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BULLETIN One Hundred and Fifteen
The Spectacular Tenderness of the Love
of the Sovereign God to Man
See first or compare, Bulletin 108, on Foreknowledge and Predestination.
Continuing that presentation, or separately...
Thus the biblical criteria are not to be summed as a simple matter of a virtual rehearsal of the Eden situation, as if to say, you would vote for God if you could: or do what you would do if, not fallen into sin, you could.
It is more than an enhanced view of that, as if you were placed in another Eden with the clammy calamities of the Fall of Genesis 3, marring your mind or distorting your reason or capturing your will.
It is not hypothetical, the description in II Timothy 1:9 or Ephesians 1:4, nor is it an accident that in Romans 8 sequence, foreknowledge is placed before predestination, which is a matter following this in logical order. The action in view is not hypothetical but hypostatic. It is by no means an autonomous alignment (or not) of the soul but of freedom alive and action real, discerned by God, before time was. HE does not need time, though we do! He can discern without our version of it found in the creation.
Election, choice of personnel for heaven is very much His doing. It is firstly a matter of His terms of freedom, mode of its exhibition (to Himself), His choice of using divine initiative, making the application of the Gospel to what becomes the called and the uncalled, His site of knowledge before creation, before man was given the power to exist in situ. In all this His sovereignty; moreover He supplies the key to the situation, as well as the conditions.
If then this is what God declares, there is no need, to say no more, to distort it one way or the other in order to satisfy this theological camp or that one.
The flesh in this divine foreknowledge and election, does not even exist; far less does it manipulate the man. Having made freedom for man, as at the first, in much, but especially in his relationship to God, He ensures that no other sovereign but He propounds the position, establishes the conditions or intruding, interferes with the result.
As, in His own divine form before time, He so observes and then assigns foreknowledge and then predestination in order as in that sequence in Romans 8:30, that He neither calls it the 'unknown' as to basis, as many theologians seem to do, nor far less call it 'unknowable'. On the contrary His is foreknowledge, not only His chosen but of those who are to stumble (I Peter 2:8), and just as He does not display the technology of His procedure, so in magnificent clarity, He exposes its principles, on which He operates. Who are we that we should expect to be shown HOW He does this and that, if the motive, purpose, quality, principles and result are assured! The form of God is His own.
These, His principles, then, in the operation, He chooses to make clear to the point of being (painfully for some ?) obvious, even obstructively so.
In the context of grand overview of what He did and does (John 1 and 3 for example), in defining the work of creation, man's status before Him and the salvation thus available, the nature and purpose of His incarnation, both positively and negatively, and the penetration He made into the overall state registered for many in John 3:19, what do we find but this! It is this here stated which is the reason, despite all this vast insurgency of God, the reason for what ? It is the reason why so many so startlingly depart and evacuate from all this grace. After all this, this, ascribed to their preference for darkness over light, being imbued distinctively with evil unlatched by anything God does, THIS is their STATED reason for rejection, indeed for CONDEMNATION. As the point of His scalpel moves sharply to the issue, so it reveals the result.
Indeed with such a sustained attitude towards God, as here portrayed, heaven might seem hell to them, and displacement from Him the desirable norm, even if in the end, they fail to mature into life as designed, designated and made freely available in spiritual reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. John 15:21-23).
It is Proverbs 1 gives a wonderful description in process as a soul proceeds despite all - including the divine offer to explain and enable in the new field - to rebellion and how the Lord views that! It is like someone needing sea rescue gurgling his refusal of help.
There is no mere technical question, this being way below the power of the God of all power and knowledge, of God being unable to penetrate the haze of sin to see the soul, quite apart from it being enacted as noted above, before time and therefore before human sin so much as existed. When God acts, things change and natural limits are off-side (cf. I Corinthians 2:14), and so do not dictate; and this includes not only divine healing of the body, but divine penetration to the soul. Its modes may be more or less revealed in the present time, but its mission and mandate are as divinely declared.
Hence many experience elements of the tensions and interplay, and indeed the work of the conviction of the Lord even in this sinful state (cf. John 16:5ff., Hebrews 6 and 10). Yes, they "taste" of these things" as also of the powers of the things to come. Theologians need to remember, the presence of God makes a difference (not only as between life and death, but obscuration and realisation). Natural laws operate at His pleasure, and when He acts He can transcend them, overcome results by His power, intrude by His perception at will.
