POSTED - 5/31/2001
God's Sovereign Elective Grace
- George M. Ophoff
The electing and rejecting God is Supreme. Such is the plain teaching of Scripture. To deny the sovereign character of elective grace is to deny that God is God. It is to maintain that of the two, God and man, man is the stronger, and thus the factor that shapes God's choice. This is indeed the lie that constitutes the premise, the supporting pillar, of the average sermon to which our church-going public is made to listen. I realized that the phraseology of which I avail myself in defining the lie with which the modern Evangelical discourse is fraught, may be strange to you. The apostles of a dethroned God and an enthroned sinner would perhaps recoil from declaring that man is able to defeat the purposes of God. They rather speak of a God who loves and wills to save all men (head for head), of a Christ who died for all, and of a (depraved) sinner who can believe if he will. But know that, though God is supposed to will to save all men, many perish, so that the eternal death of an unrepentant sinner spells defeat for the Almighty. To say, therefore, that God indiscriminately wills to save all, is to dethrone God. To maintain that the natural man, destitute of regeneration (such is indeed the implication), can will to believe, is to seat him on a throne, left vacant, as was said, by a dethroned God.
Once more, to deny the sovereign character of elective grace is to deny that God is God. Yet many do deny it. The sad fact is that the doctrine of a sovereign election and reprobation is to many a dreaded doctrine. The number of the divines in the Christian Church who will consistently champion it, is comparatively small. Many openly decry the conception of a God, who has mercy upon whom He will have mercy and hardeneth whom He wills, as the product of a diseased brain and, when pressed, begin to prate of an election reposing upon foreseen faith. Others of a more Reformed persuasion prefer to keep silence about the matter altogether, which they do, except on rare occasions when custom compels them to bring it up. But even then this truth must be neutralized by some such nefarious admixture as "a general well-meaning offer of grace."
Scripture is most outspoken respecting the matter of election and reprobation. This no one acquainted with the contents of Holy Writ will deny, ever has denied. "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world..." (Eph. 1:4). "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..." (1 Peter 1:2). Verily, the doctrine of election runs like a seam of gold through the entire Word. It is the main pillar upon which the truth-structure, reared by the prophets and the apostles, reposes. It is so interwoven with the texture of every other truth of the Christian religion, that to preach any of these is to preach election. There is nothing cold about this doctrine. Election spells divine love, mercy, compassion, wisdom, power, justice, holiness. God in infinite mercy, taking an ill-deserving sinner included in Christ Jesus, to His bosom, to be to Him a close companion forever -- this is election.
Whereas, as far as I am aware, it is freely admitted that Scripture in unmistakable speech teaches a divine election and reprobation, the issue is not: Does Holy Writ teach election, but rather: What is the character of the selective process? Is it supreme and sovereign, or bound and imprisoned by the will of man? We affirm on the basis of Scripture that the divine choice must be as sovereign as God Himself. And He is absolutely sovereign. High is He above all nations, exalted far above all gods. What may be the secret of His supremacy? He is God, infinite in might, the almighty Creator of the earth and the fullness thereof. He appears in Scripture as the Creator of the saint and as the sole source of his salvation. Also of sin, He is the supreme necessity. He forms the light, and creates darkness; makes peace and creates evil (Is. 45:7). Verily, the joint testimony of Scripture that God is supreme is overwhelming. The burden of the joint message of all the prophets and the apostles is: God is supreme. He is God. What then must be the truth about His choice, His elective grace? As God, this choice is, must be, supreme. This is the proposition to the defense of which we arise in this pamphlet.
Proven From Scripture
What we will now prove from Scripture is that God's choice, selection, is sovereign, that is, not bound, tied down and held in bondage by man. What may be meant by a supreme, in distinction from bound choice? Let us illustrate. The matter is simple enough. A merchant is in need of an able clerk. He advertises, and shortly two men, "A" and "B" apply. The merchant fixes his gaze first upon the one and then upon the other; and the thought rises in his soul, "A" strongly appeals to me. Him will I select, providing he possesses the necessary fitness. A brief interview, however, convinces him that the fit man is not "A" but "B." "B" therefore is taken and "A" dismissed. A bound choice; bound because shaped and influenced by a circumstance (the fitness of the applicants) which the merchant did not create, but before which he is compelled to bow and take cognizance of, a circumstance, therefore, that constitutes the factor that determined the choice. On the other hand, if the merchant, capable of making of a man what he wills, could choose without considering what the applicants within themselves are, his choice, determined solely by factors within himself, would be free and sovereign. From the very nature of things, however, man's choice is always bound. He cannot move mountains; hence he chooses the path that leads him past them. He decides to cross the ocean in a ship because the opposite shore can be reached in no other way. His choice to go his way alone is shaped by the refusal of the friend to set out in company with him. Forsooth, the field in which man's will can operate is exceedingly small.
