BULLETIN ONE HUNDRED & FORTY SEVEN

THE CATECHETICAL APPROACH

TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD AND THE FREEDOM OF MAN

How can you talk of human responsibility before God when you also say that He is sovereign ?

It is because one thing He sovereignly desires is human freedom.

Does He then consult with man on what laws shall be, whose morals shall rule and yet strangely direct his heart to obey or not, while blaming him if he does not want to ?

Certainly not consult! If infinite goodness (SMR Ch. 1) with infinite wisdom consulted with man about all this, it would in part be a simplistic, incidental if not accidental product of time and space on the part of beings not only limited but unlovely to the extent they even wildly draw near to destroying themselves.

But what about directing his heart to obey Him or not ? Does it not say that those born of God are not born in terms of human will or blood ?

Thank the Lord for that. Are fallen natures inclined to be unlovely, and limited and variable to degrees often approach the hysterical, even in the minds of the rulers of great nations, instead of being possessed of the understanding and perception, awareness of reality to make eternal choices and live with them, not for thousands of years, but endless time!

But where then is the freedom ? If God simply regenerates this fallen mortal or that one, giving no account of His choice as the Larger Catechism indicates (Question and Answer 13), where is either the liberty or the responsibility, and hence, is the guilt on the part of man ?

I quite agree. But then our topic today is not what theologians sometimes say - the sky is the limit, and that is a wholly different subject very often, but what the Bible has to say.

When then does it say on this ?

It denies that God makes His choices (in destiny) on an unaccounted or unknown basis!

Where in the Bible is this indicated ?

First in Colossians 1:19, the verse with which I successfully challenged the theology professor at Westminster Seminary, it declares this. "Having made peace through the blood of the cross, it pleased the Father that in Him {Jesus Christ] all fulness should dwell and to reconcile all things to Himself by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of the cross..."

Why are we not often told of this ?

That is a separate and not strictly relevant point to question, but one might almost write a book on that. Our task however is to research and find what the Bible teaches in these spheres.

What then ?

First, it is not a pocket of will in the Father that so related to not only the terrestrial but to the celestial. Pleasing Him that ALL things be reconciled to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ exhibits a divine characteristic. Secondly, it was total, omitting nothing in its applicability. Thirdly, it is declared in terms of, indeed in the name of the blood of the cross, so it is not some side issue, but centrally established to the heights and the depths. God assuredly would like and is disposed to receive anyone and everyone in both spheres, and to do so in a total pleroma if you will, of mercy and willingness. As He says once and again in Ezekiel, He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked", but what He really would like, with incandescent desire is that they should turn from their evil way and live an activated life abundant in the good He has provided (Ezekiel 18 and 33).

Well, that is clear enough. It is no mystery in the Bible what He would like, go you high or low!

Yes, you have both the negative and the positive propositions, what He would like and what He would not like, and the total strength of emphasis, with the outstanding certification of vital importance, even to the level of the death of His Son: there was nothing left to do that He did not do, for this salvation relative to these the created inhabitants of heaven and earth.

But do you see it consistently ?

You find it present like the sunshine in Summer. For example, in Isaiah 48:15ff., we read of a divine anguish - that seems the most appealing word to describe this appealing approach of the Almighty in this topic - at what Israel did NOT do; and in the strictest sense, the Lord proceeds in significant detail to point out all the wonderful things that could have, would have and should have happened if ONLY Israel had not made an exceedingly foolish choice, and distanced itself from the Lord and from His word. It is so like a father, declaring to his wayward boy, "Son, if only you finished those exams, and put your heart into your studies, instead of buffooning about, now you would be living a fascinatingly life; but you didn't and you wouldn't, but if you had only chosen differently, it was a gift! Ah, you unthankful boy..."

What does He say ?

Starting at verse 17, He declares this:

"Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.
Oh that you had heeded My commandments.
Then your peace would have been like a river ..."

Israel is called out and very nearly culled out for wilful departure from the express province for which the Lord was teaching them, and He envisaged what might have been; but they flew freely from the boundaries of His teaching and fatherly concern, like a flock of stirred birds. This was indefensible, unnecessary and not the direction of His training which, in so doing, they ignored, though it was devised for their good. The important point is this: the expectation was not for a null result, in the sense of rational hope, but for a totally different outcome. However it did not come, and the ground of difference from due expectation, was found lying in their differential selves, not in something inherent. What was inherent had only one possible outcome; what was a matter of freedom did not, and in His presence, there was the latter. God knows, and speaks accordingly; He felt the response of the people before Him, all things considered, dismal, dismissive and unnecessary.

