Friday, March 30, 2012

Defining T in TULIP


The acronym TULIP is a mnemonic device for Reformed soteriology; that is, the doctrine of salvation. There are five letters, hence the frequent reference to 5-point Calvinism.

The letters stand for the following:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Over the course of this series of posts, Lord willing, we will briefly explain what is meant by each of the five points. After so many more weighty theological posts, why something so fundamental and basic now? I take nothing for granted. I have been a Christian long enough to know that much of Christian doctrine goes unexplained and it is simply assumed by preachers and teachers that their congregations are fully conversant with these things. I feel it wise to, every now and again, go back and refresh our memories about some of the simple basic truths of our most holy faith.

Total Depravity

The doctrine of Total Depravity, or as it it sometimes known, Total Inability, teaches the complete inability of man to save himself, or indeed to have any part in saving himself because of the effects of sin in the soul. Man is dead in his sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Therefore he can do nothing, as a corpse, to bring himself back to life. Every part of man's nature was corrupted by sin, therefore, we say that man has a sinful nature, which longs only to rebel against God (Hosea 6:7; Gen. 6:5; Psalm 58:3).

Man’s sin is extensive as well as intensive. Individuals may not be as bad as they can be; they are as bad off as they can be. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has corrupted every part of his personality: intelligence, emotions and will. The unregenerate person is declared to be "dead" in sin. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit the natural man is "blind" and "deaf" to the message of the gospel. There is a natural but total inability to come to faith in Christ apart from a divine work of grace in the heart.

Every act of an unbeliever is done outside of faith in Christ. Scripture says that whatever is not of faith is sin (1 Cor. 14:23). In our flesh there dwells "no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). All of our righteousness is as "filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). Even acts of apparent self-sacrifice mean nothing to God, for even the "sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination (Pro. 21:27).

What about the "good" in the world? What about the fact that unsaved husbands and wives usually love each other and their children? First of all, we must not get carried away with our ascriptions of "good" to the unregenerate. "Good" is only defined as God defines it, which means all of the so-called "good" that the unregenerate do is hopelessly and irredeemably polluted by sin. Scripture says that all of our righteousness is filthy rags. The Hebrew term for filthy rag refers to a polluted menstrual cloth. - Not a very congratulatory evaluation of the so-called "good" that sinners do.   Secondly, all who do not worship God are idolaters. The essence of idolatry is actually self-worship and the image merely becomes the tool or instrument for the attainment of the worshippers desired ends. Thus, we are on solid Biblical ground for saying that much of the "good" in the world is simply the result of self-interest. If I kill my customers, I can't get them to buy my products, thus murder cramps my style. Moreover, it seems warranted by Scripture, in light of language about sinners' deadness and blindness and alienation of mind, to assert that our depravity is so bad that we misread our world and see in it as a much better place than it is.

This is, no doubt, an unpopular doctrine, because our world unquestioningly accepts the idea that all men are basically good, that there is good in everyone. True Christian much abominate such a belief. Scripture declares that all men are sinners, all men seek only evil continually, all men are at enmity with God and all men stand before God with nothing but the menstrual rags of the our "righteousness."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Refuting Arminian Objections to Limited Atonement (Part3)


Finally, we will take up the final major objection

Objection 4. Doesn't Christ have as much efficacy to save as to damn? (see Romans 5:17)

Answer 1. There is a difference between a necessary extension and a voluntary one. Adam's sin was extensive necessarily. But salvation by Christ is of free grace, wholly of God's pleasure, and therefore it is called the "free gift" (Romans 5:15).

2. Nowhere in Scripture is Christ compared to Adam in the extent of His object, but only in the efficacy of His obedience. All, and everyone, are not in Christ radically, as they were in Adam. All are not given to Christ; but "as many (says Christ) as Thou has given Me." As all the offspring of Adam fell by his sin, so all that are Christ's are saved by His death; as all that are in Adam die, so all that are in Christ are made alive (1Corinthians 15:22).

3. So that Paul would not be misunderstood, and the word "all" in Romans 5:18 be taken universally, he switches terms in the following verse, and replaces "all" with "many." "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

Objection 5. In Romans 14:15, it is said, "destroy not him for whom Christ died." And in 2 Peter 2:1, people are described as "denying the Lord that bought them."

Answer 1. Everlasting destruction cannot be intended by the word destroy in Romans 14:15, and the context shows this. Throughout chapter 14, Paul is exhorting the believing Romans not to condemn one another on account of things indifferent; nor to destroy the weak believer's peace of mind by doing anything (which although it might be indifferent, and not evil in itself) that might become a stumbling-block to him. Paul says, " I am persuaded that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything unclean, to him it is unclean. If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not" (by your eating meat your brother considers unclean) the peace of mind of one of the weaklings of that flock "for which Christ died." Don't put a stumbling-block, or an occasion of falling in your weak brother's way (Romans 14:13-15). "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offense" (1 Corinthians 10:31,32). 1 Corinthians 8 basically asserts the same thing.

