Archives for category: Theological

It is not of Him that willeth.  This destroys free will religion.  All too many, if asked why they think they are saved, respond by reporting some act of their will.  But Paul unequivocally declares that salvation is not acquired by the volition of man’s will.  Once more, if we understand what he has taught earlier in the letter about the complete ruin of human nature by sin, this should not surprise us.  Man’s will is free, but freedom is always circumscribed within the limits of reality.  A fish is free to will to swim in the water, but it is not free to will to walk on the dry ground.  Just so, a man is free to will what is within the capacity of his powers to accomplish, but nothing more.  His will, Paul has taught us, is so corrupted by sin that he will never, of his own volition, seek after God.  Man’s unaided will can never choose to believe the promises of Christ and lift itself into a state of spiritual life.  If we have understood what Paul taught about man’s depravity, then we should not be surprised when he removes man’s will from the equation of salvation.

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Man cannot will his own salvation, nor can he earn it by his good works.  This seems to be the meaning of the words “nor of him that runneth.”  It is talking about all the strenuous efforts men may put forth, whether by self-sacrifice or abuse of the body, by participation in rituals and service, by almsgiving, or any other means that we can devise.  Even by seeking to obey all the commandments and ordinances of God we cannot achieve salvation, for our best efforts will never atone for the sins we have committed and do commit all along the way.  It is impossible for salvation to be obtained through the compilation of any quantity of good works and religious efforts.

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Modesty and Christian Liberty

This sermon is something of a postscript to my first message on Christian modesty.  Because it is such a common thing these days to hear people defend their right to dress immodestly under the pretense of Christian liberty, I thought it well to give a brief rundown of the true principles of Christian liberty, and show its connection to modesty.  We must understand that our liberty  in Christ is never a liberty to sin, in dress or any other way; and also that we must never use even our legitimate liberties in ways that will harm our brethren.  Particularly this refers to dressing in ways that would tempt other people to lust, or in ways that would violate the conscientious scruples of our brethren.

The message concludes with a few words upon the adornment God requires of Christian women: specifically, “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

The reason for his thunderous rejection of the suggestion that the doctrine of sovereign election impugns the divine character is biblical.  This is not something the apostle invented out of his own fevered imagination, but something drawn from the Old Testament record, with which the Jews were quite familiar.  He reminds them of what God told Moses in Exodus 33:19, when Moses was pleading for Israel, who had just committed their great sin with the golden calf.  As he drew near to God, Moses besought that he might see the divine glory.  God told him that He would make all His goodness pass before Moses, and would proclaim the name of the Lord before him, and then added, “And will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  In other words, even within the camp of Israel, the Lord’s own chosen, covenant people, His grace and mercy were bestowed only upon the objects chosen by His own sovereign will.  This is an important point, because Paul seems to be saying that there is an elect, truly saved and walking with God, among the visible elect.  The entire nation was chosen by God to receive the blessings of Abraham, but many of those were still unbelieving, and thus subject to the judgment of God.  God reserved the ultimate grace and mercy of salvation for the objects set apart by Him for His own purposes, and according to His secret will.

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What must we conclude from all this?  Precisely what the apostle concludes.  If salvation, even for the chosen nation of Israel, was ultimately reserved only to those upon whom God determined to bestow His mercy and compassion, then it is certainly no different today.  The only people who are saved are those who are selected according to God’s discriminating choice, not those who happen to be wiser or stronger than their fellows.

 

Paul now interjects the questions he knows will be asked: “What shall we say then?  Is there unrighteousness with God?”  This question can only be the result of the doctrine of sovereign election.  Every attempt to explain this passage which does away with the truth of God’s sovereign election, and attempts to make it something which still ascribes value and power to man’s free will in the realm of salvation, utterly fails at this point.  The question needs to be asked every person who espouses the Arminian theory of salvation, or of evangelism: “Would anyone who heard you explain your beliefs ever be tempted to ask of you, Does not your doctrine make God unrighteous?”  The answer, of course, is no.  Nobody who hears a person who centers the outworking of salvation around the will of man and his ability to do something to bring himself into a saving relationship with God, will even think to ask him if this doctrine makes God unrighteous.  It is the most natural thing in the world for men to think that, if I do some good thing, then God will respond by saving me.

