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The ESSENCE of PREDESTINATION
THE MULTIPLE SPIRITUAL ENVIRONMENT
In accord with the general thrust of this volume - despite some other features - it seems good to speak very briefly and pointedly on predestination, on its essence.
Part of this is simply that it CANNOT be understood in isolation, but only in its setting. It is not part of a system, but a feature of the personal God and His work, which is personal, but equipped with as much system as seems good to Him.
Predestination is best approached, if you seek directness and brevity, from the perspective of the One who as a trinity member, did it, and as a man, spoke to us direct.
The Bible dwells pointedly on the Word of God, both propositional and personal, His personal expression as in Hebrews 1, John 1, Genesis 1-3, Isaiah 48:15ff., and on His direct involvement in the generation of history, and its prevision and His operation, before it occurred (as in Matthew 11:25-28). Note especially that here the KJV in our English is not correct in one point, most unusually, here. What is written is not the one whom He will reveal the Father, but the one whom He wills to reveal the Father. The NKJV is correct in this. His WILL is in the form of God (as in Philippians 2), involved. THIS is the will of the Lord, of God, revealing God to whom He will; and it is Christ who is saying so OF HIMSELF. It is all in extreme accord with who He is, and how this same Christ acts.
When, having also announced that He does what the Father does in the same way (John 5:19ff.), Christ therefore calls to Jerusalem, lamenting not only this, that despite His call they had not answered and so been saved from desolation and destruction, but something far more, it was an open door to the observation of His purpose and His character. What more then is shown in His lament in Matthew 23:37ff. ?
It is this. He was persistent and insistent in calling the people of that great city to repentance and faith in Him (cf. Luke 13:1-3). Moreover, He was tender-hearted as for those who have some kind of belonging, as chickens do, to a hen. Further again, it is a natural thing, as chickens are for the hen; for though the One calling is supernatural in stature, He is apparent here as man. Indeed, the One so appealing to those to whom He had given in the trinity, an image of God relationship to deity, is speaking so tenderly and lamenting so acutely as to weep, for those not nestling where they belong. For these, His passion is as great as His persistence, His positive objective, and its purity in not merely dictating; for in love, to dictate is a foul, like clay mixed with diamonds, or dirt in an antiseptic.
Ezekiel 33:11 is vastly similar in passion, appeal, staggering love, as is the situation in Jeremiah 3:18-19. and even concerning Moab, in Jeremiah 48.
Since, the Word of God, incarnate as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14, Philippians 2), was present as one of the infinitely intimate trinity, also before time in predestination, all of His character was operative in that domain also. He is the true expression and what He expresses is thus in accord with Him, as He with it; and He does not change, moreover (Malachi 3:6, Psalm 102:26-28), and it is that precisely, which He states in Malachi to provide their scope for salvation. He is ALWAYS like this (cf. Hebrews 13:8). We do not have to tone it up or down, one of Calvin's errors*1 in terms of accommodation. What God is, in nature and in reality, Christ has declared (John 1:18). Chosen therefore in Christ (cf. Matthew 11:27ff., Ephesians 1:4), there is one fact: people so chosen are at the tips, at it were, of Christ's fingers, as His hand, still in analogy, which is likewise wholly intimate with the mind of God the Father. There is neither dissonance nor divergence.
As His will and meaning, character and desire for souls was expressed on earth, so was it in heaven. Who has seen the Son, HAS ALREADY seen the Father (John 14).
THE CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE
Hence such was the attitude divine in METHOD in terms of predestination. It is chosen by God: who is His and who is not, as to fact; and no less, it is chosen in terms of the character and principles enunciated by Christ Jesus, in terms of HOW it is worked out. Thus there is nothing difficult or diverse from the fact that God is love (nothing contrary to it governing His outward thrust for man - as in I John 4); but again, all is to be seen as one, for HE is ONE.
Hence where love is rejected, justice resumes; and where mercy is not preferred, judgment ensues. Love does not dictate, shanghai or cast man about like stones, and hence not only did Christ prevent Peter from fighting with the sword to 'save' Him, but did not use that sort of force method in seeking what was lost (John 18:36). It is not His way, and the love He has given us underlyies our natures as much as any potency of sin from man's giving God short shrift, so that what grabs and pushes, is despised when it comes to love. That is mere lust. Love does not act in some selfish or commandeering process, some contempt for our being made in the image of the God whom none directs, some arrogation of individuality as if man were mere programmable paper, rather than one who himself can program, and often does, with his own principles.
