GOD IS LOVE
W. E. Best
Copyright © 1986
W. E. Best
Scripture quotations in this book designated “NASB” are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1977 by the Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission. Those designated “translation” are by the author and taken from the Greek Text. All others are from the King James Bible.
This book is
distributed by the
W. E. Best Book Missionary Trust
P. O. Box 34904
Houston, Texas 77234-4904 USA
1 God Is Love
2 God’s Purpose Guarantees The Manifestation Of His Love
3 God In Love Elected Some
4 Man Cannot Comprehend God’s Love In Election
5 God’s Love Is Discriminating
6 God Loves Some And Hates Others
7 God’s Hate And Wrath Differ
8 The Love Of God Is A Truth For Saints
9 In Love God Calls The Elect
10 God Sends Messengers To Proclaim His Love
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GOD IS LOVE
In this age of “Smile, God loves you,” it is imperative that the Biblical view of God’s love be boldly declared. The most tragic theological error of our day is the belief that love is the chief attribute of God. “God is love” of I John 4:8 and 16 connected with prejudice and Biblical ignorance have led to the error of “love is God.” The uninformed may think such statements minimize God’s love; whereas, the fact is, men have enthroned a deified love where holiness should reign. God who is love is maligned in this century by representing Him as loving without any regard for righteousness. The oversimplification of “God is love” has resulted in a dislike for doctrine in general and for distasteful passages, like “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13), in particular. A system of doctrine built on the oversimplification of “God is love” leads to affinity with modernism and socialism.
God is light (I John 1:5). God is righteous (I John 3:7). God is love (I John 4:8). Light and righteousness are the leading thoughts in the first part of I John, and love is the ruling thought in the last section. Love, therefore, is the end to which the others are the means. It is the consummation of fellowship which is the theme of the Epistle.
As to the nature of God, “light” is the nearest approach of anything with which we are acquainted to immateriality or spiritual incorporeality. The sun, for example, bears upon its beams a multiform ministry to sustain life. The power put forth in a day is beyond calculation. Yet, all is done silently and gently. God said, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:24). A consideration of the source of light reveals an emblem of the omnipresence of God. How insignificant is man as he walks in the midst of this vastness!
The diffusion of light is the most perfect illustration nature can afford of the immediateness of God’s communications with us. Not only was the message of Christ given immediately by revelation (Gal. 1:10-12), but Christ Himself shines immediately in the hearts of the elect (II Cor. 4:6), and the understanding of the message by the regenerated is immediately given (Matt. 16:17; Luke 24:45).
Positively, “God is light”; negatively, “...in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). Theologically, one would say darkness is not simply the antithesis of light, but it is the absence of light. Furthermore, light emanates from God, because “He is light.” However, no one can say darkness emanates from Him because “in him is no darkness.” Light and darkness cannot coexist. Where there is light, there can be no darkness. Hence, when the light of grace and love shines into the hearts of God’s chosen ones, they are no longer in darkness. Paul said to the Thessalonian saints, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness....Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:4, 5). Christians are not in darkness, but they are in the light.
God is righteous (I John 3:7). As God is light and in Him is no darkness, God is righteous and in Him is no unrighteousness. The same thing can be said about the principle of righteousness that was stated about the principle of light. Hence, one can say that righteousness emanates from God because He is righteous. However, no one can say unrighteousness emerges from God. Unrighteousness cannot rise from righteousness.
God has many attributes, but His nature is expressed by a single sentence—“God is love” (I John 4:8). The sentence does not state that God “was” or “God will be,” but “God is [present tense of eimi, I am] love.” Other things God does, but love is God’s nature. One may know something about human affection; but apart from grace, no one can know anything about Divine love. The stream that flows in the summer will be covered with ice in the winter, but God’s love is a stream that never freezes. On the other hand, a stream that flows in the spring from melting snow and ice will become dry in the heat of summer, but God’s love is a fountain that never runs dry. The sun that pours a flood of golden beams during the day sets in the evening. There is darkness in its absence. But God’s love is a sun that never sets.
The love of God acts only through righteousness. God is never addressed as “love,” “loving,” or “lovely.” He is addressed as “righteous,” “holy,” “just,” “faithful,” etc. God never used the term “love” in all His titles or names. Righteousness must necessarily be manifested and justice satisfied before man could understand that “God is love.” The greatest proof that God’s holiness is His chief attribute is the cross of Christ. Did the Father turn His back on Christ during the time He was being made an offering for sin because He loved Him or because He is holy? The love of God is manifested by the Father sending His Son (I John 4:9, 10), but love must be understood as God’s nature rather than as one of His attributes. The one word that best describes the essence of God’s being is “Holy” (John 17:11; I Pet. 1:15, 16; Rev. 4:8; 15:4).
God’s chief attribute is His holiness. Holiness gives beauty to all of God’s attributes. Nowhere in Scripture is God addressed in praise, worship, or petition as the “loving Father.” He is called “righteous Father,” “righteous God,” “holy God,” “merciful God,” but never “loving Father” or “loving God.” Those who speak of God as sweet or loving indicate they have no understanding of God’s character. Jesus Christ Himself never addressed God the Father as “loving God” or “loving Father.” Throughout His high priestly prayer, He called Him “Father,” “O Father,” “Holy Father,” and “righteous Father” (John 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). Although perfect love exists between the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ did not address Him as “loving Father.”
Among all the titles ascribed to God in the Old Testament, the title of love is not found. Righteousness must be manifested and justice satisfied before He could be known as loving. Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ came and displayed righteousness in His death. The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17). The character of Christ is eternally righteous, but it was not known until His death. Therefore, righteousness was necessarily manifested and justice satisfied before any person could understand that God is love. New Testament believers are privileged to understand more than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others did.
Holiness may be assigned to every historical act of God. The wickedness of man became so great that God destroyed the earth and all therein. Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives were the only persons saved. All others were destroyed in the flood. Love cannot be assigned to that destruction, but holiness, righteousness, and justice can. Likewise, God manifested His righteousness, but not His love, in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, the Lord in righteousness, not in love, destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. Not in love but in righteousness, God slew Senacharib and 185,000. Moreover, in righteousness, not in love, He opened the earth to swallow Korah and his followers. Holiness, but not love, may be assigned to every work of God in history. The only reason God deals with His elect in mercy is that His justice has been satisfied in their Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In holiness, the Father turned His back on His Son while He was made an offering for sin. God’s holiness, not His love, caused Him to turn His back. The sins of the elect were imputed to Jesus Christ, and He was treated as they should be. God’s holiness is magnified in Christ’s atonement (Ps. 22:1-3). God’s love is manifested in that He sent His Son (I John 4:9, 10). Love is God’s nature. It is His character, not His characteristic.