What sin obscures God can and will reveal, what sin obliterates God can and will expose according to the good pleasure of His will. To God, there is no Romanistic nil obstat from either man or nature: it is only for Him that NOTHING can stand in His way (Psalm 115, Isaiah 14:27). Man may indeed taste of the powers to come, without even being saved when God so acts; but even before time, He knew His own. To flesh and blood the choice in time is not committed (John 1:12), but elements of the foreknowledge scenario may well be exposed, and thus you have many different experiences of the one conversion to the one God in the name of the one Messiah, and His one atonement.
Thus we move back to John 3 and motivation. God had SUCH love (SO loved) in a way SO widely assigned (it does not say, God SO loved a PART of the world, but expansively assigns the heights of the love with the domain known as the world), with such a sublime and unmatchable thrust and backing, that it kindles the heart and delights the soul. It is forward moving to the divine sacrifice in the format of the only begotten SON of God (not a mere format, but one having the fulness of God in bodily form - Colossians 2:9).
Thus something done so personally and intimately in the domain of this world and of man that it breathes the absoluteness of God, the grandeur of His heart's concern ultimately for His fallen creation and the sheer magnificence of its untempered scope and quality is not misted away but exposed in a summit of glory. It is as in Colossians 1:19 and I Timothy 2:6, in Matthew 23:37 (left untainted by a species of bowdlerising intrusion) and Luke 19:42ff., though it cost Him a load of tears, tearing the heart, when on earth! Indeed He wept over the city which missed its day (1941) - if only they had realised in time, in the day of their opportunity. Ah how different it would have been (cf. Isaiah 48:15ff.)! So speaks the Almighty. Though love would not pollute itself with mere violence, yet the grief of the loss is elemental. How wonderful is the love of God which dictators in their self-acclaiming follies parody in violence!
"Whosoever" believes is rescued, we read, is saved, grasped from ruin. The terms world and man, love and the stated scope of operation do not allow a subsidiary theme: so love part of the world with the relevant love is not permissible as a logical and worthy substitute. In short, if we are to be expositors and not importers: Keep to what is written, not to what is smitten by the boldness of man. Let God be God and ourselves His hearers.
To ignore that and invade the text, in some cases contradicting, in others ignoring, would abort the entire classic grandeur of the statement, unqualified nature of the love and application and the meaning of the reason for loss of some DESPITE ALL this - namely the whole testimony in John 3 ( as in its many correlatives). It is the preference of man which is the divinely assigned culprit in the midst of the staggering breadth of the actuating love of God which flows from Him like a fountain, of which the tears are one expression. To make a black-out of these features of the word of God would allow a ludicrous indictment of God by His enemies, presuming to adjust the sanctions of His heart as so often portrayed and the statements of His word as repeatedly noted, being in entire collision with the same.
That, incidentally, is one more verification of the word of God. Small changes in mathematical formulae can render them worse than useless. The word of God is not made for adjustments, dismissals, philosophical sovereignty disguised as the sovereignty of God. It is God who is the author of His own sovereignty, not the other way around.
The text in John 3:19 even assigns the reason for this common human preference that is so distinctive and distinguishing for those who despite all wrought, are yet, to be yet condemned: it is "because their deeds were evil." That is why SUCH love, so widely assigned (for the world, and let us repeat, NOT part of it, the world to which He came that it might be saved as written - John 3:17) with such sublime and incomparable ground, showing itself able to penetrate even to a divine-status sacrifice, could yet lose many! Though made so personal in its application for man who after all, was made in His image, not physically (even the world is His creation), but spiritually, there is from many from the first before time to the last in it, whether peremptory or impatient, mere loss confirmed.
NO, comes the hollow or the haughty response found in many; and NO echoes the hollow response to the beauty which God would have ready for one and for all, for He would have all reconciled, yes even whether they be in the heavens or on the earth.
In vain do the purloiners of the word of God protest that when in Colossians 1 says ALL THINGS, and re-affirms the extent, " whether things on earth or t hings in heaven," it does not really mean it. In vain would they assert that there is some depth as in Calvin's abortion of the clear message of Matthew 23:37, that here puts a distance between the will and way of Father and that of the Son. In vain is Colossians 1:19ff. turned from an emphatically ALL, and dramatically embracive assertion of His desire for ALL to be reconciled to Himself, whether in heaven or on earth. It is still written.
