Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nahum 1:6-8

Nahum 1:6-8 Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
1:6-8 Many people struggle with the concept of the coexistence in God of love and wrath. But it seems rather simple to me. They are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. His love for His people demonstrates the misery of the wicked and His wrath on the wicked demonstrates the blessedness of his people. In fact, one could say that the very act of wrath on the wicked is in itself a demonstration of His love for the righteous. When God killed Noah’s generation, He made the world a much safer place for Noah and his family. When God destroyed the cities of the plains he made a friendlier, more congenial environment for “righteous Lot” who was vexed by the rampant evil of his neighbors. When God poured out the ultimate wrath for sin on his own dear Son, He gave the most powerful demonstration possible of His love for the elect. He also gave the most powerful demonstration possible of His hatred for the reprobate by withholding from them His grace and the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death.
The wrath specifically referred to in this passage is the destruction of Nineveh. And this is portrayed as a boon for God’s people. Scripture says, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31). And our life-breath is in his hands (Daniel 5:23). As a preacher friend of mine used to say, “All God has to do is tighten his grip – – – and you’ll have trouble breathing.” Actually one of the biggest hindrances that people have in accepting the doctrine of the wrath of God is that quite unscriptural saying: God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is not from Scripture. Its roots lie in the Liberal Theology of the late 19th century, whose motto was “the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God.” Scripture on the other hand clearly teaches that God is not the father of any sinner; the devil is (John 8:44). Scripture is clear that God hates both the sinner and his sin. It is a perfect hatred that is interested in nothing but the glory of God. When God pours out his wrath, the righteous can run to him as a stronghold, a refuge from the day of trouble. Scripture speaks of God “knowing” those that are His. This knowing is causative. He does not know them because they are his; they are His because He knows them. When Scripture speaks of God knowing someone, it always implies favor (Matthew 7:23). As the first epistle of John says we love God because He first loved us. That is, our love for Him is not a reciprocation, per se, but is actually caused by His love for us. Those who take refuge in God in the day of trouble, do so precisely because He knows them. His knowledge of them is causative: it is the cause of their taking refuge in him. This is quite plain from the fact that the text does not say, “Those who know him take refuge…” But it says, “those He knows take refuge…” There is a world of difference between those two statements. The former is Pelagian, the latter is biblical. Now it is true that those who take refuge in God know Him, but this must be qualified by adding that they know Him precisely because He knows them first. Neglecting this distinction leads to a Pelagian idea of salvation. Pelagianism is Deism with regard to the doctrine of salvation. It works on the assumption that man needs no intervention from God, because God has made us with all the necessary abilities to understand our plight and respond savingly. It discounts the need for Sovereign, Divine regenerating power to raise us out of the death of sin.
As with the declaration of the impending destruction of Nineveh, it will come to a “complete end.” Darkness is a scriptural metaphor for separation from God’s presence. God’s enemies will never know the peace of dwelling in his presence. There is also a good case for “Double Predestination.” Not only will God’s enemies not dwell in the light of his presence, he will actually chase them out of it into the darkness. Many advocates of predestination affirm that the predestination of the wicked is permissive rather than active/causative. I once held to this myself. But it seems to me to be a bit of an Arminian fear of nullifying man’s free will. This verse is pretty cut and dry.
This truth, that God determines sovereignly who shall be saved, and who shall not be saved, the doctrine that God is GOD, that He is the sovereign Lord, even in the matter of the salvation and damnation of man, is not according to the flesh, and does not meet with general approval. How could it find grace in the eyes of sinful men? It humbles all the pride of man. It casts him prostrate in the dust. In relation to God it makes him a mere nothing. It presents him as he truly is, as less than a drop of the bucket and the dust of the balance. It leaves him no power, no wisdom, no goodness, no glory whatever. And it exalts God as the only sovereign Lord, Who is in the heavens, and Who doeth whatsoever He pleaseth, Who forms the light, and creates darkness, Who makes peace, and creates evil, Isaiah 45:7; Who is the Potter, while we are the clay, and Who forms, according to His good pleasure, vessels unto honor, and vessels unto dishonor. Rom. 9:21; and Who declares 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," Rom 9:17. How could it even be expected that this doctrine that exalts God and lays low all the pride of man, could find favor with sinful men that always exalt themselves against the living God?
Many objections are, and always have been raised against this truth, and we shall not discuss them all. There is, however, one objection that is as old as the truth itself, one that is supposed to expose the doctrine that salvation is of the Lord as both horrible and absurd, and which we may well examine for a moment. It is the well-known argument that the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty in the matter of salvation implies a denial of man's responsibility. If salvation is so absolutely the work of God that He alone determines it, and that man of himself can do nothing towards his own redemption and deliverance from sin, then, thus runs the objection, the sinner is no longer a moral agent, and God cannot justly hold him responsible in the day of judgment.