Divine love is set forth in John 3:16—God “so loved” the world. This does not speak of the quantity but the quality of that love. There is a comparison in this text between the loving and loved. The most high, holy God loves elected, depraved sinners. The measure of God’s love is infinite. It is without bounds. It is transcendent. It is incomprehensible: “May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).
God manifested His love by sending His Son. His love is manifested in other ways, but they all fade into insignificance in the light of the cross. Calvary was the extreme manifestation of love for God’s covenant people—those whom the Father gave the Son in the covenant of redemption (I John 4:9, 10).
The fruit of Divine love is the gift of the Father’s only begotten Son. He gave His best. The heathen themselves recognize that in making sacrifice the best should be given. The Father gave His Son in the counsels of eternity. He gave Him in purpose before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). There has never been a time in the thinking or the purpose of God when Jesus Christ was not His gift to those to whom He gave the Son in the covenant of redemption. The Son agreed with the Father to become the God-Man, the Surety. The Father gave the Son in incarnation. Jesus Christ came into the world, born of a virgin. He assumed the human nature. Hence, Jesus Christ possessed two natures united in the one Person, the God-Man. The completion of the Father giving the Son was when the Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross. The Father made His soul an offering for sin (Is. 53:10). The recipients of Divine love are chosen sinners whom the Father gave to Christ in the covenant of redemption before the foundation of the world. (Read John 10, John 17, Ephesians 1, and Romans 8).
The supreme Giver is the Father; the supreme Gift is the Son: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Until God’s elect are regenerated by the Spirit of God, they are enemies (Rom. 5:6-8). Jesus Christ died for the ungodly. The cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love to all who are saved by God’s grace.
The love of the Father is revealed in Jesus Christ and no other place. The elect are given to Christ, and Christ is given to all those the Father gave Christ. There is a twofold giving. The seventeenth chapter of John specifically states that the Father gave some to Christ and He gave Christ to them. He gave them to Christ in electing love, and He gave Christ to them in redemption. The Father gave Christ power over all flesh that Jesus Christ might give eternal life to as many as the Father gave Him.
The love of God the Son is manifested in redeeming the elect. He delighted in His people before the foundation of the world (Prov. 8:31). The love of God is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-35). There is no love outside of Jesus Christ.
The love of the Holy Spirit is seen in His coming into the hearts of the elect to regenerate, convict, and convert. He applies the redemption wrought out for the elect by Jesus Christ in His love on the cross, fulfilling the purpose of God the Father. Man is not convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment until the Holy Spirit does His regenerating work in his heart. He gives that person a new disposition of heart and mind, sheds the love of God abroad in his heart, and converts him.
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GOD’S PURPOSE GUARANTEES THE MANIFESTATION OF HIS LOVE
God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11) guarantees that eternal love will be manifested (Jer. 31:3). Eternal election is the first step of eternal love. God’s elective grace flows from eternal love. It provides eternal salvation through the eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20, 21). The eternal covenant is fulfilled in the Person and Work of the eternal Son. Thus, the eternality of Divine love is manifested not only in God’s love for the elect, which is without beginning, but through the reciprocal action of the redeemed and regenerated, whose love for God will be without ending.
A statement by religionists that is frequently repeated is “God is a gentleman, He lets you make your own choice.” Other statements are made by religionists: “By faith, you breathe Him (God) into your life, and He gives you spiritual life,” and “By faith you control your own destiny.” Three important questions are in order: (1) Is the way of man in himself? (2) Who first breathes in whom? (3) Is man the author of his own destiny? Solomon was inspired to write, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). Man may consider and purpose to himself what he will do, but God directs his steps by overruling and disposing all of man’s designs and actions according to His foreordained plan. Who will you believe, God or man? The purpose of God preceded the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:11). By providence, He executes the foreordained plan in time. In other words, the purpose of God draws an outlined picture of human history; and providence lays on the colors, thus completing the picture. Hence, what one designs, the other completes; what one ordains, the other executes:
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. 1:11).
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).
Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places (Ps. 135:6).
God’s purpose is executed irrespective of man’s will: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). God is subject to no man; furthermore, He is influenced by none. Being absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, to whom He pleases, and as He pleases.
God’s eternal love may be described as follows:
1. LOVE OF PURPOSE—God’s love of purpose means electing love. God’s love extends only to those for whom He has purposed grace or has already applied it to their hearts in regeneration. This is the only way Romans 9:13, “...Jacob have I loved...,” can be explained. God’s love for Jacob is stated to have been before he was born (Rom. 9:11). Therefore, God’s love is founded upon purposed grace, because grace cannot be separated from love. Wherever there is love there is either purposed or saving grace (II Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:4, 5; Rom. 5:5). If God loves everybody without exception, He had to purpose to save everyone. Furthermore, if He purposed to save everyone, all will be saved. However, that cannot be true because the same verse states, “...but Esau have I hated.”
2. LOVE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT—God’s love of accomplishment is revealed by the Father giving His Son to die for the world of the elect. The elect, therefore, was the object of God’s love. Jacob, but not Esau, was part of that world. Hence, the salvation of the world is not the same as the salvation of every person in the world. John taught the universalism of Christianity contrasted with the nationalism of the Old Testament. When the process of salvation is completed, the renewal will be so encompassing as to issue in an ordered cosmos (John 1:29). The elect of God consist of men of every character, nationality, and age. As to character, consider such persons as Jacob the deceiver, Rahab the harlot, Paul the religionist, etc. As to nationality, John spoke of “...a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues...” (Rev. 7:9). As to age, we go from the Old Testament patriarchs to the last one that shall be saved (II Pet. 3:9).
God’s love was manifested in a manner worthy of Himself. He gave His Son. The dignity of the gift was revealed—the Father and Son are one (John 10:30). The test of love is sacrifice; therefore, the Father sacrificed His Son. Matthew described a dramatic scene (Matt. 26:63-65). Two high priests were facing each other. One was an earthly priest after the order of Aaron; the other was the heavenly High Priest who, after His death, would assume His office at the Father’s right hand. His priesthood would be after the order of Melchizedek. When Christ announced Himself as the Son of God, Caiaphas in mock horror rent his clothes. This put him out of the office (Lev. 21:10). He did not know that Christ was the true High Priest in whom God’s love was manifested.
3. LOVE OF SATISFACTION—God’s love of satisfaction is the goal of electing love. The purpose of God to save the elect was not accomplished at the expense of His own name, character, and government (Rom. 3:24-26; Is. 53:10, 11). Justice had to be satisfied, and the only way that could be done was for Christ to be treated as if He were the sinner. With the satisfaction of justice, the redeemed sinner is treated as righteous because he is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Divine love, therefore, is a saving love rather than a love which merely tends toward salvation. This love assured the salvation of Jacob. It was not a love which merely tended toward salvation for Jacob and Esau—a salvation which Jacob accepted and Esau rejected.
