Light of Light; and the image of the Word is man.” And the same author again, in his Pædagogus: Πρόσωπον τοῦ Θεοῦ ὁ λόγος ᾧ φωτίζεται ὁ Θεὸς καὶ γνωρίζεται. — “The Word is the face, the countenance, the representation of God, in whom he is brought to light and made known.” As he is in his divine person his eternal, essential image; so, in his incarnation, as the teacher of men, he is the representative image of God unto the church, as is afterwards declared.

So also Jerome expresseth his mind herein: (Comment. in Psal. lxvi.:) “Illuminet vultum suum super nos; Dei facies quæ est? utique imago ejus. Dicit enim apostolus imaginem Patris esse filium; ergo imagine sua nos illuminet; hoc est, imaginem suam filium illuminet super nos; ut ipse nos illuminet; lux enim Patris lux filii est.” — “Let him cause his face to shine upon us; or lift up the light of his countenance upon us. What is the face of God? even his image. For the apostle says, that the Son is the image of the Father. Wherefore, let him shine on us with his image; that is, cause his Son, which is his image, to shine upon us, that he may illuminate us; for the light of the Father and of the Son are the same.” Christ being the image of God, the face of God, in him is God represented unto us, and through him are all saving benefits communicated unto them that believe.

Eusebius also speaks often unto this purpose, as: (Demonstratio Evangelica, lib. iv. cap. 2:) Ὁθεν εἰκότως οἱ χρησμοὶ θεολογοῦντεδ, Θεὸν γενετὸν αὐτὸν ἀποφαίνουσιν, ὡς ἂν τῆς ἀνεκφράστου καὶ ἀπερινοήτου θεότητος μόνον ἐν αὐτῷ φέροντα τὴν εἰκόνα, διʼ ἧν καὶ Θεὸν εἶναι τε αὐτὸν καὶ λέγεσθαι τῆς πρὸς τὸ πρῶτον ἐξομοιώσεως χάριν. — “Wherefore, the holy oracles, speaking theologically, or teaching divine things, do rightly call him God begotten,” (of the Father,) “as he who alone bears in himself the image of the ineffable and inconceivable Deity. Wherefore, he both is, and is called God, because of his being the character, similitude, or image of him who is the first.” The divine personality of Christ consists in this, that the whole divine nature being communicated unto him by eternal generation, he is the image of God, even the Father, who by him is represented unto us. See the same book, chap. vii., to the same purpose; also, De Ecclesiast. Theol. contra Marcell., lib. ii. cap. 17.

Clemens abounds much in the affirmation of this truth concerning the person of Christ, and we may yet add, from a multitude to the same purpose, one or more testimonies from him. Treating of Christ as the teacher of all men, his παιδαγωγὸς, he affirms that he is Θεὸς ἐν ἀνθρώπου σχήματι, “God in the figure or form of man;” ἀχραντος, πατρικῷ θελήματι διάκονος, λόγος, Θεὸς, ὁ ἐν πατρὶ ὁ ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ πατρὸς, σὺν καὶ τῷ σχήματι Θεοῦ, “impolluted, serving the will of the Father, the Word, God, who is in the Father, on the right hand of the Father, and in or with the form of God.” Οὖτος ἡμῖν εἰκὼν ἡ ἀκηλίδωτος, τούτῳ πάντι σθένει πειρατέον ἐξομοιοῦν τὴν ψυχήν. — “He is the image (of God) unto us, wherein there is no blemish; and with all our strength are we to endeavour to render ourselves like unto him.” This is the great end of his being the representative image of God unto us. And: (Stromat., lib. iv.:) Ὁ μὲν οὖν Θεὸς ἀναπόδεικτος ὤν, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπιστημονικός. Ὁ δὲ υἱὸς σοφία τε ἐστὶ καὶ ἐπιστήμη, καὶ ἀλήθεια, καὶ, ὁσα ἄλλα τούτῳ συγγενῆ. — “As God (absolutely) falls not under demonstration, (that is, cannot perfectly be declared,) so he doth not (immediately) effect or teach us knowledge. But the Son is wisdom, and knowledge, and truth, unto us, and every thing which is cognate hereunto.” For in and by him doth God teach us, and represent himself unto us.

Chap. VII. Upon the glory of this divine person of Christ depends the efficacy of all his offices; an especial demonstration whereof is given in his prophetical office. So it is well expressed by Irenæus, “qui nil molitur ineptè:” Lib. i. cap. 1. “Non enim aliter nos discere poteramus quæ sunt Dei, nisi magister noster verbum existens, homo ffactus fuisset. Neque enim alius poterat enarrare nobis quæ sunt Patris, nisi proprium ipsius verbum. Quis enim alius cognovit sensum Domini? aut quis alius ejus consiliarius factus est? Neque rursus nos aliter discere poteramus, nisi Magistrum nostrum videntes, et per auditum nostrum vocem ejus percipientes, uti imitatores quidem operum, factores autem sermonum ejus facti, communionem habeamus cum ipso.” — “We could not otherwise have learned the things of God, unless our Master, being and continuing the” (eternal) “Word, had been made man.

For no other could declare unto us the things of God, but his own proper Word. For who else hath known the mind of the Lord? or who else hath been his counsellor? Neither, on the other side, could we otherwise have learned, unless we had seen our Master, and heard his voice,” (in his incarnation and ministry,) “whereby, following his works, and yielding obedience unto his doctrine, we may have communion with himself.”

I do perceive that if I should proceed with the same kind of attestations unto the doctrine of all the chapters in the ensuing discourse, this preface would be drawn forth unto a greater length than was ever designed unto it, or is convenient for it. I shall therefore choose out one or two instances more, to give a specimen of the concurrence of the ancient church in the doctrine declared in them, and so put a close unto it.

Chap. IX. In the ninth chapter and those following, we treat of the divine honour that is due unto the person of Christ, expressed in adoration, invocation, and obedience, proceeding from faith and love. And the foundation of the whole is laid in the discovery of the true nature and causes of that honour; and three things are designed unto confirmation herein. 1. That the divine nature, which is individually the same in each person of the holy Trinity, is the proper formal object of all divine worship, in adoration and invocation; wherefore, no one person is or can be worshipped, but in the same individual act of worship each person is equally worshipped and adored. 2. That it is lawful to direct divine honour, worship, and invocation unto any person, in the use of his peculiar name — the Father, Son, or Spirit — or unto them altogether; but to make any request unto one person, and immediately the same unto another, is not exemplified in the Scripture, nor among the ancient writers of the church. 3. That the person of Christ, as God-man, is the proper object of all divine honour and worship, on the account of his divine nature; and all that he did in his human nature are motives thereunto.

The first of these is the constant doctrine of the whole ancient church, viz, that whether, (for instance,) in our solemn prayers and invocations, we call expressly on the name of the Father, or of the Son, or of the Holy Spirit; whether we do it absolutely or relatively, that is, with respect unto the relation of one person to the other — as calling on God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, on Christ as the Son of his love, on the Holy Spirit as proceeding from them both — we do formally invocate and call on the divine nature, and consequently the whole Trinity, and each person therein. This truth they principally confirmed with the form of our initiation into Christ at baptism: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” For as there is contained therein the sum of all divine honour, so it is directed unto the same name, (not the names,) of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is the same Deity or divine nature alone.

So speak the Fathers of the second General Council in their letters unto the bishops of the west; as they are expressed in Theodoret, lib. v. cap. 9. This form of baptism teacheth us, say they, Πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ, καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, δηλαδὴ, θεότητός τε καὶ δυνάμεως καὶ οὐσίας μιᾶς τοῦ πατρὸς, καὶ τοὺ υἱοῦ, καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος πιστευομένης, ὁμοτίμου τῆς ἀξίας, καὶ συναϊδίου τῆς βασιλείας, ἐν τρισὶ τελείαις ὑποστάσεσι. — “to believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; seeing that the Deity, substance, and power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one and the same; their dignity equal; their kingdom co-eternal, in three perfect persons.” “In nomine dixit, non nominibus, ergo non aliud nomen Patris est,” &c., “quia unus Deus:” Ambrose, De Spirit. Sanct., lib. i. cap. 14. Ὄνομα δὲ κοινὸν τῶν τριῶν ἕν, ἡ θεότης. — “The one name common to the three is the Deity:” Gregor. Nazianzen, Orat. xl. Hence Augustine gives it as a rule, in speaking of the Holy Trinity: “Quando unus trium in aliquo opere nominatur, universa operari trinitas intelligitur:” Enchirid., cap. xxxviii. — “When one person of the three is named in any work, the whole Trinity is to be understood to effect it.” “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” according to the Scriptures. Wherefore, as there is one faith in Christ, and one baptism of truth, although we are baptized and believe in the Father, Son, and Spirit, κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν, οἶμαι, τρόπον καὶ λόγον, μία προσκύνησις ἡ πατρὸς, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντος υἱοῦ, καὶ ἁγίου πνεύματος; — “so plainly, in my judgment, there is one and the same adoration, of the Father, the Son incarnate, and the Holy Spirit:” Cyril. Alex.De Recta Fide, cap. xxxii.

And this they professed themselves to hold and believe, in that ancient doxology which was first invented to decry the Arian heresy: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” The same glory, in every individual act of its assignation or ascription, is directed unto each person jointly and distinctly, on the account of the same divine nature in each of them. I need not produce any testimonies in the farther confirmation hereof; for, in all their writings against the Arians, they expressly and constantly contend that the holy Trinity (that is, the divine nature in three persons) is the individual object of all divine adoration, invocation, and all religious worship; and that by whatever personal name — as the Father, Son, or Spirit — we call on God, it is God absolutely who is adored, and each person participant of the same nature. See August.Lib. con. Serm. Arian. cap. xxxv., and Epist. lxvi. ad Maximum.

For the second thing, or the invocation of God by any personal name, or by the conjunction of the distinct names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together, nothing occurs more frequently among them. Yea, it is common to find in their writings, prayers begun unto one person, and ended in the name of another; yea, begun unto Christ, and closed in the name of His only-begotten Son; it being one and the same divine nature that is called on. Yea, the schoolmen do generally deny that the persons of the holy Trinity, under the consideration of the formal reason which is constitutive of their personality, are the formal object and term of divine worship; but in the worship of one, they are all worshipped as one God over all, blessed for ever. See Aquin.xxii. q. 81, a. 3, ad prim., and q. 84, a. 1, ad tertium; Alexand. Alens.p. 3, q. 30, m. 1, a. 3.

But yet, although we may call on God in and by the name of any divine person, or enumerate at once each person, (ὦ τριὰς ἁγία ἀριθμουμένη, τριὰς ἐν ἑνὶ ὀνόματι ἀριθμουμένη,Epiphan. Ancorat., viii. 22,) it doth not follow that we may make a request in our prayers unto one person, and then immediately repeat it unto another; for it would thence follow, that the person unto whom we make that request in the second place, was not invocated, not called on, not equally adored with him who was so called on in the first place, although the divine nature is the object of all religious invocation, which is the same in each person. Wherefore, in our divine invocation, we may name and fix our thoughts distinctly on any person, according as our souls are affected with the distinct operations of each person in grace towards us.

For what concerns, in the third place, the ascription of divine honour, in adoration and invocation, unto the person of Christ; it is that which they principally contended for, and argued from, in all their writings against the Arians.

Evidences of infinite wisdom in the constitution of the person of Christ, and rational discoveries of the condecencies therein, unto the exaltation of all the other glorious properties of the divine nature, are also treated of. Herein we consider the incarnation of the Son of God, with respect unto the recovery and salvation of the church alone. Some have contended that he should have been incarnate, had man never fallen or sinned. Of these are Rupertus, lib. iii., De Gloriâ et Honore Filii Hominis; Albertus Magnus, in iii. distinct. 10, a 4; Petrus Galatinus, lib. iii. cap.4; as are Scotus, Halensis, and others, whom Osiander followed. The same is affirmed by Socinus concerning the birth of that man, which alone he fancied him to be, as I have elsewhere declared. But I have disproved this figment at large. Many of the ancients have laboured in this argument, of the necessity of the incarnation of the eternal Word, and the condecencies unto divine wisdom therein. See Irenæus, lib iii., cap. 20, 21; Eusebius, Demonst. Evangel., lib iv. cap. 1–4, &c.; Cyril Alexand., lib. v. cap. 7, lib i. De Fide ad Regin.; Chrysostom, Homil. x. in Johan., et in cap.8, ad Rom. Serm. 18; Augustine, De Trinit., lib. xiii. cap. 13–20; Leo, Epist. 13, 18, Sermo. de Nativit. 1, 4, 10; Basil, in Psal. xlviii.; Albinus, lib i. in Johan. cap. 11; Damascen., lib. iii., De Fide, cap. 15, 19; Anselm, quod Deus Homo, lib. duo. Guil. Parisiensis, lib. Cur Deus Homo. Some especial testimonies we may produce in confirmation of what we have discoursed, in the places directed unto. There is one of them, one of the most ancient, the most learned, and most holy of them, who hath so fully delivered his thoughts concerning this mystery, as that I shall principally make use of his testimony herein.