2. Those spoken of in 2 Peter 2:1, as "denying the Lord that bought them," are described by the apostle as, "false teachers" - hypocritical professors, tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:25,38). These people had not been bought and redeemed by Christ from eternal death; they had merely abstained from the pollutions of the world through a theoretical knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 2:20). They made an outward profession of the gospel, through which outward morality they associated with the people of God and were taken into the church. They then secretly introduced damnable heresies into the church. Many followed them, and therefore the way of truth was evil spoken of. At some point, they were either exposed or simply returned back into the world. All this time they were "goats" and not "sheep;" ravening wolves, not gentle lambs. And as Peter closes the chapter concerning them, he says, "It is happened to them according to the true proverb. The dog is turned to its own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-22).

3. Peter (2 Peter 2:1) does not appear to be speaking here of the purchase of the Redeemer's blood. The name or title, Lord (Greek, depotes), is not used anywhere in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, but only to the Father, as in Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Timothy 2:22; and especially in Jude 1:4. Here "the only Lord God" is distinguished from "our Lord Jesus Christ." And even if it could be proven to apply to Christ in the above text, it may be explained upon the principle that it is not uncommon with the writers of Scripture to speak of things not as they actually are, but according to the profession of the party referred to. For instance, (Matthew 13:12): "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath" in other words, that "which he seemeth to have," as it is explained in Luke 8:18. So apostates may said to be "twice dead," which would seem to imply that they had been spiritually alive, though in fact that was never the case, but merely what they professed to be.

4. Based upon this we can say that even if we grant the premises, it only follows that such as think themselves redeemed, or are thought so by others, may blaspheme and perish. This does not make all the world redeemed. This certainly cannot establish the doctrine of Universal Redemption.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Refuting Arminian Objections to Limted Atonement (Part 2)


Objection 3. In John 3:16, and in 1 John 2:2, it is said that God gave Christ for the "world," and for the sins of the "whole world;" which must be taken literally.

Answer 1. The word "world" is has various significations. A decree went out that "all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1), that is, the Roman empire and the countries which were subject to it. The faith of the church of Rome was "spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8), that is, throughout all the churches, and among all the saints in the world. The Pharisees said of Christ, "Behold, the world is gone after Him" (John 12:19), by which we find that they meant the multitudes who went out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus, crying, "Hosanna" (John 12:12,13). The Pharisees themselves, who said this, hadn't gone after Christ. The whole world couldn't have gone, since they didn't and are part of the whole world. The same applies to John 3:16: "God so loved the world" cannot be understood of the world in a strict sense, since this would include birds, cows, chickens and trout, not to mention all inanimate objects, such as stones and quicksand pits. None of these can have everlasting life. Nor can it mean the world of men, but only as God is the Preserver of both man and beast (Psalms 31:6). There is God's love to creatures, His love to men, and His love to good men. God's love was the cause of His sending Christ, and the word "whosoever" (in the verse) restrains this love of God to some and not to others. It must therefore be properly God's love to good men - not those He found good, but those He made good.

2. There is a world of believers (Revelation 5:9). Just as manna was only for Israel, likewise Christ, the true manna, the Bread from Heaven, is only for the world of believers (John 6:33). Christ was believed on in the world of believers only (1 Timothy 3:16); the reconciled world (2 Corinthians 5:19): and "all men have not faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:2). There is also the world of unbelievers. "All the world wondered after the beast." And, "they worshipped the dragon" (Revelation 13:3, 4). "The whole world lieth in wickedness" (1J ohn 5:19). The believing world is a world in the world ("these are in the world," John 17:11); and they are taken and chosen out of the world. They are in the world, sojourning among its inhabitants as strangers and pilgrims. This is not their rest, their home. They are waiting for a better country (Hebrews 11:13-16). Those who are chosen out of the world and given to Christ, are clear from John 15:19: "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore, the world hateth you." John 17:6, 9 says, "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world . . . I pray for them; I pray not for the world."

3. It may be granted that God has a "love" for all mankind. "We trust," says Paul, "in the living God, who is the Savior," i.e., the Preserver, "of all men, especially of those that believe" (1 Timothy 4:10). "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalms 145:9). "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). None of this implies eternal preservation, but only temporal providence and preservation. All that are redeemed are redeemed by Christ; but the elect only are given to Him; only they have, as the Puritans used to call it, an interest in Him. They alone are redeemed by Him. And only they will be glorified with Him.