Two words that stand out in Romans 9:11 are “purpose” and “election.” The Greek word for purpose is prothesis which means the setting forth or placing of a thing in view, a purpose. It is used twelve times in the New Testament (Matt. 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4; Acts 11:23; 27:13; Rom. 8:28; 9:11; Eph. 1:11; 3:11; II Tim. 1:9; 3:10; Heb. 9:2). It is translated “shewbread” and “purpose.” This compound word is made up of the preposition pro, which means “before,” and tithemi, which means to set, put, or place. In reference to the shewbread, prothesis means to set before as a public display, as the reminder of God’s provision for Israel in her wilderness wandering. This was done in a physical sense. Concerning God’s purpose, prothesis is used in an intellectual sense by setting before us in the Scriptures His determination or decree. We use the plural form “decrees” to speak of God’s purpose, but it must be understood that our uses of the plural are all reducible to one purpose. Therefore, decrees—as we speak of them for our convenience—are not successively formed as a so-called emergency arises, but they are all parts of one all-comprehending purpose or plan. This one purpose includes a number of events. These events are mutually related; therefore, we speak of decrees as many and as having a certain order. This certain order is by the One having supreme authority purposing what is pleasing to Himself without prejudice, respect of persons, or arbitrariness—as men view them.
According to the immediate context, as well as the overall context of Romans 9:11, election is always characterized by its own familiar formula—it comes not by human merit but by Divine grace. Thus, Paul’s words in the same text are: “...not of works, but of him that calleth.” The same writer said, this calling is “...not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Tim. 1:9). “Before the world began,” like “being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,” proves that election precedes the actual work of grace in men’s hearts.
God’s purpose is one, because He is of one mind: “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth” (Job 23:13). It has been said there can be no more a new thought or a new purpose in God than there can be a new God. Whatever God thinks He ever thought, always does think, and will think. Therefore, whatever God purposes He always purposed, ever purposes, and will purpose. Thinking and purposing are attributes of rational beings, whether created or uncreated. The thoughts and purposes of the infinite God are co-eternal with Himself. To illustrate this profound thought, let us consider the question that was asked a child: Does God consider anything? The child’s answer was, “No, God is too perfect to reason. He knows everything without reasoning.” No theologian could have given a better answer. God’s thoughts and purposes are absolute. If this were not true, no being could possibly have existed. The fulfillment of God’s purpose manifests the beauty of all His perfections. However, the fulfillment of God’s purpose in providence often seems to run contrary to His eternal purpose. This may be illustrated by a watch or a clock. The wheels in a watch or a clock move contrary to one another. Some move counterclockwise, and some move clockwise; but all serve the purpose of the watch or the clock. The intent or purpose is to show the time. Some men go one way in the power of grace; others go the opposite way in their naturally depraved power; but all men, in conclusion, accomplish the purpose of the sovereign God.
To form a plan and then to alter it, or to have a plan and then fail in it, is one of the sad imperfections of humanity. In the case of the altered plan, some new information was revealed which was not evident before the plan was formed. Hence, an absolute plan cannot be devised by man. Finite man, who continually learns, can never absolutely purpose anything. In the case of the plan that failed, man cannot foresee the future; therefore, he does not know what obstacles will prevent the success of his plan. But who is so foolish as to suppose any of these things in God?
An altered plan with God is unthinkable. God, who is infinite in understanding, does not worry about any new information: “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5). Infinite understanding means God’s understanding is unlimited and therefore perfect. Since an intellectual is one who shows a notable mental capacity, or one who is guided by the intellect rather than by feelings, we must hasten to say that God alone can fulfill the requirements of an intellectual. Hence, God is the only one of superior—absolute, perfect—intellect. God sees future, present, and past all at once. God, therefore, has a fixed and settled purpose—not just a purpose, but only one purpose.
All history is but one. There may be many ages and events, but there is only one history. There may be many provinces and rulers, but there is only one Lord of heaven and earth. There is no succession in God’s knowledge. Technically, there is no more foreknowledge than afterknowledge with God. Another manifestation of God’s condescension is that He accommodates Himself to man’s method of communication for man’s benefit. How else could the infinite God communicate with finite men? Prophecy is proof of God’s infinite knowledge. If He did not know future things, there was a time when He was ignorant. Every prophet’s candle was lighted by the torch of God’s foreknowledge (our way of thinking); but, better still, the prophet’s candle was lighted by the torch of God’s infinite knowledge. Thus, it has been said that God knows all things independently (who has been His counsellor?), distinctly (there is no mote or beam in God’s eye), immutably (the knowledge of future things cannot be changed, because that knowledge arises from His will which is irreversible—“But the counsel of the Lord, it will stand,” Proverbs 19:21 NASB), infallibly (God knows everything perfectly), and perpetually (God knows not Himself nor any of His creatures more perfectly at one time than at another).
Since God knows all things, it is unthinkable to suggest that, that which God knows will never happen. Who makes everything known by God certain to be fulfilled? Does this mean that God determined the acts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, etc.? If they were not determined by God, there must be a force in time independent of God. The only escape for this conclusion is to deny that God knows all things. That would lead to deism. To say that Judas would betray Christ and yet to know that it might be otherwise would be contradictory. This brings up a difficult problem for many to handle.
One must learn to distinguish things that differ. For example, God purposing an action so that it shall be sinful is not the same as God purposing an action as sinful. God purposed that some actions shall be sinful for the sake of the good that He will cause to arise from the sinfulness thereof. Two indisputable facts of Scripture are Joseph’s brethren and those who crucified Christ: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20). “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22, 23). God purposed sin for the sake of the good that shall be accomplished. On the other hand, man purposes for the sake of the evil in wicked men.
Religionists acknowledge that God permits sin; therefore, no one can honestly say that God permits sin when it is against His will to do so. Edwards said, “God wills to permit sin, it is evident, because He does permit it. None will say that God Himself does what He does not will to do.” It must be understood, however, that God’s purpose does not compel depraved men to do evil. He only leaves them to the workings of their own depraved hearts. Therefore, His justice cannot be impeached, because He neither infuses an evil principle nor enforces evil actions. He only ordained what shall be. God’s goodness cannot be impeached for suffering things which He could turn to such advantage for His own glory and the creatures’ good. Thus, we see how the sun shines upon the dunghill without polluting its rays.
It has been said that God’s purpose is founded in sovereignty, ordered by infinite wisdom, ratified by omnipotence, and cemented in immutability. Furthermore, let us say that God’s purpose is eternal (II Tim. 1:9), founded in Divine wisdom (Eph. 3:11), efficacious (Is. 46:10, 11), immutable (Acts 2:23), absolute (I Pet. 1:2), and all-comprehensive (Rom. 8:28); and it is more than a mere permission of His will with reference to sin. The problem cannot be solved by using the word “permission.” Such a term would suggest that God allows the sinner to freely decide against God’s command. If this is the teaching of Scripture, God in providence is no more than an observer of a contest whose outcome is never certain. Sin, according to the “permissive” view, lies in man’s power of action, and God’s action becomes His reaction to man’s action. The teaching of Scripture forces one to embrace the fact that whatever is done in time was purposed in eternity. Therefore, a time was fixed for the execution of that purpose, and it was brought about by the providence of God at that particular time. But does this not bring up the problem of determinism?
