ARMINIUS, TO CALVIN, TO PAUL
There are three men whose theology has a greater influence on the lives of Christians today than that of any who have ever lived. According to the preponderance of their doctrinal effect these men were, first, Jacobus Arminius, John Calvin, and finally, the Apostle Paul.
JACOBUS ARMINIUS (1560-1609) — Who was this man whose teachings influence more Christians today than those of any other?
Jacob Arminius was born in Amsterdam, Holland, four years before the death of John Calvin. In time, he became a champion of Calvinistic Dutch Reformed theology.
Ultimately chosen to write a defence against attacks on Calvinism, Arminius came to the conclusion that many of Calvin’s doctrines were indefensible. In rejecting Calvinism, and in the attempt to construct his own scheme of beliefs, Arminius made the fatal mistake of mixing Pelagian dogma with the Scriptures.
PELAGIUS — Early in the fifth century, the English monk Pelagius sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church. He thus became a life-long theological antagonist of Augustine. Pelagius insisted that man did not inherit Adam’s sinfulness, but was only affected by his example. He believed that man’s will was free to choose for, or against, God. Hence, via Arminius, we have our present-day “Christian humanism,” i.e., man is the master of his fate, with God’s help–if he chooses it.
ARMINIANISM TODAY — Coming from humanistic Pelagianism instead of from the Scriptures, Arminianism bases salvation upon the will of fallen man. It is an anti-sovereignty, anti-security, anti-dispensational, anti-grace, pro–works religion. The teaching is that God, through redemption, bestows a “common grace” upon all men, thereby making it possible for the individual to exercise his free will either for, or against, God.
FREE WILL? — According to Arminianism, man is not totally depraved–his will remains free to decide his own destiny. Its maxim is, “It is mine to be willing to believe, and it is the part of God’s grace to assist.” To Arminianism, “foreknowledge” means that God foreknows those who will receive the Saviour, and upon that basis He elects them. Those who choose to reject the Saviour, He condemns.
Since the final decision is made by man, and God then acts upon that decision, man is sovereign. In that case, God determines nothing. He gives nothing except so-called common grace which removes the inability to choose Him, and He secures nothing.
Thus the sinner’s choice of God, and not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate factor in salvation. Those elected by God are chosen only in the sense that He foresaw their faith and good works–-which arise from themselves and are not wrought of God. The human will is exalted to the place of sovereignty and, according to this system, man is his own saviour.
As Dr. A.H. Strong wrote, “It is important to understand that, in Arminian usage, grace is simply the restoration of man’s natural ability to act for himself; it never actually saves him, but only enables him to save himself…if he will.”
SOVEREIGN MAN? — “In that the Arminian begins on the premise of his own will, his end is on the same assumption. He feels that since he can come in, he can therefore go out, by his free will. What little measure of salvation he has is founded upon his own momentary merit, plus whatever emotional experiences he can muster along the way. “After I accepted Jesus I wasn’t sure if I was really saved; but when I had my ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit,’ and spoke in tongues, then I was sure.” Consequently the Arminian’s existence is experience-based, only to be beset by fears, uncertainties, backslidings, and failure.
Unconditional eternal security grounded upon faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is utterly rejected by the Arminian. He sedulously avoids all Scripture that establishes eternal security, or at best seeks to discredit and deny it. He gravitates to out-of-context verses that seem to him to militate against eternal security.
Arminianism’s misleading error in the field of salvation is that it persists in attempting to build the Christian’s standing upon his feeble and faltering daily life, rather than on the sufficient and immutable merit of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Arminian salvation becomes little more than a system of human conduct; for, though the idea of regeneration is incorporated, it is, in the Arminian idea of it, no abiding value, being supported only by a supposed human merit. –-L.S. Chafer (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 356)
SEMI-PELAGIANISM — Through a process of modification, Pelagianism spawned Semi – Pelagianism. It has been described in these words:
Though it retained much of the philosophical basis of its parent’s humanism and rationalism, as opposed to divine revelation, Semi-Pelagianism compromised with truth sufficiently to gain favorable audience with some Christians. It became, thus, a far more dangerous form of infidelity than its parent. As such, it eventually overcame the Roman Catholic Church and returned it to the very Pelagianism condemned by Augustine. Semi-Pelagianism changed its disguise and further altered its voice at a later date to become known as Arminianism, following some refinements and adjustments to Christianity.
