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LIMITS, LAW, LOVE, LIBERTY AND LOSTNESS
It is often imagined that God limits Himself. While there is a certain superficial applicability of this concept, it does not accord with the depths of the matter. GOD IS and does not change. If He WANTS to create something, then it is no limit to do so. If therefore He wants to create a certain liberty, so that none comes to heaven against his or her will, or fails to do so for lack of divine enablement within the realities of liberty, then it is no limit to implement this.
It has the appearance of limit, because He is on record repeatedly (as in Colossians 1:19ff., John 3, I Timothy 2) as desiring NOT to lose any, and went to prodigious works of salvation to ensure that this is so. Yet He does not save all. If He did, He would violate His will, His nature and His statements, since in the desired liberty, some may be averse to it. That is no limit, but rather fulfilment of specifications. Thus does He choose to operate within self-chosen conditions, to ENABLE the operation of the liberty granted in integrity and reality, by His desire, a natural for love, which cannot work without it, without contradiction in terms. Loving by control is mere pretentious misuse of vocabulary.
Let us look at the gift involved, this liberty. It is not autonomy, and on that hangs much of the devil's desire. Having been given an inch (to reject God, and seek to create what is not in accord with truth by perversion of what is), he would take a width greater than that of the earth, and found an alternative kingdom (Ezekiel 29, Revelation 12). He has been given the liberty for that, and man is continually seeking to do much the same, with ludicrously less capacity; but such is the will of liberty. It can be diverted, perverted or converted; and that in truth, or in fraud, directly or deviously.
It is well in such a case that God sends His Spirit of truth (John 14, 16), in terms of whom there is truth freed from flutter and chatter, as it is in fact, without spin or philosophical cunning in control. It is this Spirit which convicts man of righteousness, of sin and of judgment (John 16:8ff.). The judgment being according to truth (Romans 2:2, Titus 1:1), and liberty having been given its sanctions for operation, even to the point of being able to revile, reject, distort or seek to abort the will of God directly, subtly or subversively with all the flair of creativity which man, in the image of God, has received: judgment is certainly according to truth. Man must bear his own guilt and condemnation, or receive that vicariously provided by Christ on his behalf. As with the sacrifice in Jerusalem of old, so the call and provision is enough for all, but operative for those who receive it, and for those alone (Deuteronomy 29).
There is no variation in the truth of God, or deflection from it, any more than from His merciful disposition, and delight in showing it. Truth is always illimitable in the affairs of God with man - as indeed in all things, for He IS the truth (John 14:6).
God thus having desire for liberty (which love requires, that it might operate as distinct from self-interest, type of soul formed or other criteria without liberty and hence without personal reality), ensures that it works. In multitudes of situations, it is tested, in man whom God has invested with this essential capacity. This sets a limit on the results, since man is NOT autonomous (for example to replace God), and cannot be, being one made in time by One beyond it and on whom its very existence depends. But it also sets a quality on the causes, in terms of the limited but personally crucial liberty granted to man. God fulfils His will in so acting, and merely makes the conditions attendant on that will. So far from limiting Himself, in any ultimate sense, in this, rather indeed He executes His decisive will. Love by its nature is inimitable. So is divine sovereignty, irreducible. He IS all powerful and love has to be liberated to operate at all.
What however of sin ? Does it not incapacitate this very liberty, as in John 1:12, for the very crucial reception of a soul into the status of a child of God, and not of the devil (John 8) is here explicitly stated not to be of the will, or blood, or any component of what man can provide. Man does not buy in this present world, a packet called God, on impulse or flavour of the month types of sentiment. How then, one might ask, is liberty protected, which has led from the very first deception, lust and fall, to so much for so many for so long (as in Romans 5) ?
The answer lies first of all in who God is. Beyond our time, He has all time before Him, all the time: that is, He is not at all subservient to it. He is beyond it and over it, and never dictated to by it.
Yet having made it, He uses it prudently for His ultimate purposes for man. Thus equally directly we are said to be chosen (by Him) in Christ (Ephesians 1:4), before the world was so much as founded (and so in terms of our time, before will was actualised or sin available to man). Such were the conditions of that choice, in Christ, before creation.
Hence there is no question of sin's intrusion into the divine choice before creation was: that is, in terms of man and his coming capacity to love (when created) and hence to be free and hence to sin. When therefore God chooses anyone for His own, amid the coming creation, there is no such limit on the will of man, and the thing is freed from what in history does have limits of this kind, through inherited pathology in this function of choice. If your heart is dead to music, it is hard to arouse it to musical life; and it is so in broader life bands, such as spiritual preference, which John 3:19 tells us constitutes the utter and categorical ground of the exclusion, the judgment on any man.
All these divine statements are to be read in correlation, for truth does not dip or shudder; and only in God CAN they be true. Without the God of love and truth and sovereignty, there COULD be no way in which liberty and certainty, reality and love could operate. He has to be LIKE that, for this to be available (not merely self-interested, but loving); and He has to provide for the cost of restoration (life for life); and He is both able and willing to do this. Much more, He has done it. There is no other alternative. We are what we are because of who He is, and our salvation is what it is for the same reason. You do not get rocket-scientists to work on a sick pidgeon, since this is not the relevant field. Each to His own. With God there is no limit, and with man before Him there is only a certain fluency in reality, since man is MADE by Him who then prepares the path back from sin, for all who come, and in coming, come in truth (cf. Micah 7:14-16).