However, as the choice, selection, of a God who made heaven and earth, moves mountains, dries up seas, creates evil, turns men's hearts, is the source of anything of goodness in man -- this choice, elective love, of God is supreme. Nowhere is this more plainly taught than in the ninth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans. Attend to the argument of the verses ten to fourteen: "And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." This passage asserts, mark you, that God loved Jacob before he had done any good, so that the supreme cause of the divine choice as it devolved upon the younger child was not the good works, which he, as a historical phenomenon, performed; but the will, the good pleasure, of the Almighty God. And this is the same as saying that He chose Jacob with a view to creating in him life, goodness, and power. For, not of works but of Him that calleth, that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Forsooth, God's choice is supreme. The sole factor that determines it, is found within Him. He has mercy upon whom He will.
Deny the sovereignty of the divine choice, say that a sinner of himself believes, can believe if he but will, and cannot be made to believe, if he will not; and you brush aside with one sweep the entire mass of testimony of Scripture that God is God, and set man on a throne left vacant by a dethroned God. For if the spiritual Israel, as to its hallowed energies and power (its faith, hope, love, and good works) is not of God, is not the creation of His almighty will; He is not Israel's Maker, exalted and almighty Father, King and Savior. To say, therefore, that there is something of goodness in man that is not of God, not the creation of His will -- some power, however infinitesimal, to appropriate the Christ and the blessings of the kingdom, to take hold of the life-line thrown out, some power to utter a single faint cry for mercy -- is to strip Him of His infinite might, yea of all His glories, and draw Him down to the level of the creature to be trodden under foot of man. Consider that man is by nature dead in trespasses and sin, and thus destitute of spiritual life and power. How, then, can He believe, will to believe, of himself?
As to Esau, God hated him before he had done any evil so that the supreme reason of the divine rejection as it devolved upon the older child was not his corruption, the evil works he as a historical phenomenon performed, but the will, the good pleasure, of God. For reasons within Himself the Almighty resolved to reject and to harden the historical Esau. "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will he hardeneth." (Rom. 9: 18). Consider that if Esau's total depravity was the supreme reason that compelled God to reject him, the Almighty would have been forced to reject Jacob as well, for he by nature was as depraved as his reprobated brother. This shows that the supreme reason of Esau's rejection was not his wickedness, but the sovereign will of God.
Know well that to rebel against the reasoning of the above-cited Scripture, is to be compelled to embrace the sickening lie that the supreme reason of the divine rejection of the sinner, is the latter's wickedness -- his persistent refusal to give ear to the pleading of a God who would save but cannot and therefore finally resolves, contrary to His inmost desire, to punish the incorrigible culprit with eternal death. And this is equal to saying that the attempt of the Almighty to save ends in dismal failure as often as a sinner perishes. But let me ask: Is God's will bound? Does the unwillingness of the sinner to be saved spell defeat for the Almighty? Does the iron wall of man's opposition stay the Lord? Is His resolve to save a man shattered upon the rock of man's stinking pride, arrogance, and contempt? Don't say that I speak too disparagingly of man. He is a creature with a stiff neck, with a heart of stone, with a mouth full of dreadful curses, with a tongue under which lurks the poison of asps, with a throat that is an open sepulcher, with feet swift to shed blood, with a mind imagining vain things. In a word, he is a creature incapable of saving good and inclined to all evil. Dead is he in trespasses and sin. Does the stony heart of this man constitute the rock that resists the hammer-blows of God's grace, the rock with which His will collides and is dashed to fragments? Nay, my friend, there is no such rock. The stony heart of man defeat God -- Him who measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, meted out heaven with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in balance; Him before Whom the nations are nothing; Him, the incomparable God, Who bringeth the princes to nothing and maketh the judges of the earth as nothing? (Is. 40). This God overruled by the will of man, receding when man advances, proceeding only when man deigns to let him pass? Nay, it cannot be. How preposterous the very idea! No heart so hard that He cannot break. No will so stubborn that He cannot bend. No sinner so dead that He cannot revive. No sinner so proud that He cannot debase. No heart so filthy that He cannot cleanse. No sinner so lost that He cannot save. No sinner sunken so low that He could not raise up and set in heaven with Christ. However, He hath mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. The one believes, repents, and cries for mercy, because God so wills. And another resists, hardens his heart, says no to the Almighty, and perishes in his sins, because He so wills. The electing and rejecting God is supreme. Will any true lover of God care to maintain the contrary? Again I say that I cannot conceive of him doing so.