Dr. Lorraine Boettner has stated: “Arminianism existed for centuries only as a heresy on the outskirts of true Christianity, and in fact it was not championed by an organized Christian Church until the year 1784, at which time it was incorporated into the system of doctrine of the Methodist Church in England by John Wesley.”
Today, Christendom has been permeated by Arminianism. It has gripped the English–speaking realm mainly by means of the Wesleyan movement (Methodism), the English Baptists, Finneyism, the Pentecostal and Holiness movements, and especially the out–of-control Charismatic movement. Then too, there is the influence of the many Arminian denominations, such as the Assembly of God, Nazarene, Lutheran, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, and others.
Almost all truly born-again Christians begin as Arminians, with their “free will” and their self-centered life and service for “Jesus.” The tragedy is that far too many never get beyond that baby stage, but go on into the fleshly emotionalism of full-fledged Arminianism.
A clearer view of Arminianism might be gained from the following statements:
1 – Human depravity has not rendered man incapable of savingly exercising his will to trust in Jesus for salvation.
2. – God’s grace is resistible in the final sense so that man can ultimately thwart His purpose to save him.
3 – God’s election is conditioned upon His divine foresight of faith in certain men whom God, then, designates as His elect.
4 – Jesus’ atonement was exactly the same for everyone with no discrimination whatever, rendering all men savable, but actually guaranteeing the salvation of none.
5 – Final Salvation is possible for believers, but ultimate victory rests with their continuance in faith, so that ultimate apostasy may be possible for the saved.
STATEMENT — Dominated by the free will of fallen man, Arminianism is characterized by fleshly lawlessness. The Arminian’s object is himself. Reject!
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions, and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom.16:17).
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JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564) — Calvin was the theologian of the Reformers, second only to Arminius in the extent of his doctrinal influence upon believers today.
Calvin’s tenets were Bible-based, and could be classed as “far right.” However, he had a tendency to extremism, and hence went too far in some areas of his theology. “Too far,” whether right or left, usually results in heresy.
Conversely, Arminius, the one-time Calvinist, in his recoil from Calvin’s extremes, went all the way to the left, and kept right on going over the edge into Semi-Pelagianism. In these two men we have the far right and the far left of theology among believers today.
The core of original Calvinism is seen in the following five doctrinal points:
1 – Total depravity
2 – Unconditional Election
3 – Limited Atonement
4 – Irresistible grace
5 – Perseverance of the saints
Those who presently hold to these five points are generally known as Hyper-Calvinists. This is mainly due to their extreme teaching in points one and three. There is another aspect of Calvinism known as Covenant Calvinism, which is also built on these five points.
The third realm of present-day Calvinism, and the most extensive, is known as Moderate Calvinism. Its adherents do not accept some of the original extremes, such as point three. Hence there are three-point, four-point, and four-and-a-half-point Calvinists.
HYPER-CALVINISM — We will deal briefly with Hyper-Calvinism’s error concerning their first point of doctrine, Total Depravity. Calvin did not possess all-important doctrinal balance. By pushing the truth of God’s sovereignty to an extreme in the realm of the new birth, he all but eliminated man’s responsibility.
In the matter of total depravity, these strict Calvinists are perfectly scriptural. Man is totally depraved. Paul wrote that “there is none righteous, no not one: there is non that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom.3:10,11). Of himself he wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom.7:18). The Lord Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (John 6:44).
But the Hyper-Calvinists define total depravity as “total inability.” Their proof text is Ephesians 2:1, “And you hath he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Their illustration for total inability is a man physically dead, who cannot see, hear, speak, or move. Hence he is totally unable to respond to God in any way — he cannot believe.
The solution to this self-created problem is regeneration. They teach that the Holy Spirit first regenerates those whom God has elected; He thereby gives them life so that they can exercise faith and live. In all of their writings it can be seen that they place regeneration before faith.
In their book, Five Points of Calvinism Defended, D. Steele and C. Thomas write:
The Holy Spirit, in order to bring God’s elect to salvation, extends to them a specialinward call in addition to the outward call contained in the gospel message. Through this special call the Holy Spirit performs a work of grace within the sinner which inevitably brings him to faith in Christ. The inward change wrought in the elect sinner enables him to understand and believe spiritual truth; in the spiritual realm he is given the seeing eye and the hearing ear.
The Spirit creates within him a new heart or a new nature. This is accomplished through regeneration or the new birth by which the sinner is made a child of God and is given spiritual life. His will is renewed through this process so that the sinner spontaneously comes to Christ of his own free choice. Because he is given a new nature so that he loves righteousness, and because his mind is enlightened so that he understands and believes the Biblical gospel, the renewed sinner freely and willingly turns to Christ by the inward supernatural call of the Spirit, who through regeneration makes him alive and creates within him faith and repentance.
