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THE FREE FOR ALL
THE PLACE OF GRACE
It is one of the characteristics of truth that it is in nothing wrong, fallacious, self-contradictory or inadequate. The name 'truth' signifies this. If there was something wrong it, if it were fallacious, if it contradicted itself so that no truth could stand, since it made itself fall, it would not be true.
When something stands in every way, any day, in any fray, in calm, in contentment, in dynamic, in drive, in pace, and is verified in its justice in any logical analysis worthy of the name, then it is verifying itself as truth.
There is one further aspect in this regard, then, that we might aptly pursue.
Whitefield (Abel Stevens' History of Methodism, Vol. 1, p. 118) had this to say, as reported there of a letter to Wesley.
"Free grace, free indeed, because not to all; but free, because God may withhold or give it to whom and when He pleases."
This has some appeal because it is in line with some scriptural emphasis, though it does not meet the criterion of all of the word of God there inscribed.
Let us examine it. Is free grace FREE BECAUSE not to all ? Is an ice-cream for the sons of the aristocrats, at some Fair, free BECAUSE the poor may not have it ? Or take it the other way around: Is execution by guillotine free because it is not available to some of the poor, but mainly for the rich or powerful in the French Revolution's initial phases (before the bloodied instrument was turned on their own troops somewhat!) ? This appears a spurious use of the term 'free'. First however, let us use another analogy to stir thought before confronting this issue directly.
Air is available to all, and therefore is regarded in normal circumstances as unchargeable. It could be called a free access of life in most circumstances. Is it free because it IS available (in principle) to all; or because it is not ? Let us take the second limb and consider it a little further. Is ozone, which is or at least was produced in photocopying, free BECAUSE it is not available to all, but rather (in special concentrations) to those who operate such equipment ? Is it freer to the technicians because they are often using these machines as they seek to make them run smoothly ? Does the availability or non-availability of something make it free ?
In some cases, as seen above, the AVAILABILITY without exertion to obtain something, is said to make it free, for it costs neither effort nor licence. Is it MORE free if only to some is this the case, because for example, half the population is working in gas-polluted mines, where appropriate air is NOT freely available ? Not really, though it might be the more appreciated if it is not freely available to half of the population. If however the gases spread beyond the mines and began to pollute large tracts of the earth, then people might pay extra real estate prices to secure properties outside the zone. Then no longer could it meaningfully be called free, this air, since the charge for it, though hidden perhaps a little in the land prices, was real enough when you either had the money to pay for them, or you did not; and you might have to spend years earning enough to escape the polluted zone, and so breathe naturally air as needed to sustain unsickened life. FRESH air then would not be free.
Clearly air is not, in such a case, free BECAUSE it is not available to all; but it is NOT free for that very reason!
One might however say, this is mere analogy. To be sure, it is and as such has been entrained into service. It does however force thought in principle which otherwise might be slurred or slurried over. In WHAT sense then can it be said without basic qualification that something is FREE BECAUSE it is not available to all ? It might then be urged than in the case of the operations of God where there is no need or even permission to purchase what is in view, that is the divine grace of election or salvation, depending on which aspect you are considering, though they join in the middle: then there is still no charge even though the gift is so limited. Thus it is still free. Certainly is this so; but is it even here FREE BECAUSE not available to all ? Does the exclusion of some, for whatever reason, make it free to others ?
In any case, Whitefield does not exclaim that it is FREER because, but free because... Does he then mean that it is FELT and APPRECIATED the more in its freedom because it is not available to all ? (We are of course considering it from the viewpoint of his own chosen model, which as seen in the preceding chapters is partly scriptural, indeed substantially so, though not comprehensively.)
This could be conceived; but IF the freedom of some to have such grace, something of the most ultimate significance and value, is to be associated with love, then the nature of the offer is always relevant. IF you love, then you desire good for those whom you love; and if you seek to good to all men, as you should, then where this is baulked it is sad, not a matter for rejoicing.
