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Balancing Calvinism and Arminianism
Divine Sovereignty in Perspective The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns The LORD has established his throne in the heavens. His kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19). The LORD Most High is awesome. He is a great King over all the earth (Psalm 47:2). God is on the throne and nobody can thwart his purposes. Human beings were created for Gods good pleasure according to the song of the twenty four elders in the Apocalypse: The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 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. (Revelation 4:10-11) God has a right to do with his creation as he pleases. History spells the words “his story”, referring to God. All history is for Gods glory and the display of his character and he made all things for himself. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1). The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was not just a way of salvation for lost sinners, although it is that. It is first and foremost a revelation of Gods character. It demonstrates Gods justice and wrath against human sin and also a demonstration of Gods love and grace for a sinful guilty world. It is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). The book of Proverbs reminds us in many instances that God is sovereign in the affairs of men for his own purposes: The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will (Prov 21:1) A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD (16:33) There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand. (19:21) Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way? (20:24) Both divine sovereignty and human freedom are necessary doctrines to prevent us going into extremes and madness. Both divine sovereignty and human freedom are affirmed by Scripture and by experience. Absolute sovereignty with no free choice makes us helpless pawns in the hands of a capricious God which is near to fatalism. Absolute freedom with no reference to divine providence leaves us in the impersonal hands of chance. A man's heart devises his way, indicating that he has a nature and will of his own. Yet the Lord God oversees, forbids, permits or governs all that does come to pass. God has ultimate control over the rise and fall of nations, as demonstrated by the rise and fall of Babylon when he deposed the Belshazzar King of Babylon and gave his empire to the Medes and the Persians. He is in command of nature, as demonstrated when God sent lions to slay his people in judgment. He is command of the weather, as demonstrated by The Lord Jesus calming the storm when in the boat. He is in command of our health, as demonstrated by his affliction of King Nebudchudnezzar and King Saul. God rules over our technology, as demonstrated when he loosed the wheels from Pharaoh's chariots. There is nothing omitted from God's providence and nothing is left to chance. Nothing could be more comforting to a believer than this. Human freedom, dispensed by God, operates within specific boundaries and is subject to internal and external influences. Jonah was a man who devised his own plans and ran away from God's will and
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective yet God arranged a storm to disrupt his journey and arranged a fish to take him to Nineveh to preach. Jonah devised his own way and the Lord directed his steps. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and yet it was in Gods plan all along. When Joseph was reunited with his brothers in the days of famine he reassured them: And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Gen 45:4-8) In Joseph's later words: “God meant it for good!”. God's sovereign purposes and decrees are in accordance with his moral perfections and not merely capricious. Throughout human history many kings have been sovereign but morally corrupt. In contrast, God is perfect and absolutely holy. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:6-8) When the Hebrews wanted to emphasise a point they would often repeat it once. The Lord Jesus often said “truly truly I say to you” to emphasise the veracity of his word. To say “Holy, holy, holy” is putting across as strong as one could. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his holiness. God cannot be tempted by evil and he does tempt anyone. God will never violate his holiness in exercising his sovereignty. God's justice will also never be violated in exercising his sovereignty. He cannot simply sweep sin under the carpet and say it does not matter. He has to execute justice. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ was a manifestation of God's justice and anger against sin and rebellion and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. God can do anything he pleases, but not that which is displeasing to him. He cannot act contrary to his own nature. God's Love and Sovereignty God is love (1 John 4:7). Love is intrinsic to his nature and not just something that God does. Love seeks good for another and not harm (Romans 13:10). God commands us to love our enemies because that reflects Gods character (Matt 5:44). God so loved the world that hated him that he sent his only Son to save it (John 3:16, 1 John 2:15). To condemn a guilty soul is in accordance with God's justice. To provide pardon and deliverance is in accordance with God's love and mercy. To decree a creature to eternal punishment with no choice and no pardon is not in accordance with God's love. Rather, it is makes God into a cruel monster. God's love also means that he desires his creatures to reciprocate that love back to him. We see reflections of this in marriage and other human relationships – love cannot be forced or programmed. That is why God graciously knocks at the heart of his creatures