How simple is the explanation for this scholarly error! The corpse is not the man. Death in Scripture is separation, not obliteration. Paul wrote to Timothy, “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1Tim.5:6). James stated, “Of his own will begot he us with the word of trut” (James 1:18). The Lord Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).
“Being born again (regenerated), not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1Pet.1:23). The new birth is “by the word of God.” That is a sovereign act of God, by His Spirit, none can question. But this verse forbids us to separate, as has sometimes been done, new birth from faith in the Gospel.
It has been taught that new birth precedes faith; but here we are told that the Word of God is the instrument in new birth. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”; “the Word which by the Gospel is preached.” John 3:3 and 3:16 must ever go together. There is no such anomaly possible as a man born again, but who has not yet believed the Gospel. –Samuel Ridout
COVENANT CALVINISM — During the first one hundred years after the death of Calvin, Covenant Theology evolved, mainly through Zwingli, and became inextricably intertwined with Calvinism.
Without benefit of Scripture, this theology is based upon a single “covenant of grace,” whereby all of Israel’s covenants are “spiritualized,” making the Church to be spiritual Israel: “the continuing covenanted community.” As Martin Lloyd-Jones put it, “Paul is asserting that the Church is now the Kingdom, that what the Jewish nation was in the Old Testament the Church is now.” (The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p. 48)
The teaching concerning salvation is that Christ gained eternal life for the elect by keeping the law on their behalf (“active obedience”), and, in dying (“passive obedience”), He paid the penalty of the broken law. The king pin of all Calvinism is Law! Remove their doctrine from that center and there is total collapse.
In lumping all covenants into its own covenant of grace, Covenant Calvinism is anti-dispensational, and amillennial. This present age is claimed to be the actual realization of the millennium. It is the idea that there will be no more millennium than there is at present, and that the eternal state will immediately follow Christ’s return to earth.
BEWARE! — Listed here are some of the better-known, pro-law Calvinist authors whose theology permeates the thinking of vast numbers of fundamental believers today:
Adams, J. Edwards, J. Mauro, P. Smeaton, G.
Allis, O. Fletcher, J. Morris, L. Steele, D.
Bass, C. Fuller, D. Murray, G. Stonehouse, N.
Baxter, R. Gerstner, J. Murray, J. Stott, J.
Berkof, L. Gill, J. Nicole, R. Thomas, C.
Berkouwer, G. Goodwin, T. Owen, J. Van Til, C.
Boettner, L. Haldane, R. Packer, J. Van Til, H.
Boice, J. Hamilton, F. Payne, H. Vos, G.
Bonar, A. Hodge, A. Pink, A. Warfield, B.
Boston, T. Hodge, C. Romaine, Wm. Watson, R.
Brown, D. Kromminga, D. Ryle, J. Watson, T.
Bunyan, J. Kuiper, H. Schaeffer, F. Wyngaarden, M.
Conn, H. Kuyper, A. Shedd, Wm.
Cox, Wm. Lloyd-Jones, M.
MODERATE CALVINISM — Most doctrinally sound believers today class themselves as moderate Calvinists. They hold the biblical doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, and eternal security. But in general, they believe in unlimited atonement; they are premillennial and pretribulational–dispensational.
The overpowering characteristic of all Calvinism, of whatever stripe, is law. All Calvinistic believers are kept under law as their “rule of life.” And it must be said that the one teaching that Calvinism does not have is a clear-cut, scriptural separation from the law. Believers are not protected from the demands of the law, and they are not established in grace. When it comes to spiritual growth, Calvinism flounders on the truth of “Crossed-out law.”
It finds its favorite “haunt” in the Old Testament, as well as the law-oriented precepts of the Messiah and His earthly Kingdom. As a result, it is “haunted” by the teachings of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ through Paul, whose full grace is a veritable thorn in the flesh of Calvinism.
How sad it is to see some moderate Calvinists break down in their dispensationalism and take believers back to the Sermon on the Mount–seeking to apply that coming-kingdom law in an effort to regulate their Christian life. A leader who understands the true source of spiritual growth–“the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:2)–would never resort to that.