The alternatives, determinism or indeterminism, are true alternatives only on a horizontal, anthropological level. It is said they pose a dilemma which is resolved in the relationship man sustains to God. This vertical relationship between God and man alone gives possibility to a correct understanding of the problem of freedom. One has said that both determinism, which destroys free personality, and indeterminism, which declares personality sovereign as well as free, at bottom neglect the Biblical aspect of the problem. Determinism means man’s choices and actions are decided by antecedent causes. Conversely, indeterminism means man’s will chooses the motives which shall influence him rather than their being strictly determined by antecedent causes. It is interesting to observe that the Bible never speaks of God’s providence in its relation to human sin except in the historical actuality of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Hence, the Bible never speaks of God leading Judas to his act of betrayal. Christ’s enemies are represented as men characterized by great initiative and energy, but they are unable to escape what God predestined to come to pass: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27, 28). The Greek word for “determined” is the aorist tense of prooridzo which means to limit or mark out beforehand, design definitely beforehand, ordain beforehand, or predestine (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29, 30; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11). This compound word is made up of the preposition pro, before, and horidzo, to appoint definitely (Acts 17:26), to fix determinately (Acts 2:23), to decree or destine (Luke 22:22), to appoint (Acts 10:42; 17:31). Scripture does not let us penetrate the harmony between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. However, faith does not flee from responsibility, nor does it seek to explain guilt in any way other than out of man’s own depraved heart.
The prediction of John 12:37-41 concerning the Jews did not free them from the guilt of their unbelief, but it does show that the event came to pass according to the prediction. A comparison of the prediction with the event shows the providence of God, without which nothing comes to pass in history. God overrules opposition to His own advantage. Therefore, He is so infallible in His providence that He will not be frustrated of His purpose. God’s providence had a hand in both the complaint of Isaiah and the challenge against the sinning Jews. Men are not saved on the ground of their virtues, but they are condemned on the ground of their sin.
There is some discussion concerning Romans 9:11 as to whether purpose or election comes first in the Divine order. The word election precedes purpose in the Greek text, but the word order of the Greek text is not to be relied upon in the interpretation as the Divine order. The word “purpose” expresses the determined will of the sovereign God; therefore, the purpose of God is related to His election. Some try to make much over the word order of Romans 9:11 in the Greek text. Others say there is no difference between God electing some to eternal life and then purposing to save them and purposing to save some and then electing them.
Before and after, in reference to God’s purpose, does not mean that one is before another in the order of time. All is from eternity. However, we must form an idea of one thing before another in God’s purpose, inasmuch as God is the God of order. God’s purpose to manifest His glory must be considered as prior to the creation and fall of man. Creation, for example, was the means of manifesting God’s glory. As to order, God’s purpose preceded creation. Since election is God choosing some out from among created and fallen mankind to be the recipients of special favor, this election is “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). As to order, the election of Christ to be our Savior preceded our election “in Him” (Is. 42:1; Luke 23:35; I Pet. 2:4). Furthermore, since the elect are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, the means of obtaining conformation precedes the conformation.
One thing purposed by God becomes the foundation of another thing purposed. Therefore, the sinfulness of the reprobate is the foundation upon which God determines the punishment of his sinfulness. The justice of God is not to be considered as an end in itself but as a means to that end. Hence, Paul was inspired to write, “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” (Rom. 3:5, 6). On the other hand, while punishment is grounded on sin, grace is not grounded on man’s faith. Grace is grounded on the redemptive work of the chosen Mediator and Savior of the elect. While punishment presupposes sin, grace does not presuppose faith. Hence, the sovereign God is not unjust to purpose to give one justice and another grace. God, therefore, is righteous to elect some to be saved by grace and just to pass by others who shall be eternally lost.
The events of time are the acts of God’s will purposed before time. Therefore, the eternal purpose of God must be understood in the same order in which events are executed in time. The acts of God’s will in time cannot be different from the acts of His purpose in eternity. Each act in the execution of God’s will in time is the foundation for the act to follow. This may be proved by the following Biblical examples. Each act in the first chapter of Genesis was the reason for the act to follow. All the acts that preceded man were preparing for him. Each act in the life of Israel was the foundation for the act to follow. Consider this principle in Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan. Each event in the life of Christ from His birth to His death was the foundation for the event to follow. Bestowed upon the “elect of God” (I Thess. 1:4) are prevenient (coming before, antecedent, anticipatory) grace (“...grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began”—II Tim. 1:9), saving grace (“...by grace you have been saved”—Eph. 2:5 NASB), sustaining grace (“...My grace is sufficient for thee...”—II Cor. 12:9), and glorifying grace (“...hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”—I Pet. 1:13). Each act of grace is the reason for the one to follow. God’s act of giving grace to the elect is followed by His act of rewarding grace. However, both giving and rewarding grace were preceded by providing grace, and providing grace was preceded by purposing grace. God’s act of punishing the reprobates is grounded on His purposing the fall. Punishment, therefore, presupposes guilt; guilt presupposes sin; sin presupposes the fall; and the fall presupposes God purposing the fall. Evil is purposed for the glory of God’s justice, but God purposing an action so that it shall be sinful is not the same as God purposing an action as sinful.
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GOD IN LOVE ELECTED SOME
Having considered the word “purpose” in the statement “...that the purpose of God according to election might stand...,” we will now consider the word “election” in Romans 9:11. God’s purpose works according to the principle of election. No single word in Scripture has caused as much debate and division as “election.” Are we to think of God’s elect as those who have “decided for Christ”? No, it is the reverse. The elect are those whom the Father selected to be saved.
Men can be critical more easily than they can be correct. One does not have to know anything to criticize, but he surely has to study to be correct. Much of the criticism stems from ignorance, but a lot of it comes from prejudice. A “Greek student” said that predestination is used in about one verse out of 5,000 and this shows how much we should talk about it. Greek is a helpful tool to a person who has the Spirit of grace, but to one without the Spirit of grace, it is useless to help him understand spiritual things. Think of all the unsaved Greeks! If the Greek alone is sufficient, all Greeks should be saved. The same is true of the Hebrew. It, too, is a great tool; but it takes more than a knowledge of Hebrew. What about all the unsaved Jews?
God’s purpose would have been no purpose “according to election” if He had purposed to elect all without exception. Election means to select some from among all. God’s election of some could not be on the basis of foreseen faith, because God gave grace to the elect in Christ on the principle of election before the world began (II Tim. 1:9). Therefore, as many as God “appointed” tasso to eternal life believed. Believing is the result rather than the cause of God’s appointment. Men cannot beat the Lord to the choice, because God’s election preceded the actual existence of men.
