IN THE BIBLE, SOVEREIGNTY AND LIBERTY
ARE MIXED WITHOUT COLLISION
Freedom was simply a gift to Adam and Eve.
Misusing it, they misused themselves and their freedom.
Stirred by unevidenced claims they submitted to mistrust contrary to evidence,
becoming slaves of spiritual ambition. They fell out of divine care, inherited the curse which
affected all creation (Romans 8:18-23), and in mercy - not yet dying physically, they left an inheritance to humankind.
It is one which had been befouled, but yet had hope (Genesis 3:15). Thus their descendants were entangled with sin at the source. They were placed in a different position from that of their progenitors, with such an inheritance, so markedly different, as in Romans 5:14. As in Romans 5:12ff., , one man who was the incarnate God, would come in His appointed time to culminate and dower salvation, just as the other pair dowered shame. But this, whether as forecast or fulfilled, had to be accepted in its setting for salvation to operate on an individual basis (John 8:24).
God Himself in the meantime had solved the problem of saving a polluted and confused people, by foreknowing in His long prepared plan of salvation the whole human race, one by one, Desiring all, saving some (Colossians 1:19, I Timothy 2, Ezekiel 33:11), He found those who were His own among all. These were known in advance in the depths of God, before whom all things are manifest (Hebrews 4:13), in the very love freedom allows and truth requires, and is personal genuine and sincere, not weighted by psychological mechanics or disturbed by deceit; and predestinated them as such, His very own. Before sin could come, before creation so much as existed, He did this in His own foreknowledge, thus choosing what was yet free, as likewise is the Gospel itself, so that whoever received did so at His hand, in His mind, which constituted the source and reality of knowledge.
These then were NOT just built like robots but free, being so gifted in spirit, as were those others whose spirits were foreseen to be antipathetic, so disposed. It did not constitute a condition for man to meet, but a state which God knew. He knew it as a sovereign being, inventing freedom from the first. in this the human creation was limited of course, since mankind is infinitely less than God, but it was real and genuine liberty which love needs in order to manifest itself, no mock-up and concerning Himself, the design was open.
With His own will He knew each one (Ephesians 1:4) before creation, invented His Gospel from the first (Revelation 13:8), and seeing through the liberty donated to the not yet created being, not yet fallen, so achieved His loving desire giving authority to become children of God... or left it, since love is not confusable with thrust, lust and desire or any of them, to meet one's own pleasure, but is directed towards the welfare of what is loved and would not therefore annul love in order to satisfy it, which would be a weird and self-contradictory procedure. But our God IS love, and shows it.
God reveals much of His Being, even the deep things (I Corinthians 2:10). He can and often did lament the loss of many, Christ even weeping at the wilfulness of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), as foreknown and now brought into history, the truth. This same assertive, autonomous or separating desire in the lost, it stood even despite His desire, and to His very face it did so. Indeed, in His very presence (Luke 19:42), it persevered in its negativity. It did so in its culmination on earth, as despite the protestations made in His name by the very personal prophet Jeremiah, and His parallel entreaties (Jeremiah 1-9, 17:10ff.), it had done before.
In an earlier period it had done this, as now direct, it clung freely to its negative and preferred orientation. Indeed, the prophet even transmitted a highly gracious offer, and very simple offer; but they would not (Jeremiah 17). They were described as stiff-necked in their attitude, so frequently found in history, but not high-minded except in a negative sense! (Exodus 33:3, II Chronicles 30:8). God adds, on this topic, He declares to Israel, that this "has been your manner from your youth," Jeremiah 22:21).
So far from their equivocation and relentless straying even from what they professed, so often, being in some obscure way "necessary", it was characterised thus: a matter of wilful but remediable shame (Jeremiah 13:27), a lamentable loss felt to the uttermost by the Lord (Isaiah 48:15ff.). "Will you still not be made clean ?", He asks of the still recalcitrant people. in sorrow, grief and lamentation.
Indeed He revealed Himself grieved and lamenting that they did not seize the opportunities given, and proceeds to show how very much better it would have been had they opted for the then available course of life He desired and presented unheeded day of opportunity; yet it had been missed. It is similar in Luke 19:42ff.. IF ONLY in this their day, Jesus declared, you had known the things that belong to your peace, but now ... They had a genuine opportunity, but needlessly did not opt for it. What horror!
It only they had taken hold of their opportunity in His very presence, but ... but now your house us left to you desolate. It is the same theme and principle.