The First Objection Weighed
It is said, that the doctrine that God, according to His own purpose and for a reason in Himself, to wit, His own good pleasure, chooses one and rejects another, is inconsistent with divine justice. The apostle dealt with this objection. That he did so proves conclusively that the views we champion are actually his. Otherwise it could never be explained why he should raise and remove the aforesaid objection immediately upon having quoted from the discourse of the prophet Malachi the words, "Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated." (Rom. 9:13). "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?" (Rom. 9:14) is the question the apostle now puts forth. And his answer: "God forbid. For He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion . . . . For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." Both passages are from the book of Exodus (9:16; 33:11). The purpose of the apostle is obvious. He sweeps away the objection by showing that Scripture and thus God Himself unmistakably declares that He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy and hardeneth whom he will unto His glory. What God actually does -- does unto His everlasting glory (such is the implication) -- is, must be, just. So, then, what the apostle would bind upon our hearts is that, whereas God (according to His own purpose, for a reason in Himself, and with a view to Himself) actually chooses one and rejects and hardens another -- this doing of His is, must be, just. Let this sink deep into your heart, my reader. God's works (including the rejection and hardening of the sinner) are truth and verity; they being performed by Him for a reason in Himself, according to His purpose, and with a view to Himself, to the enhancement of His name, with an eye singled to His glory, with Himself before His eye as the ultimate goal. Consider that He is the highest good, a Being wise and just, the inclusion of all that is good and lovely. Hence, any work of His that has not Himself as its supreme cause and goal falls short of Himself and is vile. Because God ends in Himself, He is the just and the holy God. Such is the reply of the apostle to the objection that sovereign rejection involves God in an unfair treatment especially of those whom He wills to reject and harden. The apostle's reply does not satisfy you? So, then, it is not enough for you, to know that -- whereas it is actually the way of God to have mercy on whom he will have mercy and to harden whom He will -- Paul's doctrine of a sovereign election and rejection is, must be, consistent with divine justice? Consider that what you set aside is God's very own appraisal of His doings, yea, of Himself. You dare say to God that His appraisal of Himself is wrong? You, finite creature of the dust, dare to sit in judgment over God?
The Second Objection Weighed
Another objection raised against sovereign elective grace is that it is incompatible with human responsibility. This grievance, too, was advanced by the enemy of the truth who rose before the eye of the apostle. It again shows that the doctrine of the preceding verses is: God chooses one and rejects another because He wills. The form in which the apostle has the objector cast his complaint is: "Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?" (Rom. 9:19). The reasoning here is plain: If it be true that the destiny of man is in the almighty hand of God; if it is not of him who willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy; if one believes because God saves him; if another remains impenitent because God hardens him, and is lost because God fits him for destruction; if man's state and destiny depend on God alone -- how can He find fault, that is, how can He blame man and hold him responsible? For who can resist His will? Observe that the objection is precisely the one being urged against our doctrine of the character of the elective grace of God. Let this set you to thinking. It shows that we are in exceedingly good company, in the company of no one less than Paul.
"Who hath resisted His will?" The objector then has grasped the force and implication of the apostle's reasoning. The question is, however, whether the doctrine of the preceding verses yields this conclusion. And the answer: In the mouth of the objector, the complaint, "No one can resist His will" is vile slander. What the objector means to say is that the reprobated sinner is hardened irrespective of what he can do about it, is hardened therefore against his own good will and better self. If God would only withdraw and permit this better self to assert itself, the hardened one would obey and not rebel. The sinner, according to the reasoning of the objector, is being compelled to say no to the Almighty, though he would say yes. Hence, God cannot find fault. What has the apostle to say to this? Nothing directly. He could have replied: Thou, O man, canst not resist God's will in the sense that thou, being hardened by God, canst will to do nothing else but harden thyself and say no to Him. Thy will is only evil as thyself. With thy whole being, with all the power that is thine, dost thou pitch thyself against God. He, therefore, finds fault with thee, holds thee accountable. For thy rebellion is wanton, willful, unrestrained, unfettered.
Verily, though hardened, man is the subject of his rebellion, and behaves in agreement with his nature. With such amazing freedom does he sin, so far is he from being able to detect the power of the Almighty over and in him as something foreign to himself, that he denies the existence of God. Ask a man who persists in his unbelief why he continues to say no to the Lord, and his answer will not be: God hardens me, but, I will not believe, I hate God and refuse to come to His service.