God’s purpose according to election is displayed in Scripture to remind individuals and the nation of Israel that salvation is no afterthought with Him. Purpose is not the same as execution. For example, to purpose to create is not the same as creation itself. Furthermore, to purpose to save some according to the principle of election is not the same as salvation itself. God’s purpose is eternal, but its execution is in time. The purpose is not by reason of the faith in us, but the faith in us is because of the Divine purpose. God purposed to save some (Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9) and to redeem those He elected to save (I Pet. 1:18-23).
The principle of Divine election is given by Paul in Romans 9:6-13. There is no passage in all of Scripture more neglected, hated, and misinterpreted than this section of Romans 9. Depraved reasoning seeks to harmonize what appears to it to be inconsistency in God’s character. It begins by rationalizing that God who loves the world of mankind cannot hate anyone. Therefore, God loved Jacob but loved Esau less. Such reasoning continues by saying that God is no respecter of persons. Others recognize the authenticity of Scripture and interpret the passage as referring to the nation of Israel and having nothing to do with the election of individuals to eternal salvation. They assert that the election of Jacob and the rejection of Esau are not personal but national; and election is not to eternal salvation but to earthly privileges. They maintain that the choice of Jacob and the rejection of Esau are not intended to establish the doctrine of unconditional election to eternal life and the predestination of others to eternal damnation but the unconditional election of the Gentiles to the benefits of the gospel and the national rejection of the Jews. Finally, there are many religionists who, when confronted with Divine election, become angry and consign every one who believes in unconditional election to the pit of hell. They willfully neglect the passages that mention election. No effort is made by them to study the subject, because they are blinded by the so-called “free will” texts.
There have been varied interpretations by preachers on the meaning of election. Here are two views:
A plan of salvation was elected by God. Christ was the means of carrying out that plan. It is man’s decision to reject it or accept it. God also elected a people to manifest this plan. Man’s free will is the determinate factor in both.
The acceptance or rejection of Christ as Savior determines who is elected. God provided unlimited atonement. Election is accomplished at the time of salvation.
Arminians say that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge of who will actively co-operate with God in the saving of his own soul. Lutherans say it is based upon God’s foreknowledge of who will not resist His invitation to accept salvation as an outright gift. Methodists believe it is based upon God’s foreknowledge of who will persevere to the end. All have key verses to counterbalance the testimony of Scripture as a whole. They rely solely on the word “foreknowledge” without studying to know its true meaning. The “foreknowledge of God” is ignorantly and willfully misapplied by many. Some go no further than the English definition, “knowledge of a thing before it exists or happens.” Others willfully misinterpret the Biblical word. Sincere believers, on the other hand, desire to know how the verb proginosko (Acts 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; I Pet. 1:20; II Pet. 3:17) and the noun proginosis (Acts 2:23; I Pet. 1:2) are used in Scripture. These are not the same as ginosko of John 10:14.
Either God is sovereign and election is the expression of God’s eternal purpose, or man is sovereign and election is an expression of what God foreknew man would do. One must make a choice between the sovereignty of God in man’s salvation or the sovereignty of man in his own salvation. No one can straddle the fence on this issue. It is either one or the other.
The Greek verb eklego is made up of lego, which means to collect, gather, or pick out, and ek, which means out from. Hence, the compound verb means to pick, single, or choose out. This verb is used 20 times in the New Testament (Mark 13:20; Luke 6:13; 10:42; 14:7; John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; Acts 1:2, 24; 6:5; 13:17; 15:7, 22, 25; I Cor. 1:27—twice, 28; Eph. 1:4; James 2:5).
The Greek noun ekloge means the act of choosing out, election; election to privilege by Divine grace; the aggregate of those who are chosen, or the elect. This noun is used 7 times in the New Testament (Acts 9:15; Rom. 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; I Thess. 1:4; II Pet. 1:10).
The adjective eklektos is translated by the words “chosen” and “elect.” It means chosen out or selected. In the New Testament it signifies chosen as a recipient of special privilege, elect (Col. 3:12); specially beloved (Luke 23:35); possessed of prime excellence, exalted (I Tim. 5:21); choice or precious (I Pet. 2:4, 6). This adjective is used 22 times in the New Testament (Matt. 20:16—omitted in some MSs, but both Englishman’s and Strong’s Concordances show the word “chosen.” Nestle’s Greek text omits the adjective—Matt. 22:14; 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; 23:35; Rom. 8:33; 16:13; Col. 3:12; I Tim. 5:21; II Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; I Pet. 1:2; 2:4, 6, 9; II John 1, 13; Rev. 17:14).
Erroneous interpretations endanger one’s understanding of election. The following are some of those interpretations along with replies to them:
FIRST—Election is based on foreseen faith.
What did God the Father foresee? He foresaw that sinners would not believe (John 5:40).
SECOND—Election takes place at the point of faith.
Such teaching makes faith the deciding vote that places Jesus Christ into the office as Savior. Thus, the will of God becomes subservient to the will of man.
THIRD—The “freedom of God” is emphasized to the exclusion of means.
Election is not salvation; it is unto salvation (II Thess. 2:13).
FOURTH—There is an elected plan of salvation rather than an election of individuals.
To say that God did no more than give a plan is not different from His giving the Holy Law. There was nothing wrong with the law. The problem is in man’s depravity. As there was no grace in mere law, there is no grace in a mere plan. However, election is the “election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
FIFTH—Election may be taken for granted so that it becomes an occasion for subtle self-justification.
The conflict between Christ and the religious Jews was a conflict concerning the gracious election of God. The Bible does not present election as a way to self-exaltation, but as the way to true humility and holiness of life (II Cor. 5:14, 15; I Pet. 2:10, 11; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 12:14).
SIXTH—Election relieves the nonelect of all responsibility.
Every man is responsible to God. Furthermore, who knows who are the nonelect? God alone knows. The increase of objective light increases responsibility (Mark 6:11).
SEVENTH—Election prevents the salvation of some who desire to be saved.
The question should be asked, From what do they desire to be saved? The desire to be saved from hell is a natural desire, but the desire to be saved from sin is a spiritual desire. (See Luke 14:12-14; Matt. 22:1-14).
EIGHTH—God would be arbitrary to elect.
Man is blind to live in his belief in the nonarbitrariness of his own works and morality but envision arbitrariness in the absolute freedom of the sovereign God who is His own law. God can do as He pleases without being guilty of arbitrariness as men view arbitrariness.
NINTH—Election makes God a respecter of persons.
God is charged with giving to equal persons unequal things. God’s election is not an act of justice, but of sovereignty. Justice presupposes debt, but God is debtor to none. Man is dependent on God. Election is not a matter of right or wrong; it is God’s free favor.