You have two choices, both unruly, if you want to put into the mystery bin what God has in vital positivity affirmed. You can claim that in saying this Paul did not find the inspiration of I Corinthians 2:9ff., and was wrong. If you do this, you yourself become not only an anti-biblical pundit, but in effect a new apostle with corrective power. The universe is then in this at your disposal, to create its manner, instead of your being at the beck and call of the God of the Book of the Lord as in Isaiah 8. You do not mean it so ? then do not contribute to the error.
The other annihilatory approach to this revelation, whether in this place or another, is to say that Christ was accommodated via being Messiah, so that truth was beyond Him and so could be mistaken and misstated, making His claim to BE the truth (John 14:6), and a man who told you the truth (John 8:40), simply false. Oppose the fulness of the godhead being in bodily form in the Messiah (Colossians 2:9), deny that Christ always did what the Father desired as He stated (John 8:29), if you must; but you cannot simply wave a wise wand and dismiss either the truth of what Christ said in Matthew or what the apostle in Colossians, without putting yourself beyond what God has to say in His self-revelation, either in its knowledgeability or in its unison of Father and Son.
Let the wise professors then aver this or that, but I for my part do not and will not derogate the love of God. It is not for me to accede to the breach of the self-revelation of God, nor to the assertions of the callow contradictions of man, either because of their appearance of presumption or because of my fear of God, which is a clean fear (Psalm 19). Indeed, it is a delightedly awesome fear of the most Holy and glorious God and His word; for if in the crucifixion He was pierced, yet let none attempt to mangle His mouth, reverse His speech and put His words back into His mouth.
Does this mean some attempt this ? it would seem so, but in this case the INTENTION may be one thing and the IMPLICATIONS of such astonishing arrogance another. Many do not realise what in this, they are doing! Is contradiction commentary ?
It is, besides that, to ignore the entire gamut of the divine laments (as in Isaiah 48 and Luke 19:42ff.); for power is not the only point. God has unlimited power but not only unlimited truth also (there being none to limit and time itself is subservient to His will for its temporary permission to exist). He also has a love which WILL not be executed or aborted by anything or anyone (cf. I John 4:7-10); and this is one reason that He does not simply change the human heart irrespective of love, and incorporate all people in the kingdom. Indeed the path is narrow, emphatically so to heaven's haven (Matthew 7:7). It is HIS divine conditions, motivations, principles and pronouncements which stand; and none of those to the contrary can or will do so. God would have ALL, and this statedly in terms of the blood of Christ, to be reconciled to Himself whether in heaven or on earth. Is there some mystery in "all" ?
If some find this mysterious, then it is that is the actual mystery but philosophy always seeks to have its odd ways, a danger and a peril of which Colossians 2:8 warns us. The delightful mystery is this, that He could be so loving, but that is a benign mystery leading to worship. It is almost too wonderful to behold, but not to believe.
In fact this attitude of God in His love is clear, repeated, present in direct divine statements in the word of God and in indirect ways. It is seen repeatedly in His longing, seeking and restraint as He exhorts, as in the results when the exhortations of love refused, man turns to his own way and its destiny.
In what special way God worked all this foreknowledge of His own before time, may be of interest to some, but in terms of Christian apologetics, what Paul in Philippians 1:7 calls the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, the point is simply to show the harmony of all God says, not evacuating what is affirmed, but exposing the inconsistencies which diminish the glory of God by making up what is not in the model of the word of God at all. Then the embracive answering power of what God has declared is total for every approach, angle and assault. It is the invention in His name of new models which flowers in the feeble weeds of philosophy.
Man has rebelled, God has loved, and God lacks nothing in that love which leaves free scope for the rash contradictions coming from mankind, which invent quarrelsome talk or diminish the scope of His word. It is the old error: criticise the MODEL of someone else, and in doing so, invent and insert some of your own model. Then confusing all, they are prone to condemn the hybrid! But this is mere confusion and illusion.