Who else has the power to make such reality for such choices, assessible according to truth, whether they be engaged in diversifying in fraudulent imagination, confusing in rationalisng quibbling or on the other hand, honest in heart! The making of persons is a divine art, in which the nature of the product is not MERE product, but personal, and this not only in perception but construction and alliance. It is not in terms of rote but reality that this operates. Here lies the profundity, the reality, the poignancy and yet the culpability in man and his ultimate affairs.
Hence God, being sovereign, and a merciful sovereign, acts for man. He reasons, exhorts, entreats, laments, scolds, alerts, mourns and delights, as you see repeatedly in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel for example, showing mercy not grudgingly, but with inward and total reality; for He IS merciful. That is His nature. So He wants to be, and so He is; for with God, there is nothing to deter (Micah 7:18-19).
He is not dealing with a merely
dirigible format, a controllable clown,
They lack everything in powers
They lack nothing to imagine,
This is at the back of the mourning of Christ that Jerusalem did not know the day of its spiritual opportunity, being too pocketed in the plans of traditionalism and imagination to notice! (Luke 19:42ff.).
But how does this pre-chosen reality concerning the children of God (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:30, Jeremiah 1) work out in practice ? When it comes to history, do they have no part at all in the process in terms of which they come to repent and being converted, are regenerated so as permanently to become the authentic spiritual children of God (Ephesians 1:5): not spiritual orphans but those whom He knows as His own adopted people in Christ, the Redeemer who pays for the transition ?
When it comes to God, one must realise that not only, for creation, does He have the first word, in that He institutes it, but the last word, in that He judges it (Acts 17:31, John 5:19-23). HOW He judges appears so often to be almost entirely ignored by many in these arenas. How does He do it ? It is, as in all things, according to truth, and in truth He would have all things, yet whether in heaven or in earth, reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:19ff.), being love (I John 4), so that nothing ultimately deficient or defective in this respect can be true of Him.
Hence it means that whatever the pathology of man in history, through his spiritual fall and the weakening of his understanding, as he becomes alien from God as well as alienated (Ephesians 4:17-19), making up gods as some make up paper in paper chases for their own diversion, and thinking in those ephemeral terms instead of in terms of reality (the path one actually is to follow in life, in living it judicially or otherwise): there is the initial divine desire. As stated, so therefore it is activated, whether in foreknowledge or in history (Romans 8:29ff.). God says what He will, and does what He says (Joel 2:11. Isaiah 44:25-45:22).
Whatever time, or pre-time, historical or preliminary work be done by God concerning the choice of those to be His own people, spiritually, there is always to be this QUALITY of integrity and love as actuating. This is not for sale; it is written.
Sovereignty FOR such a Being cannot be too great. If that is what is to be implemented, the more the better! Predestination merely is a seal on the result: it having been according to truth, it will in fact happen historically. AS it was foreknown, so next in logical order (Romans 8:30), it is ensured, so that what in integrity is foreknown, is what in history will before all ends, be what is found
How much, however, may a person experience of the reality that it is ultimately an alignment, a preference for or against that light which God is (in addition to be being love) ? There is no limit on this, except that it is only by surpassing and supervening beyond the normal powers of nature (in this case, the nature of fallen man), that there is any relevance at all, to man's awareness of involvement in such matters, such alignment, one way or the other. On the other hand, this is precisely the nature of miracle, whether in physical, biological or spiritual nature, each in its place. The new birth, like the original creation, is indeed a miracle, if by miracle you mean the direct action of God, without circumscription by the normal modus operandi of nature. Whether it be rescue in situation of any kind, or healing of body, mind or soul, it is miracle. Divine interposition quite simply, changes things; and secondly, what it is, is in accord with the nature of the One who does it.
Thus in Hebrews 6, we find that a soul which is going to be lost, may indeed experience something of the powers of the world to come, have been enlightened and become partaker of the Holy Spirit, while yet becoming not only lost, but unsaveable. That is, as in Isaiah 57:15ff., it is possible, in an image as with scar tissue, so to flirt away the love of God, that though it touches one, it is even then subjected to unholy seduction by the unrepenting sinner (as in Mark 4:16-17). In that parable, the underlying ground is hard, and there is no effectual repentance, so that the seed sown, might grow there.
Put differently, as in Hebrews 6, and its image: There HAS been a TASTE! But there was no swallow. That part of the testimony in Hebrews 6, is as much the Bible as anything else. Sovereignty is unlimited, love is untarnished, truth is unqualified, alignment is a reality ensured as operative by God Himself, who created liberty by design; and IN sovereignty God enables the soul to go according to preference. True, it is HE who ultimately knows it all; such things are not left to the mere quirkishness of a fallen nature; it is not mere historical will which is the ultimate determinant: indeed, the very term 'determinant' is in the wrong mode here. A better term is 'ultimate criterion'.
Wonderful it is that the very reality of such liberty is under divine control, not to subvert or divert it, but to ensure its operation past all pathology, represents the reality for that soul, and not some intrusive substitute for liberty, whether this be a fallen and paralysing state of spirit or other.
The illimitably sovereign and loving God has thus made a provision for persons that none CAN go to hell, that is misalign in the end, EXCEPT as it were, over the dead body of Christ. By this, it is meant that the cover is ADEQUATE for all, in the atonement, it is RELEVANT to all, but that it is not grabbable by any, since truth does not depend on violence, but actuality. No one, on the other hand, will be forcibly detained in heaven, for all evil is then gone, and all pathology is then removed. Those in hell might well find heaven the nauseating epitome of punishment, were they forcible detained there.
Love however never was, is not, and never will be like that. You get darkness, when from the first, as to the last, you cannot stand the light.