It belonged unto the wisdom and righteousness of God, that Satan should be conquered and subdued in and by the same nature which he had prevailed against, by his suggestion and temptation. To this purpose that holy writer speaks, (lib. iii. cap. 20,) which, because his words are cited by Theodoret, (Dial. ii.,) I shall transcribe them from thence, as free from the injuries of his barbarous translator: Ἥνωσεν οὖν καθὼς προέφαμεν τὸν ἄνθρωπον τῷ Θεῷ, εἰ γὰρ μὴ ἄνθρωπος ἐνίκησεν τὸν ἀντίπαλον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, οὐκ ἂν δικαίως ἐνικήθη ὁ ἐχθρὸς, πάλιν τε, εἰ μὴ ὁ Θεὸς ἐδωρήσατο τὴν σωτηρίαν, οὐκ ἂν βεβαίως ἔχοιμεν αὐτὴν, καὶ ἐι μὴ συνηνώθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῷ Θεῷ οὔκ ἄν ἠδυνήθη μετασχεῖν τῆς ἀφθαρσίας. Ἔδει γάρ τὸν μεσίτην τοῦ Θεοῦ τε καὶ ἀνθρώπων, διὰ τῆς ἰδίας πρὸς ἑκατέρους οἰκειότητος εἰς φιλίαν καὶ ὁμόνοιαν τοῦς ἀνφοτέρους συναγαγεῖν. Words plainly divine; an illustrious testimony of the faith of the ancient church, and expressive of the principal mystery of the gospel! “Wherefore, as we said before, he united man unto God. For if man had not overcome the adversary of men, the enemy had not been justly conquered; and, on the other hand, if God had not given and granted salvation, we could never have a firm, indefeasible possession of it; and if man had not been united unto God, he could not have been partaker of immortality. It behoved, therefore, the Mediator between God and man, by his own participation of the nature of each of them, to bring them both into friendship and agreement with each other.” And to the same purpose, speaking of the wisdom of God in our redemption by Christ, with respect unto the conquest of the devil: (lib v. cap. 1:) “Potens in omnibus Dei Verbum, et non deficiens in suâ justitiâ, juste etiam adversus ipsam conversus est apostasiam, ea quæ sunt sua redimens, ab eo, non cum vi, quemadmodum ille initio dominabatur nostri, ea quæ non erant sua insatiabiliter rapiens…. Suo igitur sanguine redimente nos Domino, et dante animam suam pro anima nostra, et carnem suam pro carnibus nostris,” &c. Again divinely: “The all-powerful Word of God, no way defective in righteousness, set himself against the apostasy justly also; redeeming from him (Satan, the head of the apostasy) the things which were his own — not with force, as he bare rule over us, insatiably making rapine of what was not his own — but he, the Lord, redeeming us with his own blood, giving his soul for our soul, and his flesh for ours, wrought out our deliverance.” These things are at large insisted on in the ending discourse.

It belongs unto this great mystery, and is a fruit of divine wisdom, that our deliverance should be wrought in and by the same nature wherein and whereby we were ruined. The reasons hereof, and the glory of God therein, are at large discoursed in the ensuing treatise. To the same purpose speaks the same holy writer: (lib v. cap. 14:) “Non in semetipso recapitulasset hæc Dominus, nisi ipse caro et sanguis secundum principalem plasmationem factus fuisset; salvans in semetipso in fine illud quod perierat in principio in Adam. Si autem ob aliam quandam dispositionem Dominus incarnatus est, et ex alterâ substantiâ carnem attulit, non ergo in semetipso recapitulatus est hominem, adhuc etiam nec caro quidem dici potest…. Habuit ergo et ipse carnem et sanguinem, non alteram quandam, sed ipsam principalem Patris plasmationem in se recapitulans, exquirens id quod perierat.” And to the same purpose: (lib. v. cap. 1:) “Neque enim vere esset sanguinem et carnem habens, per quam nos redemit, nisi antiquam plasmationem Adæ in seipsum recapitulasset.” That which these passages give testimony unto, is what we have discoursed concerning the necessity of our redemption in and by the nature that sinned; and yet withal, that it should be free from all that contagion which invaded our nature by the fall. And these things are divinely expressed. “Our Lord,” saith he, “had not gathered up these things in himself, had not he been made flesh and blood, according unto its original creation.” (The reader may observe, that none of the ancient writers do so frequently express the fall of Adam by our apostasy from God, and our recovery by a recapitulation in Christ, as Irenæus — his recapitulation being nothing but the ἀνακεφαλαίωσις mentioned by the apostle, Eph. i. 10 — and he here affirms, that, unto this end, the Lord was made flesh; “secundum principalem plasmationem,” as his words are rendered; that is plainly, the original creation of our nature in innocence, uprightness, purity, and righteousness.) “So he saved in himself in the end, what perished in Adam at the beginning.” (The same nature, in and by the same nature.) “For if the Lord had been incarnate for any other disposition,” (i.e., cause, reason, or end,) “and had brought flesh from any other substance,” (i.e., celestial or ethereal, as the Gnostics imagined,) “he had not recovered men, brought our nature unto a head in himself, nor could he have been said to be flesh. He therefore himself had flesh and blood not of any other kind; but he took to himself that which was originally created of the Father, seeking that which was lost.” The same is observed by Augustine: (Lib. de Fide, ad Petrum Diaconum:) “Sic igitur Christum Dei Filium, id est, unam ex Trinitate personam, Deum verum crede, ut divinitatem ejus de naturâ Patris natam esse non dubites; et sic eum verum hominem crede, et ejus carnem, non coelestis, non aeriæ, non alterius cujusquam putes esse naturæ, sed ejus cujus est omnium caro; id est, quam ipse Deus, homini primo de terra plasmavit, et cæteris hominibus plasmat.”— “So believe Christ the Son of God, that is, one person of the Trinity, to be the true God, that you doubt not but that his divinity was born” (by eternal generation) “of the nature of the Father; and so believe him to be a true man, that you suppose not his flesh to be aerial, or heavenly, or of any other nature, but of that which is the flesh of men; that is, which God himself formed in the first man of the earth, and which he forms in all other men.” That which he speaks of one person of the Trinity, hath respect unto the heretical opinion of Hormisdas, the bishop of Rome, who contended that it was unlawful to say that one person of the Trinity was incarnate, and persecuted some Scythian monks, men not unlearned about it, who were strenuously defended by Maxentius, one of them.

It carrieth in it a great condecency unto divine wisdom, that man should be restored unto the image of God by him who was the essential image of the Father; (as is declared in our discourse;) and that he was made like unto us, that we might be made like unto him, and unto God through him. So speaks the same Irenæus: (lib. v. Præfat:) “Verbum Dei Jesus Christus, qui propter immensam suam dilectionem, factus est quod sumus nos, ut nos perficeret quod est ipse.” — “Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who, from his own infinite love, was made what we are, that he might make us what he is;” that is, by the restoration of the image of God in us. And again: (lib. iii. cap. 20:) “Filius Dei existens semper apud Patrem, et homo factus, longam hominum expositionem in seipso recapitulavit; in compendio nobis salutem præstans, ut quod perdideramus in Adam, id est, secundum imaginem et similitudinem esse Dei, hoc in Christo Jesus reciperemus. Quia enim non erat possibile, eum hominem, qui semel victus fuerat et elisus per inobedientiam, replasmare et obtinere brabium (βρᾶβεῖον) victoriæ; iterum autem impossibile erat ut salutem perciperet, qui sub peccato ceciderat. Utraque operatus est filius Verbum Dei existens, a Patre descendens et incarnatus, et usque ad mortem descendens, et dispensationem consummans salutis nostræ.”— “Being the Son of God always with the Father, and being made man, he reconciled or gathered up in himself the long-continued exposing of men,” (unto sin and judgment,) “bringing in salvation in this compendious way, (in this summary of it,) that what we had lost in Adam — that is, our being in the image and likeness of God — we should recover in Christ. For it was not possible that man that had been once conquered and broken by disobedience, should by himself be reformed, and obtain the crown of victory; nor, again, was it possible that he should recover salvation who had fallen under sin. Both were wrought by the Son, the Word of God, who, descending from the Father, and being incarnate, submitted himself to death, perfecting the dispensation of our salvation.”

And Clemens Alexandrinus to the same purpose: (Adhort. ad Gentes.) Ναί φήμι ὁ λὸγος ὁ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος γενομένος, ἵνα δὲ καὶ σὺ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου μάθῃς, τῆ ποτε ἄρα ἄνθρωπος γένεται Θεός. — “The Word of God was made man, that thou mightest learn of a man how man may become” (as) “God.” And Ambrose, in Ps. cxviii. Octonar. decim.: [of the authorized English version, Ps. cxix. 73:] “Imago, [id est, Verbum Dei,] ad eum qui est ad imaginem, [hoc est, hominem,] venit, et quærit imago eum qui est ad similitudinem sui, ut iterum signet, ut iterum confirmet, quia amiseras quod accepisti.” — “The image of God, that is, the Word of God, came unto him who was after the image of God, that is man. And this image of God seeks him who was after the image of God, that he might seal him with it again, and confirm him, because thou hadst lost that which thou hadst received.” And Augustine in one instance gives a rational account why it was condecent unto divine wisdom that the Son, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, should be incarnate — which we also inquire into: (Lib. de Definitionibus Orthodoxæ Fidei sive de Ecclesiastica Dogmatibus, cap. ii.:) “Non Pater carnem assumpsit, neque Spiritus Sanctus, set Filius tantum; ut qui erat in divinitate Dei Patris Filius, ipse fieret in homine hominis matris Filius; ne Filii nomen ad alterum transiret, qui non esset æternâ nativitate filius.” — “The Father did not assume flesh, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son only; that he who in the Deity was the Son of the Father, should be made the Son of man, in his mother of human race; that the name of the Son should not pass unto any other, who was not the Son by an eternal nativity.”

I shall close with one meditation of the same author, concerning the wisdom and righteousness of God in this mystery: (Enchirid. ad Laurent., cap. xcix.:) “Vide — universum genus humanum tam justo judicio Divino in apostaticâ radice damnatum, ut etiam si nullus inde liberaretur, nemo recte possit Dei vituperare justitiam; et qui liberantur, sic oportuisse liberari, ut ex pluribus non liberatis, atque in damnatione justissimâ derelictis, ostenderetur, quod meruisset universa conspersio, et quò etiam istos debitum judicium Dei duceret, nisi ejus indebita misericordia subveniret.” — “Behold, the whole race of mankind, by the just judgment of God, so condemned in the apostatical root, that if no one were thence delivered, yet no man could rightly complain of the justice of God; and that those who are freed, ought so to be freed, that, from the greater number who are not freed, but left under most righteous condemnation, it might be manifest what the whole mass had deserved, and whither the judgment of God due unto them would lead them, if his mercy, which was not due, did not relieve them.” The reader may see what is discoursed unto these purposes: and because the great end of the description given of the person of Christ, is that we may love him, and hereby be transformed into his image, I shall close this preface with the words of Jerome, concerning that divine love unto Christ which is at large declared. “Sive legas,” saith he, “sive scribas, sive vigiles, sive dormias, amor tibi semper buccina in auribus sonet, hic lituus excitet animam tuam, hoc amore furibundus; quære in lectulo tuo, quem desiderat anima tua:” Epist. lxvi. ad Pammach., cap. 10. — “Whether thou readest or writest, whether thou watchest or sleepest, let the voice of love (to Christ) sound in thine ears; let this trumpet stir up thy soul: being overpowered (brought into an ecstasy) with this love, seek Him on thy bed whom thy soul desireth and longeth for.”