4. The word "world" is sometimes used in Scripture for the Gentiles in contradistinction from the Jews. An example of this is 1 John 2:2. John wrote to the Jews, and ministered unto the circumcision (see Galatians 2:9), and he says to them, "Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world," that is, not for the Jews only, but for the Gentiles also. The Jewish nation considered themselves as the peculiar people of God; and so they were, for to them "pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." And Christ was a Jew, "of whom concerning the flesh Christ came" (Romans 9:4, 5). The Jews were always taught that the Messiah applied exclusively to them. The Gentiles were utterly rejected. They were called "strangers," "uncircumcised," "common," "unclean," "dogs," etc. It was unlawful for a Jew to keep company or have any dealings with a Gentile (see Matthew 10:5; Mark 7:17; Acts 10:28, and Acts 11:3). The salvation of the Gentiles is in various parts of Scripture called a "mystery," a "hidden mystery;" the "mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men ... that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs" (Ephesians 3:4-6; Colossians 1:27). But when this mystery was revealed and made fully known by Paul's mission, sent as he was by Christ to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17,18), and when it was declared by the vision of the unclean beasts and the Lord's commission to Peter (Acts 10:9-15, 20), then the contentions of the circumcision ceased (Acts 11:2, 3). They found that "the middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile was "broken down." The Gentiles who had been "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise," were now "brought nigh by the blood of Christ." They glorified God saying, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Jesus Christ is not only the propitiation for the sins of us Jews, but for the Gentiles also (Ephesians 2:11-18).

5. The foregoing point is further proven by Romans 11:12, where the two words, "world" and "Gentiles," are both used as signifying one and the same thing. "If the fall of them (the Jews) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?" There was a considerable controversy among the Jewish rabbis whether, when the Messiah came, the Gentiles, the 'world' would benefit. Most of them thought that this was not the case. Simeon was a notable exception. He knew that Christ would be 'a light to lighten the Gentiles,' as well as 'the glory of His people of Israel.' Most of the rabbis "concluded that the most severe judgments and dreadful calamities would befall the Gentiles; yea, that they should be cast into hell, in the room of the Israelites" (John Gill).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Refuting Arminian Objections to Limited Atonement (Part 1)


Arminians have always had their objections to the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement - or as it is sometimes known - Particular Redemption. Essentially this doctrine tells us that Christ's death was an atonement paid particularly for the Elect alone. Whether or not Christ's death has any reference or effect upon those who are not elect is of little importance. He did not die for everyone equally in the same way. Scripture is plain that Christ died for His Church, for His sheep. Not everyone is a member of His Church; not everyone is a sheep. Christ told some of His listeners, to their faces, that they were not of His sheep. Arminians claim that we limit the power of the atonement by not letting it apply to all men equally. We say they limit it even more so by evacuating its efficacy. Calvinism says Christ died to save His people from their sins. Ariminianism says that Christ's death made salvation possible for all men. Nevermind the obvious problem that if Christ died for all men's sins equally, then no one should go to Hell, since salvation necessarily entails forgiveness of sins; but think of the more serious ramification of saying Christ died for what turns out to be a lost cause for millions of souls.

As I noted, Arminians have put forward objections to this doctrine. I intend to tackle the main ones, and give several answers to them from Scripture.

Objection 1. What everyone is bound to believe must be true, and it is the duty of all men to believe; therefore Christ must have died for all men.

Answer 1. OK, suppose we grant this position, wouldn't the doctrine of discriminating love be destroyed by this? What comfort would it be to a soul in distress or trial to believe that Christ died for him in the same way that He did for Judas and all the damned souls in hell?

2. The people to whom the Gospel has never come, they who have never heard of the death of Christ, are not going to believe that Christ died for them (missionary endeavor excepted, of course). What God reveals is true; but God has nowhere revealed that it was His intention that Judas would believe, or that all will believe. God made His covenant with Abraham's descendants. The Canaanites never heard the message of God's grace. They were, nonetheless, destroyed for their sins.

3. Not everyone has the Gospel preached to them. This is what I alluded to above in referring to the Canaanites. But more than that, many to whom it is preached only hear it with the outward ear. In other words, it makes no impression upon their souls unto salvation. They do not sense their state as sinners. They are not weary and heavy laden because of sin. The Gospel proclamation of redemption through Christ's blood is not a joyful sound to them. They don't think they need it. True repentance is the gift of free grace and faith is the gift of God. What is God's, as a gift to bestow, cannot be man's duty to perform as a condition of salvation. Those who are invited to look to Christ, to come to Him for salvation, Scripture describes as weary and heavy laden with sin, penitent, hungry and thirsty, etc. They are invited to come to and believe in Christ, and not all men (Matthew 11:28; Isa 55:1; Mark 2:17).

Objection 2. The words "all" and "every," often used in Scripture, must be taken universally.

Answer 1. The proper way to take "All" and "every" is not in the sense of a universal - for every man individually, in the commonly quoted scriptures. They are to be taken distributively, meaning "of all kinds or types," rather than "every individual." For instance, in Matthew 9:35, we are told that Christ went about healing every sickness and every disease among the people: that is, any and every kind of disease. Christ did not heal every single sick person in Judaea. Also in Colossians 1:28, where "every" is taken distributively three times, and so must be restricted to those to whom Paul preached.