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective instead of breaking the door down. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20).” If God predestined people to love him with no choice on the creatures part, we would be nothing but puppets or robots. These truths were demonstrated in the case of Job. Satan appeared in Gods presence accusing Job of loving God for selfish reasons. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" So Satan answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" And the Lord said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.1 God, for his own reasons, allowed Satan to test Job. God did not ordain or play a part in Satan's attacks on Job but wanted to vindicate him as belonging to him. It is clear from the rest of the story that Job did indeed love God of his own volition. Man is God's creation, made in his image and consequently he is at the centre of the battle for love and service between God and Satan. As Arminian writers Forster and Marston point out: The reason, we discover, for God not saving all men is not that he doesn't really want to. It is not a great mystery. It not part of his inscrutable will. It is simply that if he were to force them, they would no longer be men. He would have failed to achieve anything of his purpose. There is no contradiction, or even paradox, between the perishing of men and God's desire to save them. They are both necessary expressions of one and the same will to form relationships of love, sharing and understanding with men.2 God's Faithfulness and Sovereignty God is also faithful and true to his word and cannot lie. “Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deut 7:9). “Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (Psalm 36:5). Reconciling this attribute of Gods character with hyper-Calvinistic doctrine has admittedly been a great difficulty. If God has already decreed some men to be lost, then why does he send out messengers to tell them the gospel of salvation? Is such a gospel sincere? Is the gospel really “good news”? Calvinist Loraine Boettner attempts to answer this: The difficulty, however, in both cases [Calvinism and Arminianism] is purely subjective, and is due to our limited knowledge and to our inability to comprehend the ways of God, which are past finding out. We do know that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and 1 Job 1:6-12. New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. .
2 Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston, Gods Strategy in Human History, p35. Highland Books 1973.
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective we trust Him even though our feeble reason cannot always follow His ways.3 Boettner has appealed to our limited knowledge and ignored the revealed truth about Gods faithfulness. God's unsearchable ways cannot involve deception – God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). If the words “faithfulness” and “truth” are to have any meaning then we will not be content to fall back on “divine sovereignty” or “mystery” to explain deception. In using the phrase “we know that the Judge of all the earth will do right”, Boettner is taking a verse out of context. The verse is Genesis 18:25 and it is referring to God doing what is right by slaying the wicked and not slaying the righteous. God is not deceiving people by offering them a false hope. Vincent Cheung, a strong Calvinist and minister at Reformation Ministries International, believes that evangelism is God's way to win the elect but faces this objection with more honesty: Faith comes only as God's sovereign gift, and God has immutably decided to withhold this gift from the non-elect, but rather to actively harden them; therefore, to sincerely offer salvation to the non-elect as if God desires them to be saved and as if it is possible for them to be saved would be to lie to them in God's name.4 Cheung is being honest about the implications of his view. In defense of God's truthfulness we need to examine another common view. Some of Calvin's followers teach that God has a revealed will for all men to be saved and a secret will for some men to be saved to the exclusion of others. John Piper is a modern advocate of this position: Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least "two wills" in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass.5 Church Historian Phillip Schaff highlighted the problems presented by this view: The only way of escape is by the distinction between a revealed will of God, which declares his willingness to save all men, and a secret will of God which means to save only some men. Augustine and Luther made this distinction...But this distinction overthrows the system which it is intended to support. A contradiction between intention and expression is fatal to veracity, which is the foundation of human morality, and must be an essential attribute of the deity. A man who says the reverse of what he means is called, in plain English, a hypocrit and a liar. Nor does it help the matter when Calvin says, repeatedly, that there are not two wills in God, but only two ways of speaking adapted to our weakness. Nor does it remove the difficulty when he warns to rely on the revealed will of God rather than brood over his secret will.6 Arminius succinctly said “The distinction of the will of God into that which is secret or of his good pleasure, and that which is revealed or signified, cannot bear a rigid examination”7. If God has a
3 The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, chapter XXI, CCEL. 4 Reformation Ministries International, http://www.vincentcheung.com/2005/04/05/the-sincere-offer-of-the-gospel-part -1/ 5 Are There Two Wills in God? http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/ 6 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Book 8, Chapter XIV, Section 114. 7 The Works of James Arminius, Vols. 1 & 2 by James Nichols, Vol. 3 by W. R. Bagnall . God Considered According To His Nature. http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/arminius/v.htm#2.%20ON%20GOD%20CONSIDERED %20ACCORDING%20TO%20HIS%20NATURE