First of all, let’s point out that this is an old objection - very old. It has always been raised against the truth of God's sovereign dealings with men in the matter of salvation. Study the history of the Church and her doctrine, and you will discover that the primary objection of the opponents to the doctrine of absolutely sovereign grace was always the same. Always they accused those, who proclaimed this, that they made God the author of sin, and that they denied the responsibility of man. We can be comforted in this fact. When this indictment is brought against us, we can be assured that we are preaching the truth. This is especially of force, in view of the fact that the same accusations were lodged against Paul, which means that the objection is raised directly against the Scriptures. For in Romans 9 Paul is setting forth this same truth of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation and damnation of the sinner. And there he meets two objections, which he knows will be and are being raised against this doctrine. The first is expressed in the question: "Is there unrighteousness with God?" And the second, denying the responsibility of man, is raised in the words: "Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted His will?"
Secondly, Notice that the apostle Paul in the face of these objections does not apologize or withdraw anything he had said about God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation. He does not answer that he had been misunderstood or misconstrued. It’s pretty clear that the objector understood the apostle as having taught God's unconditional predestination. This is the only supposition on which the objections make any sense at all. An Arminian preacher who presents salvation as depending on the sinner's free will does not meet with these objections. Paul had been teaching that salvation is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy; and that, according to His sovereign good pleasure, God is merciful to whom He will be merciful, and whom He will He hardens. It is to this doctrine that the twofold objection is raised: then there is unrighteousness with God; and then man is not responsible, no one can resist his will. And if the objection had been due to a misunderstanding, the apostle could easily have removed the difficulty. In that case he would have modified his statements, and we would have found in Romans 9 an apology or explanation that Paul had been misunderstood or that his words had been misconstrued. Since Paul does nothing of the kind, it is clear that he concedes that his opponent had understood him correctly. Salvation is absolutely of the Lord.
Thirdly, I would like to point out that the apostle does not for one moment modify his teaching, by appealing to "another side" of this doctrine. He does not shift to "another track." This is often done by those who claim to believe in God's absolutely sovereign grace, and that exactly to meet the objections raised in Romans 9. They try to maintain a double faced theology. They profess to believe in the truth of absolute predestination and of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation. But if the objection is raised that by this doctrine they violate the freedom of man and destroy his responsibility, they shift to another track and answer that this is a deep mystery, and that one must not curiously inquire any further into this profound truth.
Christians aren’t afraid of accepting mysteries. God is great, and we will never be able comprehend Him, though by His own revelation in Scripture we may know Him. He is the eternal, and we are children of time. He is the infinite, and we are finite. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and we are mere creatures. The more we meditate on His majesty and greatness, the deeper the mysteries become. To deny this would be to deny God Himself!
We don’t claim the ability to solve all theological questions regarding God and His relation to His creatures. However, while not denying mystery, we, with equal emphasis deny that mystery and contradiction are synonymous. If an appeal to mystery so-called were the proper answer to the opponents of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation, shouldn’t we expect to find it in Romans 9? Because this is where, in the strongest terms possible Paul absolute predestination and God's sovereignty to save whom He will. And it was against this doctrine that the objection was raised, that this make God guilty of unrighteousness, and that man is without responsibility. Yet, the apostle does not point to another side of this truth. He does not apologize. He does not appeal to mystery. He leaves the truth to stand in all its implications.
Finally, let’s just cut to the chase and assert plainly that the objection that the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty destroys man's responsibility does not hold. The two do not contradict each other. The objection isn’t rooted in a logical difficulty. It comes from a sinful, radically rebellious attitude against God. The objector does not know his place. He is motivated by the desire to dethrone God. We can assert this because of what Scripture’s response to the objector is: "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" When the Scriptures say that God is sovereign even in the matter of man's eternal destiny, that He is merciful to whom He will be merciful, it is God that speaks. When anyone objects to this that then He cannot find fault, that He cannot judge and that we are not responsible to Him, that is talking back to God. A man who talks back to God is a rebel and must be put back in his place. He is mere creature, and God is GOD! Man's responsibility in relation to God's absolutely sovereign dealings is a mystery, to be sure. I cannot fathom it. It is too deep for me. But it is no contradiction. The objection is foolish.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post and reminder. Have been contemplating a phrase, to wit, "the daily, active judicial hostility of God to sin, wickedness and sinners..." I say "daily" because of the tenses and participles in Romans 1.18ff. A mind exercise today was: there are 20-30 homes on my street, mostly retired Marines, and who is under "divine wrath" and who is under the "cross" (where wrath was resolved for the elect). Yes, daily, active judicial hosility. Thanks for the reminder from this forceful prophet.


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