2. "All" in 1 Timothy 2:4, cannot be taken for every man individually, since it is not the will of God that all men in this large sense should be saved: for it is His will that some men should be damned, and justly at that, for their sins and transgressions. Unto some men it will be said, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." If God wills all men to be saved, then all men will be saved, for "He (God) doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth" (Daniel 4:35). God does not fail. He cannot be disappointed in His own will, for He works all things after the counsel of it. Then again in Hebrews 2:9, Jesus is said to "taste death for every [man];" which is in the very next verse restricted to "sons brought to glory." Hebrews 2:11 calls them "sanctified" ones. 1 Timothy 2:6 ("who gave Himself a ransom for all") is rendered in the parallel text Titus 2:14, "who gave Himself for us." Who are the people called "us" in this text? Are they not particularized as "redeemed from all iniquity, purified and made a peculiar people?" Christ gave Himself as a ranson for "all" who fit this description, and for none else. David said, "All men are liars." Take that word in the Arminian sense and you will have made David a liar for saying so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Whatever Happened To Preaching Like This?


The following quote is from a sermon by Bishop Horsley (1733 – 1806). It is a sermon on the Hypostatic Union, that is, the union of two natures in the one Person of Christ the God-Man.

I am dumbfounded whenever I read this paragraph! It is thick and heavy theology. It speaks volumes to me about the calibre of Horsley's congregation to hear material like this on a regular basis. Oh, for theologically profound sermons again!

“Neither of the two natures was absorbed in the other, but both remained in themselves perfect, notwithstanding the union of the two in one person, the Divine Word, to which the humanity was united, was not, as some ancient heretics imagined, instead of a soul to inform the body of the man; for this could not have been without a diminution of the divinity, which upon this supposition must have become obnoxious to all the perturbations of the human soul, - to the passions of grief, fear, anger, pity, joy, hope, and disappointment, - to all which our Lord without sin was liable. The human nature in our Lord was complete in both its parts, consisting of a body and a rational soul. The rational soul of our Lord’s human nature was a distinct thing from the principle of divinity to which it was united; and being so distinct, like the souls of other men, it owed the right use of its faculties, in the exercise of them upon religious subjects, and its uncorrupted rectitude of will, to the influence of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus indeed ‘was anointed with this holy oil above His fellows,’ inasmuch as the intercourse was uninterrupted, - the illumination by infinite degrees more full, and the consent and submission, on the part of the man, more perfect than in any of the sons of Adam; insomuch that He alone of all the human race, by the strength and light imparted from above, was exempt from sin, and rendered superior to temptation. To Him the Spirit was given not by measure. The unmeasured infusion of the Spirit into the Redeemer’s soul was NOT THE MEANS, BUT THE EFFECT, of its union to the second person of the Godhead. A union of which this had been the means had differed only in degree from that which is, in some degree, the privilege of every believer, - which, in an eminent degree, was the privilege of the apostles, who, by the visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon them on the day of Pentecost, were, in some sort, like the Lord, anointed with the unction from on high. But in Him the natures were united, and the uninterrupted perfect commerce of His human soul with the Divine Spirit was the effect and privilege of that mysterious conjunction.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

God is Sovereign Over Salvation and Reprobation!


And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. Matt 11:23

This is one of the most startling statements Christ ever made. Moreover, it is one of the most unnoticed statements as well. People seem to be able to read right over this verse and not even notice what is says, and more importantly, what it implies.

On the surface it seems like a straightforward rebuke of Capernaum for its hardheartedness towards Christ. Jesus says in the next verse that Sodom will have an easier way to go on Judgment Day than Capernaum. So at first glance we can easily see that Jesus was condemning Capernaum as an incredibly wicked city – one that would face severer judgment than Sodom.

But the implications of this verse are amazing. And let me hasten to add that the Arminian is completely unarmed for the handling of this passage. Jesus is as much as saying that Sodom was denied the privilege Capernaum was given. Had Sodom been given a chance to hear Christ they would’ve repented! In other words, they were denied the chance to hear what would have led to their repentance. This can only mean one thing: God is sovereign over perdition as well as salvation. Only those whom He chooses even get a chance to hear the Gospel.

You may be surprised to read that, but look over the passage carefully and tell me this isn’t directly implied. Furthermore, this isn’t the only passage in the Bible where such an idea is openly expressed. In Acts 16, Paul and his companions were traveling about preaching. They were about to enter the area of Asia but they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to do so. In other words, God did not allow them to preach the Gospel in that area. Instead He specifically called them elsewhere (see Acts 16:6-10). They went to Macedonia assured that, “the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.”