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective secret will how did Calvin find out about it? Polarising one truth at the expense of another truth has led to many theological errors. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, teach annihilation and argue it on the basis of God's love. It is contrary to Gods love, they claim, to send a soul into hell. They exalt God's love at the expense of his perfect justice. A similar error is made by many Calvinists who passionately defend God's sovereignty and are prepared to undermine God's faithfulness and limit God's love to do so. God is Governor God is in control of human history by his permission or decree. He could choose to save everybody by giving them a Damascus Road conversion experience, but he does not. This is more problematic for the Arminian position than for Calvinists. Why God does not save everyone in this way is not revealed and the Arminian can rest in assurance in God's wisdom and purposes. Arminius did take this into account in his system: Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation. Neither is there any volition of God about or concerning those whom he calls as being uniformly considered, that is, either affirmatively or negatively contrary to this will. God is not bound to employ all the modes which are possible to him for the salvation of all men. He has performed his part, when he has employed either one or more of these possible means for saving.8 God has given man freedom to respond and if a man rejects the light that God has given him, he is under no obligation to give further light. In some cases God does just this, and breaks down the resistance in his creatures. Calvinists will call this “irresistable grace”. In the future, God is going to break down Israel's resistance and rebellion against him in the tribulation period and the time will come when all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26). This is decreed by God and is not subject to human free will. As will be seen in a later essay, free will is subject to limitations. There are other instances where God does not break down the resistance but allows his creatures to keep on rebelling against him. In Calvinistic terminology, this is called “preterition”, meaning the “passing by” of the non-elect. In some cases God has actively hardened sinners in rebellion against him to speed up his purposes, as was the case with Pharaoh. God could wipe out this world immediately but has chosen to suffer human rebellion for a while longer. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance
8 Ibid. Volume 2, Disputation 42. http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/arminius/v.htm#17.%20ON%20THE %20VOCATION%20OF%20SINNERS%20TO%20COMMUNION%20WITH
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:24-30) God determines where each man is going to be born, where he will live, the direction of his life and fixes the day of his death. He commands all men everywhere to repent. His sovereignty has also dispensed free will to his creatures to obey or disobey him and has fixed a day to righteously judge all. The Prophet Isaiah and King Nebudchudnezzar, after his divine restoration to power and sanity, rightly exalted God's sovereign pleasure. And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35 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? Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. (Isaiah 46:9-10) It is important to remember that God's pleasure is rooted in his character and he has no pleasure in that which is contrary to it. God has pleasure in saving people who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21) and giving believers a kingdom (Luke 12:32). The Lord Jesus accomplished the Fathers's pleasure (Isaiah 53:10). Contrastingly God has no pleasure in judging the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) and yet for in accordance with God's justice, it has to be done. Despite the fact that it gives God no pleasure, it is still within his purposes. The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. (Proverbs 16:4). This proverb has troubled many students of Gods word. Matthew Henry offers wise counsel on these words: He made all according to his will and for his praise; he designed to serve his own purposes by all his creatures, and he will not fail of his designs; all are his servants. The wicked he is not glorified by, but he will be glorified upon. He makes no man wicked, but he made those who he foresaw would be wicked: yet he made them (Gen. 6:6), because he knew how to get himself honour upon them.9 God is glorified in manifesting his perfect justice and righteousness upon the wicked. The eternal lake of fire was never intended for any man but for the devil and his angels and not for people (Matthew 25:41). The wicked go that way because they choose to do so, not because God has ordained it to be so. Sometimes events happen that are not in accordance with God's pleasure. In Luke 7:30 the Pharisees reject the counsel of God for themselves, showing that God's will for an individual can be rejected. God desires that believers abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3) and yet not all believers do. Of course, God could force his will upon individuals if he so wished. As seen earlier, God does not force his love upon people and desires our voluntary response. God's declaration “I shall do all my pleasure” should be taken as a general statement rather than an absolute one. Calvinists should not have any problems accepting this considering that they maintain that “all” does not always mean “all” in an absolute sense10. It is often argued that the term “all” can be taken in
9 Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on Proverbs 16:4 10 Many Calvinists dispute the absolute meaning of the word “all”, particularly in reference to universal gospel appeals.