TENTH—The doctrine of election makes God guilty of partiality.
Was God prejudiced in favor of some? Partiality means injustice (I Tim. 5:21; James 3:17). Do sinners have a right to favor with God? There can be no partiality since none have any right to God’s favor. If absolute sovereignty is partial, the Bible is full of partiality. (See Matt. 11:25-27).
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MAN CANNOT COMPREHEND GOD’S LOVE IN ELECTION
The major argument against Romans 9-11 teaching unconditional election to salvation is that it is to be understood in a national rather than a personal sense. Therefore, God loving Jacob and hating Esau is to be understood comparatively, not absolutely. They are representatives of a race, not of individuals. Love and hate refer to earthly, not heavenly privileges. The election depended on neither their repentance nor their faith; therefore, it is not true that this was an election to salvation of Jacob, or was it eternal reprobation of Esau. The matter in question concerned Jacob as a member of the theocratic family to which Esau could never attain because he spurned the birthright. The record states that “Two nations are in thy (Rebekah’s) womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Therefore, they conclude by saying that God was dealing with “nations” and “peoples” rather than electing one to salvation while passing by the other.
No one can deny the fact that Paul was discussing the subject of Israel in Romans 9-11, but neither can he deny that Jacob and Esau were individuals. Thus, two very important questions should be asked: Did God love only Israel and hate only Edom without first loving Jacob and hating Esau? Did not God make a distinction between one man and one nation over another man and another nation? No one can dismiss the idea of individual election by saying Romans 9 speaks of national election. Technically speaking, what difference is there between one nation being chosen from among the nations and some individuals being chosen from among mankind? The principle is the same in both cases.
The question of election or no election is the question of the testimony of Scripture on one side and the depraved opinions of men on the other. Holy Scripture instructs us in things that human reason can never know. Why would God give us a revelation of things we already know? Election is used several ways in the Scriptures: (1) Sometimes it refers to choosing persons of excellent or superior ability. When persons choose, they pick out the best. For example, the children of Benjamin chose the best and most effective warriors to defend themselves: “Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16). (2) Election sometimes signifies the temporary designation of persons to a particular office. Thus, the disciples were chosen to go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit might remain (John 15:16). (3) Election is used in the sense of God taking a whole nation into covenant with Himself: “...the LORD thy God hath chosen thee (Israel) to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). (4) Sometimes election refers to the eternal, sovereign, particular, and immutable act of God where He selected some from among mankind to be redeemed by Jesus Christ (John 10:15, 16; II Tim. 2:9, 10). There is no such thing as God eternally electing some to be His own and not determining who they will be: “...The Lord knoweth them that are his...” (II Tim. 2:19). “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest...” (Ps. 65:4). Unlike men, God does not choose men simply because they are superior to others in any way. He chooses the foolish, weak, base, despised, and things that are not that no flesh should glory(I Cor. 1:26-29).
The first instinct of depraved man is to rebel against God’s sovereignty. However, since election is unconditional, its result is unconditional surrender to the will of the sovereign God. This must never be expected apart from the grace of God. It has been said that the word “grace” conveys three ideas. The first idea is that of power. It takes power to save. Men who are dead in sin need power, not instruction. How can a dead person be instructed? The first act of grace is to make dead men alive. The working of God’s mighty power is described as internal in Ephesians 1:19 and 20. In the creation of man, God began on the outside; but in regeneration, He begins on the inside. Hence, there can be no external change that will abide until grace works an internal change. The same power that raised Christ from the grave is required to make men dead in sin alive in Christ. The second idea is that of love. Grace is not merely power, but it is power directed by love: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:4, 5). We have not only been saved but we are presently in a state of eternal salvation, because our salvation is a product of God’s everlasting love. The third idea of grace is that it is gratuitous. Therefore, it is not only undeserved, but it is unearned: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it 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). Grace, therefore, is all from God in its purpose, provision, and application.
The reason election is hated is because it is contrary to the opinion, judgment, estimate, or view of man in his depraved condition. That is why man counts the election of grace a “strange” thing (Luke 4:18-5:26). The word “strange” (Luke 5:26) is paradoxos, which means uncommon, unexpected, or incredible. It is a compound word—para, contrary to; doxa, opinion, judgment, estimate, or view—and is used only in this verse. Election particularizes grace, and that is what the natural mind hates. The reason that men do not have the correct concept of election is because they do not go to the sovereign God. The one who begins with God will say, “...Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). We must all learn the lessons that Eve, Sarah, and Rebekah had to learn. Concerning Cain and Abel, Eve learned that a spiritual seed is “not of blood.” Concerning Ishmael and Isaac, Sarah learned that a spiritual seed is “not of the will of the flesh.” The birth of Isaac was a miracle. Concerning Esau and Jacob, Rebekah learned that a spiritual seed is “not of the will of man.” At every step, Christians are shut up to faith in God. When they go to the word of God, they learn that salvation is of God in its planning, provision, and application (Eph. 1:3-14).
Where there is election, there is sure to be salvation, because election is unto salvation: “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: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 2:13, 14). Since election is “unto,” eis, salvation, election must precede salvation. Therefore, Christ said, “...other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). The verb “I have,” echo, means “to have already.” All the elect were Christ’s already, because they had already been given to Him by the Father (John 17:2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24). The next “I must bring” is a verbal noun, dei me agagein, the infinitive of ago, to bring. This can be translated “it is proper or inevitable for me to bring” those I have already by covenant relationship chosen to salvation. The means by which the elect are brought to salvation is given in John 10:15 when Christ said, “...I lay down my life for the sheep.” This refers to particular redemption. The next verb, “they shall hear,” is controversial as to its inflected form. Some think it is the future active tense of akouo, to hear. Others think it should be the future middle tense of akouo. Whatever inflected form you choose, it still means the elect Gentiles as well as the elect Jews will hear the true Shepherd, because they recognize His voice (John 10:3, 5). The last verb is “there shall be,” and this verb, like the one that precedes it, is controversial. Some think the inflected form should be the future active tense of ginomai, to become; but others think it should be the future middle tense of ginomai. They shall come to be one “flock” (poimen, a flock). The first occurrence of the word “fold” of John 10:16 is aule in the Greek text, which means “sheepfold.” The second occurrence is “fold,” but the Greek word is poimen, which means a “flock.” Christ’s sheep are not restricted to the “sheepfold” (Jews, John 10:1), but they are also chosen from among the Gentiles.