Actually though, God’s sovereignty goes farther than just denying the means of grace, i.e., the preaching of His Word. It extends to the personal response of the listeners. Arminians dislike this idea. In fact, their whole system is built on a denial of it. It seems to me that their furor is misplaced. Arminians complain that we should assert that God is sovereign over the wills of men in their response to the Gospel. I say, save your breath. If God so influenced my will that I savingly believed in Christ for my salvation, I would certainly NOT complain: I have been shown an incomparable favor. If the Arminian wants to complain about fairness, he should think about a passage like 1 Samuel 2:25 which says that Eli’s sons refused to hear godly rebuke because God intended to kill them. In other words, God’s plan to kill them was the cause of their refusal to heed their father’s rebuke. There is simply no honest way to get around that.

No one even gets the Gospel preached to them unless God's sovereignty wills it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Doctrinal Pet Peeve


One of my pet peeves is when people claim that they are neither Calvinist nor Arminian. There is so much wrong with that statement that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all it assumes that two mutually exclusive claims can both be true. This is patently false. Believe in both/and propositions all you want, you and the semi truck cannotboth cross the intersection at the same time without grave consequences. There is only truth and error. There is only life or death.

More importantly, this statement reveals a fundamental ignorance of what both sides actually represent. What baffles me about this is that the statement itself implies a knowledge of both sides and a fair amount of study.

Before going any further, I should perhaps clarify at least a few things about both sides so that my point becomes clear. First of all, the distinction between Calvinist and Arminian, although other things are logical consequents of the respective positions, is a distinction regarding the doctrine of salvation: i.e., How is one saved? Even without delineating what either side believes, it should be clear that this is an important issue. Doctrine is important. It does matter what you believe, especially when it come to the question of how one is saved.

The person who makes this claim is typically one who eschews theological terminology. This in itself is problematic. No one comes to the Bible without a set of presuppositions. When someone says, “It’s just me and my Bible,” that person is invincibly ignorant. How do you reason with someone who refuses admit their presuppositions.

Calvinists aver that all men are dead in sin, thus no one is capable or willing to repent and believe savingly in Christ unless God first enable them by regeneration. Salvation is of the Lord. One becomes a Christian, not by a decision for Christ, but because God has resurrected them from the death of sin and given them faith to trust in the imputed righteousness of Christ who died as an atonement for their sins. Since Christ actually died to save them, and since they did not earn their salvation by any works of righteousness (including repentance and faith), their salvation is eternally secure because Christ has promise to not lose any of those given Him of the Father. Arminians place great emphasis on man’s supposed free-will. Further they affirm that one becomes a Christian by choosing, of their own uncompelled free-will, to believe in Christ. Moreover they believe that Christ’s death, rather than actually paying for their sins, makes it possible for God to forgive them. As a result, any lapse in Christian character endangers one’s salvation.

The difference is night and day. I am a Calvinist – unashamedly so. I am infuriated however when someone makes the ignorant remark that I follow a man rather than Christ. After all, didn’t Paul warn the Corinthians of saying they followed Apollos or Paul? The reason that is an ignorant statement is because Paul and Apollos were NOT teaching differing schemes of doctrine. Had Apollos been teaching salvation by works, Paul would’ve called him a heretic that the Corinthians needed to avoid like the plague. The issue at Corinth was not different theological parties represented by different teachers. The issue was petty, immature, schismatic sectarianism with no regard to actual doctrine.

Arminianism is always concerned that unless a person is saved as a result of a conscious free-will decision, then he has no incentive to live a holy life. Not only is this patently false, but it impugns the wisdom of God. If salvation is a regeneration – a real translation from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His dear Son – then it will produce a change in character. We needn’t bother ourselves with taking things into our own hands to make sure they get done properly. God is entirely capable. In fact Jude tells us, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

But there is another thing that this statement ignores. There are no other options. You either think you are saved solely by the sovereign power and choice of God or you think you play some part in the decision. There is no third option. That is why I said earlier that there is only life and death. A living person is not a corpse, nor is a corpse living. There are no shades of existence between the two options. Simply put, any attempt to ride the fence places one squarely in Arminianism.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

God Is Motivated By His Glory


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

The Scriptures portray God’s zeal for His glory as the primary motivation behind all His acts. This is why I take issue with the very popular notion that God’s love is His central attribute. True, the Bible says that “God is love,” but it tells us this once, while it tells us the God is holy countless times. This does not mean to suggest that God is holier than He is loving, but that in the grand scheme of things, God willed to theopneustically accentuate His holiness more often than His love. God’s holiness is His glory. How many times does the Bible speak of the “beauty of holiness.” By this we mean to say that whenever God acts in any way, His principal impetus is His commitment to His glory before anything else. When God decreed the plan of salvation for His elect, His glory was the first and foremost concern. He did it out of love, but He did it for His glory first! Consider Paul’s statement that “every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.” 1 This tells us that the ultimate purpose and plan of God in the salvation of the elect and damnation of the lost is the recognition of Christ’s glory – which, since the Son is of one essence with the Father (ὁμοούσιος), brings glory to the Father as well.