Things could have been different, and such He yearned to obtain through them ?

Precisely. Those people, in other words, and at that time, COULD and SHOULD have done differently. There was neither compulsion nor sovereign compulsion of any kind, levitating them from the right to the wrong one. Indeed, the heart of the Lord was smitten at their endless- seeming revolt, culpable disregard, fascination with other things, whereas a very different way had been prepared for them with all the desire of a good father's heart, and the applicability.

But if they were sinful in type, how could they have done differently ? Doesn't Paul say in I Corinthians 2 that the carnal, or worldly, or unspiritual man does not find much to please him in spiritual things, but that rather to him they just seem foolishness ?

It does. This has no bearing in the case of Adam, since he was not afflicted with the sin which disturbs, disorders and distresses, when he chose.

Ah, I know that. He was created in God's image and so in some ways, had the power of self-determination, especially towards God as His Maker. He could spit on Him, or betray Him as he did and in terms of considerations beguiling needlessly to his aspiring heart and rampant spirit.

But if I a m not mistaken, doesn't Romans 5 say that Adam did not sin in the way later (fallen) beings did ?

Yes it does, why ?

Well, that is not the entire answer. What of those already sinners ? Is their case no different.

In that respect, yes, though nothing alters the way and the liberty of their basic construction. It is just that it is now pathologically inclined.

Then how would it be possible for them to make a differential choice - that is for some people to choose to follow God ('foolishness') while some saw it differently!

But so  far from this perspective being the biblical one, it is flatly contradicted in the Bible.

How is this so  ?

John 1:12 as noted before,  tells us it was NOT of the will or blood of man that the entry into His kingdom was made. Man did not choose it then in his pathological condition, so why ask how there could be what the Bible denies ? Not relevant is the short answer.

Then I suppose you are going to say that God chose and man freely followed ?

It is not something that I would say, in this, that God has already said: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." if we are still interested in what the Bible says on the topic, then, let us to keep to what that is!

Agreed.

Thus it is explicit for the pathological residue of the human race, known for example now as the current generation, that they do not do the choosing. Indeed, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," John 15:16.

How then are they free ? If Mummy chooses an ice-cream for her kid and he would rather have chocolate, this is a bizarre form of freedom.

You example omits one important feature: the nature and capabilities of the agents at work. Thus if you have crane the case changes somewhat from having 20 men to lift something. When God is involved, there is an infinite power and wisdom not available in himself, to man.

How does that affect the situation ?

First, the Bible makes it clear that God is not doing His judgment on what He simply foresees man will do, and then retrospectively choosing people's destinies (Romans 9:11). That could end up in mere circular reasoning, letting a non-free man do non-free things when his time on earth arrived, and then judging him for them!

What else then ?

Secondly, God does not change. Nor do His principles seize  up  - neither in Colossians 1:19 nor in I Timothy 2 nor in Isaiah 48, nor for that matter, in Luke 19:42 or Matthew 23:37. Indeed, in the latter two He gives the reason why, despite the utmost encouragement of God for the chicks to do what He was wanting, yearning for them to do, that is to come under His wings, the reason for their failure to do so, is clear. Thus so far from being in some obscure schizoid way (God does not contain resistance to His will, for He is not product) He has no impediment. If He wanted out, it would make the imagery ridiculous. His appeal and desire for them to come is expressed as habitual: "how often!"

What is it to which then He assigns the cause of this refusal, so unnatural and unnecessary ?

Despite all His desire, as so imaginatively and vividly, indeed emphatically presented, THEY WOULD NOT. They were not willing. That is the divine diagnosis of the strange nature of the result, to be so utterly destructive. So the reason why they are said to be free, and so responsible, for what they are doing, does after all relate to their will. Since God made them that way, capable of preference subsuming any alternative, that remains the underlying fact. I sometimes wonder how some Calvinists make such an omission when talking about I Corinthians 2, and the natural man finding spiritual things foolishness. They are not only leaving out Hebrews 6 and 10, where spiritual things are indeed exposed in some ways to their minds, even in the case of some who do not come, but the God who does it Himself is able to disrupt the disruption, re-organise the outage, shed light into the darkness!