WILDERNESS WANDERING — Calvinism will go as far as the Cross for salvation, but then it turns back to the Sermon on the Mount and to much of the Old Testament, in order to have a rule for the Christian life. Like the Israelites whom it seeks to spiritually emulate, it fears the freedom of Canaan, only to turn back into the wilderness struggle. It is Romans Seven all the way for the Calvinist. Although it simply hesitates at the Cross, Arminianism at least goes as far as Pentecost; but then it, too, turns back to its “Jesus.”
The disqualification of Calvinism is in its failure to “rightly divide” between Israel and the Church–it considers the Body of Christ to be “spiritual Israel.” As John Stott puts it, “Although Jesus was greater than Moses and although His message was more gospel than law, yet he did choose twelve apostles as the nucleus of a new Israel to correspond to the twelve patriarchs and tribes of old.” (Christian Counter-Culture — The Message of the Sermon on the Mount — Inter Varsity Press)
In his Systematic Theology, Vol. VII. p. 211, Dr. Chafer struck down this error:
It should be made emphatic that to observe distinction between Judaism and Christianity is the beginning of wisdom in understanding the Bible. Theologians of past generations have made no greater mistake than to suppose, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Judaism and Christianity are one and the same, or as some have said, ‘One is the bud and other is the blossom.’ Judaism has not merged into Christianity. This is a colossal error of Covenant Theology perpetuated to the present day.
ECCENTRIC EXEGESIS — Calvinism insists that Jesus taught the spiritual aspects of the Mosaic law in the Sermon on the Mount, and that He instructed His disciples in that law. True. Since the disciples were saved, their reasoning goes, the Church is therefore subject to the law-teachings of the Sermon. Untrue!
At that time, the disciples were not Christians. There was no such thing as a born-again Christian until the day of Pentecost. These believing disciples were Messianic Jews, “saved” unto the earthly kingdom. Their Messiah-King was instructing them concerning the laws of that coming millennial, theocratic kingdom.
No Christian ever was, ever is, nor ever will be under law, whether Mosaic, Messianic, or Millennial! Arminianism and Calvinism may put the Christian under law, the believer may put himself under law as his rule of life, but the Lord Jesus never did, and the Holy Spirit never will.
Rather than put the believer under law, the Spirit places (baptizes) him into death and thereby positions him above the law and into the freedom of the life of Christ risen. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.” “Now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter (law)” (Rom. 7:4, 6 (ASV).
LORD, NOT LAW! — Within the believer the Holy Spirit applies “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”; not the law of condemnation and death (Rom.8:2; 2Cor.3:6-9). The Spirit of Christ does not write any law upon the heart of any Christian–He ministers life, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2Cor.4:11).
The kingdom law will be written on the heart of the redeemed Jew in the millennium, but now it is “Christ in you” (Col.1:27). “The Christian is not under law, nor is he under promise; he has the effect of the accomplished promise–“for to me to live is Christ” (Phil.1:21).
The believer, dead to the law and alive to God in Christ risen, looks upon his Lord, not Israel’s law. Christians, “with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,” not “even as by the law of the Lord” (2Cor.3:18).
Just as the Ten Commandments were the declaration of the mind of God under the dispensation of the law; so now the Church is the engraving of Christ, “written, not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart,” to show forth the virtues of Him “who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
Law demands everything, but gives and changes nothing–it is meant to condemn. We may even turn the Lord Jesus into that letter of condemnation; we may take His life, for instance, and make it our law. We may say, “He has loved me, and done all this for me, and I ought to love Him, and do so much for Him, in return for His love, etc.” Thus if we turn His love into our rule of life, it becomes the ministration of death; for the only thing a rule can do is condemn. Christianity is a nature, not a regulation.
LAW-BOUND — The entire area of the believer’s identification with the Lord Jesus in His death and ascension is not only misunderstood, but usually avoided by Calvinism. Although Paul explicitly wrote that “sin shall not have dominion over you for ye are not under law but under grace” (Rom.6:14), Calvinism insists that the Spirit will enable the believer to live by the principle of the law.
Paul pleads especially with these Calvinists: “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (Rom.7:1). They fail to understand the believer’s death to the law. Beyond justification they lose their doctrinal footing and slip back to the ground of death (law), failing to move forward onto the ground of growth (Christ, our life).
Typical of all Covenant Theologians, Dr. John Stott wrote in his Christian Counter-Culture:
It is a new heart-righteousness which the prophets foresaw as one of the blessings of the Messianic age. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts,” God promised through Jeremiah (31:33). How would He do it? He told Ezekiel: “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes: (36:27).