In the love of God, if you prefer therefore YOUR principles and character and nature to that of God, then that is your lot and that is your condemnation, both equally; and there is a methodological limit (Isaiah 57:15ff.), because we are not God, and only in folly imagine we are gods. We have a derivative and limited liberty, though this is a magnificent feature of man; but it is not one to be something other than man, such as a god, let alone the God who made us! (cf. Ezekiel 29:8).
Blessed are they who, being ransomed (Matthew 20:28), serve and move and are constrained with the love of this same Christ, to preach, teach, reach with the Gospel of grace from the Lord of glory, to search, seek and look to impede the crass compounding of sin where it may be so, to seek liberty through His Gospel and word, deliverance for the captives and the culmination of the love of Christ in the hearts of those so found.
This you see in the thrust of Matthew 20:26-28, 28:18-20, for all the team of truth, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, yet alive on this earth. Founded in Christ and fathered by God, these forward the testimony into all the world. What always was, this they have received in heart as redeemed; and what is to be, this they seek with zeal, for those to join them as the Lord appoints (Acts 13:48).
THE KNOWLEDGE THAT MATTERS
The predestination before time thus has the heart and mind of Christ behind it, operative as to method in its derivation; and it is indeed not the most ultimate item. THAT as in Romans 8:29ff., is FOREKNOWLEDGE. God FIRST KNOWS who are His, foreknows them, sees them as they are before the state of creation and the status of sin makes and mars them in physical format. Where sin neither bounds nor abounds in this foreknowledge of God, then there is no evil or gradation of evil, to distinguish one from another; but the preference is free, though the results be bound. God knows it, sees it, and acts accordingly. On record as wishing for all even to the point of the blood of Christ (Col. 1:19ff.), He is no less as longing for what He does not force, and seeking for what will not come; for such is His contriving from the first, in terms of who He is, His divine nature and the nature conferred on man, to resist always (Acts 7:51).
ONLY God can open the heart of rebellious man; but God HIMSELF does not force it. As in Christ, so is the divine revealed as it is, in the nature of His love and His passion for truth, mercy and love, even to the point of the cross, in its vicarious cancellation of sin by the extremity of His bearing it Himself, where the love reaches, where the sin is not kept for their own company in death itself (as in John 8:24). Indeed, such is that passion that even to rebels in Jerusalem near the time of His expulsion from the body in the tender mercies of crucifixion, He told them that IF He had not given such extreme words and deeds, unique in history, in their midst, then they would not (ultimately in that setting) be held guilty. But since He had in fact gone so far, there was nowhere further to go, so that "your sin remains." That is a love of power and purity, purpose and fairness, not smouldering in frustration, nor cold in formalism, but genuine for those who will so receive it, as known from the first, and operative to the last.
God is a Spirit and He knows and FOREKNOWS the heart of man, before sin anaesthetised so substantially towards God (Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:17-19). HE is not bound. Those who think that the unspiritual man, for whom spiritual things are foolish (I Cor. 2:14), CANNOT have any experience in genuine reality, of God, make an error. They defy and deny Hebrews 6, where such people are said to be able to taste of the powers of the world to come and become "partakers of the Holy Spirit."
In fact, in surveying the scene normal and natural to the unconverted man, they omit one simple point. WHEN GOD ACTS, it MAKES A DIFFERENCE! What is the normal becomes no more a limit, as and according to the will of God in that instance. This applies whether it be raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, or arousing the soul.
That is no small omission, since it is INFINITE!
To be sure, man in his sinful state as such CANNOT will his way back to God, for the adoption is not of the flesh or blood or will of man, and John 1:12-14 declares this. However, when God acts, the realities as foreknown are ready to be released, and since these concern what is the TRUTH concerning each soul chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, the soul may well become aware of what is happening and of the ultimates which face it; or again, it may become aware of the finality of the offer or the necessity to respond. It is all a mirror of truth as foreknown, and so in being redeemed the experience which man has of this occurrence may be as variable as that hospital patients, undergoing anaesthetic; or better in this case, awakening from it.