That the apostle knew how to meet the aforesaid objection is evident from the following passage taken from the first section of his epistle: "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (Rom. 1:32-2:1). So then, the express declaration of Scripture is that the rejected sinner, though hardened and fitted for destruction by God, is nevertheless inexcusable, and is thus being held accountable for his moral state. Though hardened by God, man sins as a free moral agent. If you ask, How can this be? I must reply that I know not. What Scripture here presents is no contradiction but a mystery, which for this reason defies our powers of penetration. Deny either that man is at fault, or that God hardens him, and the mystery vanishes into thin air. The exponents of the theory of a well-meaning offer of salvation to all men, of the theory that God wills to save all, that Christ died for all, of the theory that a sinner of himself can believe -- I say, the exponents of these various theories have no mystery.
"How can He find fault. For who hath resisted His will?" Let us now attend to the apostle's reply to this question. Consider, that the question is rhetorical and may therefore be converted into a positive statement thus: God cannot find fault, for no one can resist His will. The opponent feels certain that the objection he now raises compels the apostle to concede that his doctrine is inconsistent with human accountability and therefore shall have to be relinquished. But the apostle is not to be silenced. In replying, however, he purposely refrains from caviling with his opponent about the matter of human responsibility, for the reason that all such complaints rise not from sincere perplexity, not from an earnest desire to know the truth about the matter, but from a stinking pride that dares to cavil with God and challenge His claim upon His moral creatures. Grievances they are that spring from a sinful unwillingness to believe that with God there can be no unrighteousness; from a vile stubbornness, that against better knowledge, refuses to concede that, whereas God is God and man His creature, a thing formed, God can do with man according as He wills. The apostle, therefore, frames a retort designed to rebuke the opponent's stinking pride and to expose the blasphemous root-thought from which the complaint springs (read Romans 9:20-23) -- the root-thought, namely, that God hath no right to do with His moral creatures as He pleases. Essentially this complaint is like unto the one first raised: "Is there unrighteousness with God?" Attend now to the apostle's reply: "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Rom. 9:20). It is to be noticed that the apostle here judges the opponent out of his own mouth. The opponent had thought to overturn the apostle's doctrine by the complaint, "Who can resist His will?" Just so, such is the force of the apostle's reply, in the right sense (not in the sense in which the opponent meant it), no one can resist His will. When He hardens, the sinner can will to do nothing else but harden himself. Hence, thou, O man, art but clay in the hands of God. Being clay, it behooves thee to hold thy peace.
"Who art thou that repliest against God..." Let every opponent of Paul's doctrine seriously ask himself this question. Let him ask, who am I that dare to set my mouth against Heaven and say, There is unrighteousness with God? Who am I that dare to challenge God's claim upon His moral creatures? Who am I that have the vile courage to call God to account? Indeed, who art thou, O man? Consider for a moment who thou art: a vile lump of clay by thyself, impotent, lifeless, without power to make anything of thyself at all, either a vessel unto honor, or a vessel unto dishonor. Consider, that thou canst not as much as harden thyself except the Almighty hardens thee. In God thou dost live, move, and have thy being (Acts 17:28). Thou art creature, the issue of His will. Even as a vile sinner thou dost come forth out of the womb of divine providence. In a word, by thyself, thou art clay. Thy caviling with God, how utterly preposterous! It behooves thee to hold thy peace and to extol the adorable sovereignty of thy Maker. For thou art clay. Yet thou openest thy mouth, thou a vile lump of clay, to criticize God, to accuse Him of unrighteousness, to challenge His claim upon thee, to say to Him, Why hast thou made me thus? Unbelievable! O man, thou art clay. Tell me, asks the apostle, hath not the potter power, that is, right over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? O man, have you ever heard of anyone challenging the right of the potter over the clay? Would it not, among men, be considered the height of the absurd for anyone to deny that the potter has this right? And would it not be considered the height of folly and arrogance for the dishonorable vessel, a mere lump of clay, to say to the potter, "Why hast thou made me thus?" And yet, O man, thou repliest against God, sayest to him, "Why hast thou made me thus?"
What, then, is God's very own answer to him who challenges His right over His moral creatures and insists that with Him there is unrighteousness because He exercises His divine prerogatives over man as his sovereign Maker? It is this: Consider, O man, that with me there can be no unrighteousness as I am holy God. Consider, further, that I am thy sovereign Creator and therefore have a right to do with thee according to My will. Therefore, be still and bow before the sovereignty of thy Maker. Humble thyself under My mighty hand. Extol My sovereignty, My glories, as thou beholdest them in the face of My Son, Christ Jesus. Doing so, thou hast within thyself the evidence that thou art a vessel of mercy prepared unto glory.