God repeatedly calls Himself, “a jealous God.” 2 If we ask for what is He jealous, the obvious answer is: His glory. In Exodus 20:5 when God first declares His jealousy, it is in connection with the ban against idolatry. Idolatry is demeaning to God’s character in that it suggests that the image is a suitable substitute for the Reality. We are accustomed to viewing jealousy as sinful, but it is because our jealousy is always misdirected. People very seldom are as zealous for God’s glory as they are for their own. The few times it has occurred, God has taken special notice of it. 3 

This is a difficult concept for some people because of the apparent selfishness on God’s part in being thus motivated. Human self-centeredness is sinful precisely because it puts self before God. It places the interest of an insignificant, finite worm of a man before the interests of the great, ineffable, inscrutable glory of God παντοκράτωρ! In this, it is idolatrous. Likewise, it would be idolatrous (if such a blasphemy could be imagined!) for God to place any interest before His own. It is an unsullied, utterly wholesome selfishness: it is a commitment to the Greatest, All-Perfect Self: the source of all inferior selves, indeed selfhood itself.

If God is so committed to the advancement and display of His glory, we are quite mistaken if we do not do the same thing.

In Psalm 19:1, David proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” There are physical phenomena in the design of the universe that absolutely stagger the human imagination. Astrophysicists and cosmologists refer to these marvels as the “anthropic principle.” This is a sophisticated way of saying that all of the various design characteristics of the entire universe are so perfectly suited for human life, that this must be the reason behind them. In other words, whether the universe was created by God or simply evolved, it exists in order to support human life. Many non-Christian physicists unashamedly advocate this.

Yet, even though Christian apologists are correct when they note that such meticulous attention to detail shows God’s unfathomable love for His creation, the Psalmist tells us that this is more an expression of God’s glory than His love.

1 Phil. 2:9-11
2 Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Nahum 1:1
3 Numbers 25:10

Monday, March 12, 2012

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38 (Part 6)


Contentment With Divine Sovereignty

Lamentations 3:37-38
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

We must see and acknowledge God’s hand in all the calamities that befall us at any time, whether personal or public. This fact and Christian duty is laid out here as the plain truth and as a great truth. It goes a long way to quieting our restless spirits under our afflictions and to sanctify these afflictions to us to acknowledge:

1. That, whatever men's actions are, it is God that overrules them.
2. That, whatever men's lot is, it is God that orders it.

We must not quarrel with God for any suffering that He lays upon us at any time. (v. 39)

1. We are human. Let remember that. And let us behave appropriately. We are men, not animals. We are reasonable creatures who should act with reason. We are men, and not children that cry about everything that hurts them or frustrates their happiness.
2. We are alive. Through God’s hand may be upon us, we are still alive, though dying daily. Should a living man complain when he has more reason to be thankful? Our lives may be frail, but we are still alive.
3. We are sinful men, and what we complain of is the just punishment of our sins. At any rate it is far less than we deserve. We have little reason to complain of our trouble since we have ourselves to thanks for it.

We must align ourselves to God's intention in afflicting us. This is none other than to bring sin to our remembrance and to bring us to Himself. (v. 40)

Our afflictions and troubles should cause us to reflect on these two things:
1. A serious consideration of ourselves and a reflection upon our past lives.
2. A sincere repentance. Let us turn again to the Lord, to Him who is turned against us and whom we have turned from; to Him let us turn by repentance and reformation, as to our owner and ruler.

Matthew Henry writes “We must offer up ourselves to God, and our best affections and services, in the flames of devotion.”

When we are in affliction, we must look to God as a God in the heavens, infinitely above us, and who has an incontestable dominion over us. He rules and is therefore not to be quarreled with, but submitted to. But also we must pray with a believing expectation to receive mercy from Him. That is what is implied in verse 41 when it tells us to lift our hands. Lifting our hands to Him (a gesture commonly used in prayer) signifies our request of mercy from Him and our readiness to receive that mercy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38 (Part 5)

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38



Lamentations 3:37-38
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

In the first post on this passage, we saw how extensive the word “who” is. In the second post we saw what it means to “speak” and have it “come to pass.” In the previous post we inquired how God’s primary agency affects the good deeds of men. And in this fourth post, we will attempt to address how God’s primary agency affects the evil deeds of men.

Before anything else, I wish to say that this is a most difficult subject to handle and fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I do not make any statements here lightly. Nor do I wish to say anything unadvisedly. We want to stick to what God Himself through Scripture tells us.

How does God’s primary agency affect the evil deeds of men?

A. God ordains their free evil deeds.
B. God hardens their hearts or inclines their minds to will these acts.
C. God hardens their hearts or inclines their minds to do these acts.
D. Yet God does not coerce them so as to exempt them of true and meaningful responsibility and genuine guilt for these acts. Though foreordained, they are nevertheless free.
E. God is not the Author of Sin.