Thus IF, contrary to the biblical depiction as seen in the last two chapters, the free grace were denied to many or even most, because, as Spurgeon puts it, as we saw, there is an ultimate grace withholding, this is a breach of the outreaching thrust of the desire of love, and does not make the grace received any freer, because it is withheld to others, but rather than more onerous on such a model as that!
Justice is that which damns a man; it is mercy, it is free grace that saves; sovereignty holds the scale of love; it is justice holds the other scale. Who can put that into the hand of sovereignty ? That were to libel God and to dishonour him ... My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man's soul at God's door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that.. . Salvation is of God ... if you perish, at your own hands must your blood be required.
Spurgeon is right.
There is then no basis for Whitefield's thought that grace is free indeed, because it is not to all! It is free WHEREVER it is GIVEN FREELY; but it is not so because it is NOT given elsewhere, and far from it; for its flow is the less free because of it.
The second part of Whitefield's exclamation however is far better. It is free because God may withhold or give it to whom and when He pleases. This is true. It is not a subject of constraint ON God, as if He were driven to it, or could not prevent it. It is like love, given where it is applicable; and where that is, this is the point for the lover to determine. In the realm of God, it is, this gracious love, directed towards this, that He should RECONCILE ALL THINGS, even in heaven and on earth, to Himself (Colossians 1:19ff.). This is what He determines as He purposes within Himself.
It is folly to try to change the heart of someone concerning what he loves, as if to inject some chemical into his veins, or drive by some psychological manipulation. Your product is your input; it is limited by what it is, and not being of the nature and character of that free gracious and tender conception which belongs to love, it does nothing but produce shameless sham and eventual shambles. Such is the case, doubtless, with many a marriage!
The FREE character of the grace of God is therefore certainly and truly stated to be this, that it is given at the express discretion of God, who gives it to whom He pleases. Its freedom is enhanced, as in the case of free air where none is polluted in a world, when this is towards all as stated so categorically in I Timothy 2, and so clearly shown in the negative aspects when Christ weeps over Jerusalem which WILL NOT respond, as in Luke 19:42ff.. A thing is all the freer when NOT ONLY is it freely given, so that you do not have to URGE, or COMPEL (if it were possible), or CONSTRAIN, or PAY, or QUALIFY in character or deeds or works, or finance or education or any other aspect, but only receive it as the instance and desire of the giver. This is MOST free because it covers more terrain, and instead of being linked to a withholding, it is as broad as the creation in God's own image.
That is the most free, free in the most aspects. Yet there is even more of the liberty of love, the grace of love, to be found, showing the wonder of His grace such that He did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, as Christ put it (John 3:16-17); and assuredly, of His truth and doctrine, HE KNOWS. How then did He not come to condemn the world ? In this, that His free grace is as broad as it is. In what way did He come that through Him it might be saved ? In this, that there is no restraint in His outgoing heart, and the freedom of His love is inconceivably great, like the profundities of space multiplied till multiplication has no more meaning.
If there are - and such is the actual case - such impediments that in His all-knowing wisdom, many are not taken, having not received despite His positive desire, design and initiative, this has nothing to do with the outgoing resurgence of the grace of God; only with its resultant. Nor is the resultant operative from the will of man, but in all sincerity and earnestness, from the will of God (John 1:12, Romans 9).
Why then is it the case that many or most are to be condemned ? We do not need to ponder or wonder, since God tells us, through the lips of the Christ whose name is that reserved for the Christian. It is because LIGHT HAS COME into the world, and men have PREFERRED darkness. That is what is written, it is with this that sin in its ultimate recoil and embroilment in the face of the living, loving light of God is smitten, and it proceeds to declare not only that there is this fateful preference, but it is rather than light: it is in the very face of such divine compassion and latitude.
How strange that so many for so long wish to use the name 'Christian' and yet deny this! In the face of His coming NOT to condemn the world, but SO THAT it might be saved through Him, there is an exclusive agency which is noted and stated, declared and demarcated. It is negative preference. Because of this stated differential operating with the bounds of His decreed love, there is a stated exclusion which smites the brightness of the hope, and removes the positivity of the coming into this world, for such as these. To put this to the charge of divine sovereignty, as Spurgeon so rightly says, is approaching blasphemy; but it is certainly contradiction of what Christ said.