John Owen (1616-1683) – CHRISTOLOGIA (P02 of 08)

CHRISTOLOGIA (P02 of 08)

By

John Owen (1616-1683)

Copyright: Public Domain

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A Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ

Chapter I.

Peter’s Confession; Matt. xvi. 16 — Conceits of the Papists thereon — The Substance and Excellency of that Confession.

Our blessed Saviour, inquiring of his disciples their apprehensions concerning his person, and their faith in him, Simon Peter — as he was usually the forwardest on all such occasions, through his peculiar endowments of faith and zeal — returns an answer in the name of them all, Matt. xvi. 16: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Baronius, and sundry others of the Roman Church, do all affirm that the Lord Christ did herein prescribe the form of a general council. “For here,” say they, “the principal article of our Christian faith was declared and determined by Peter, whereunto all the rest of the apostles, as in duty they were obliged, did give their consent and suffrage.” This was done, as they suppose, that a rule and law might be given unto future ages, how to enact and determine articles of faith. For it is to be done by the successors of Peter presiding in councils, as it was now done by Peter in this assembly of Christ and his apostles.

But they seem to forget that Christ himself was now present, and therefore could have no vicar, seeing he presided in his own person. All the claim they lay unto the necessity of such a visible head of the church on the earth, as may determine articles of faith, is from the absence of Christ since his ascension into heaven. But that he should also have a substitute whilst he was present, is somewhat uncouth; and whilst they live, they shall never make the pope president where Christ is present. The truth is, he doth not propose unto his disciples the framing of an article of truth, but inquires after their own faith, which they expressed in this confession. Such things as these will prejudice, carnal interest, and the prepossession of the minds of men with corrupt imaginations, cause them to adventure on, to the scandal, yea, ruin of religion!

This short but illustrious confession of Peter, compriseth eminently the whole truth concerning the person and office of Christ:— of his person, in that although he was the Son of man, (under which appellation he made his inquiry, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”) yet was he not only so, but the eternal Son of the living God:— of his office, that he was the Christ, he whom God had anointed to be the Saviour of the church, in the discharge of his kingly, priestly, and prophetical power. Instances of the like brief confessions we have elsewhere in the Scripture. Rom. x. 9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” 1 John iv. 2, 3: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” And it is manifest, that all divine truths have such a concatenation among themselves, and do all of them so centre in the person of Christ — as vested with his offices towards the church — that they are all virtually comprised in this confession, and they will be so as counted by all who destroy them not by contrary errors and imaginations inconsistent with them, though it be the duty of all men to obtain the express knowledge of them in particular, according unto the means thereof which they do enjoy. The danger of men’s souls lieth not in a disability to attain a comprehension of longer or more subtile confessions of faith, but in embracing things contrary unto, or inconsistent with, this foundation thereof. Whatever it be whereby men cease to hold the Head, how small soever it seem, that alone is pernicious: Col. ii. 18, 19.

This confession, therefore, — as containing the sum and substance of that faith which they were called to give testimony unto, and concerning which their trial was approaching — is approved by our Saviour. And not only so, but eminent privileges are granted unto him that made it, and in him unto the whole church, that should live in the same faith and confession: verses 17, 18. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Two things doth our Saviour consider in the answer returned unto his inquiry. 1. The faith of Peter in this confession — the faith of him that made it; 2. The nature and truth of the confession: both which are required in all the disciples of Christ — “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation:” Rom. x. 10.

1. The first thing which he speaks unto is the faith of Peter, who made this confession. Without this no outward confession is of any use or advantage. For even the devils knew him to be the Holy One of God; Luke iv. 34; yet would he not permit them to speak it: Mark i. 34. That which gives glory unto God in any confession, and which gives us an interest in the truth confessed, is the believing of the heart, which is unto righteousness. With respect hereunto the Lord Christ speaks: verse 17. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

He commends and sets forth the faith of Peter — (1.) From its effect; (2.) From its cause. Its effect was, that it made him blessed in whom it was. For it is not only a blessed thing to believe and know Jesus Christ, as it is called life eternal; John xvii. 3; but it is that which gives an immediate interest in the blessed state of adoption, justification, and acceptance with God: John i. 12. (2.) The immediate cause of this faith is divine revelation. It is not the effect or product of our own abilities, the best of which are but flesh and blood. That faith which renders them blessed in whom it is, is wrought in them by the power of God revealing Christ unto their souls. Those who have more abilities of their own unto this end than Peter had, we are not concerned in.

2. He speaks unto the confession itself, acquainting his disciples with the nature and use of it, which, from the beginning, he principally designed: verse 18. “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

From the speaking of these words unto Peter, there is a controversy raised in the world, whether the Lord Christ himself, or the pope of Rome, be the rock whereon the church is built. And unto that state are things come in religion, among them that are called Christians, that the greatest number are for the pope and against Christ in this matter. And they have good reason for their choice. For if Christ be the rock whereon the church is built, whereas he is a living stone, those that are laid and built on him must be lively stones also, as this apostle assures us, 1 Epist. ii. 4, 5, they must be like unto Christ himself, partaking of his nature, quickened by his Spirit, so, as it were, to be bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh: Eph. v. 30. Nor can any be built on him but by a living faith, effectual in universal obedience. These things the generality of men like not at all; and, therefore, the fabric of the living temple on this foundation is usually but small, seldom conspicuous or outwardly glorious. But if the pope be this rock, all the Papists in the world, or all that have a mind so to be — be they ever so wicked and ungodly — may be built upon him, and be made partakers of all that deliverance from the powers of hell which that rock can afford them. And all this may be obtained at a very easy rate; for the acknowledgment of the pope’s sovereign authority in the church is all that is required thereunto. How they bring in the claim of their pope by Peter, his being at Rome, being bishop of Rome, dying at Rome, fixing his chair at Rome, devoting and transmitting all his right, title, power, and authority, every thing but his faith, holiness, and labour in the ministry, unto the pope, I shall not here inquire; I have done it elsewhere. Here is fixed the root of the tree, which is grown great, like that in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, until it is become a receptacle for the beasts of the field and fowls of the air — sensual men and unclean spirits. I shall, therefore, briefly lay an axe unto the root of it, by evidencing that it is not the person of Peter who confessed Christ, but the person of Christ whom Peter confessed, that is the rock on which the church is built.

1. The variation of the expressions proves undeniably that our Saviour intended we should not understand the person of Peter to be the rock. He takes occasion from his name to declare what he designed, but no more: “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter.” He had given him this name before, at his first calling, John i. 42. Now he gives the reason of his so doing; viz., because of the illustrious confession that he should make of the rock of the church; as the name of God under the Old Testament was called on persons, and things, and places, because of some especial relation unto him. Wherefore, the expression is varied on purpose to declare, that whatever be the signification of the name Peter, yet the person so called was not the rock intended. The words are, Σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ. Had he intended the person of Peter, he would have expressed it plainly, Σὺ εἶ πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ σοὶ, κ. τ. λ. — “Thou art a rock, and on thee will I build.” At least the gender had not been altered, but he would have said, Ἐπὶ τούτῳ τῷ πέτρῳ, which would have given some colour to this imagination. The exception which they lay hereunto, from the use of Cephas in the Syriac, which was the name of Peter, and signified a rock or a stone, lies not only against the authentic authority of the Greek original, but of their own translation of it, which reads the words, “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram.”

2. If the church was built on the person of Peter, then when he died the church must utterly fail. For no building can possibly abide when its foundation is removed and taken away. Wherefore they tell us they do not intend by the person of Peter, that singular and individual person alone to be this rock; but that he and his successors the bishops of Rome are so. But this story of his successors at Rome is a shameful fable. If the pope of Rome be a true believer, he succeeds, in common with all other believers, unto the privileges which belong unto this confession; if he be not, he hath neither lot nor portion in this matter. But the pretence is utterly vain on another account also. The apostle, showing the insufficiency of the Aaronical priesthood — wherein there was a succession of God’s own appointment  — affirms, that it could not bring the church unto a perfect state, because the high priests died one after another, and so were many: Heb. vii. 8, 23, 24. And thereon he shows that the church cannot be consummated or perfected, unless it rest wholly in and on him who lives forever, and was made a priest “after the power of an endless life.” And if the Holy Ghost judged the state of the Jewish Church to be weak and imperfect — because it rested on high priests that died one after another, although their succession was expressly ordained of God himself — shall we suppose that the Lord Christ, who came to consummate the church, and to bring it unto the most perfect estate whereof in this world it is capable, should build it on a succession of dying men, concerning which succession there is not the least intimation that it is appointed of God? And as unto the matter of fact, we know both what interruptions it hath received, and what monsters it hath produced — both sufficiently manifesting that it is not of God.

3. There is but one rock, but one foundation. There is no mention in the Scripture of two rocks of the church. In what others invent to this purpose we are not concerned. And the rock and the foundation are the same; for the rock is that whereon the church is built, that is the foundation. But that the Lord Christ is this single rock and foundation of the church, we shall prove immediately. Wherefore, neither Peter himself, nor his pretended successors, can be this rock. As for any other rock, it belongs not unto our religion; they that have framed it may use it as they please. For they that make such things are like unto the things they make; so is every one that trusteth in them: Ps. cxv. 8. “But their rock is not as our rock, themselves being judges;” unless they will absolutely equal the pope unto Jesus Christ.

4. Immediately after this declaration of our Saviour’s purpose to build his church on the rock, he reveals unto his disciples the way and manner how he would lay its foundation, viz., in his death and sufferings, verse 21. And thereon this supposed rock, being a little left unto his own stability, showed himself to be but a “reed shaken with the wind.” For he is so far from putting himself under the weight of the building, that he attempts an obstruction of its foundation. He began to rebuke Christ himself for mentioning his sufferings, wherein alone the foundation of the Gospel Church was to be laid, verse 22. And hereon he received the severest rebuke that ever the Lord Jesus gave unto any of his disciples, verse 23. And so it is known that afterward — through surprisal and temptation — he did what lay in him to recall that confession which here he made, and whereon the church was to be built. For,

that no flesh might glory in itself, he that was singular in this confession of Christ, was so also in the denial of him. And if he in his own person manifested how unmeet he was to be the foundation of the church, they must be strangely infatuated who can suppose his pretended successors so to be. But some men will rather have the church to be utterly without any foundation, than that it should not be the pope.

The vanity of this pretence being removed, the substance of the great mystery contained in the attestation given by our Saviour unto the confession of Peter, and the promise whereunto annexed, may be comprised in the ensuing assertions:—

1. The person of Christ, the Son of the living God, as vested with his offices, whereunto he was called and anointed, is the foundation of the church, the rock whereon it is built.

2. The power and policy of hell will be always engaged in opposition unto the relation of the church unto this foundation, or the building of it on this rock.

3. The church that is built on this rock shall never be disjoined from it, or prevailed against by the opposition of the gates of hell. The two former of these I shall speak briefly unto, my principal design being the demonstration of a truth that ariseth from the consideration of them all.

The foundation of the church is twofold: (1.) Real; (2.) Doctrinal. And in both ways, Christ alone is the foundation. The real foundation of the church he is, by virtue of the mystical union of it unto him, with all the benefits whereof, from thence and thereby, it is made partaker. For thence alone hath it spiritual life, grace, mercy, perfection, and glory: Eph. iv. 15, 16; Col. ii. 19. And he is the doctrinal foundation of it, in that the faith or doctrine concerning him and his offices is that divine truth which in a peculiar manner animates and constitutes the church of the New Testament: Eph. ii. 19–22. Without the faith and confession hereof, no one person belongs unto that church. I know not what is now believed, but I judge it will not yet be denied, that the external formal cause of the Church of the New Testament, is the confession of the faith concerning the person, offices, and grace of Christ, with what is of us required thereon. In what sense we assert these things will be afterwards fully cleared.