O man, will you continue to denounce the adorable God because you cannot reconcile His perfect doings with your corrupt conceptions of what is right and proper for Him to do? Not satisfied with God as He is, you try to improve upon Him. Improve upon God and you get a monstrosity.
So then, He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. It means that the relation He sustains to sin is causal. He hardens first, and as a result the sinner hardens himself. The exponents of the theory of the free will of man reverse this. Man first hardens himself and as a result God hardens him. The very fact, however, that the apostle insists that God may do with His moral creatures as He pleases proves that His hardening the sinner is the cause of the sinner hardening himself. The heart of the entire argument of the apostle is that the relation God sustains to sin is causal, active, progressive, and not, as is commonly held, passive, permissive, receding. What is meant is not an abandonment of man to a reprobate mind, a withdrawing of the restraining influences of His Holy Spirit, a giving up to the uncounteracted operations of surrounding hardening or perverting influences, but a positive giving up of the sinner to sin through the wickedness of his own heart. Deny this and you overturn the entire argument of the apostle that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth
Having brought to the fore and removed the chief objections raised against the God of sovereign mercy and of sovereign wrath, let us now face the question: What may be the real reason for the rejection of this God? And the answer: the very fact that He is supreme, selects one and rejects another because He wills, for reasons in Himself, according to His purpose and unto His supreme and everlasting glory. A God so absolutely sovereign, the vile sinner cannot tolerate. So he fabricates himself a God. But what is this God other than an idol that can be taken up, stationed in a corner and stay put; a figurehead, if you will, trained to take orders; an ornament; a deified extension of man himself; a God who will talk along with man and say that He selects one and rejects another for reasons in the creature (man's virtue, faith, or unbelief that defies even the power of God). Such a God man makes for himself, a God who selects or rejects according as man wills and unto man's supreme glory. The apostles of a dethroned God have no objection to God casting a man into hell, if only it be conceded that the supreme reason for Him doing so, is the sinner, his stubborn will. Even in hell the lost one can then glory in himself, shake his fist in the face of God and with the proud Stoic of old say, My will even thou canst not overpower. It is noteworthy that the modern revivalist preaches hell and damnation with a strange ferocity. They preach a Christ, too, a Christ, however, who completes the task of housecleaning begun by man.
Pelagianism represents an attempt to improve upon the "hard" God of Scripture. Improve upon this God and you get a monstrosity. The men of whom Paul in his epistle to the Romans wrote tried it. But their improvement turned out to be a corruptible man, a bird, a four-footed beast, a creeping thing. Let us quote the passage: "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." (Rom. 1:23). Does any one suppose that the race of today could do any better than those heathen? Not at all. The made-over God of the Pelagian, that God who wills to save all men head for head but cannot, is a monstrosity. This is plain enough. Consider that according to the apostles of a dethroned God, the supreme reason for a sinner believing is the sinner himself, his supreme will. It means that God cannot save unto His supreme glory. His redemptive labors, therefore, being works that fall short of Himself, must be denominated sin. And a God whose works are sin, is darkness. Further, the God of the apostles of a free will must destroy the wicked because of an inherent impotence to bring them to repentance, so that the perishing of the wicked spells his defeat. In a word, to deny that the electing and rejecting God is supreme is to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible, vile, and impotent man. Improve upon the God of Scripture and you get a monstrosity.
Finally, if the electing and rejecting God is not supreme, a man's salvation depends upon his own capricious will. Though believing today, the assurance is lacking to him that he will still be cleaving unto Christ on the morrow. Even with the gates of heaven within sight, he may still plunge back into hell. The theory we expose, it is plain, renders everything uncertain. It is a theory that genders not peace but anxiety, not joy but grief, not hope but despair, not humbleness but stinking pride. How different the disposition of a man who firmly believes that the electing and rejecting God is supreme, the creative cause of his salvation, his Almighty Redeemer, Who loves him because He wills, for a reason in Himself. This man has rest for he rests in God.
Man by himself is nothing. God is all. He is supreme. His power is infinite. He saves to the uttermost a vile sinner, by himself hopelessly lost, whose only hope therefore is God. Knowing himself as claimed by a God of sovereign mercy, the redeemed one has peace and joy unspeakable, and he glories in the cross and will glory in God forever more.
Because He is supreme God, John the apostle hears every creature which is in heaven and in the earth and such as are in the sea and all that are in them saying, "Blessing and honor and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." (Rev. 5:13).
Preach sovereign election and rejection in and out of season, and the flock you pastor will soon be crying out the praises of God. Keep silence about this truth, and the praises of God will soon die on your own lips and on the lips of the sheep over which you have been set.
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