Here are a number of Bible passages that speak to this subject: Gen. 50:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; Joshua 11:20; Acts 2:23 comp Luke 22:3; Luke 22:11, 24, 21 & 36 comp. Acts 4:27-28. Rev. 16:16-17; Ex. 4:21 (10:17); Deut. 2:30; Rom 11:7-9. See also the Geneva Bible notes on 1 Sam. 2:25 – “So that to obey good admonition is God's mercy, and to disobey them is his just judgment for sin.”

In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge deals with this subject through a doctrine called the concursus. : He says: “(1.) That God gives to second causes the power of acting. (2.) That He preserves them in being and vigour. (3.) That He excites and determines second causes to act. (4.) That He directs and governs them to the predetermined end.”

Hodge then enumerates several things that must be understood having granted the previous four points. Then he concludes by referring to the concursus in its relation to sin. He writes: “All the advocates of the doctrine of concursus admit that the great difficulty attending it is in reference to sin… We can easily see how God can cooperate in good acts, and rejoice in the goodness which is his gift; but how can He so concur in sinful acts as not only to preserve the sinner in the exercise of his ability to act, but also to excite to action, and determine his act to be what it is, and not otherwise? This difficulty was, as has been remarked, freely acknowledged. It was met by defining sin as mere defect. It is a want of conformity to the moral law. As such it requires not an efficient, but only a deficient cause. God is the source immediately or remotely of all efficiency, but is not the source of mere deficiency. In every sinful act, therefore, there was distinguished the act as an act requiring an efficient cause; and the moral quality of that act, or its want of conformity to law, a mere relation, which is not an ens, and therefore is in no way to be referred to God. This is the answer to this objection given by Augustine, and repeated from his day to this. As the same solar influence quickens into life all kinds of plants, whether nutritious or poisonous; as the same current of water may be guided in one channel or another; as the same vital force animates the limbs of the sound man and of the cripple; as the same hand may sweep the keys of an instrument when in tune and when out of tune: so it is urged that the same divine efficiency sustains and animates all free agents. That they act at all is due to the divine efficiency, but the particular nature of their acts (at least when evil) is to be referred, not to that all-pervading efficiency of God, but to the nature or character of each particular agent. That God controls and governs wicked men, determines their wickedness to take one form, and not another, and guides it to manifestations which will promote good rather than evil, is not inconsistent with the holiness of God. He did not infuse envy and hatred into the hearts of Joseph’s brethren, but He guided the exercise of those evil passions, so as to secure the preservation of Jacob and the chosen seed from destruction.”

God’s sovereignty over men is such that their acts are still free, yet it appears from Scripture that their acts are pre-ordained by God in such a way that they cannot not do what is ordained. God’s decree does not violate their responsibility for their actions. We do not say that it violates their “free will” because we do not believe that the will is, in fact, free.

Proverbs 1:17 says, “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.” We take this to mean that if a man sets a trap for his fellow man right in front of the man he intends to trap, then his trap is set in vain. No one is so foolish as to walk into a trap he has seen set for himself. But if God sets the trap (even through the secondary agency of men) it is not set in vain, even when the man watches it being set to catch him.

Ahab’s demise at Ramoth-Gilead demonstrates this fact (1 Kings 22:1-23). All of his false prophets had given him the green light to go up against Ramoth-Gilead. When the prophet Micaiah comes, he speaks the same words as Ahab’s crony prophets, perhaps to spite Ahab or by way of rebuke. Ahab then demands Micaiah to give him the true message from God. This means that Ahab is 100% consciously aware that his prophets’ message is false and that whatever Micaiah says is truly God’s word. In other words, he recognized Micaiah’s prophecy as authentic. Micaiah’s message told Ahab how God had sent a lying spirit into the mouths of his crony prophets to deceive him into going up to Ramoth-Gilead, where he would be killed. In other words, God “spread the net” in the sight of Ahab. God told Ahab that He intended to kill him; God told Ahab that He would lure him into battle at Ramoth-Gilead through his own prophets. Surely no trap was ever set in clearer view of its prey! Yet Ahab still went up to Ramoth-Gilead! If this does not demonstrate God’s absolute control over all things, including men’s minds and wills, nothing does!

Samson’s fall with Delilah is an example of God’s primary agency over the evil deeds of otherwise good men. She spread the net before him repeatedly, yet he kept playing games with her until he actually gave his guarded secret away, knowing full well that he was being ambushed. Why else would he do something so stupid – unless we suppose that he was unwittingly walking in ordained works?

I do not assume to have dealt with this thorny issue in any comprehensive fashion. But I do believe we have been faithful to the Scriptural testimony.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38 (Part 4)

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38


Lamentations 3:37-38
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

In the previous post we addressed what it is to “speak” and it “come to pass.” In this sermon we will inquire how God’s primary agency affects the good deeds of men.

How does God’s primary agency affect the good deeds of men?