That the Lord Christ is thus the foundation of the church, is testified unto, Isa. xxviii. 16: “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” It is among the bold inroads that in this late age have been made on the vitals of religion, that some, in compliance with the Jews, have attempted the application of this promise unto Hezekiah. The violence they have offered herein to the mind of the Holy Ghost, might be evidenced from every word of the context. But the interpretation and application of the last words of this promise by the apostles, leaves no pretence unto this insinuation. “He that believes on him shall not be ashamed” or “confounded,” Rom. ix. 33; x. 11; 1 Pet. ii. 6; that is, he shall be eternally saved — which it is the highest blasphemy to apply unto any other but Jesus Christ alone. He, therefore, is alone that foundation which God hath laid in and of the church. See Ps. cxviii. 22; Matt. xxi. 42; Mark xii. 10; Luke xx. 17; Acts iv. 11; 1 Pet. ii. 4; Eph. ii. 20–22; Zech. iii. 9. But this fundamental truth — of Christ being the only foundation of the church — is so expressly determined by the apostle Paul, as not to need any farther confirmation, 1 Cor. iii. 11: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Chapter II.

Opposition made unto the Church as built upon the Person of Christ.

There are in the words of our Saviour unto Peter concerning the foundation of the church, a promise of its preservation, and a prediction of the opposition that should be made thereunto. And, accordingly, all things are come to pass, and carrying on towards a complete accomplishment. For (that we may begin with the opposition foretold) the power and policy of hell ever were, and ever will be, engaged in opposition unto the church built on this foundation — that is, the faith of it concerning his person, office, and grace, whereby it is built on him. This, as unto what is past, concerneth matter of fact, whereof, therefore, I must give a brief account; and then we shall examine what evidences we have of the same endeavour at present.

The gates of hell, as all agree, are the power and policy of it, or the actings of Satan, both as a lion and as a serpent, by rage and by subtlety. But whereas in these things he acts not visibly in his own person, but by his agents, he hath always had two sorts of them employed in his service. By the one he executes his rage, and by the other his craft; he animates the one as a lion, the other as a serpent. In the one he acts as the dragon, in the other as the beast that had two horns like the lamb, but spake like the dragon. The first is the unbelieving world; the other, apostates and seducers of all sorts. Wherefore, this work is this kind is of a double nature; — the one, an effect of his power and rage, acted by the world in persecution — the other, of his policy and craft, acted by heretics in seduction. In both he designs to separate the church from its foundation.

The opposition of the first sort he began against the person of Christ immediately in his human nature. Fraud first he once attempted in his temptation, (Matt. iv,) but quickly found that that way he could make no approach unto him. The prince of this world came, but had nothing in him. Wherefore he betook himself unto open force, and, by all means possible, sought his destruction. So also the more at any time the church is by faith and watchfulness secured against seduction, the more doth he rage against it in open persecution. And (for the example and comfort of the church in its conformity unto Christ) no means were left unattempted that might instigate and prepare the world for his ruin. Reproaches, contempt, scorn, false and lying accusations — by his suggestions — were heaped on him on every hand. Hereby, in the whole course of his ministry, he “endured the contradiction of sinners against himself:” Heb. xii. 3. And there is herein blessed provision made of inestimable consolation, for all those who are “predestinated to be conformed unto his image,” when God shall help them by faith to make use of his example. He calls them to take up his cross and follow him; and he hath showed them what is in it, by his own bearing of it. Contempt, reproach, despiteful usage, calumnies, false accusations, wrestings of his words, blaspheming of his doctrine, reviling of his person, all that he said and did as to his principles about human government and moral conversation, encompassed him all his days. And he hath assured his followers, that such, and no other, (at least for the most part,) shall be their lot in this world. And some in all ages have an experience of it in an eminent manner. But have they any reason to complain? Why should the servant look for better measure than the Master met withal? To be made like unto him in the worst of evils, for his sake, is the best and most honourable condition in this world. God help some to believe it! Hereby was way made for his death. But, in the whole, it was manifested how infinitely, in all his subtlety and malice, Satan falls short of the contrivances of divine wisdom and power. For all that he attained by effecting his death, in the hour of darkness, was but the breaking of his own head, the destruction of his works, with the ruin of his kingdom; and what yet remains to consummate his eternal misery, he shall himself work out in his opposition unto the church. His restless malice and darkness will not suffer him to give over the pursuit of his rage, until nothing remains to give him a full entrance into endless torments — which he hasteneth every day. For when he shall have filled up the measure of his sins, and of the sins of the world in being instrumental unto his rage, eternal judgment shall put all things unto their issue. Through that shall he, with the world, enter into everlasting flames — and the whole church, built on the rock, into rest and glory.

No sooner did the Church of the New Testament begin to arise on this foundation, but the whole world of Jews and Gentiles set themselves with open force to destroy it. And all that they contended with the church about, was their faith and confession of it, that “Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This foundation they would cast it from, or exterminate it out of the earth. What were the endeavours of the gates of hell in this kind — with what height of rage, with what bloody and inhuman cruelties they were exercised and executed — we have some obscure remembrance, in the stories that remain from the martyrdom of Stephen unto the days of Constantine. But although there be enough remaining on record, to give us a view of the insatiable malice of the old murderer, and an astonishing representation of human nature degenerating into his image in the perpetration of all horrid, inhuman cruelties — yet is it all as nothing in comparison of that prospect which the last day will give of them, when the earth shall disclose all the blood that it hath received, and the righteous Judge shall lay open all the contrivances for its effusion, with the rage and malice wherewith they were attended. The same rage continueth yet unallayed in its principles. And although God in many places restrain and shut it up in his providence, by the circumstances of human affairs, yet — as it hath the least advantage, as it finds any door open unto it — it endeavours to act itself in lesser or higher degrees. But whatever dismal appearance of things there may be in the world, we need not fear the ruin of the church by the most bloody oppositions. Former experiences will give security against future events. It is built on the rock, and those gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The second way whereby Satan attempted the same end, and yet continueth so to do, was by pernicious errors and heresies. For all the heresies wherewith the church was assaulted and pestered for some centuries of years, were oppositions unto their faith in the person of Christ. I shall briefly reflect on the heads of this opposition, because they are now, after a revolution of so many ages, lifting up themselves again, though under new vizards and pretences. And they were of three sorts:—

1. That which introduced other doctrines and notions of divine things, absolutely exclusive of the person and mediation of Christ. Such was that of the Gnostic, begun as it is supposed by Simon the magician. A sort of people they were, with whom the first churches, after the decease of the apostles, were exceedingly pestered, and the faith of many was overthrown. For instead of Christ and God in him reconciling the world unto himself, and the obedience of faith thereon according unto the Gospel, they introduced endless fables, genealogies, and conjugations of deities, or divine powers; which practically issued in this, that Christ was such an emanation of light and knowledge in them as made them perfect — that is, it took away all differences of good and evil, and gave them liberty to do what they pleased, without sense of sin, or danger of punishment. This was the first way that Satan attempted the faith of the church, viz., by substituting a perfecting light and knowledge in the room of the person of Christ. And, for aught I know, it may be one of the last ways whereby he will endeavour the accomplishment of the same design. Nor had I made mention of these pernicious imaginations which have lain rotting in oblivion for so many generations, but that some again endeavour to revive them, at least so far as they were advanced and directed against the faith and knowledge of the person of Christ.

2. Satan attempted the same work by them who denied his divine nature — that is, in effect, denied him to be the Son of the living God, on the faith whereof the church is built.

And these were of two sorts:—

(1.) Such as plainly and openly denied him to have any pre-existence unto his conception and birth of the holy Virgin. Such were the Ebionites, Samosatanians, and Photinians. For they all affirmed him to be a mere man, and no more, though miraculously conceived and born of the Virgin, as some of them granted; (though denied, as it is said, by the Ebionites;) on which account he was called the Son of God. This attempt lay directly against the everlasting rock, and would have substituted sand in the room of it. For no better is the best of human nature to make a foundation for the church, if not united unto the divine. Many in those days followed those pernicious ways; yet the foundation of God stood sure, nor was the church moved from it. But yet, after a revolution of so many ages, is the same endeavour again engaged in. The old enemy, taking advantage of the prevalence of Atheism and profaneness among those that are called Christians, doth again employ the same engine to overthrow the faith of the church — and that with more subtlety than formerly — in the Socinians. For their faith, or rather unbelief, concerning the person of Christ, is the same with those before mentioned. And what a vain, wanton generation admire and applaud in their sophistical reasonings, is no more but what the primitive church triumphed over through faith, in the most subtle management of the Samosatanians, Photinians, and others. An evidence it is that Satan is not unknowing unto the workings of that vanity and darkness, of those corrupt affections in the minds of men, whereby they are disposed unto a contempt of the mystery of the Gospel. Who would have thought that the old exploded pernicious errors of the Samosatanians, Photinians, and Pelagians, against the power and grace of Christ, should enter on the world again with so much ostentation and triumph as they do at this day? But many men, so far as I can observe, are fallen into such a dislike of the Christ of God, that every thing concerning his person, Spirit, and grace, is an abomination unto them. It is not want of understanding to comprehend doctrines, but hatred unto the things themselves, whereby such persons are seduced. And there is nothing of this nature whereunto nature, as corrupted, doth not contribute its utmost assistance.

(2.) There were such as opposed his divine nature, under pretence of declaring it another way than the faith of the church did rest in. So was it with the Arians, in whom the gates of hell seemed once to be near a prevalency. For the whole professing world almost was once surprised into that heresy. In words they acknowledged his divine person; but added, as a limitation of that acknowledgment, that the divine nature which he had was originally created of God, and produced out of nothing; with a double blasphemy, denying him to be the true God, and making a god of a mere creature. But in all these attempts, the opposition of the gates of hell unto the church respected faith in the person of Christ as the Son of the living God.

(3.) By some his human nature was opposed — for no stone did Satan leave unturned in the pursuit of his great design. And that which in all these things he aimed at, was the substitution of a false Christ in the room of Him who, in one person, was both the Son of man and the Son of the living God. And herein he infected the minds of men with endless imaginations. Some denied him to have any real human nature, but [alleged him] to have been a phantasm, an appearance, a dispensation, a mere cloud acted by divine power; some, that he was made of heavenly flesh, brought from above, and which (as some also affirmed) was a parcel of the divine nature. Some affirmed that his body was not animated, as ours are, by a rational soul, but was immediately acted by the power of the Divine Being, which was unto it in the room of a living soul; some, that his body was of an ethereal nature, and was at length turned into the sun; with many such diabolical delusions. And there yet want not attempts, in these days, of various sorts, to destroy the verity of his human nature; and I know not what some late fantastical opinions about the nature of glorified bodies may tend unto. The design of Satan, in all these pernicious imaginations, is to break the cognation and alliance between Christ in his human nature and the church, whereon the salvation of it doth absolutely depend.

3. He raised a vehement opposition against the hypostatical union, or the union of these two natures in one person. This he did in the Nestorian heresy, which greatly, and for a long time, pestered the church. The authors and promoters of this opinion granted the Lord Christ to have a divine nature, to be the Son of the living God. They also acknowledged the truth of his human nature, that he was truly a man, even as we are. But the personal union between these two natures they denied. A union, they said, there was between them, but such as consisted only in love, power, and care. God did, as they imagined, eminently and powerfully manifest himself in the man Christ Jesus — had him in an especial regard and love, and did act in him more than in any other. But that the Son of God assumed our nature into personal subsistence with himself — whereby whole Christ was one person, and all his mediatory acts were the acts of that one person, of him who was both God and man — this they would not acknowledge. And this pernicious imagination, though it seem to make great concessions of truth, doth no less effectually evert the foundation of the church than the former. For, if the divine and human nature of Christ do not constitute one individual person, all that he did for us was only as a man — which would have been altogether insufficient for the salvation of the church, nor had God redeemed it with his own blood. This seems to be the opinion of some amongst us, at this day, about the person of Christ. They acknowledge the being of the eternal Word, the Son of God; and they allow in the like manner the verity of his human nature, or own that man Christ Jesus. Only they say, that the eternal Word was in him and with him, in the same kind as it is with other believers, but in a supreme degree of manifestation and power. But, though in these things there is a great endeavour to put a new colour and appearance on old imaginations, the design of Satan is one and the same in them all, viz., to oppose the building of the church upon its proper, sole foundation. And these things shall be afterwards expressly spoken unto.

I intend no more in these instances but briefly to demonstrate, that the principal opposition of the gates of hell unto the church lay always unto the building of it, by faith, on the person of Christ.