The concept and the conditions are accordingly so placed for man, in this distinguishing post to which mankind has been assigned as a race, with this wealth of almost unimaginable, and magnificently penetrating divine grace. It is the invited persons, and not God who is responsible for any condemnation as John 3:19 makes exceedingly clear. HE came to save. He SO loved that the offer was to all the world, the embrace being of that dimension. SOME in rejecting this gave ground for condemnation. That is the sequence.
Whether in salvation or in responsibility, it is necessary to repent, and not unknown is the rush to neglect the gift of repentance as if it were a bane, as with Balaam so rising to a role as a false prophet. Abiding in Christ and in His word is not only safe but lovely. We are made able to be inventive, but let none err even in an excess of misplaced zeal, in inventing the word of God, and failing even to acknowledge it!
Indeed, anything further from a mystery in terms of what God wanted and the extreme means taken in the world to get it as briefly in the decisively written Colossians 1:19), could scarcely be imagined.
Let us go a step further. The arduous pursuit by divine love was not only personal in kind but passionate, prepared for death in order to implement its rescuing wonder. He was prepared in Christ to face the uttermost, and giving it to secure it for ever (Romans 10:9) for many (cf. Matthew 26:28, Isaiah 53:5-6). It is in the latter case, those who were healed by His stripes, who are those whose sin is placed upon Him, where the transaction occurs. There is indeed a limited atonement and a limited attainment; but no paucity in the love of God which causes it; for it is despite that!
Mystery can be called for many fields, when it comes to wonder and depth, and the fact is that we know only in part (I Corinthians 13); but let us never speak or act if we want to be biblical, as if there is some hidden mystery about why some are rejected in terms of the motivation of God, its quality and the character of the proceedings. In terms of Biblical Christian apologetics, this is one of the wonders and most dramatic points, excelled by nothing else in history. To hide it away in this respect in some misuse of the term mystery, is not only a flat contradiction of the many texts to the contrary, but a gratuitous weakening of a wonderful aspect of God's grace, mercy and wisdom.
How often we find the divine lament for what might have been different, not only in such sites as Matthew 23:37, Luke 19:42ff., Isaiah 48:15ff., Jeremiah 48:29-33, but in Hosea 7:1 - that poignantly lingering, "When I would have healed," where a further obduracy surged in and it wasn't done! Again in Hosea 11, we see the eminently close relationship held delightedly in view, the tender desires of God toward Israel as to a young child whom He taught to walk, and it is followed by this: "... as they called to them, so they went from them." The more they were called to come home to Him whose they were, the more they avoided the call in the clangour of self-will. This the very essence of contrariness, as in a naughty child. The more the prophets called, the more the resiliently rebellious object of love receded, departed, hurried away! It reminds of
This is but one more testimony to the patient, longing perseverance that despite all, He could so concern Himself with what will not relent or repent or turn to the Lord. Repentance is assuredly a gift; but it is not one that has to be received, many indeed being called and few chosen. God as shown, knows and has known His own but there is a HOLY calling (II Timothy 1:9) and a foreknown acceptability of the gift of repentance before they even exist and act, far less will their way in a fallen estate: so that He KNOWS His own.
There is no onset on sovereignty and divine power in this, as often has been pointed out, since love loses its very self when it uses force to overcome, or subtlety to shanghai its object and so on. Love does not proceed against what the Lord discerns as a negative, for if He did, it would constitute not love but desire; and part of His wonder is His self-restraint and purity and holiness. He avoids such things and by no means shirks His divine majesty, but fulfils it as a testimony to this world! Love is dutiful, not domineering.
To portray God as Calvin does, in his Institutes, in treating Matthew 23:37, where he has the Father's heart/feeling/will moving way away from what Christ Himself is actually stating: this is not only if an unintended, yet an abrupt departure from the deity of Christ. It is not merely fallacious Christology, 'refining' the biblical depiction, but a disregard of the way it is expressed as Messiah (John 12:48-50, 8:29, 14:6), and a collision with Colossians 1:19 in the highly dramatic and overall declaration there that God not only states but asseverates. Indeed, the Christology inherent in such drifts as Calvin there makes is suddenly left derelict (cf. Colossians 2:9, 1:19, John 8:28-29, 5:19,30-,26-27), and this sadly illustrates what passion can do even to those whose way suddenly declines.