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective a general sense. “All God's pleasure” refers to his overall plan and purpose – including creation and salvation amongst other things. It does not mean that God is the direct cause of every every event. Ephesians 1v11 is another favourite verse used by Calvinists: In whom [Christ] 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. Does this mean that God creates all events according to his own purpose? Consider the Asian Tsunami, the wildfires destroying large parts of America and Australia and the race riots in major British cities. Are they God's doing? Some Christians may immediately object and state that this is contrary to God's character, but we do see God sending judgments in this way in Scripture. The UK, where the current author lives, has been blessed with light and revelation from God through many means. Bibles have been freely available, preachers such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, William Carey and C.H Spurgeon have preached the law of God to the nation and it had a legal system built upon God's law. Today the UK has rebelled against God and has suffered droughts, floods, economic disaster and terrorist attacks as a result. We will see later some examples of cases where God gives sinners over to greater sin as a judgment. Again, this is not capricious but in complete accordance with God's justice and wrath. This verse can also mean that God causes all events that happen to work according to his own will. The same is true in Romans 8:28: we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. It is not saying that God causes all things, rather it is saying that all things that are caused are used by God to his own purpose. The Westminster Confession uses this verse as proof that God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.11 According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “ordain” means “to order something to happen”. In this view, God ordered man to fall and for sin to enter the world. He also ordered some to be redeemed and some to perish in eternal damnation. How God can arrange for an event to happen and not be responsible for it is a contradiction. It is similar to saying “C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia but he is not the author of it”. The Confession also makes reference to “secondary causes” and “the will of the creatures”, inferring that there is some flexibility of meaning in this. It would be more correct to substitute the word “ordain” with “governs” or “controls”. With this amendment, this statement in the confession has great value. There is an alternative understanding to Ephesians 1:11. Some Arminians argue that the phrase “all things” in verse 10 is not referring to events but to “all creation”: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth. If we are to follow the flow of the epistle we should take the phrase “all things” in verses 10 and 11 consistently. Colossians 1:15-20 sheds further light on this: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father
For example, many argue that the phrase “all men” in 1 Tim 2:4 means all men of a particular kind. Many other examples could be cited but the point here is that they have lost the right to insist that the term “all” means “all” when it works in their favour. 11 Chapter 3, The Decree of God. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven”. The phrase “works” means to “energise” and is used in relation to Gods power working in us: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us (3:20). Reprobation Reprobation is a Biblical concept. There are instances in Scripture where God makes the heart of a sinner stubborn in his rebellion in order to bring about his purposes12. It is perfectly just and fair as the creature is already in hostility against him and God is under no obligation to extend his mercy. Because of the abominations of the Hittites, Canaanites, Amorites, Perazzites and Jebusites God had determined to destroy them and hardened (or made their hearts “resolute”) their hearts in order that they may not make peace with Israel and corrupt them (Deut 20:17-18). There are other instances where God ordains a sinners actions to be a punishment or discipline for some individual. After Davids double sin of murder and adultery God made a promise to him: Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. (2 Sam 12:11-12). God, in his holiness, cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt any man. He can, on the other side, allow man to express his sinful nature to achieve his purposes and did so in this instance. On other occasions Satan, rather than sinful humanity, has been that agent. In accordance with justice, God determined to render Abimelech's wickedness upon him: Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren. Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal. (Judges 9:23-24, 56-57). God also hardened Israel's enemies in Joshua's day in order to bring about their destruction: Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:18-20). God's purpose for the destruction of these nations was not capricious but completely just. Moses had warned Israel to destroy these nations because of their abominable deeds (Deut 20:18) and his loving purpose for them was that they would not be partakers