Those who believe Romans 9:10-13 applies only to national Israel, and not to individual election, say the passage should not be studied except in the light of Israel’s history (Mal. 1:1-5). They contend that the doctrine of Divine preference of Israel to Esau appeared only after the respective characters of the nations were manifested in history. Furthermore, they affirm that the Old Testament doctrine of election is to service only. One has said that as Paul tried to teach the Christians in Rome, God chose Israel not for the sake of Israel alone, but for the sake of the whole world. To him this explained the apparent arbitrariness of the choice and the narrowness of the groove within which Israel moved. There may be a great deal to be said for the doctrine of election in the abstract, but when it is couched in the language of “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” it is difficult to left>The only way one can know that God purposed to save him is by the effectual call: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (II Pet. 1:10). Only by making his “calling” sure can a person make God’s purpose in his election sure. One can reach the fountain only by following the stream. The fountain is the eternal purpose of God. When the stream of sanctification is recognized in one’s life, he then follows it to the springhead of God’s eternal purpose which He purposed in Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:11). Knowledge of God’s purpose according to election is known only by the light of sanctifying grace in one’s life.
There are three questions that should be asked every professing Christian: (1) Is there a difference between you and the unsaved? The honest person will admit a difference. (2) Should not the Person who made the difference between the saved and the unsaved receive the glory? Any sincere person will admit that the Person who made the difference should receive the glory. (3) Did God or you make the difference? No one but a nincompoop would say he made the difference. When the person admits that God makes the difference (I Cor. 4:7), he will then say, if God was not wrong to make the difference, He is not wrong to purpose to make the difference according to election. If the person objects to God’s eternal purpose according to election by saying he will have nothing to do with “a religion” that arranges everything beforehand, ask if he objects to his parents being arranged beforehand. The conversation should go no further with a continued negative response.
God’s “calling” is without repentance (Rom. 11:29). This means the calling of God, with respect to a change of mind, is irrevocable. This is a bridge which can be passed but once. Once it is crossed, there is no going back. God’s calling, therefore, is unchangeable, irreversible, and irrevocable. The appeal is to the faithfulness of God. God does not change His purpose according to election. Hence, God’s calling has its foundation in His purpose according to election and its consummation in glorification—from God’s “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11) “unto his eternal glory” (I Thess. 2:12; I Pet. 5:10).
There is a great difference between the command to believe and that which is objectively displayed without an attached offer. Scripture teaches that hearing, believing, and repenting are conditional; whereas, man’s hope is in the unconditional promises of God to give a hearing ear (Prov. 20:12), grant repentance (Jer. 31:18, 19; Acts 11:18), and give faith (Phil. 1:29; Heb. 12:2). Man as a responsible creature is commanded to hear, repent, and believe, even though in a state of depravity he is unable of himself to do any of the aforementioned things. If men as men are not obligated to believe, the elect are not obligated to believe. One must understand that God is not the author of man’s depravity. Man was created upright; but in Adam, man became a fallen creature. He fell in Adam and lost his spiritual abilities through his own sin. Hence, God does not mock man when He commands him to do what he is incapable of doing through his own fault. On the other hand, proclaiming the objective Christ does not mean that grace is being offered indiscriminately. Presenting Christ objectively has a twofold effect: (1) It is the means of salvation (not regeneration) for the elect. (2) It renders the nonelect inexcusable and causes them to harden themselves. It has been said that God’s commandments are not an expression of His expectations but of His requirements.
From the standpoint of the hearers, the objective Christ is general to some but particular to others. Paul presented Christ in a general way when he said, “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” (I Tim. 1:15). However, the objective Christ becomes particular to the “whosoever will” in the Lord Jesus’ statement to John at the close of the revelation of Himself: “...whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). The will that determines is the will that has been determined by God. The sinner, apart from Divine help, is unable to be willing and unwilling to be able. The man of God presents Christ generally, but the Holy Spirit particularizes the message by giving a hearing ear to the elect.
Some foolishly argue that if God purposed to save a limited number of persons, what need is there for preaching, evangelism, or missions? There are some Biblical facts that cannot be ignored: (1) God did not purpose to save all persons without exception. (2) All men do not come to the knowledge of the truth. (3) Christ died for the “sheep,” “His people,” “many,” etc. (4) Scripture never indiscriminately states, “Christ died for you.” (5) There are no recorded sermons in the Bible where a personal statement such as “God loves you” is found. (6) The Bible does not teach a redemption that fails to redeem, a reconciliation that does not reconcile, or a propitiation that does not give mercy. (7) Scriptures are clear on the fact that the gospel of grace is universal in the sense that it is sufficient to save an men without exception, if God had elected all. It is to be proclaimed indiscriminately, and it is purposed to save some from among all nationalities and kinds of people. These facts do not contradict the commission Christ gave: “Go ye therefore, and teach (disciple) all nations...” (Matt. 28:19). Hence, the church is to disciple those the Holy Spirit regenerates. The gospel had nothing for the Romans who loved power, the Jews who loved ritualism, or the Greeks who loved wisdom. Moreover, it has nothing for the nonelect who love themselves above all—including God —because the love of God has not been shed abroad in their hearts by the regenerating Spirit. The gospel is to be preached to all at all seasons, because no one knows who will be capable of believing or when he will believe.
Paul was careful to say that his preaching was “...not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). The Greek word translated “enticing” is peithos, which means “persuasive.” This persuasiveness is not in the ability of preachers. Arminians believe they are responsible to generate conviction, and it is up to those who hear to respond to the things spoken. Thus, we see why Arminian preachers are always changing and improving their techniques to stir up their audiences. Paul, unlike modern-day Arminian preachers, knew that faith could never stand in the persuasive wisdom of man. According to the inspired apostle, faith stands in the power of God: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost [Spirit], and in much assurance...” (I Thess. 1:4, 5).
The threefold way in which the gospel came to the Thessalonians is the crowning evidence of their Divine election. First, the gospel came “in power.” The gospel is always the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16) to those who are predestined to be saved. “Unto salvation” proves that the gospel does not come to the elect merely to inform them of a new objective state of affairs brought into being by the Son of God. It invades them as an effectual call to faith in Christ Jesus and a life of obedience to His will. While free will drives men to methods, free grace drives men to God through Christ by the Spirit. Secondly, the gospel came to the Thessalonians “in the Holy Spirit.” There is a difference between the word of the gospel and the power that manages that word. The Spirit of regeneration opens the heart and drives the gospel home to the heart thus producing conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. In this respect, one must distinguish between morality produced temporarily by the word only and persevering faith produced by the regenerating Spirit. The regenerating Spirit causes the recipient of grace to look to God for Divine strength to supplement his own weakness. Morality, on the other hand, never goes any higher than good motives. Lastly, the gospel came to the Thessalonians “in much assurance.” In the Greek, this assurance is linked with the Holy Spirit, because there is no repetition of the preposition en. Therefore, the believers in Thessalonica were directed to the inward assurance the Spirit gives. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself...” (I John 5:10).