Thus God’s promises to put his law within us and to put his Spirit within us coincide. We must not imagine (as some do today) that when we have the Spirit we can dispense with the law, for what the Spirit does in our hearts is, precisely, to write God’s law there. (p.75)
It was not only to Timothy that Paul wrote, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim.2:15). Neither Jeremiah nor Ezekiel nor anyone else from Adam on down ever dreamed of such a thing as the Church, to say nothing of a Christian! That wondrous truth was God’s hidden mystery, until Paul. We share Merrill Unger’s thought:
The Church is said to be a “mystery” (Eph.3:3), “the mystery of Christ” (Eph.3:4). It was foretold, but not explained, by the Saviour (Matt.16:18). It was a truth unknown and unrevealed to anyone in Old Testament times (Eph.3:5), indeed a revelation and purpose “hid in God” throughout the ages (Eph.3:9), first realized historically at Pentecost, and first revealed doctrinally to the Apostle Paul (Eph. 3:3-7). (The Baptizing Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 29)
Actually, God said through Jeremiah, “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer.31:33). And through Ezekiel He said to His nation, Israel, “Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I shall be your God” (Ezek. 36:28).
Not only was the Church a hidden mystery throughout the Old Testament, but also in much of the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said very little about it while ministering here on earth. He waited to give that heavenly, Christian revelation through Paul, “for he is a chosen vessel unto me” (Acts 9:15). Dr. Chafer’s delineation is clear-cut:
There is a dangerous and entirely baseless sentiment abroad which assumes that every teaching of Jesus must be binding during this age simply because He said it. The fact is forgotten that the Lord Jesus, while living under, keeping, and applying the Law of Moses, also taught the principles of His future kingdom, and, at the end of His ministry and in relation to His Cross, He also anticipated the teachings of grace. If this threefold division of the teachings of Christ is not recognized, there can be nothing but confusion of mind and consequent contradiction of truth.
The teachings of the kingdom (as centered in the Sermon on the Mount) have not yet been applied to any man. Since they anticipate the binding of Satan, a purified earth, the restoration of Israel, and the personal reign of the King, they cannot be applied until God’s appointed time when these accompanying conditions on the earth have been brought to pass.
The kingdom laws will be addressed to Israel and, beyond them, to all nations which will enter the kingdom. It will be the first and only universal reign of righteousness and peace in the history of the world. One nation was in view when the Law of Moses was in force on the earth; the individual is in view during this age of grace. The whole social order of mankind will be in view when the kingdom is set up on earth.
The teachings of grace are perfect and sufficient in themselves. They provide for the instruction of the child of God in every situation which may arise. There is no need that they be supplemented, or augmented, by the addition of precepts from either the Law of Moses or the teachings of the kingdom. Law cannot give life, nor have, therefore, any control over it. (Systematic Theology, Vol. IV, p. 207)
Since it might be said that the maxim of Calvinism is, “The just shall live by law,” it is somewhat understandable that it seeks to rule the Church by law. But it is inexcusable for the Dallas Seminary theologian, Dr. Dwight Pentecost, to present similar teaching in his Multnomah Press book, The Sermon on the Mount — Contemporary Insights for a Christian Lifestyle.
Even more doctrinally loose is the book by the Talbot Seminary grad, John MacArthur, Jr. He also fastens kingdom law upon the believer via his Kingdom Living Here and Now–published and highly touted by Moody Press! MacArthur is billed as “one of the most biblically sound writers of our day.” While admirably resisting the tongues error, MacArthur advocates “one-naturism”: “the old man is gone…removed.”
Granted that Pentecost and MacArthur are in impressive company, since all of the nearly fifty Covenant theologians listed above present the law to the believer in the same manner. The best of Calvinists notwithstanding, if the Christian is to grow in grace, he must wait upon Paul and his doctrine of the ascended “Christ, who is our life” (Col.3:3). God’s mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ, will never become clear and fruitful to the members of that Body via the exegesis of such Calvinists!
We are not seeking to take away, nor negate any of the blessed Word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Tim.3:16). It is simply that the law as a rule of life for the believer hinders the realization of identification with, and liberty in, the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
John Darby was clear on the all-important differentiation: “I learn in the law that God abhorred stealing, but it is not because under the law that I do not steal. All the Word of God is mine, and written for my instruction; yet for all that I am not under law, but a Christian who has died with Christ on the Cross, and am not in the flesh, to which the law applied. I have died to the law by the body of Christ (Rom.7:4).”