In vain do people act as if to create that very diversity of thought which is not in the truth, in fact, contradiction, as if contradicting oneself, one would need none other to do so. It is EQUALLY true that only some come, that God acts sovereignly in majestic splendour grabbing or if you prefer (and it is a more scriptural turn of phrase), drawing and regenerating His own (cf. Matthew 11:27 - the Father is revealed to the one WHOM THE SON WILLS TO REVEAL HIM). This last text, incidentally is here correctly translated as in the NKJ version, but is not covered accurately in the KJV. Yes, the Son liberates by revealing the Father to those whom HE WILLS to do it. He does NOT, repeat not so reveal where He deems it unfitting, and He saves those whom the Father has given to Him as the incarnate Messiah, on the job in man's clothes, saving sinners.
How then can this be ? As explained earlier, it is because in predestination the SAME PERSON, the second person of the Trinity, is at work, and this same person has the same character, love and nature yesterday, today and forever as Hebrews assures us, for God does not change. He may change the form of His clothing or form, but HE is the same and His years do not change (Psalm 102).
Thus the application of the election is of course carried out in such a way that the corruption of man, alienated in life and so in will, so that he does not esteem spiritual things as they really are and so fails to choose them (John 15, I Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2 and 4:17-19), is not allowed to stand in His light. Some fool and foozle around until their non-elect state is made most manifest, and like Judas, being devils, they eventually disclose this at the end. Rejoicing for a season, as the word begins to germinate in their meretricious hearts, they end with it burnt out, since there is no depth for the word of God to find, these being spiritually superficial to the end; for God will not always strive with man, for the flesh would fail before Him (Isaiah 57:15-16).
LIKE ULTRA-LIGHT AIRCRAFT,
IS ULTRA-FREE GRACE,
THAN WHICH NOTHING COULD BE FREER
The grace is
therefore free, firstly, because you do not play for it, do not need to
It is free,
secondly, because NO ONE has to pay for it.
It is thus free,
thirdly, because IT IS ON OFFER SINCERELY and even with PASSION, so that
It is free,
fourthly, because it is not compulsive thrust onto any, the spiritual
It is free,
fifthly, because it flows without impediment, as if there were some
What then is the
loving desire of His loving heart, incalculably loving, convincingly loving,
cost- limit loving, so long as truth and reality continue ? It is that the wicked should turn and should live. It is positive in this negative domain, where as stated and divinely stipulated, negative preference is violating the free flow of grace and love; not of course of sovereignty.
But how not of sovereignty ? Why in this: that He knows who are His, and where it would be violation of the image per se to take some, which it is not His divine pleasure as truth to do, since it would not be love at all, but some ersatz, some weak and superficial substitute. Sovereignty EFFECTS what LOVE HAS WROUGHT and GRACE has chosen. It is not the enemy of love, but its effectuation.
Here then is free grace at its freest,
not free because limited,
but limited because free.
Being not of the dictatorial variety - and hence we see the reflection of this fact and facet in the multitudes of scriptures showing the divine grief at the heartless preference for evil and untruth in man - its very essential freedom requires that it is received as freely as it is sent, not because of manipulation, but because of knowledge; for He knows who are His, and takes them, leaving despite the amplitude of His grace, what remains alien, as He omnisciently takes His own and omnipotently ensures both that they come to Him and stay with Him, which is also their desire, when the whingeings, the whining and cringing of sin, with its alternates of boasting and jousting, are removed.
Thus as Romans 5:18 puts it:
"For if by the one man's offence, judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation,
even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men,
resulting in justification of life."