After Paul exhorts us to, “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, he then tells us in Philippians 2:13 that both our “willing” and our “doing” are God working in us. The most profound, and blunt, statement of God’s active sovereignty on man’s actions is Isaiah 26:12 which says, “LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.” The gist of which is that we have confidence in God ordaining peace for us precisely because He has done everything else we have done anyway.

The order, as Scripture indicates would seem to be as follows:

A. God ordains our good deeds (Eph 2:10).
1. Before creation God ordained all the details of our lives. (Psalm 139:1-4, 16; Acts 17:26)
2. All of our steps are ordained by the Lord (Psalm 37:23)
B. God ordains that we should will to do them (Phil 2:13).
C. God ordains that we should then do them (Phil 2:13).
D. God ordains them in such a way that He can meaningfully reward us for them. (Heb 6:10; 11:6; Mat 16:27).

This is the order of all our actions: God ordained them; God ordains that we will them; we then will them; God ordains that we do them; we then do them. God has arranged and ordered all things so that He can reward us.

Hence we are not, as the Arminians accuse us of believing, mindless robots. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible. It is an insult to God to insist that they are – as if He couldn’t create creature He could control without violating them. Human responsibility is based on God’s sovereignty. We chafe at this idea simply because we wish to believe that we are our own masters. Self-determination is the pillar of ungodly religion. This is why Whitefield says, “We are all Papists, at least, I am sure, we are all Arminians by nature; and therefore no wonder so many natural men embrace that scheme… We are ashamed directly to say we deserve any good at the hands of God; therefore, as the Apostle excellently well observes, ‘we go about’ we fetch a circuit, ‘to establish a righteousness of our own,’ and, like the Pharisees of old, ‘will not wholly submit to that righteousness which is of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ ”

Let me just insert a much needed reminder after that last paragraph. I said that we are not mindless robots. Let me hasten to say this though: If God had made us mindless automatons, He would still be within His rights as Sovereign of the universe. He would still be just to dispose of us in any fashion He pleased. Scripture indeed says, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Romans 9:21)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38 (Part 3)


Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38

Lamentations 3:37-38
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

In the previous post, we answered the question of how extensive the word “who” is. In this post we will address what it is to “speak” and it “come to pass.”

What is it to “speak,” and it “come to pass?”

An example would be Genesis 1 where we are told that God said, “Let there be…” which is followed immediately by, “and there was.” No one else can do this.

What does this sovereign “Speaking and it comes to pass” entail?

Firstly, it is to be able to foresee all possible events. Secondly, it is to be able to control all related factors. Thirdly, it is to both know and control the future. And lastly, it is to foreordain all events. God foreknows because He foreordained.

The pride James rebukes in 4:13-16 comes from the fact that men, when they see their plans regularly come to fruition, mistakenly believe that there is no higher power than their own plans and wills. It is an arrogant ignoring of God’s sovereign disposal of men and their lives. The universe is built on certain “Laws” which make it behave regularly. But this is because “God said.” It is a grave mistake to arrogate that same power to ourselves.

In short, to “speak” and it “come to pass” is nothing less than absolute sovereignty over all things. This is seen to be so from the next verse.

I. It is to be able to foresee all possible events.

Only God knows the end from the beginning. (Isaiah 46:10) Furthermore, only God lives in an eternal present – all times are present to Him. (Eph 1:4 – God was involved in ‘cause-and-effect’ action before He created time itself.) Moreover, His foreknowledge is dependant upon His decree, i.e., He knows the future because He decreed it all. (Acts 2:23 – predetermined counsel and foreknowledge – in that order.)

II. It is to be able to control all related factors.

Control of all factors is a natural part of creating. But God alone lives with no limitations on His sovereignty. It is a slight to God’s intelligence to insist that He cannot control men’s wills, i.e., reconcile Divine sovereignty and Human freedom. Many people have made shipwreck of the faith trying to reconcile two things which Scripture never portrays as in conflict with each other.

III. It is both to know and control the future.

It should go without saying that God knows all because He created all. God controls everything He created. He is accountable to no one for His disposing of His creatures. (Jeremiah 18:4-6; Daniel 4:35; Romans 9:21) I am a song writer. I have written many lyrics and melodies that I have consigned to the trash heap. Other I have recorded. The choice was mine because the creations were mine. As Creator God has such power in an infinitely higher degree.

IV. God has ordained, or decreed all events.

God’s foreknowledge is based upon His decree. He knows because He ordained. Here is where Arminian concepts of Divine foreknowledge crash upon the rocks. Here is where Open Theism makes shipwreck of the faith. God does not have to calculate the future based on what He foresees each creature will do. Rather, He foresees what each creature will do precisely because He has already ordained these things. Our task is never to try and decipher what may be God’s secret intent behind all the events which take place in the world around us. We merely need to concern ourselves with obeying what He has revealed as His will (Deut. 29:29).