THE MYSTERY MAN — Christian, God never breathed a word in all of the Old Testament concerning you and your relationship as a member of the Body of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ! That wonder of God’s highest calling in the risen Lord Jesus was barely mentioned, and totally unexplained in the three synoptic Gospels. Although touched upon, it was not even explained in the Gospel of John.
There was not a single born-again Christian in all the world until the day of Pentecost. Even then, none of the believers themselves understood what a Christian really was. That revelation had to wait until the ascended Lord Jesus Christ personally commissioned the Apostle Paul for his ministry.
In Colossians 1:26 Paul wrote, “Of which I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill (complete) the word of God, even the ministry which hath been hidden for ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints, to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
And yet, throughout Paul’s ministry of this mystery of the Christian’s life hid with Christ in God, believers were bent upon considering themselves half Jew and half Christian–born again by grace, but seeking to live by law. Galatians was written by Paul to correct that error, and his Letter is needed more now than it was even in his day.
Peter was a Calvinist when at Antioch he attempted to have the best of two diametrically opposed worlds–law and grace. Hence Paul’s scriptural confrontation: “For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Gal.2:19,20 ASV).
Arminianism has yet to shed its baby flesh; Calvinism has yet to relinquish the childish legalism–if they are ever to grow up into Christ. Paul patiently continues to wait. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli (of blessed memory), the Body is not subject to reformation by law–the Scripture via Paul calls for conformation by grace (2Corinthians 3:18)!
Think of the Calvinist scholar, Dr. J.I. Packer, making such a statement as this: “Keep the law, and in thus serving God you find freedom and delight because human nature is programmed for fulfillment through obedience.”
STATEMENT — Calvinism emerged from the dark ages, but is still in the twilight–half in the shadow of the law, half in the light of the Saviour. It has a fleshly affinity for fetters, hence it is the life of the hang-dog heart, the wretchedness of Romans Seven.
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THE APOSTLE PAUL — Finally, we come to the one who is least influential in the realm of doctrine among Christians today. There are three prominent reasons for this sad fact–the first two are negative, the third is positive.
First — Due to its humanistic base, Arminianism is suited to the carnal, Adam-dominated Christian. As Kenneth Good states, “Man is by nature Arminian. The basically human philosophical foundation of Arminianism is quite compatible with man’s inherent rationalism. Arminianism succeeds (and exceeds) because it appeals to the natural mind of man. It seems so reasonable! Unregenerate man approves it. It is eminently naturalistic, comfortably human. In this day of unprecedented emphasis upon the sufficiency of man, the doctrine must inevitably be successful among those who will not be regulated by divine revelation.”
Arminianism is a subjective religion, swayed by human emotions rather than living by the Word of God. From start to finish it is man-centered, instead of God-centered. Man is really the object of it, not God.
Second — Because of its objective, legalistic base, Calvinism is also compatible with the carnal, Adam-dominated Christian. As a rule, Calvinism emphasizes the external law, which hampers internal growth. Typical of the Calvinistic emphasis, the late Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones insisted, “The Christian must never say farewell to the law. Thank God, we are no longer under it as a way of salvation; but we are to keep it, we are to honor it, we are to practice it in our daily life.” (Romans, Chapter 7, p.27)
In The Saturday Evening Post (May-June 1981), a popular Presbyterian Calvinist, Dr. D. James Kennedy, stated, “There is an old saying, ‘You can’t legislate morality.’ I ask: ‘What else can you legislate?’ The nation that endeavors to live according to His law is the nation that will be most free, the nation where people will enjoy the most happiness.”
Third — Because of Paul’s near-exclusive teaching of the death-dealing Cross in the life of the believer, and the risen Lord Jesus Christ as his life, the Apostle’s ministry is in complete opposition to all that is of the first Adam. This includes the law and the world, to say nothing of the principle of sin as expressed by the old nature.
PAUL IS ALL, FOR GROWTH — Both the foundation and superstructure for the Christian’s growth are given through Paul. It is from those truths that we can consider what the other inspired writers and the rest of the Bible may have for us, but the revelation given to Paul must be central and foundational.
Remove Paul’s Epistles from the Word of God and there is little or nothing left for the believer. He would shrivel and dry on the vine and never know why. It is through Paul alone that we learn of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride, and that we are members of that Body—in union with the risen Christ Himself–“hid with Christ in God” (Col.3:3).
Furthermore, apart from Paul we can know nothing of the exact meaning of most of the vital doctrines, such as Propitiation, Reconciliation, Justification, Identification, Sanctification, the Church, and the Rapture. Remove Paul, or fail to build upon Pauline truth for growth, and there is comparatively little left but the laws of Moses and of the Millennial Kingdom! There is nothing in the entire New Testament concerning the believer’s growth that Paul did not set forth.