It were easy also to demonstrate that Mohammedanism, which hath been so sore a stroke unto the Christian profession, is nothing but a concurrence and combination of these two ways, of force and fraud, in opposition unto the person of Christ.

It is true that Satan, after all this, by another way, attempted the doctrine of the offices and grace of Christ, with the worship of God in him. And this he hath carried so far, as that it issued in a fatal antichristian apostasy; which is not of my present consideration.

But we may proceed to what is of our own immediate concernment. And the one work with that before described is still carried on. The person of Christ, the faith of the church concerning it, the relation of the church unto it, the building of the church on it, the life and preservation of the church thereby, are the things that the gates of hell are engaged in opposition unto. For,

1. It is known with what subtlety and urgency his divine nature and person are opposed by the Socinians. What an accession is made daily unto their incredulity, what inclination of mind multitudes do manifest towards their pernicious ways, are also evident unto all who have any concernment in or for religion. But this argument I have laboured in on other occasions.

2. Many, who expressly deny not his divine person, yet seem to grow weary of any concernment therein. A natural religion, or none at all, pleaseth them better than faith in God by Jesus Christ. That any thing more is necessary in religion, but what natural light will discover and conduct us in, with the moral duties of righteousness and honesty which it directs unto, there are too many that will not acknowledge. What is beyond the line of nature and reason is rejected as unintelligible mysteries or follies. The person and grace of Christ are supposed to breed all the disturbance in religion. Without them, the common notions of the Divine Being and goodness will guide men sufficiently unto eternal blessedness. They did so before the coming of Christ in the flesh, and may do so now he is gone to heaven.

3. There are some who have so ordered the frame of objective religion, as that it is very uncertain whether they leave any place for the person of Christ in it or no. For, besides their denial of the hypostatical union of his natures, they ascribe all that unto a light within them which God will effect only by Christ as a mediator. What are the internal actings of their minds, as unto faith and trust towards him, I know not; but, from their outward profession, he seems to be almost excluded.

4. There are not a few who pretend high unto religion and devotion, who declare no erroneous conceptions about the doctrine of the person of Christ, who yet manifest themselves not to have that regard unto him which the Gospel prescribes and requires. Hence have we so many discourses published about religion, the practical holiness and duties of obedience, written with great elegance of style, and seriousness in argument, wherein we can meet with little or nothing wherein Jesus Christ, his office, or his grace, are concerned. Yea, it is odds but in them all we shall meet with some reflections on those who judge them to be the life and centre of our religion. The things of Christ, beyond the example of his conversation on the earth, are of no use with such persons, unto the promotion of piety and gospel obedience. Concerning many books of this nature, we may say what a learned person did of one of old: “There were in it many things laudable and delectable, sed nomen Jesu non erat ibi.”

5. Suited unto these manifest inclinations of the minds of men unto a neglect of Christ, in the religion they frame unto themselves — dangerous and noxious insinuations concerning what our thoughts ought to be of him, are made and tendered. As, (1.) It is scandalously proposed and answered, “Of what use is the consideration of the person of Christ in our religion?” Such are the novel inquiries of men who suppose there is any thing in Christian religion wherein the person of Christ is of no consideration — as though it were not the life and soul that animates the whole of it, that which gives it its especial form as Christian — as though by virtue of our religion we received any thing from God, any benefit in mercy, grace, privilege, or glory, and not through the person of Christ — as though any one duty or act of religion towards God could be acceptably performed by us, without a respect unto, or a consideration of, the person of Christ — or that there were any lines of truth in religion as it is Christian, that did not relate thereunto. Such bold inquiries, with futilous answers annexed unto them, sufficiently manifest what acquaintance their authors have either with Christ himself, which in others they despise, or with his Gospel, which they pretend to embrace. (2.) A mock scheme of religion is framed, to represent the folly of them who design to learn the mind and will of God in and by him. (3.) Reproachful reflections are made on such as plead the necessity of acquaintance with him, or the knowledge of him, as though thereby they rejected the use of the gospel. (4.) Professed love unto the person of Christ is traduced, as a mere fancy and vapour of distempered minds or weak imaginations. (5.) The union of the Lord Christ and his church is asserted to be political only, with respect unto laws and rules of government. And many other things of an alike nature are asserted, derogatory unto his glory, and repugnant unto the faith of the church; such as, from the foundation of Christian religion, were never vented by any persons before, who did not openly avow some impious heresy concerning his person. And I no way doubt but that men may, with less guilt and scandal, fall under sundry doctrinal misapprehensions concerning it — than, by crying hail thereunto, to despoil it of all its glory, as unto our concernment therein, in our practical obedience unto God. Such things have we deserved to see and hear.

6. The very name or expression of “preaching Christ” is become a term of reproach and contempt; nor can some, as they say, understand what is meant thereby, unless it be an engine to drive all rational preaching, and so all morality and honesty, out of the world.

7. That which all these things tend unto and centre in, is that horrible profaneness of life — that neglect of all gospel duties — that contempt of all spiritual graces and their effects, which the generality of them that are called Christians, in many places, are given up unto. I know not whether it were not more for the honour of Christ, that such persons would publicly renounce the profession of his name, rather than practically manifest their inward disregard unto him.

That by these and the like means Satan doth yet attempt the ruin of the church, as unto its building on the everlasting rock, falls under the observation of all who are concerned in its welfare. And (whatever others may apprehend concerning this state of things in the world) how any that love the Lord Jesus in sincerity — especially such as are called to declare and represent him unto men in the office of the ministry — can acquit themselves to be faithful unto him, without giving their testimony against, and endeavouring to stop what lies in them, the progress of this prevailing declension from the only foundation of the church, I know not; nor will it be easy for themselves to declare. And in that variety of conceptions which are about him, and the opposition that is made unto him, there is nothing more necessary than that we should renew and attest our confession of him — as the Son of the living God — the only rock whereon the church of them that shall be saved is founded and built.

“Pauca ideo de Christo,” as Tertullian speaks; some few things concerning the person of Christ, with respect unto the confession of Peter, and the promise thereunto annexed — wherein he is declared the sole foundation of the church — will be comprised in the ensuing discourse. And He who hath ordained strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, as he hath given ability to express these poor, mean contemplations of his glory, can raise by them a revenue of honour unto himself in the hearts of them that do believe. And some few things I must premise, in general, unto what I do design. As,

1. The instances which I shall give concerning the use and consideration of the person of Christ in Christian religion, or of him as he is the foundation whereon the church is built, are but few — and those perhaps not the most signal or eminent which the greater spiritual wisdom and understanding of others might propose. And, indeed, who shall undertake to declare what are the chief instances of this incomprehensible effect of divine wisdom? “What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Prov. xxx. 4. See Isa. ix. 6. It is enough for us to stand in a holy admiration, at the shore of this unsearchable ocean, and to gather up some parcels of that divine treasure wherewith the Scripture of truth is enriched.

2. I make no pretence of searching into the bottom or depths of any part of this “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” They are altogether unsearchable, unto the line of the most enlightened minds, in this life. What we shall farther comprehend of them in the other world, God only knows. We cannot in these things, by our utmost diligent search, “find out the Almighty unto perfection.” The prophets could not do so of old, nor can the angels themselves at present, who “desire to look into these things:” 1 Pet. i. 10–12. Only I shall endeavour to represent unto the faith of them that do believe, somewhat of what the Scripture doth plainly reveal — evidencing in what sense the person of Christ is the sole foundation of the church.

3. I shall not, herein, respect them immediately by whom the divine person of Christ is denied and opposed. I have formerly treated thereof, beyond their contradiction in way of reply. But it is their conviction which I shall respect herein, who, under an outward confession of the truth, do — either notionally or practically, either ignorantly or designedly, God knows, I know not — endeavour to weaken the faith of the church in its adherence unto this foundation. Howbeit, neither the one sort nor the other hath any place in my thoughts, in comparison of the instruction and edification of others, who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

Chapter III.

The Person of Christ the most ineffable Effect of Divine Wisdom and Goodness — Thence the next Cause of all True Religion — In what sense it is so.

The person of Christ is the most glorious and ineffable effect of divine wisdom, grace, and power; and therefore is the next foundation of all acceptable religion and worship. The Divine Being itself is the first formal reason, foundation, and object of all religion. It all depends on taking God to be our God; which is the first of his commands. For religion, and the worship performed in it, is nothing but the due respect of rational creatures unto the divine nature, and its infinite excellencies. It is the glorifying of God as God; the way of expressing that respect being regulated by the revelation of his will. Yet the divine essence is not, in itself, the next and immediate cause of religious worship. But it is the manifestation of this Being and its excellencies, wherewith the mind of rational creatures is immediately affected, and whereby it is obliged to give that religious honour and worship which is due unto that Being, and necessary from our relation thereunto. Upon this manifestation, all creatures capable by an intelligent nature of a sense thereof, are indispensably obliged to give all divine honour and glory to God.

The way alone whereby this manifestation may be made, is by outward acts and effects. For, in itself, the divine nature is hid from all living, and dwelleth in that light whereunto no creature can approach. This, therefore, God first made, by the creation of all things out of nothing. The creation of man himself — with the principles of a rational, intelligent nature, a conscience attesting his subordination unto God — and the creation of all other things, declaring the glory of his wisdom, goodness, and power, was the immediate ground of all natural religion, and yet continues so to be. And the glory of it answers the means and ways of the manifestation of the Divine Being, existence, excellencies, and properties. And where this manifestation is despised or neglected, there God himself is so; as the apostle discourseth at large, Rom. i. 18–22.

But of all the effects of the divine excellencies, the constitution of the person of Christ as the foundation of the new creation, as “the mystery of Godliness,” was the most ineffable and glorious. I speak not of his divine person absolutely; for his distinct personality and subsistence was by an internal and eternal act of the Divine Being in the person of the Father, or eternal generation — which is essential unto the divine essence — whereby nothing anew was outwardly wrought or did exist. He was not, he is not, in that sense, the effect of the divine wisdom and power of God, but the essential wisdom and power of God himself. But we speak of him only as incarnate, as he assumed our nature into personal subsistence with himself. His conception in the womb of the Virgin, as unto the integrity of human nature, was a miraculous operation of the divine power. But the prevention of that nature from any subsistence of its own — by its assumption into personal union with the Son of God, in the first instance of its conception — is that which is above all miracles, nor can be designed by that name. A mystery it is, so far above the order of all creating or providential operations, that it wholly transcends the sphere of them that are most miraculous. Herein did God glorify all the properties of the divine nature, acting in a way of infinite wisdom, grace, and condescension. The depths of the mystery hereof are open only unto him whose understanding it infinite, which no created understanding can comprehend. All other things were produced and effected by an outward emanation of power from God. He said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” But this assumption of our nature into hypostatical union with the Son of God, this constitution of one and the same individual person in two natures so infinitely distinct as those of God and man — whereby the Eternal was made in time, the Infinite became finite, the Immortal mortal, yet continuing eternal, infinite, immortal — is that singular expression of divine wisdom, goodness, and power, wherein God will be admired and glorified unto all eternity. Herein was that change introduced into the whole first creation, whereby the blessed angels were exalted, Satan and his works ruined, mankind recovered from a dismal apostasy, all things made new, all things in heaven and earth reconciled and gathered into one Head, and a revenue of eternal glory raised unto God, incomparably above what the first constitution of all things in the order of nature could yield unto him.

In the expression of this mystery, the Scripture doth sometimes draw the veil over it, as that which we cannot look into. So, in his conception of the Virgin, with respect unto this union which accompanied it, it was told her, that “the power of the Highest should overshadow her:” Luke i. 35. A work it was of the power of the Most High, but hid from the eyes of men in the nature of it; and, therefore, that holy thing which had no subsistence of its own, which should be born of her, should “be called the Son of God,” becoming one person with him. Sometimes it expresseth the greatness of the mystery, and leaves it as an object of our admiration, 1 Tim. iii. 16: “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” A mystery it is, and that of those dimensions as no creature can comprehend. Sometimes it putteth things together, as that the distance of the two natures illustrate the glory of the one person, John i. 14: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” But what Word was this? That which was in the beginning, which was with God, which was God, by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made; who was light and life. This Word was made flesh, not by any change of his own nature or essence, not by a transubstantiation of the divine nature into the human, not by ceasing to be what he was, but by becoming what he was not, in taking our nature to his own, to be his own, whereby he dwelt among us. This glorious Word, which is God, and described by his eternity and omnipotence in works of creation and providence, “was made flesh,” — which expresseth the lowest state and condition of human nature. Without controversy, great is this mystery of godliness! And in that state wherein he visibly appeared as so made flesh, those who had eyes given them from above, saw “his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.” The eternal Word being made flesh, and manifested therein, they saw his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father. What heart can conceive, what tongue can express, the least part of the glory of this divine wisdom and grace? So also is it proposed unto us, Isa. ix. 6: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” He is called, in the first place, Wonderful. And that deservedly: Prov. xxx. 4. That the mighty God should be a child born, and the everlasting Father a son given unto us, may well entitle him unto the name of Wonderful.