It is however not good to build an understanding around only one aspect of a multi-faceted gem, or one dynamic amid many. The act of salvation is of course entirely gratuitous - left alone all deserve hell (Luke 13:1-13). If God had not acted to redeem, then there is no other name available by which everyone under heaven may be saved (Acts 4:11-12). The payment required for redemption is gratuitous from the ample mercy of God, likewise. So is the patience to prepare redemption with such a race as we have become; and so is the enduring love not to falter at points in the payment, which illustrates the profound faithfulness and design reliability of God, for what He has formed, formulated and created into being: this mankind.
Moreover, man in his unredeemed state can neither start nor induce salvation; but for all that, ANY salvation which he EVER gains from God, rests on the foreknowledge which in turn is the result of the seeking of God, in His love for all the world (cf. John 3:15ff.), and uninhibited desire for each one (Colossians 1:19ff.). Man is humbled by sin so that for all the experience he may have of the intent of freedom and of God, during conversion, there is no freedom to overcome the sin barrier except as God in His own initiative acts, nor is there any addition to the work of God in doing so (John 6:62,29).
Thus the ULTIMATE in both foreknowledge and in turn, predestination is the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. SINCE He enunciates His yearning for our turning, and His propositional purity such that it is man's PREFERENCE for darkness even in the presence of the endowed light of Christ (John 3:19) that is the basis and ground of condemnation, as distinct from salvation, this then is the divine case for the entire human race, even all who constitute the human inhabitants of this world as in John and Colossians.
Indeed, it is ONLY when man has been duly confronted, either explicitly in history, or implicitly, in the Lord's knowledge which goes back to eternity before our time and our creation was, that exclusion is the resultant as shown in John 15:22ff. IF CHRIST had NOT come and spoken as He did, and shown the works which He did, then their condemnation would not have occurred; but since they turn away from Him EVEN WHEN this confrontation, illumination, exposition has been made to the UTTERMOST, therefore there SIN REMAINS.
THE PRESERVATION OF LIBERTY, BOTH FOR GOD AND FOR MAN,
BY INFINITE GRACE
What then ? IF man does not turn, then such is the way - it is a human outcome of the entirety going way back to divine foreknowledge, of what is so in truth. For those who know in history the Gospel, and reject it, this exhibits in what class they are to be found (Luke 9:23-27). For those who on the other hand, accept His Gospel, this merely exhibits the fashioning in the presence of the divine yearning, in foreknowledge, captured by grace in salvation that nothing now can stop or ruin. If indeed, it were not that God does not change, ruined would be the human race in its entirety (as illustrated in Malachi 3:6.
What of the inhabitants of Nineveh in Jonah's time, they heard and repented (Matthew 12:41). What of those of Sodom ? If His works had been done there, as in Jerusalem, it would have remained to His own time! What of Tyre and Sidon ? If He had done there what He did in Jerusalem, they would have repented! (Matthew 11:21).
It is useless to act as if Christ were carried away in such statements, or were some spiritual ignoramus or an exaggerating politician. He IS the truth and His word is truth (John 8 and 14). Now we must neither overstate nor understate the thing. We are to receive the revelation of Christ, the word of God, and not reject it; and only so is there scope fully to understand. Yet when this is used (as in Proverbs 8:8), it is all wonderfully understandably: God Himself is infinitely understanding and loves to reason, give reason, and show truth, so well illustrated not only in the words of Christ in answer to all queries and confrontations, whether of man or devil, but in Paul so often as in Acts 13-20, in argumentation in the synagogues.
Remember how in talk with Abraham, the Lord indicated that for 30 righteous men He would spare Sodom ? Moreover, this was said in a setting: it was one of a very arithmetical count-down series of questions from the patriarch. Nevertheless, there would CERTAINLY have been a major difference, if that ultimate TYPE of test had occurred, Christ Himself had been there and so acted; and no technicality offends the truth or power of the majestic God of heaven who does what He pleases in heaven and on earth, and does not conform to what may happen to please tradition bound theologians or others (Mark 7:7ff.).