LIFE. NOT LAW! — While the Lord Jesus was on earth He ministered mainly to the nation of Israel, and to His Jewish disciples. His message had primarily to do with Himself as Messiah and King, and with the coming Kingdom.
Since Pentecost He ministers exclusively to the members of His Body, not now by law, but by “the law of the Spirit of life“–via the Epistles of Paul, for the most part. And the life of the risen Lord Jesus in the Christian is manifested as the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.”“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision (law) availeth anything, nor uncircumcision (lawlessness), but a new creature (life).” “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation…” (Gal.5:22,23; 6:15; 2Cor.5:17).
LIFE FROM DEATH — Paul’s focal points are the believer’s crucifixion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and His risen life in the believer. “For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2Cor.4:11). The death of the Cross and the life of Christ are ministered to the believer by the indwelling Holy Spirit. He does not administer the law of Moses, or the law of the King, but rather the life of the Lord, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom.8:2).
TO THE ROMANS, Paul ministered death to sin and the law: “Knowing this, that our old man is (was) crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin,” “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom.6:6; 7:4).
TO THE GALATIANS, Paul ministered death to the law: “For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Gal.2:19,20 ASV).
TO THE EPHESIANS, Paul ministered the believer’s position in Christ ascended: “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6).
TO THE COLOSSIANS, Paul focused upon Christ ascended: “If (since) ye, then, be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col.3:1-3).
TO THE PHILIPPIANS, Paul ministered the principles of the Christian life: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Phil.3:10). The Object of the growing believer is Christ, his life.
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“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1Cor.8:6).
ARMINIANISM is horizontal. It cannot rise above man and his “free will,” which binds the Arminian to himself. “I feel…” “God told me…” “Jesus, help me, and heal me….”
CALVINISM also is horizontal. It struggles under the unbearable burden of the law, heading either back to Edenic Adam, or on to Israel’s earthly kingdom.
CHRISTIANITY is vertical, resting above. It descends from There to the responsibilities and needs of a sin-bound world. The Christian life begins in and comes from heaven, to be manifested here as the light of life. “Jerusalem which is above is free” (Gal.4:26).
ARMINIANISM seeks to feel life. Coming mainly from man, it has little or no defense against Adamic humanism–the world, the flesh, and the devil.
CALVINISM seeks to legislate life. Coming mainly from man, it has little or no defense against the power of sin and self-righteousness, both of which are by the law.
CHRISTIANITY, coming from the Lord Jesus Christ above, mainly via Paul, is by the Cross freed from both humanistic Adam and death-dealing law. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom.8:2). There is no rest nor peace in Adamic sin, Mosaic law, nor Satan’s world. The risen Lord Jesus Christ is alone our rest and peace, our All.
Whatever our privileges in union with our risen Lord, it is all-important for the believer to live in the fear and faith of God, according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It is not man’s responsibility without law or under law; it all over with us on either ground.
It is the responsibility of the new life of faith, which is that of a pilgrim and a stranger here—a life come down from heaven–a life which man lives as passing through this world, yet wholly out of it in spirit–a life of faith which finds in God’s presence fulness of joy. –J.B. Stoney
FINAL STATEMENT — The Church never has escaped from the law, the problem of Galatianism, to this day. During the early centuries, Romanism saw to that. The Reformation rescued the Church from the law as a way of justification, but not from the law a means of sanctification (growth).
The crippling problem in the Body of Christ today is not the aberration of Arminianism, but the “righteousness” of Calvinism–the self-righteousness of the law. That has ever been the issue, the answer to which was given to us through the Apostle Paul.
“Where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is LIBERTY” (2Cor.3:17).
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HERESY is error which often results from an aspect of truth being taken out of its context, or its dispensation setting, and either restricted, or pressed too far.
“For there must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1Cor.11:19).
Heresy is a work of the flesh: “Idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, factions, seditions, heresies“ (Gal.5:20).
PETER had to warn the Church from the very beginning. “But there are false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Pet.2:1).
PAUL had to do the same. “For I know this, that after my departing (death) shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts20:29,30).
JOHN also explained concerning error. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John2:19).
Heresies cause us to be like the Bereans, who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts17:11).
Heretics cause us to learn how to handle error correctly, and how to share the truth. Christian character is formed, and God is glorified. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose them” (2 Tim.2:24,25).