Some amongst us say, that if there were no other way for the redemption and salvation of the church, but this only of the incarnation and mediation of the Son of God, there was no wisdom in the contrivance of it. Vain man indeed would be wise, but is like the wild ass’s colt. Was there no wisdom in the contrivance of that which, when it is effected, leaves nothing but admiration unto the utmost of all created wisdom? Who hath known the mind of the Lord in this thing, or who hath been his counsellor in this work, wherein the mighty God became a child born to us, a son given unto us? Let all vain imaginations cease: there is nothing left unto the sons of men, but either to reject the divine person of Christ — as many do unto their own destruction — or humbly to adore the mystery of infinite wisdom and grace therein. And it will require a condescending charity, to judge that those do really believe the incarnation of the Son of God, who live not in the admiration of it, as the most adorable effect of divine wisdom.

The glory of the same mystery is elsewhere testified unto, Heb. i. 1–3: “God hath spoken unto us by his Son, by whom also he made the worlds; who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power, by himself purged our sin.” That he purged our sins by his death, and the oblation of himself therein unto God, is acknowledged. That this should be done by him by whom the worlds were made, who is the essential brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of the person of the Father therein who upholds, rules, sustains all things by the word of his power, whereby God purchased his church with his own blood, Acts xx. 28, is that wherein he will be admired unto eternity. See Phil. ii. 6–9.

Isa. vi there is a representation made of him as on a throne, filling the temple with the train of his glory. The Son of God it was who was so represented, and that as he was to fill the temple of his human nature with divine glory, when the fulness of the godhead dwelt in him bodily. And herein the seraphim, which administered unto him, had six wings, with two whereof they covered their faces, as not being able to behold or look into the glorious mystery of his incarnation: verses 2, 3; John xii. 39–41; ii. 19; Col. ii. 9. But when the same ministering spirits, under the name of cherubim, attended the throne of God, in the administration of his providence as unto the disposal and government of the world, they had four wings only, and covered not their faces, but steadily beheld the glory of it: Ezek. i. 6; x. 2, 3.

This is the glory of the Christian religion — the basis and foundation that bears the whole superstructure — the root whereon it grows. This is its life and soul, that wherein it differs from, and inconceivably excels, whatever was in true religion before, or whatever any false religion pretended unto. Religion, in its first constitution, in the estate of pure, uncorrupted nature, was orderly, beautiful and glorious. Man being made in the image of God, was fit and able to glorify him as God. But whereas, whatever perfection God had communicated unto our nature, he had not united it unto Himself in a personal union, the fabric of it quickly fell unto the ground. Want of this foundation made it obnoxious unto ruin. God manifested herein, that no gracious relation between him and our nature could be stable and permanent, unless our nature was assumed into personal union and subsistence with himself. This is the only rock and assured foundation of the relation of the church unto God, which, now, can never utterly fail. Our nature is eternally secured in that union, and we ourselves (as we shall see) thereby. “In him all things consist;” Col. i. 17, 18; wherefore, whatever beauty and glory there was in the relation that was between God and man, and the relation of all things unto God by man — in the preservation whereof natural religion did consist — it had no beauty nor glory in comparison of this which doth excel, or the manifestation of God in the flesh — the appearance and subsistence of the divine and human natures in the same single individual person. And whereas God in that state had given man dominion “over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth,” Gen. i. 26, it was all but an obscure representation of the exaltation of our nature in Christ — as the apostle declares, Heb. ii. 6–9.

There was true religion in the world after the fall, both before and after the giving of the Law; a religion built upon and resolved into divine revelation. And as for the outward glory of it — the administration that it was brought into under the tabernacle and temple — it was beyond what is represented in the institutions of the gospel. Yet is Christian religion, our evangelical profession, and the state of the church thereon, far more glorious, beautiful, and perfect, than that state of religion was capable of, or could attain. And as this is evident from hence, because God in his wisdom, grace, and love to the church, hath removed that state, and introduced this in the room thereof; so the apostle proves it — in all considerable instances — in his Epistle to the Hebrews, written unto that purpose. There were two things, before, in religion; — the promise, which was the life of it; and the institutions of worship under the Law, which were the outward glory and beauty of it. And both these were nothing, or had nothing in them, but only what they before proposed and represented of Christ, God manifested in the flesh. The promise was concerning him, and the institutions of worship did only represent him. So the apostle declares it, Col. ii. 17. Wherefore, as all the religion that was in the world after the fact was built on the promise of this work of God, in due time to be accomplished; so it is the actual performance of it which is the foundation of the Christian religion, and which gives it the pre-eminence above all that went before it. So the apostle expresseth it, Heb. i. 1–3, “God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

All false religion pretended always unto things that were mysterious. And the more men could invent, or the devil suggest, that had an appearance of that nature, as sundry things were so introduced horrid and dreadful, the more reverence and esteem were reconciled unto it. But the whole compass of the craft of Satan and the imaginations of men could never extend itself unto the least resemblance of this mystery. And it is not amiss conjectured, that the apostle, in his description of it, 1 Tim. iii. 16, did reflect upon and condemn the vanity of the Eleusinian mysteries, which were of the greatest vogue and reputation among the gentiles.

Take away the consideration hereof, and we despoil the Christian religion of all its glory, debasing it unto what Mohammedanism pretends unto, and unto what in Judaism was really enjoyed.

The faith of this mystery enables the mind wherein it is — rendering it spiritual and heavenly, transforming it into the image of God. Herein consists the excellency of faith above all other powers and acts of the soul — that it receives, assents unto, and rests in, things in their own nature absolutely incomprehensible. It is ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων, Heb. xi. 1, — “The evidence of things not seen” — that which makes evident, as by demonstration, those things which are no way objected unto sense, and which reason cannot comprehend. The more sublime and glorious — the more inaccessible unto sense and reason — the things are which we believe; the more are we changed into the image of God, in the exercise of faith upon them. Hence we find this most glorious effect of faith, or the transformation of the mind into the likeness of God, no less real, evident, and eminent in many, whose rationally comprehensive abilities are weak and contemptible, in the eye of that wisdom which is of this world, than in those of the highest natural sagacity, enjoying the best improvements of reason. For “God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom:” James ii. 5. However they may be poor, and, as another apostle speaketh, “foolish, weak, base, and despised;” 1 Cor. i. 27, 28; yet that faith which enables them to assent unto and embrace divine mysteries, renders them rich in the sight of God, in that it makes them like unto him.

Some would have all things that we are to believe to be levelled absolutely unto our reason and comprehension — a principle which, at this day, shakes the very foundations of the Christian religion. It is not sufficient, they say, to determine that the faith or knowledge of any thing is necessary unto our obedience and salvation, that it seems to be fully and perspicuously revealed in the Scripture — unless the things so revealed be obvious and comprehensible unto our reason; an apprehension which, as it ariseth from the pride which naturally ensues on the ignorance of God and ourselves, so it is not only an invention suited to debase religion, but an engine to evert the faith of the church in all the principal mysteries of the Gospel — especially of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God. But faith which is truly divine, is never more in its proper exercise — doth never more elevate the soul into conformity unto God — than when it acts in the contemplation and admiration of the most incomprehensible mysteries which are proposed unto it by divine revelation.

Hence things philosophical, and of a deep rational indagation, find great acceptance in the world — as, in their proper place, they do deserve. Men are furnished with proper measures of them, and they find them proportionate unto the principles of their own understandings. But as for spiritual and heavenly mysteries, the thoughts of men for the most part recoil, upon their first proposal, nor will be encouraged to engage in a diligent inquiry into them — yea, commonly reject them as foolish, or at least that wherein they are not concerned. The reason is that given in another case by the apostle: “All men have not faith,” 2 Thess. iii. 2, which makes them absurd and unreasonable in the consideration of the proper objects of it. But where this faith is, the greatness of the mysteries which it embraceth heightens its efficacy, in all its blessed effects, upon the soul. Such is this constitution of the person of Christ, wherein the glory of all the holy properties and perfections of the divine nature is manifested, and doth shine forth. So speaks the apostle, 2 Cor. iii. 18: “Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory.” This glory which we behold, is the glory of the face of God in Jesus Christ, chap. iv. 6, or the glorious representation which is made of him in the person of Christ, whereof we shall treat afterwards. The glass wherein this glory is represented unto us — proposed unto our view and contemplation — is divine revelation in the gospel. Herein we behold it, by faith alone. And those whose view is steadfast, who most abound in that contemplation by the exercise of faith, are thereby “changed into the same image, from glory to glory” — or are more and more renewed and transformed into the likeness of God, so represented unto them.

That which shall, at last, perfectly effect our utmost conformity to God, and, therein, our eternal blessedness — is vision, or sight. “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is:” 1 John iii. 2. Here faith begins what sight shall perfect hereafter. But yet “we walk by faith, and not by sight:” 2 Cor. v. 7. And although the life of faith and vision differ in degrees — or, as some think, in kind — yet have they both the same object, and the same operations, and there is a great cognation between them. The object of vision is the whole mystery of the divine existence and will; and its operation is a perfect conformity unto God — a likeness unto him — wherein our blessedness shall consist. Faith hath the same object, and the same operations in its degree and measure. The great and incomprehensible mysteries of the Divine Being — of the will and wisdom of God — are its proper objects; and its operation, with respect unto us, is conformity and likeness unto him. And this it doth, in a peculiar manner, in the contemplation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and herein we have our nearest approaches unto the life of vision, and the effects of it. For therein, “beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory;” which, perfectly to consummate, is the effect of sight in glory. The exercise of faith herein doth more raise and perfect the mind — more dispose it unto holy, heavenly frames and affections — than any other duty whatever.

To be nigh unto God, and to be like unto him, are the same. To be always with him, and perfectly like him, according to the capacity of our nature, is to be eternally blessed. To live by faith in the contemplation of the glory of God in Christ, is that initiation into both, whereof we are capable in this world. The endeavours of some to contemplate and report the glory of God in nature — in the works of creation and providence — in the things of the greater and the lesser world — do deserve their just commendation; and it is that which the Scripture in sundry places calls us unto. But for any there to abide, there to bound their designs — when they have a much more noble and glorious object for their meditations, viz., the glory of God in Christ — is both to despise the wisdom of God in that revelation of himself, and to come short of that transforming efficacy of faith in the contemplation hereof, whereby we are made like unto God. For hereunto alone doth it belong, and not unto any natural knowledge, nor to any knowledge of the most secret recesses of nature.

I shall only say, that those who are inconversant with these objects of faith — whose minds are not delighted in the admiration of, and acquiescence in, things incomprehensible, such as is this constitution of the person of Christ — who would reduce all things to the measure of their own understandings, or else wilfully live in the neglect of what they cannot comprehend — do not much prepare themselves for that vision of these things in glory, wherein our blessedness doth consist.

Moreover, this constitution of the person of Christ being the most admirable and ineffable effect of divine wisdom, grace, and power, it is that alone which can bear the weight of the whole superstructure of the mystery of godliness — that whereinto the whole sanctification and salvation of the church is resolved — wherein alone faith can find rest and peace. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ:” 1 Cor. iii. 11. Rest and peace with God is that which we seek after. “What shall we do to be saved?” In this inquiry, the acts of the mediatory office of Christ are, in the Gospel, first presented unto us — especially his oblation and intercession. Through them is he able to save unto the uttermost those that come to God by him. But there were oblations for sin, and intercessions for sinners, under the Old Testament; yet of them all doth the apostle affirm, that they could not make them perfect that came unto God by them, not take away conscience condemning for sin: Heb. x. 1–4. Wherefore, it is not these things in themselves that can give us rest and peace, but their relation unto the person of Christ. The oblation and intercession of any other would not have saved us. Hence, for the security of our faith, we are minded that “God redeemed the church with his own blood:” Acts xx. 28. He did so who was God, as he was manifested in the flesh. His blood alone could purge our consciences from dead works, who did offer himself unto God, through the eternal Spirit: Heb. ix. 14. And when the apostle — for our relief against the guilt of sin — calleth us unto the consideration of intercession and propitiation, he mindeth us peculiarly of his person by whom they are performed, 1 John ii. 1, 2: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” And we may briefly consider the order of these things.