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GOD SENDS MESSENGERS TO PROCLAIM HIS LOVE
A true theologian thinks over God’s thoughts and seeks to bring them into God’s order, as the builders of Solomon’s temple took the stones already hewn and put them into the places for which they had been designed (I Kings 5-7). As the Levites were responsible for placing every vessel in its Divinely appointed place, every man of God is responsible to accurately handle the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). What if the Levites had misplaced any of the vessels? God’s order would have been distorted, and confusion would have ensued. Paul summoned Timothy to a correct straightforward method of dealing with the word of God. When the word of God is handled properly, there will not be, to the enlightened mind, a distorted view of God or His ways with men.
The universal proclamation of the gospel carries with it the duty of all men to believe. Men are obligated to believe because they are rational creatures. What man is obligated to do and what he is capable of doing are two different things. Facts contained in the gospel are self-evident. The incarnation, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His resurrection out from among the dead are self-evident facts. Before the grace of God comes into a person’s heart, he believes these self-evident facts. But the mental assent to these facts does not save. Refusal to believe what is self-evident is unbelief. Unsaved men acknowledge the judgment of God (Rom. 1:32). The self-evident facts of the gospel refer to God’s glory. Every man is duty bound to bow down before such glory.
Without man’s willing and running he cannot be saved (Rom. 9:16). The work of man in obtaining his salvation is compared to husbandry, building, racing, and all laborious occupations. God will not cast out anyone who comes to Him. One cannot dispense with running and willing. The conclusion is that all it means is that the original reason of salvation is in God and not in man. Human effort had nothing to do with starting the eternal idea. God’s determination is entirely independent of all “willing and running.” God’s plan is to work by means. The principle of mediation fills and rules the universe. There is a Divine way, which, if not observed, all the willing and running, like the heathen, the Jew, etc., will prove futile.
Individuals may be persuaded to confess faith and be given false hope by telling them they are saved. But saving faith is not simply moral persuasion or decision. Man cannot be under moral obligation to do a supernatural work. He cannot regenerate his soul and give himself a new disposition of heart. No person can know himself to be elected by God prior to his faith in Jesus Christ.
The common statement heard from the lips of religionists is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Such a statement is the fruit of oversimplifying “God is love.” Do you suppose anyone ever said to Esau, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? Since no one knows who God elected to salvation and who He passed by, there is no Biblical authority to tell any one that God loves him and has a wonderful plan for his life. Therefore, behind the empty smile of the person who says, “Smile, God loves you,” lies the biggest deception ever perpetrated by Satan. This deceiver has been able to convince religionists that depraved man is something wonderful and a loving God would never harm depraved man whom He loves. Such teaching has made religion very attractive to the world. Neo-religion is being propagated by false teachers as God’s own personal cure for life’s problems and the guaranteed escape from the horrors of the coming wrath.
Preaching that “God is love” to the neglect of preaching that He is light and righteous is taking a verse out of the context of “the whole counsel of God.” Such preaching reduces God to some kind of love-god who overlooks sin at the expense of holiness. The Bible declares that God is the God of holiness, justice, righteousness, truth, and wrath. In fact, God is so holy that He cannot look upon unholiness or be in the presence of that which is unholy:
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity... (Hab. 1:13).
But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation (Jer. 10:10).
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him (Nahum 1:3-6).
And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth (Rev. 11:18).
God is holy; therefore, He cannot forgive man merely out of love. Sin is against the holy God, and the penalty for sin is death. The great mystery of the ages is that Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, died in the place of the elect. Hence, the cross is the epitome of grace. It has been said that the cross depolarizes Divine love and justice, and it brings them harmoniously together. Thus, in the death of the eternal Son of God, God is just and the justifier of those He saves by His grace (Rom. 3:24-26). Justice was satisfied and the elect are legally declared holy, or justified, before God through Christ’s death. Therefore, hope is found only in the “gospel of grace.” How can the “gospel of grace” be the “love-gospel” to the nonelect, since they will not be saved from the second death?
Another expression commonly heard among religionists that must be condemned is “God loves you and I love you too.” Such a statement wrongly equates Divine and human loves. Divine love is perfect; human love is imperfect. Furthermore, Divine love never fails; human love always fails. Depraved men have no difficulty understanding, expressing, or experiencing human affection; but when it comes to agape love, we must approach the subject with caution and reverence. Reason tells us that we humans cannot love one another as God loved His only begotten Son. God is not “love” in our finite understanding of the word. His love is unspeakable. Therefore, it is nothing short of blasphemy (impious or irreverent) to speak of our love on the level with God’s love.
There should be no misunderstanding as to what one should preach. The Bible explicitly declares that the message which should be proclaimed is Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:1-5). In preaching Christ, He is not offered. He is proclaimed, or displayed, in the message. Jesus Christ is to be presented objectively, but one must not think that the objective Christ is a bona fide offer of grace. Grace is not offered to the elect; it saves them (Eph. 2:5, 8). Hence, the grace of God that brings salvation appears to the elect (Titus 2:11-14). On the other hand, the facts of the objective Christ make no lasting impression on the non-elect. Please observe the statement “lasting impression”! One cannot say that the nonelect are not impressed at all, but the impression is not lasting. Numerous Scriptures demonstrate the fact that many nonelect persons are temporarily impressed: the first three soils of Matthew 13; those who wrought miracles in the name of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23); those who escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then turned from the objective message delivered unto them (II Pet. 2:20-22); those who draw back unto perdition (Heb. 10:39); those who went out from the fellowship of the saints (I John 2:19); etc.
The gospels nowhere record that God’s love is toward all sinners without exception. “God is love” cannot be the main theme of preaching. The message Jesus Christ gave Nicodemus and the message proclaimed by the apostles throughout the Acts of the Apostles differ. Jesus Christ could speak of the love of the Father because He knew who were His sheep, but the apostles could not use the word “love” indiscriminately. They did not know who the Father loved. Therefore, they preached the holiness, justice, and wrath of God. They preached subjects to awaken the consciousness of the hearer, but they never referred to the love of God in the sense that “God loves you.”
The word “love” is omitted from the entire book of the Acts of the Apostles. It records meetings, missionary journeys, and many messages proclaimed by God’s messengers, but not once did any of those messengers say, “God loves you.” On the day of pentecost, three thousand were saved and added to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Peter preached in the power of the Spirit, but he did not mention God’s love. He did preach God’s holiness and justice. Paul began his message to the Athenians of Acts 17 by asserting God’s eminence and rose to His transcendence, but he did not mention His love. He followed the same pattern in Corinth, preaching God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice.
That preaching which omitted mentioning God’s love brought them to their knees. To tell sinners that God loves them is a terrible mistake. God loves only those whom He elected. These elected ones remain unknown to men until after they are converted. God loves those who are in Christ.
All references to the love of God in either the church epistles, the general epistles, or the pastoral epistles were to the love of God in Christ Jesus experienced by the recipients of grace. One would be in error to say to the unsaved “God loves you” because he does not know that God loves them. However, that does not annul the fact that the gospel must be preached indiscriminately to every person under the sun. The Christian’s responsibility is to witness. He does not have an infinite mind.
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