12 The case of Phaoraoh will be expounded in an essay on Romans 9.
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective of this iniquity. Another example of this will be seen in the future tribulation period: The ten horns [kings] which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. (Revelation 17:16-17) God placed his will into the hearts of these kings to judge the “whore”, which represents the apostate church of the last days. This is God's justice against a system that has has martyred his own people. In Romans 1 we see another example of God giving over a perverse society for rejecting the light that he has given. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:16-31). Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee. (Psalm 81:8-16). Over and over in these verses we are told that GOD gave them over. In Romans it is referring to the entire human race and in Psalm 81 it is referring to his beloved, Israel. Dave Hunt reminds us: To “give them up” indicates there was a time when God was genuinely striving to convince and win them and had not given them up. But a change has come in God’s actions toward them, a change not in God’s heart or desire—which are unchangeable— but a change in His dealings with those who have so hardened their hearts toward Him that there is no point for Him to further strive with them.13 We can all appreciate this principle in human relationships. If you loved somebody who did not reciprocate that love and took advantage of your good nature, you would break eventually. You would accept that this person is not going to change and you cut them off from any further opportunities. God's patience and kindness is much greater than ours and we can only thank and praise him for not treating us as our sins deserve. There are many times in my life when I have selfishly gone my own way and God has continued showing kindness and grace. The very fact that I am still alive and still have food and clothing shows extraordinary mercy and kindness in God's character. Love is patient and kind but even divine love does not hold out forever. Conclusion God's love has reached out to save fallen humanity. God's justice will be manifested by those who reject that provision. God's sovereignty, and human freedom, should both bring comfort and encouragement to believing hearts. Calvin wisely stated: Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death. For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger? Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death. Go on board a ship, you are but a plank’s breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling of a foot endangers your life. Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roofs is a source of danger. If a sharp instrument is in your own hand, or that of a friend, the possible harm is manifest. All the savage beasts you see are so many beings armed for your destruction. Even within a high walled garden, where everything ministers to delight, a serpent will sometimes lurk. Your house, constantly exposed to fire, threatens you with poverty by day, with destruction by night. Your fields, subject to hail, mildew, drought, and other injuries, denounce barrenness, and thereby famine. I say nothing of poison, treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us abroad. Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck? It may be said that these things happen seldom, at least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they were to
13 What Love is This? 2nd Edition, p141, The Berean Call 2004.
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Divine Sovereignty in Perspective befall us. What can you imagine more grievous than such trepidation? Add that there is something like an insult to God when it is said, that man, the noblest of the creatures, stands exposed to every blind and random stroke of fortune. Here, however, we were only referring to the misery which man should feel, were he placed under the dominion of chance.14 Sir Robert Anderson encourages us to have a spiritual perspective: Nor is this mystery [sovereignty and freedom] peculiar to great and momentous events foretold in prophecy; it surrounds our life from first to last. To recognise and act upon the fact of our own responsibility and freedom, and yet to accept the consequences of our acts as coming from the hand of God, is the part of a spiritual Christian. But to act upon the truth of divine sovereignty, yielding to blind impulse as guiding the execution of its decrees, is the part of a heathen fatalist. As I leave my door, I am conscious of being absolutely free to turn to the right hand or to the left. The one path may lead to the attainment of some signal blessing, the other to the commission of some terrible sin : I make choice, and in choosing the wrong path I am sensible, not only that I have power to take the other, but that I am going in direct violation of the will of God in not taking it. When the consequences are startling, as for instance if my error cost me my life, every one recognises the sovereignty of God in the whole matter, but that truth applies as really to the fall of a sparrow as to the death of a king. And thus every day of our lives we act upon a principle which appears to be absolutely incompatible with sovereignty; and yet we recognise this truth of sovereignty in reviewing our actions and their consequences.15 The truths examined in this essay demonstrates that God is overall in control of human history and man has a limited measure of freedom (which we will examine more in a later essay). About The Author: Christopher Skinner lives in Leeds, West Yorkshire and runs a Christian blog at http:chrisbiblethoughts.blogspot.com
14 Institutes of Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 17. 15 The Gospel and It's Ministry, Kregel Publications 1978, p83-84.
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