1. We suppose, in this case, conscience to be awakened unto a sense of sin, and of apostasy from God thereby. These things are now generally looked on as of no great concernment unto us — by some made a mock of — and, by the most, thought easy to be dealt withal — at time convenient. But when God fixeth an apprehension of his displeasure for them on the soul — if it be not before it be too late — it will cause men to look out for relief.

2. This relief is proposed in the gospel. And it is the death and mediation of Christ alone. By them peace with God must be obtained, or it will cease for ever. But,

3. When any person comes practically to know how great a thing it is for an apostate sinner to obtain the remission of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified, endless objections through the power of unbelief will arise unto his disquietment. Wherefore,

4. That which is principally suited to give him rest, peace, and satisfaction — and without which nothing else can so do — is the due consideration of, and the acting of faith upon, this infinite effect of divine wisdom and goodness, in the constitution of the person of Christ. This at first view will reduce the mind unto that conclusion, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible.” For what end cannot be effected hereby? What end cannot be accomplished that was designed in it? Is any thing too hard for God? Did God ever do any thing like this, or make use of any such means for any other end whatever? Against this no objection can arise. On this consideration of him, faith apprehends Christ to be — as he is indeed — the power of God, and the wisdom of God, unto the salvation of them that do believe; and therein doth it find rest with peace.

Chapter IV.

The Person of Christ the Foundation of all the Counsels of God.

Secondly, The person of Christ is the foundation of all the counsels of God, as unto his own eternal glory in the vocation, sanctification, and salvation of the church. That which I intend is what the apostle expresseth, Eph. i. 9, 10: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” The “mysteries of the will of God, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself” — are his counsels concerning his own eternal glory, in the sanctification and salvation of the church here below, to be united unto that above. The absolute original hereof was in his own good pleasure, or the sovereign acting of his wisdom and will. But it was all to be effected in Christ — which the apostle twice repeats: he would gather “all things into a head in Christ, even in him” — that is, in him alone.

Thus it is said of him, with respect unto his future incarnation and work of mediation, that the Lord possessed him in the beginning of his way, before his works of old; that he was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was: Prov. viii. 22, 23. The eternal personal existence of the Son of God is supposed in these expressions, as I have elsewhere proved. Without it, none of these things could be affirmed of him. But there is a regard in them, both unto his future incarnation, and the accomplishment of the counsels of God thereby. With respect thereunto, God “possessed him in the beginning of his way, and set him up from everlasting.” God possessed him eternally as his essential wisdom — as he was always, and is always, in the bosom of the Father, in the mutual ineffable love of the Father and Son, in the eternal bond of the Spirit. But he signally possessed him “in the beginning of his way” — as his wisdom, acting in the production of all the ways and works that are outwardly of him. The “beginning of God’s ways,” before his works, are his counsels concerning them — even as our counsels are the beginning of our ways, with respect unto future works. And he “set him up from everlasting,” as the foundation of all the counsels of his will, in and by whom they were to be executed and accomplished.

So it is expressed: verses 30, 31, “I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” And it is added, that thus it was before the foundation of the world was laid, or the chiefest part of the dust of the earth was made — that is, [before] man was created. Not only was the delight of the Father in him, but his delight was in the habitable part of the earth, and among the sons of men — before the creation of the world. Wherefore, the eternal prospect of the work he had to do for the children of men is intended herein. In and with him, God laid the foundation of all his counsels concerning his love towards the children of men. And two things may be observed herein.

1. That the person of the Son “was set up,” or exalted herein. “I was set up,” saith he, “from everlasting.” This cannot be spoken absolutely of the person of the Son himself — the Divine nature being not capable of being so set up. But there was a peculiar glory and honour belonging unto the person of the Son, as designed by the Father unto the execution of all the counsels of his will. Hence was that prayer of his upon the accomplishment of them: (John xvii. 5:) “And now, O Father, glorify me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” To suppose that the Lord Christ prayeth, in these words, for such a real communication of the properties of the divine nature unto the human as should render it immense, omniscient, and unconfined unto any space — is to think that he prayed for the destruction, and not the exaltation of it. For, on that supposition, it must necessarily lose all its own essential properties, and consequently its being. Nor doth he seem to pray only for the manifestation of his divine nature, which was eclipsed in his exinanition or appearance in the form of a servant. There was no need to express this by — the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” For he had it not, in any especial manner, before the world was; but equally from eternity, and in every moment of time. Wherefore, he had a peculiar glory of his own, with the Father, before the world was. And this was no other but that especial exaltation which he had when he was “set up from everlasting,” as the foundation of the counsels of God, for the salvation of the church. In those eternal transactions that were between the Father and the Son, with respect unto his incarnation and mediation — or his undertaking to execute and fulfill the eternal counsels of the wisdom and grace of the Father — there was an especial glory which the Son had with him — the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” For the manifestation hereof he now prays and that the glory of his goodness, grace, and love — in his peculiar undertaking of the execution of the counsels of God — might be made to appear. And this is the principal design of the gospel. It is the declaration, as of the grace of God the Father, so of the love, grace, goodness, and compassion of the Son, in undertaking from everlasting the accomplishment of God’s counsels, in the salvation of the church. And hereby doth he hold up the pillars of the earth, or support this inferior creation, which otherwise, with the inhabitants of it, would by sin have been dissolved. And those by whom the eternal, divine pre-existence, in the form of God — antecedent unto his incarnation — is denied, do what lies in them expressly to despoil him of all that glory which he had with the Father before the world was. So we have herein the whole of our design. “In the beginning of God’s ways, before his works of old” that is, in his eternal counsels with respect unto the children of men, or the sanctification and salvation of the church — the Lord possessed, enjoyed the Son, as his eternal wisdom — in and with whom they were laid, in and by whom they were to be accomplished, wherein his delights were with the sons of men.

2. That there was an ineffable delight between the Father and the Son in this his setting up or exaltation. “I was,” saith he, “daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” It is not absolutely the mutual, eternal delight of the Father and the Son — arising from the perfection of the same divine excellencies in each person — that is intended. But respect is plainly had unto the counsels of God concerning the salvation of mankind by him who is his power and wisdom unto that end. This counsel of peace was originally between Jehovah and the Branch, (Zech. vi. 13,) or the Father and the Son — as he was to be incarnate. For therein was he “fore-ordained before the foundation of the world;” (1 Pet. i. 20,) viz., to be a Saviour and a deliverer, by whom all the counsels of God were to be accomplished; and this by his own will, and concurrence in counsel with the Father. And such a foundation was laid of the salvation of the church in these counsels of God — as transacted between the Father and the Son — that it is said, that “eternal life was promised before the world began:” Tit. i. 2. For, although the first formal promise was given after the fall, yet was there such a preparation of grace and eternal life in these counsels of God, with his unchangeable purpose to communicate them unto us, that all the faithfulness of God was engaged in them. “God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” There was eternal life with the Father — that is, in his counsel treasured up in Christ, and in him afterwards manifested unto us: 1 John i. 2.

And, to show the stability of this purpose and counsel of God, with the infallible consequence of his actual promise, and efficacious accomplishment thereof, “grace” is said to be “given us in Christ Jesus before the world began:” 2 Tim. i. 9.

In these counsels did God delight — or in the person of Christ, as his eternal wisdom in their contrivance, and as the means of their accomplishment in his future incarnation. Hence he so testifieth of him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;” (Isa. xlii. 1;) as he also proclaims the same delight in him, from heaven, in the days of his flesh: Matt. iii. 17; xvii. 5. He was the delight of God, as he in whom all his counsel for his own glory, in the redemption and salvation of the church were laid and founded: “My servant, in whom I will be glorified;” (Isa. xlix. 3;) that is, “by raising the tribes of Jacob, restoring the preserved of Israel, in being a light unto the Gentiles, and the salvation of God unto the ends of the earth:” verse 6.

We conceive not aright of the counsels of God, when we think of nothing but the effect of them, and the glory that ariseth from their accomplishment. It is certainly true that they shall all issue in his glory, and the demonstration of it shall fill up eternity. The manifestative glory of God unto eternity, consists in the effects and accomplishment of his holy counsels. Heaven is the state of the actual accomplishment of all the counsels of God, in the sanctification and salvation of the church. But it is not with God as it is with men. Let men’s counsels be ever so wise, it must needs abate of their satisfaction in them, because their conjectures (and more they have not) of their effects and events are altogether uncertain. But all the counsels of God having their entire accomplishment through revolutions perplexing and surpassing all created understandings, enclosed in them infallibly and immutably, the great satisfaction, complacency, and delight of the Divine Being is in these counsels themselves.

God doth delight in the actual accomplishment of his works. He made not this world, nor any thing in it, for its own sake. Much less did he make this earth to be a theatre for men to act their lusts upon — the use which it is now put to, and groans under. But he made “all things for himself,” Prov. xvi. 4; he “made them for his pleasure,” Rev. iv. 11; that is, not only by an act of sovereignty, but to his own delight and satisfaction. And a double testimony did he give hereunto, with respect unto the works of creation. (1.) In the approbation which he gave of the whole upon its survey: and “God saw all that he had made, and, behold, it was very good:” Gen. i. 31. There was that impression of his divine wisdom, power, and goodness upon the whole, as manifested his glory; wherein he was well pleased. For immediately thereon, all creatures capable of the conception and apprehension of his glory, “sang forth his praise:” Job xxxviii. 6, 7. (2.) In that he rested from his works or in them, when they were finished: Gen. ii. 2. It was not a rest of weariness from the labour of his work — but a rest of complacency and delight in what he had wrought — that God entered into.

But the principal delight and complacency of God, is in his eternal counsels. For all his delight in his works is but in the effects of those divine properties whose primitive and principal exercise is in the counsels themselves, from whence they proceed. Especially is it so as unto these counsels of the Father and the Son, as to the redemption and salvation of the church, wherein they delight, and mutually rejoice in each other on their account. They are all eternal acts of God’s infinite wisdom, goodness, and love — a delight and complacency wherein is no small part of the divine blessedness. These things are absolutely inconceivable unto us, and ineffable by us; we cannot find the Almighty out unto perfection. However, certain it is, from the notions we have of the Divine Being and excellencies, and from the revelation he hath made of himself, that there is an infinite delight in God — in the eternal acting of his wisdom, goodness, and love — wherein, according to our weak and dark apprehensions of things, we may safely place no small portion of divine blessedness. Self-existence in its own immense being — thence self-sufficiency unto itself in all things — and thereon self-satisfaction — is the principal notion we have of divine blessedness.

1. God delighteth in these his eternal counsels in Christ, as they are acts of infinite wisdom, as they are the highest instance wherein it will exert itself. Hence, in the accomplishment of them, Christ is emphatically said to be the “Wisdom of God,” 1 Cor. i. 24, he in whom the counsels of his wisdom were to be fulfilled. And in him is the manifold wisdom of God made known: Eph. iii. 10. Infinite wisdom being that property of the divine nature whereby all the actings of it are disposed and regulated, suitably unto his own glory, in all his divine excellencies — he cannot but delight in all the acts of it. Even amongst men — whose wisdom compared with that of God is folly itself — yet is there nothing wherein they have a real rational complacency, suitable unto the principles of their nature, but in such actings of that wisdom which they have (and such as it is) towards the proper ends of their being and duty. How much more doth God delight himself in the infinite perfection of his own wisdom, and its eternal acting for the representation of all the glorious excellencies of his nature! Such are his counsels concerning the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ; and because they were all laid in him and with him, therefore is he said to be his “delight continually before the world was.” This is that which is proposed as the object of our admiration, Rom. xi. 33–36.