You mean, what He does is a sort of a miracle ?

Yes, for when the supernatural so acts as to incline differently or remove inclination from a natural thing, that is what is called a miracle. The miracle of regeneration is preceded by ages in God's choosing His own, with His ardent desire for their rescue in mind, and nothing distorts HIS view of them, or for that matter, His involvement in changing the situation - just as this is clearly the case in any other miracle, such as divine healing. It can be and often is the cure of what for man is an incurable disease. God has often intervened in this way, even since the last war (as in the cases of Elsie Salmon - He Heals Today and other works, and such staggering sites currently as Kai Sizabantu in South Africa). If He wants something, nature, just what He made, does not block Him any more than a week-end shack some builder put up, stops Him from making it work differently if and when he so desires. Man is a remarkable creation. With God at work in him, he is still more remarkable.

So you are not saying that God simply regenerates some for unknown reasons, and this is their 'freedom' ?

I am not saying anything of my own - recall our topic. But no, this is not the biblical teaching. The Bible speaking of the unchanging God (Psalm 102, Malachi 3, Hebrews 1,13), makes it clear, as does Colossians 2:9, that Christ is not only the exact likeness of His Father - not some fudged imagery, but Christ Himself in John 16 declares that all that the Father has is His.

So necessarily not only would God to the uttermost desire all to be reconciled to Himself, and to come to a knowledge of the truth but does not deny the relevance to Him, of the heart of man from the outset, before sin was, before the earth was, before man was: knowing all in His own mind, like an architect with a forthcoming building. Those who want Him have Him and He knows them as a shepherd his sheep, but infinitely better and utterly reliably, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

So God is not ultimately responsible, as the Koran may well indicate for all the evil, being beyond all thought at the level of man, utterly different, incapable of criticism or evaluation. HE says and that is it. God did do this in creation, when there was only He; but He can and does enter into control as He sees fit, wile allowing some to inhabit the turbulence of natural things as a lesson or response to their conduct (Psalm 1) is walking about so far from His desire, dealings and desiderata, as to  make them in extreme cases, actively forget that He, their source and the ground in reciprocity of their significance, is there. If you rule out the relevance (not the pathological distortion of a diseased will) of will, you cannot reconcile yourself to the Bible. You are no longer in the domain of the biblical model. 

Let me go further. God in all these things is not frustrated but not getting what He would, because if He did force Himself on people, either in unsolicited regeneration, or even undesired, or even unrelated kidnapping and transformation, for that would not be love. As He IS love, that would not only be not wanted, but even irreconcilable with who He is. Therefore He does not do it; grief it may cause, but not frustration. He will not violate at the faith level, or use force on will in salvation, like a violent kidnapper, or vary from truth in all things.

What of predestination ?

This only ensures that what He foreknew (the biblical background as in Romans 8:29), comes to pass, It seals it beyond collision with history, since it is founded on good principles and freedom.

But haven't you shown that determinism is not avoidable ?

Certainly not! (TT 11, PF, SCOTU  45 Step 3; CHILORI  2,
ROP  7,   SMR 5B, RERERE 11; monism, and SMR references there given;  see ANZAS  6,
for theological varieties;
freedom and man
).

I have shown in Predestination and Freewill that it is unavoidable without God. But that is like saying a car's futility is unavoidable for transport, if it has no motor. God makes an infinite difference (cf. Christ's words in Matthew 19:26). It seems there is a constant danger of model mixing, that is using a human, atheistic model and trying to make it apply in one with the supernatural God the very reason why anything (else) exists. The models may be compared, the biblical one which not only is internally harmonious, but outwardly covers all types of case, or something that does not work. God may indeed penetrate through the smoke and pollution of will in order to send light into dark places, and yet be denied as in the Hebrews cases by the extravagance of diversion into some or other diversity it seems at times, almost anything will do (cf. the examples in Ezekiel 16:28-41). Some may sense more than others the first impacts of His actions in such ways. Experiences but not the effective realties in the end, may differ. Some may receive repentance. It, others may yearn for it, but yield to the contrary grip with insatiable desire. All these empirical episodes make for understanding as in seeing a crystal from different angles.

God is necessary. I suppose that is a fair comment for the biblical model - didn't Christ say, Without me you can do nothing, or something like that.