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But that is not the doctrine of Paul.  The great apostle has already pronounced the death sentence upon man’s will and ability in the previous chapters, particularly in the 8th, when he said, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”  We are utterly incapable of doing anything by the hand or with the mind which will so move God as to make Him change His mind and save us.  By ourselves, our nature is so vitiated by sin that we can never choose to believe God and serve God.  There must be a power external to ourselves to put such strength within us.  And that is why the apostle Paul understood the necessity of God’s sovereign election.  If salvation was left up to the free will of man, then none would be saved; for, as he has already told us, “There is none that seeketh after God.”  If no man by nature seeks after God, then of necessity, salvation must be the result of God seeking after us.  If it is left up to the activity of our free will, we will never choose God, because our corrupted sinful will can no more choose Him than it can choose to jump off the top of a skyscraper and fly.  We must understand man’s complete death and ruin in sin in order to understand and accept Paul’s doctrine of election.  If we think that man is only slightly injured by the fall, but still retains good spiritual qualities which he is able to exercise independent of divine intervention, then we will never accept that salvation can only come through God’s choice and God’s redemption.  But when once we understand man’s total and absolute ruin in the fall, then the rest easily falls into place.

But it is because men reject the biblical doctrine of total depravity that they demand when they hear Paul declare that God chooses and rejects according to His sovereign will, with no respect to our works, “Is there unrighteousness with God?”  Of course, to the devout mind the very suggestion is scandalous.  We may not be able to understand or grasp the meaning of God’s actions, but we embrace as a fundamental axiom of life, that everything God does is consistent with the highest and purest principles of holiness and righteousness.  And thus, Paul answers the impertinent question with a resounding, “God forbid!”

 

Many are troubled by the idea that God hated Esau, particularly since Paul in the context argues that God’s rejection of Esau was accomplished before the children were ever born.  While I hesitate to agree with those who shrug it off by simply saying it means God loved Esau less, I nevertheless do not believe that, in the realm of election at least, that God carried a bitter enmity against Esau simply because he was not chosen to everlasting life.  In the scripture, God’s hatred is always a response to men’s sin.  Psalm 5:5 says God hates all workers of iniquity; His hatred is a response to their works of iniquity.  I will grant that “hatred” in the New Testament does sometimes carry the sense of loving less, as in Luke 14:26.

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I rather think “hate” in our verse is speaking of hatred in the sense of rejection.  God’s moral hatred of Esau would come later, as a result of his iniquitous life.  But His hatred in Paul’s context is with respect to election, which was accomplished before the children were born; therefore, “Esau have I hated,” seems to mean in this place, “Esau have I rejected.”  He chose Jacob to inherit the blessings, and rejected Esau, and exiled him and his offspring to Seir, and ultimately to destruction.

We return now to the parenthetical statement of verse 11, where Paul forcefully establishes his doctrine of election.  He proves from the ancient history of the patriarchs that election is not according to the good or evil performed by men, but is entirely irrespective of our works.  God’s choosing of Jacob was not something done after the twin boys had matured into adulthood and proved their relative moral worth, but rather the Lord declared His choice to Rebecca before the children were ever born.  They had done no good or evil; there was nothing Jacob could have done to deserve preference above Esau, nothing Esau could have done to lose the blessing which should by ordinary custom have been his.  God’s choice of Jacob was not at all made upon the relative worth of the persons, but according to His own sovereign purpose.  What He told Rebecca was done for one reason, and one reason alone: that His purpose according to election might stand.  Why God chose Jacob, and rejected Esau, we cannot say.  Why He loved Jacob, and hated Esau, we cannot explain.  We may safely say that it was no arbitrary, whimsical thing on the Lord’s part, for there are depths of wisdom in His purposes which we cannot begin to fathom.  It is clear from the Old Testament that Jacob was, by nature, no better a man than Esau, and that the Israelites were no more deserving of God’s favor than the Edomites.

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In the prophecy of Malachi, quoted by Paul in verse 13, God proceeded to foretell the utter and entire destruction of Edom.  Why destroy Edom, when Israel’s wickedness was equally as great, and far more aggravated because of their special privileges?  We can do nothing but humbly bow before the sovereign, discriminating choice of God, acknowledging that He is God, that He is wise, that He is righteous, and we are unable to fathom or comprehend His dealings, but we bow to Him as the supreme sovereign of heaven and earth Who retains the right to dispense with His creature as it pleases Him.

The Unity of Christ and His People

This message was preached preparatory to our church’s Lord’s Supper observance for the month of June.  Union and communion are prominent themes with respect to this ordinance; not only the communion and fellowship we enjoy in the body and blood of Christ, but also it should facilitate our fellowship with one another.  Christ speaks strongly of our union with Him and with one another at the end of Matthew 10, when He says that those who receive His messengers receive Him, and that if we receive a prophet or righteous man in the name of a prophet or righteous man, we will receive their very reward.  Indeed, He goes so far as to say that if we give even a cup of cold water to a disciple, we will in no wise lose our reward.  It will unquestionably transform our attitude toward God’s people when we remember that our acts towards them are considered as having been done toward Christ Himself.