2. They are acts of infinite goodness, whereon the divine nature cannot but be infinitely delighted in them. As wisdom is the directive principle of all divine operations, so goodness is the communicative principle that is effectual in them. He is good, and he doth good — yea, he doth good because he is good, and for no other reason — not by the necessity of nature, but by the intervention of a free act of his will. His goodness is absolutely infinite, essentially perfect in itself; which it could not be if it belonged unto it, naturally and necessarily, to act and communicate itself unto any thing without God himself. The divine nature is eternally satisfied in and with its own goodness; but it is that principle which is the immediate fountain of all the communications of good unto others, by a free act of the will of God. So when Moses desired to see his glory, he tells him that “he will cause all his goodness to pass before him, and would be gracious unto whom he would be gracious:” Exod. xxxiii. 19. All divine operations — in the gracious communication of God himself — are from his goodness, by the intervention of a free act of his will. And the greatest exercise and emanation of divine goodness, was in these holy counsels of God for the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ. For whereas in all other effects of his goodness he gives of his own, herein he gave himself, in taking our nature upon him. And thence, as he expresseth the design of man in his fall, as upbraiding him with folly and ingratitude, “Behold, the man is become as one of us,” Gen. iii. 22, we may, with all humble thankfulness, express the means of our recovery, “Behold, God is become like one of us,” as the apostle declares it at large, Phil. ii. 6–8. It is the nature of sincere goodness — even in its lowest degree — above all other habits or principles of nature, to give a delight and complacency unto the mind in the exercise of itself, and communication of its effects. A good man doth both delight in doing good, and hath an abundant reward for the doing it, in the doing of it. And what shall we conceive concerning eternal, absolute, infinite, perfect, immixed goodness, acting itself in the highest instance (in an effect cognate and like unto it) that it can extend unto! So was it in the counsels of God, concerning the incarnation of his Son and the salvation of the church thereby. No heart can conceive, no tongue can express, the least portion of that ineffable delight of the holy, blessed God, in these counsels, wherein he acted and expressed unto the utmost his own essential goodness. Shall a liberal man devise liberal things, because they are suited unto his inclination? Shall a good man find a secret refreshment and satisfaction in the exercise of that low, weak, imperfect, minced goodness, that his nature is inlaid withal? — And shall not He whose goodness is essential unto him — whose being it is, and in whom it is the immediate principle of communicating himself unto others — be infinitely delighted in the highest exercise of it which divine wisdom did direct?

The effect of these eternal counsels of God in future glory is reserved for them that do believe; and therein will there be the nearest manifestation of the glory of God himself unto them, when he “shall be glorified in his saints,” and eternally “admired in all that believe.” But the blessed delight and satisfaction of God, was, and is, in those counsels themselves, as they were acts of his infinite wisdom and goodness. Herein was the Lord Christ his “delight continually before the foundation of the world,” — in that in him were all these counsels laid, and through him were they all to be accomplished. The constitution of his person was the only way whereby divine wisdom and goodness would act and communicate of themselves unto mankind — in which actings are the eternal delight and complacency of the Divine Being.

3. Love and grace have the same influence into the counsels of God, as wisdom and goodness have. And, in the Scripture notion of these things, they superadd unto goodness this consideration — that their object is sinners, and those that are unworthy. God doth universally communicate of his goodness unto all his creatures, though there be an especial exercise of it towards them that believe. But as unto his love and grace, as they are peculiar unto his elect — the church chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world — so they respect them primarily in a lost, undone condition by sin. “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us:” Rom v. 8. “God is love,” says the apostle. His nature is essentially so. And the best conception of the natural internal acting of the holy persons, is love; and all the acts of it are full of delight. This is, as it were, the womb of all the eternal counsels of God, which renders his complacency in them ineffable. Hence doth he so wonderfully express his delight and complacency in the acting of his love towards the church: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing:” Zeph. iii. 17. The reason why, in the salvation of the church, he rejoiceth with joy and joyeth with singing — the highest expression of divine complacency — is because he resteth in his love, and so is pleased in the exercise of its effects.

But we must return to manifest in particular how all these counsels of God were laid in the person of Christ — to which end the things ensuing may be distinctly considered.

1. God made all things, in the beginning, good, exceeding good. The whole of his work was disposed into a perfect harmony, beauty, and order, suited unto that manifestation of his own glory which he designed therein. And as all things had their own individual existence, and operations suited unto their being, and capable of an end, a rest, or a blessedness, congruous unto their natures and operations — so, in the various respects which they had each to other, in their mutual supplies, assistances, and co-operation, they all tended unto that ultimate end — his eternal glory. For as, in their beings and existence, they were effects of infinite power — so were their mutual respects and ends disposed in infinite wisdom. Thereon were the eternal power and wisdom of God glorified in them; the one in their production, the other in their disposal into their order and harmony. Man was a creature that God made, that by him he might receive the glory that he aimed at in and by the whole inanimate creation — both that below, which was for his use, and that above, which was for his contemplation. This was the end of our nature in its original constitution. Whereunto are we again restored in Christ: James i. 18; Ps. civ. 24; cxxxvi. 5; Rom. i. 20.

2. God was pleased to permit the entrance of sin, both in heaven above and in earth beneath, whereby this whole order and harmony was disturbed. There are yet characters of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, remaining on the works of creation, and inseparable from their beings. But the primitive glory that was to redound unto God by them — especially as unto all things here below—was from the obedience of man, unto whom they were put in subjection. Their good estate depended on their subordination unto him in a way of natural use, as his did on God in the way of moral obedience: Gen. i. 26, 28; Ps. viii. 6–8. Man, as was said, is a creature which God made, that by him he might receive the glory that he aimed at in and by the whole inanimate creation. This was the end of our nature in its original constitution. Whereunto are we again restored in Christ: James i. 18. But the entrance of sin cast all this order into confusion, and brought the curse on all things here below. Hereby were they deprived of that estate wherein they were declared exceeding good, and cast into that of vanity — under the burden whereof they groan, and will do so to the end: Gen. iii. 17, 18; Rom. viii. 20, 21. And these things we must again consider afterwards.

3. Divine wisdom was no way surprised with this disaster. God had, from all eternity, laid in provisions of counsels for the recovery of all things into a better and more permanent estate than what was lost by sin. This is the ἀνάψυξις, the ἀποκατάστασις πάντων, the revivification, the restitution of all things, Acts iii. 19, 21; the ἀνακεφαλαίωσις, or the gathering all things in heaven and earth into a new head in Christ Jesus: Eph. i. 10. For although, it may be, there is more of curiosity than of edification in a scrupulous inquiry into the method or order of God’s eternal decrees or counsels, and the disposal of them into a subserviency one unto another; yet this is necessary from the infinite wisdom, prescience, and immutability of God — that he is surprised with nothing, that he is put unto no new counsels, by any events in the works of creation. All things were disposed by him into those ways and methods — and that from eternity — which conduce unto, and certainly issue in, that glory which is ultimately intended. For as we are careful to state the eternal decrees of God, and the actual operations of his providence, so as that the liberty of the will of man, as the next cause of all his moral actions, be not infringed thereby — so ought we to be careful not to ascribe such a sacrilegious liberty unto the wills of any creatures, as that God should be surprised, imposed on, or changed by any of their acting whatever. For “known unto him are all his works from the foundation of the world,” and with him there is neither “variableness nor shadow of turning.”

4. There were, therefore, eternal counsels of God, whereby he disposed all things into a new order, unto his own glory, in the sanctification and salvation of the church. And of them two things may be considered: (1.) Their original; (2.) The design of their accomplishment.

(1.) Their first spring or original was in the divine will and wisdom alone, without respect unto any external moving cause. No reason can be given, no cause be assigned, of these counsels, but the will of God alone. Hence are they called or described, by — the “good pleasure which he purposed in himself,” Eph. i. 9, “the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will:”verse 11. “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given unto him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:” Rom. xi. 34–36. The incarnation of Christ, and his mediation thereon, were not the procuring cause of these eternal counsels of God, but the effects of them, as the Scripture constantly declares. But, (2.) The design of their accomplishment was laid in the person of the Son alone. As he was the essential wisdom of God, all things were at first created by him. But upon a prospect of the ruin of all by sin, God would in and by him — as he was fore-ordained to be incarnate — restore all things. The whole counsel of God unto this end centred in him alone. Hence their foundation is rightly said to be laid in him, and is declared so to be by the apostle: Eph. i. 4. For the spring of the sanctification and salvation of the church lies in election, the decree whereof compriseth the counsels of God concerning them. Herein, God from the beginning “chooseth us unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit;” (2 Thess. ii. 13;) the one being the end he designeth, the other the means and way thereof. But this he did in Christ; “he chooseth us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love;” that is, “unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit.” In him we were not actually, nor by faith, before the foundation of the world; yet were we then chosen in him, as the only foundation of the execution of all the counsels of God concerning our sanctification and salvation.

Thus as all things were originally made and created by him, as he was the essential wisdom of God — so all things are renewed and recovered by him, as he is the provisional wisdom of God, in and by his incarnation. Therefore are these things put together and compared unto his glory. He “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible; … all things were created by him and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist: and he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence:” Col. i. 15–18.

Two things, as the foundation of what is ascribed unto the Lord Christ in the ensuing discourse, are asserted: verse 15. — (1.) That he is “the image of the invisible God.” (2.) That he is “the firstborn of every creature;” things seeming very distant in themselves, but gloriously united and centring in his person.

(1.) He is “the image of the invisible God;” or, as it is elsewhere expressed, he is “in the form of God” — his essential form, for other form there is none in the divine nature — the “brightness of the glory, and the express image of the Father’s person.” And he is called here the “invisible God,” not absolutely with respect unto his essence, though it be most true — the divine essence being absolutely invisible, and that equally, whether considered as in the Father or in the Son — but he is called so with respect unto his counsels, his will, his love, and his grace. For so none hath seen him at any time; but the only-begotten, which is in the bosom of the Father, he declares him: John i. 18. As he is thus the essential, the eternal image of the invisible God, his wisdom and power — the efficiency of the first creation, and its consistence being created, is ascribed unto him: “By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible:” Col. i. 17. And because of the great notions and apprehensions that were then in the world — especially among the Jews, unto whom the apostle had respect in this epistle — of the greatness and glory of the invisible part of the creation in heaven above, he mentions them in particular, under the most glorious titles that any could, or then did, ascribe unto them — “Whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him;” — the same expression that is used of God absolutely: Rom. xi. 36; Rev. iv. 11. Add hereunto those other places to this purpose, John i. 1–3; Heb. i. 1–3; and those that are not under the efficacy of spiritual infatuations, cannot but admire at the power of unbelief, the blindness of the minds of men, and the craft of Satan, in them who deny the divine nature of Jesus Christ. For whereas the apostle plainly affirms, that the works of the creation do demonstrate the eternal power and Godhead of him by whom they were created; Rom. i. 19, 20, and not only so, but it is uncontrollably evident in the light of nature: it being so directly, expressly, frequently affirmed, that all things whatever, absolutely, and in their distributions into heaven and earth, with the things contained respectively in them, were made and created by Christ — is the highest rebellion against the light and teachings of God, to disbelieve his divine existence and power.

(2.) Again it is added, that he is “the firstborn of every creature;” which principally respects the new creation, as it is declared: (verse 18) “He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” For in him were all the counsels of God laid for the recovery of all things unto himself — as he was to be incarnate. And the accomplishment of these counsels of God by him the apostle declares at large in the ensuing verses. And these things are both conjoined and composed in this place. As God the Father did nothing in the first Creation but by him — as his eternal wisdom; (John i. 3; Heb. i. 2; Prov. viii.;) so he designed nothing in the new creation, or restoration of all things unto his glory, but in him — as he was to be incarnate. Wherefore in his person were laid all the foundation of the counsels of God for the sanctification and salvation of the church. Herein he is glorified, and that in a way unspeakably exceeding all that glory which would have accrued unto him from the first creation, had all things abode in their primitive constitution.

His person, therefore, is the foundation of the church — the great mystery of godliness, or the religion we profess — the entire life and soul of all spiritual truth — in that all the counsels of the wisdom, grace, and goodness of God, for the redemption, vocation, sanctification, and salvation of the church, were all laid in him, and by him were all to be accomplished.