Does this then contradict the preceding verse, 17, which states that if the one man's offence had death reign through that one, much more do those who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the (other) One, Jesus Christ ? Of course not; how strange it is when people imagine others leave their senses because they may not agree with them! The justification is TOWARDS, is divinely directed towards (in Greek) ALL men as in 5:18, and it is a FREE gift (derived from 5:16, which so defines its nature). Yet it is to be received, however great (as is the case) the grace which so amply provided it on such a universal scale, by those whom it will ultimately benefit (5:17).
Thus there is the limit, not of the thrust of the love and the grace as in 5:18, but of the field of its application, the limited attainment, the limited atonement. God will not violate and make vile a love which is then merely miscalled; and so do the scriptures of righteousness throb with the divine grief, exhortation, opportunity, with new offers and eventual declamations; for it is always toward all, and where it is limited, it is delimited, for the purity of its passion spills in abundance, but the love is not an object of commerce, but of the heart.
It does not rest where it does not find place; but it is God who finds, who knows, who thus predestines and brings to glory (Romans 8:29ff.). Nor is place found for the more susceptible, since NONE is susceptible to this cross in the flesh; and knowing all past sin from eternity, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), God can know what no sin can taint, nor comparative considerations touch.
He knows who are His; He does not need anyone to tell Him, help Him or advise, to counsel or contribute, to show graphs or works. His knowledge is without limit, and He uses it, being omniscient. Towards all comes the justification; into but some comes the actuality of it, its rigors of acceptance, its cleansing power as the waters of regeneration renew, wash and restore, from the blood of the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. Is then His Admiralís Yacht not willing to save ? Far from it, but it imperiously impels none!
This, Romans 5,
is thus the chapter of ALL, and it is the chapter of SOME,
it is the chapter
of justification towards ALL, and effected for SOME;
it moves from the
Christians to the world, to the beginning, to the fall,
to the universal thrust of love to the limited phalanx whom it reaches.
It is not in man to select; for God chooses; and NO MAN would chose God, since sin estranges from the very parameters of choice. YOU have not chosen Me, said Christ; but I have chosen YOU! (John 15, cf. John 1:12);p for it is NOT OF WILL, of flesh, of blood, says the Gospel. It is, because it must be, sovereign; but it is so because God so elects who IS love, so moving towards all. Thus, it is by grace in every sense. It could not be greater in grace, no in any aspect freer, being sent towards all, brought to those who receive it, and this as applied in the eternal knowledge of God, not to exclude, for He did not come to condemn, but to include; yet not to include what is mere fraudulent deception, but what He knows to be His own in the domain of love, which forces nothing, but is free.
This is the actual free for all, not the idle debating of theological camps, each one tending to decamp without the full equipment of the word of God, but the grace which is indeed free for all, which encourages all, despite their sin, to seek from the infinitely loving God, who IS love, what He is on record as exceedingly keen to give, who did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
How harmonious are His utterances, how deep is His wisdom, how inviting is His call, and how delightful to be freed by a grace which is so ample, to find that God who is so discursive with love and so enveloping in grace, that it is only over His Son's dead body that the way to hell stands clearly available (cf. Hebrews 10, Colossians 1:19ff., John 3:15-36).
The agony of separation from the All-Sufficient solace, saviour and lord, creator and redeemer of man is correlative to the divine grace shown. The ecstasy of the abandon of flinging oneís life into the pit of opportunity, misusing what is given as if autonomy ruled, and life were oneís own is the vagrancy from love from the source of this very liberty.
What however of the mastery of the Messiah ? It is found in this. It is in His willingness to do whatever it took to liberate freely, to pay the cost, account for the debits, meet the collisions, evincing in compassion not mere disdain for cost but determination to bear it. It is in seeking for one and for all, with His willingness to leave whatever was to be left as in marshy waters (cf. Ezekiel 47), in no way limiting or reducing one whit His own sincere earnestness or gracious provision. Nor yet did anything at all reduce His transcendent ability to perform this so great salvation without whine or whimper, failure or slip, fall or fawning: meeting in the most vulnerable format as man, the greed and graceless ambition, the corroded hearts and the seeking ones, denying none, seeking all, finding His own.