Yes indeed. God is necessary for freedom as for creation, salvation, the world and man. Forgetting Him, whether philosophically or spiritually,  has nothing whatever to do with examining what the Bible says, but is like bringing in illegal immigrants, at the logical level! If man were not, seen free, without sin and prior to creation in the exact knowledge of God,  then God would be responsible for creating him in such a setting and situation, whatever means He might have used, or preludes might have existed. As shown in our Apologetic section in SMR and elsewhere, when God meets what cannot be permitted, or must be done in terms of His own pure and  just principles, it is He acts, and He who does it (cf. Isaiah 14:27). The grace of His love should not be confused with either indifference or weakness. When the typhoon hits, people begin to become aware.

How then does God rule the universe ?

He does so by standing back when it is best to expose what man is doing and what sort of guilt or goodness is being wrought, He shows mercy as in Psalm  78 and does not act, for a time, indeed sometimes many times, showing restraint; but it is HE who so resolves, until the work is over, the agencies exposed, judgment finally sets in and the laboratory of history closes whether in one room, or in the whole house of creation.

What follows ?

Then God is not guilty but it is mankind who is, for the kind of situation in which mortals have inherited, and many times does God seek; and often indeed have revivals of heartfelt Christianity come to this fallen and falling world. God is not only not guilty of condemning ignorant man, but has done the utmost to save Him, without violation and unreality, deception or mere force, which would be making love meaningless. Many who make the will of man, contrary to the Bible, irrelevant rather than merely pathological, and God a mere observer or dictator or even merely distantly unknowable (Jeremiah 9:23-24), end up with an evil God rather than evil mankind, fussing with figments of his own preferred imagination (John 3:19). He not only however has no need of any thing, but of any psychic fulfilment, for in Him, the God whose obvious nature is noted and shown for example in SMR, there is no room of any kind for rectifying deficiencies, for there is nothing given Him to impede Him, limit Him, in any phase of being or nature; not even a desire for a change, for this would indicate a certain systematic deficiency in His construction; but He is not constructed. That is His demonstrated nature.

You  speak of a God who is not variable, flickering but intense in desire, self-restraint and goodness.

Assuredly. WHY is the God who SO loved the entire world to the uttermost to the very point of sending His only begotten Son to die in apparent disgrace, and says so showing the extent of His love for all in it, then treated by some theologians as if that is not after al the measure of His love. That would be devious if not deceitful. It is SO loving the WHOLE world, without differentiation of the more desirable, that He sent ... that is the biblical depiction. There is no over-sell, glamour in His statement. The SO loved is for the world without condemnation here as an ingredient. That is a startling thing: He even loved enough for that sort of all-inclusive, non-reclusive desire and the action He took with His only  begotten Son. Yet in the very face of this focus in John 3, despite this, some preferred darkness. That is the reason given for non-conformity on the part of many to the universal love which was shown and to the degree shown both here and in Colossians 1:19.

So when  God declares, THIS is why they are to be condemned, in the midst of a non-condemnatory expedition: namely, for their evil preference, He means what He says.

Yes. Accordingly God did not, we read in John 3, send His Son into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved, and the way of it is as stated. It was not an exercise in futility - to offer salvation without any wish of condemnation, to those who simply COULD not respond - like giving food to those without any mouths. John however notes what Christ declared: THIS IS the condemnation. You may wonder, in other words, just why there is any condemnation when Christ was not sent into the world to condemn. The answer is that to the uttermost degree those who even from before sin was in the world, were foreknown, show their colours as God saw them at the first, and so they freely PREFER darkness.

Imagine if the Lord would say: WHY did you do this, how sad! and you could reply, Ah no, it is all a fake. You did not let my will even relate. In its fallen state, it is made not only unreliable but unrelated. That is an unwarranted and anti-biblical extension. That is to cut down the complexity of the situation, this I nowI see, and the power of God.

Alas, yes, and so many are confused because they will not listen to ALL of the word of God. Preference on the part of man in the face of immense and intense desire and provision on the part of God is spelled out as the ground for the differentiation. It does not say, This or that, is the condemnation. It does not force or cause you to look here and there and to write a Ph.D. thesis on why there is condemnation despite God's not sending Christ into the world for that negative purpose. It is STATED. THIS is their condemnation. Light did not alight on some, and this is the reason. Not all did of course. But the enduring declivity had a specialised reason, applicable only to what is to perish, contrary to the overflowing fulness of divine desire. They preferred darkness.