The people earned clear language describing their deceit and being deceived, and the whole race in itself, received its clinical description (Jeremiah 17:5-10), with its unearned offers of goodness and mercy rejected repetitively in an accumulating fashion of woeful guilt (Jeremiah 17:23). It is broadened in Ezekiel 18, and 33:11. Obviously God is not lamenting what He prevented actively. It is what love desired and stubbornness refused; stubbornness, not psychological mechanics; for God foreknew before all creation and the fall, for all. In freedom, truth was the genesis and the outcome was likewise in truth.
In God, there is no mere force to induce man to salvation, no pretence, as if He changed people so that their will was irrelevant in kind. Though this indeed is their pathological historical condition (John 1:13), obscuring truth in confusion, delusion mixed with disinclination, it is not so in divine foreknowledge, for God having foreseen all, provided for all that some might receive Him freely, foreknown, not in mere foresight (Romans 9:11), but in divine insight from the first for their intimate desire. As He said to Jeremiah: "Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you as a prophet to the nations."
Some may be given different degrees of insight in participation in the saving act of God, in their experience of conversion, thus giving different emphases in their descriptions of it; but this is the result of reality, where God shows what He will to each one of what lies behind, and man is saved freely, truly and without loss, mere compulsion or uncertainty. Psychological oddities do not rule; but God rules. He IS the truth.
As He made, so He causes to function in His sight, where no blight directs, nor any obfuscation
has place. Before the Fall, He knew all.
Thus does the Lord make Himself known, as likewise the sinful condition of man apparent, and His transcendence over this marring of the meaningful liberty to which He appointed man in the first place, which was immediately abused. It is not another God of another heart or mind, but this One. He shows mercy, not muddle concerning man.
It is thus that Isaiah 48:15 proceeds, and it needs further regard. It is here that God is presenting both acrimoniously and poignantly the pity with the pollution, the latter almost heart-breaking to Him who does not pretend or pre-empt, but as love does, WILL not force, nor will He deceive or resort to appearance: and so is not frustrated, though grieve He may and does, in the truth of love; for what does not love in truth.
It is not that in the midst of liberty, it is merely a control unit, managed by procedures, so that God would be responsible, rather than man, as the Bible teaches. Indeed, His repetitive seeking, like a hen for her chicks, is stressed, like the result: "but you were not willing." In fact, He sums it up in John 3:19: for the light of God becoming incarnate, how was it that it was not received ? In case one was in any conceivable doubt, He declares this:
"And this is the condemnation: that the light has come into the world,
and men loved darkness rather than light ..."
It is not, when it comes to salvation, that take it you wouldn't and couldn't, but that when this remedy in its turn, this new scope for receiving the Gospel, it was once again refused. There was nothing left but destruction. What follows in John 3:19 is a condemnation for a wilful fault, not a description of a symptom or condition. It is an added charge, not a meaningless contribution of any form of compulsion. The condemnation is not something else. It is not that a depraved and deprived mankind is condemned like bad meat; but that despite the light they had a preference for darkness. As Matthew 23:37 puts it, I would ... you would not. To say, He would have gathered them does not mean that He would not, but instead simply let an impossible situation lapse. HE WOULD have done so, but they were not willing. In all literature, what could be clearer than that.
There is condemnation for not ACCEPTING the light, not for not being able to respond. As before, God would have it otherwise; but it is not otherwise, for as to sinning, so to repenting, their heart is not in it. This is the double negative, final and fateful. This refers to their responsibility for the topic in view: the arrival of the light and their response to it. THIS is then their relevant condemnation: it came, they left it, responsibility being assigned to their new action at this new advent of Christ.
As we have seen, God knows His own and takes them as they are already known and shown to be His! The fact does not alter. He WOULD have ALL (Colossians 1), and it is no divine deficiency (for He has none) which prevents His taking them, but divine purity in love, not simply to seize.
Let us recapitulate. From the first God has known His own; and as in Romans 9:11, the meaning is NOT that He saw what they would do when history rolled up, but that he knew the disposition of their hearts in unprofaned liberty before all time, and ensured no pathology aborted it, by means of His predestination of the same (as in Romans 8:29ff.). Thus love triumphed over mere psychic mechanics, and liberty as made for man, did not escape its design specifications; for with God nothing is impossible, so that sovereignty and grace are friends as in Psalm 85: indeed it is like a kiss of complementarity.
The love of God is love indeed, not psychic tactics, and His equity is in like integrity; and in the end, as a lover, He does no more at last desire what love does not reach, for that avoids and aborts the entire nature of His seeking. It hurts when some refuse, and the wastage is perceived, the loss; but it is as many on earth know, we being in His image, love is not having what you want, but wanting what is good for your beloved, just as it is not seeking to be a mere master, but a loving husband.