What then do we find of such sinners as those of whom Christ spoke ? Of course their sins nailed their coffins, outside the love of God, and they richly deserved the same. But as we see, Christ Himself indicates that if He had done such works in such places, then there would have been repentance there, or a continuation of a city. Even if much would have been mere follow-on of a vast movement of repentance, of variable reality, it is apparent that many who were condemned to ruin at such times and places, may NOT be simply assumed to be without hope: IF they had not known the mercy of God and the love of God! Such a sweeping assumption we are in no position to make, in view of what Christ declared, nor may His words be slanted in this way or that. He does not permit shanghaiing of His words, any more than of His own people, nor does He Himself use such methods where eternal life is concerned, whatever the force of judgment on unrepented sin.
God has many methods, one criterion for election, one sovereignty, one loving heart, one Gospel, one incapacity to be deceived, being absolute in knowledge and truth and disposing whatever is to be, system, star or salvation, as He will. He applies it as He will, and in this satisfies the nature of His love.
WHAT He is disposed so to dispose ILLUSTRATES the very name and nature of the most worthy to be worshipped God of all comfort and consolation. Neither He nor His truth may be twisted, though doubtless twisters sought to twist Him on the Cross; but He was not to be twisted, and spoke truth with love and mercy to the end; and this without ceasing to bring out the underlying realism (cf. Luke 23:26ff.). Indeed, the Lord is altogether lovely and a delight, and failing to follow His word alone leads to confusion.
In the end, NONE is to be condemned in terms of mere circumstance, or eventuation, as if God were not master of the dynamics of history, and would not or could not manage to apply His own STATED principles to it.
HOW He does it is His affair, but determining the matter for Him outside His pronouncements is not only presumption, but as in Calvin*1, it can lead to a sudden defect in Christology, as if Christ did other than speak as He was commanded (John 12:48-50), or as though the word of God, missed the mark here and there. This is unadmirable theology, grossly defamatory and utterly like Peter at his occasional worst, trying to give to protect Christ with his sword, or to give Christ a crash course on sacrifice (as in Matthew 16:22ff.).
We are aware, or may readily become so, of what Christ thought of that, of its malign basis and evil source! (Matthew 16:23). Never try to improve on Christ, or to subjugate Him as truth, to ANYTHING else, as though it were possible for Him to vary from it in universal statement such as He often made. Then who is the Saviour ? To be tutor to Christ, it is not an office for Christians! (cf. Matthew 23:8-10). ONE is the teacher to heed, and ALL the rest as as brethren.
Traditions of this or that extreme (and this field is littered with them, like seaweeds on the sea-shore), do not alter the word of God. Today has its own Pharisaic attitudes and Sadducaic ones. It is as irrelevant now as then, to the truth. That has one source in vitality and expression in Christ, and in propositional form in the Bible (cf. I Cor. 2:9-13, II Timothy 3:16, Matthew 5:17ff., Isaiah 34:16, 59:21), and when this is followed without variation or addition or subtraction, the realities of human liberty are so brilliantly clear, seen in the spiritual setting which God defines, that it is triumph over all trickery and an end to a ll treachery with truth. God knows how to speak and He has spoken (cf. SMR).
We are free and responsible, made magnificently in the image of God, loved and able to be lost, in ultimate, whether in implication or manifestation, ONLY when
DESPITE the love and technical facility and power of God,
but this without wishing to dictate at this level, and
to honour the nature of what He has made,
but not its sin,
man's foreknown and true desire is otherwise, when his preference does not agree with the love of God and hence with a life of such a kind.
That negative option, in view of man's elevated nature in potential, despite sin, is to dismember him like pulling a stamen out of a flower. Yet he is not prevented from so acting; it is predestination that ensures there is no error, and foreknowledge that shows what the truth is!
If then His loving and pardoning desire is NOT the preference of the soul concerned, lost it is and this remains to be shown. Indeed, IF this be the preference, it is just as impossible because it is the RESULT of God's own work and choice (Ephesians 1:4), for it to be found, as for those who do not so prefer, but rather receive the light, to be lost.
On this, see
Celestial Harmony for the Terrestrial Host Ch. 2,
Christ's Ineffable Peace ... Ch. 2,
To Know God ... Ch. 1.
The Christian Pilgrimage Ch. 3, Appendix.