Many preferred Christ. We are not discussing figments but facts: the contrary result in the face of such love and desire for deliverance on the part of God, is not some mystery: but this. Man preferred darkness. The divine dictum is uttered and who may unspeak it, who would interpret the word of God aright. This empirical event frustrated for many the operation and purpose of God, but so only to the point of the vast intent and extent of His love, which being limited by the very nature of love, as found in and of Him, not by some singular situation viewed as if it could be seen apart from God, refuses to go further, however deep His lamentation at the loss may be (Luke 19:42ff.).

It has seemed rather odd that He stopped from decisive action, so often grieving. But I see now the very wonder of love, that it is intense, but has restraint inbuilt, being far from any mere matter of self-satisfaction.

In the model with God, the biblical one which we are examining, God is never irrelevant. His presence is able to transform anything to any chosen degree, temporarily or otherwise.

Indeed, it is as Christ declared with the utmost clarity: How often would I have gathered you, but you would not. God's entire power and purpose was at work, but there was a wonderfully gracious STOP sign, where desire turned into mere dynamic grabbing. None of that in and for salvation. That changes nothing but the degree of cruelty visible in those who so act. That divides things. It puts on one side, direct or indirect - it is the purpose that is in view - in the matter of man being sought, the desire and the deliverance at hand, as in Matthew 23:37ff.. On the other side, it places what man has dealt with in terms of his own will, does deal and will deal. God did not call the chicks knowing them to be deaf, but in a real situation when they should have and might have come, but did not. That is not peripheral, but the very principle of the imagery, a hen calling indifferent chicks who could and should have come, but preferred pecking.

Are there not cases in which the Lord Himself says that the guilt lies not finally and categorically in saying no, but saying no when you have reason in your knowledge, to have responded differently  ?

Knowledgeable preparation for the test relates, and nothing but justice and due attention to the condition of man, and to his God-known responsibilities in the case, is permitted. One must distinguish between desert on the part of all, for hell, and judicious determination of each case in terms of opportunity for the reception of remedy. God is not only just, but immensely and intensely merciful. God is reluctant to condemn, but not slow to face facts, equity and mercy, given in all conceivable abundance.

Can you cite cases of this type ?

 It is as in John 15:21ff. and John 9:39ff.. It is because some were NOT blind, that they were guilty in refusing the Lord; it was because some had heard and seen His unique and wonderful works and words, and STILL said no to Him as to His kingdom, that they were deemed to be sinners. It DID NOT APPLY, again and again He indicated,  if they had not heard and seen. It is better not to invent a light that is darkness, and to avoid ramming back into His lips, the words of Christ and the prophets.

The intervention is Christ Himself, not some idea of His exclusion from knowledge and participation on site! Man is wholly responsible for his predicament in sin, and God moves to penetrate, but not to subvert or be baulked at the condition of the human will, as if He were a doctor who did not even see what the patient was like, because of the disease. It might happen in rare cases with man, but never with God.

Do any theologians clearly smack into the scripture as in a head on collision ?

Alas, so you see the shocking sight of eminent and at times subtle theologian, Calvin (cf. Calvin's Institutes, Book 3, Ch. 24, Section 17, as noted in Predestination and Freewill, Section II), inventing appalling Christology (just here apparently to avoid the issue, unconsciously perhaps), speaking of the Father moving in a different direction from Christ, when the latter spoke of the chicks!

We however will not wish even temporarily to invent a new God and avoid the reality. They are one. Man's will though currently disturbed in function and given to passion, is neither in the time when God chose His own before creation or now, beyond His knowledge, His reach or His involvement.

These elements make it all the more clear that it is when you KEEP to ALL of the Bible (cf. SMR Appendix B) that you entirely solve the otherwise problematic nature of predestination and freewill. So let's face it, it was God's degree, His drastic degree of love to the whole world as written in John 3 - not just to some segment, sector or preferred portion of it - which led to His taking the vast and glorious action of so sending His only begotten Son. He is reliable from the greatest to the least, and indeed there seems a high proportion of the latter, the apostle Paul discerns (I Corinthians 1:26). Even the mite of a widow may to Him seem mightier than the dowries of the rich, and be classed (and was) as a more significant contribution.