Thus He so strongly teaches, there is NO final judgment without at least the equivalent of opportunity to hear and follow the Gospel. This is emphatic (John 15:22ff., with 9:41) and is part of the justice and solicitude of God, alike. IF I had not done the deeds, spoken the words not man ever did, then you had not had sin; but no there is no excuse: this was the theme in test cases. NO scope for receiving salvation, then no fatal or final sin attributed. Like all the other aspects of the divine Being, this is not to be twisted, but received as truth. Where theology refuses to follow this point, it is merely false, an invention.
So in His foreknowledge, God knows His own, in His love He finds them, in His integrity He does not over-reach to abort the objective in mind, but in His depth in the beauty of holiness, He lets go what does not belong. He knows them pre-creation, before sin came to its slick sickness, before evil could grasp (therefore).
Thus as freedom concerning Himself has been the ground of all evil judgment on the human race (Romans 5, Genesis 3, 6), so the Gospel is the ground for all the differentiation, as known to God and in its time made manifest.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU DID NOT RECEIVE
I Corinthians 4:7
These things being so, we are able to find where liberty is shown in the realm of general human relations and actions, for those who are saved, secured from the sovereignty of sin. We then look at this category of persons. Others may participate in the point, to a less complete degree, since God can in any miracle, displace the natural order by power, wit or providential provision; and that is another reason for the different perceptions of conversion reported on the part of those found.
It is then an occasion for us to find what God HAS given His own people in particular.
Indeed God has given man
b) a crucial and true freedom (not to be manipulated or shanghaied),
but responsive, or able to show that response personally.
c) the power in history for many to manifest it.
d) the ultimate power of the Gospel to divide (Matthew 10:34-42),
not some unknowable, arbitrary or obscured principle. His people know Him,
not some unknowable essence (Jeremiah 9:13-14, John 10:27-28).
e) his entire deliverance from a fateful condition with hell its end and destiny,
so that whatever man has, is received: whatsoever. He is given an open door
Literally, NOTHING is gained but what in this stark transition from
vast debt and condemnation altogether, on the one hand, and on the other, to celestial peace in the love which is just as stark, spiritual and delightful as the former position was disastrous.
f) the liberty of saved salvation. When saved, persons are then given that spiritual liberty in their response, their use of gifts and talents, depth of devotion, or whatever other feature
and character they seek. It is one of the things received, indeed, to have this facility,
ability and scope at this level. Moreover, it is part of the whole measure of the gift en bloc,
that distinguishes from damnation (James 1:17).
THE DIFFERENTIAL ENTERPRISE OF THE SAVED SPIRIT OF MAN:
GIFTS, TALENTS AND SEEKING
That is in the area of sanctification. Let us apply this.
God having shown humankind in so many ways, what He would like, and what He would
not do to get it, being filled with understanding, discretion and lovingkindness,
we are able now to consider the different ways in which those saved respond in their saved lives. It is more individually a matter of how they treat their gifts and talents which are from above, and how their spirits in different ways and manners of depth, relate to the Lord. For in the parable, some bore fruit at 30% and some another load, some draw near, some drift in this or that fashion, and there is a difference among persons in the USE of liberty. It is wrought by and through the spirit of man in the freedom of liberty and the actuality of reality. In divine sovereignty this is the liberty integral to man, whether it bring elements of ruin or wonder; and this is permitted by the God who would have all repent and come home; and that, it is part of what love is, not its domination or
These assessments and divine responses at this free level are unpredictable because of our
limits of understanding, perception, facility for wrong estimate, openness to mixed motives and
the like - so that to act to assess oneself would be like becoming one's own auditor.
Accordingly, Paul condemns this, telling us he does not even seek to judge himself (I Corinthians 4:1-5), for his conscience is not divine, infallible. Judge nothing, then, before the time,
What then ? In the realm of salvation, gifts, talents and destiny are already assigned. It is now, then, in the area of sanctification, moulding, polishing, learning, depening: that the true liberty of the saved one manifests itself, as indeed its love*1.
Rewards are, in time, to be apportioned felicitously; but in this the divine depth
is far from what superficial man might imagine, as in the case of the widow
who in giving a small coin gave more than a fortune: it was her all. Again some may
have a form of spiritual ambition, mere grasping for self-advancement, unlovely
and distorted, which may flicker. Somewhat similarly, David's attempt to number his army may have been a matter of pride in power nationally; and how deeply it was repudiated and punished! (I Chronicles 21).
As in the beginning, so in the end when history reveals the soul, sovereignty and liberty are mixed without collision. The spirit of each manifests itself at last as at first, both in the use of gifts and talents*2, and in the approach to the Lord personally.
*1 John 14:21ff., Isaiah 33:17ff.
*2 Matthew 25:14.Luke 19:11ff..