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim.2:15).
Dr. H.A. Ironside made this comment regarding error:
It is a definite mercy that in His wisdom God allowed every possible form of error to arise in the apostolic era of the church’s history, in order that all might be exposed, and the truth declared through inspired men, that thus the faith in its simplicity might be preserved for the generations to come. As a result of this, Satan has nothing new to offer. Old heresies are re-dressed and brought forward as new conceptions of truth from age to age, but in this respect, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Old errors are being presented in new terms.
That old warrior, Martin Luther, wrote, “We little know how good and necessary it is for us to have adversaries, and for heretics to hold up their heads against us.”
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up…” (Acts20:32)
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DOES MAN HAVE FREE WILL?
The very first exercise of free will by a created being brought sin into the universe. Lucifer, the chief of the angels, set his will against that of his Creator by saying, “I will be like the Most High” (Isa.14:14).
The very first exercise of free will by an unfallen man brought sin into the human race, and into the world. Adam freely responded to fallen Satan’s suggestion to “be as God” (Gen.3:5)).
The sovereignty of God expressed in His divine will was to be the circumference of both Lucifer’s and Adam’s lives. Complete liberty in thinking, loving, and willing was given to them–but they must think, love, and will within the perimeter of their Creator’s will. When they prostituted their God-given liberty by willing against “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” they sinned and fell.
“Sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to His express will.” “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Sin is rebellion against God; it is lawlessness.
Hence, Satan and the angels who rebelled with him, and Adam and the human race that rebelled in him (the federal head), forever lost the privilege and possibility of free will. They became the slaves of sin. “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom.6:16).
Enslaved by sin, both Satan and Adam are by nature at enmity with their Creator. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed, can be” (Rom.8:7).
Dr. L.S. Chafer said, “The human will never acts alone. For the Christian, ‘it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). For the unsaved it is, “Ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
For Satan, who first exercised free will, there is no hope. “The Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou are cursed” (Gen. 3:14). For Adam, victimized in his innocence by Satan, the Redeemer (the Seed) was promised (Gen. 3:15).
But Adam’s race, enslaved to sin by self-will, neither would nor could freely exercise its will to choose the Redeemer. “The god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Nevertheless, God justly holds fallen man responsible for his own blindness and rebellion; therefore he should not try to place the blame upon Satan or Adam. For example, if you owe a sum of money and cannot repay it, it is no use blaming Satan or anyone else–you are responsible for your own self-incurred debts.
F.W. Grant wrote, “It is not simply that Satan obscures the light to the lost, but that it is their own unbelief which brings them under the power of Satan, and so hinders the radiance of the Gospel shining forth to them. God never permits Satan to have this power apart from man’s consent. If man turns away from God, he turns to Satan. The very light of God only darkens the shadow he himself casts upon his path.”
Fallen man has neither the freedom of will, nor the inclination of mind, to turn to God. Why, that would mean turning from himself, which is unthinkable! Hence, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11) The Lord Jesus carried out all that was required for fallen man to return to God, and He ever pleads in love, “Come; for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17).
But, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). And, “No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (John 6:44).
When a lost sinner does turn to the Lord Jesus and receives him as Saviour, as far as he is concerned he does so by means of his own free will, without coercion or restraint of any kind. And that is as it should be.
But that is not the way it actually is! Apart from the individual’s own awareness, God the Holy Spirit has prepared and enabled him to believe and exercise his will toward God. In reality, he was willing God’s will! “So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” “That he might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:16,23).
By the mercy and grace of God, and according to the will of God, the sinner was responding to his election. “According as He (God) hath chosen us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will“ (Eph. 1:4,5).
The elect one was “predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s free will, not man’s!
All whom the sovereign God elects respond to His will, and are saved. “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
As C.A. Coates wrote, “People may quarrel with the sovereignty of God, but I love it; because I know enough about my natural bent and will to be sure that if left to myself I should have gone straight to perdition. Some believers talk about man’s free will when they are on their feet, but all are firm believers in God’s sovereignty when they get on their knees.”
Once he is born again, it isn’t long before the Christian acknowledges that it was by the grace of God that he was enabled to will to believe. “As many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13).
Later on he begins to understand something of the awful truth of Romans Seven–that even as a believer he does not have free will. When he actually does will to do good, evil is present with him. “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . . I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:19,23).
Through his captivity to the law of the indwelling sin nature, the growing believer learns the truths of his identification with the Lord Jesus in His death unto sin and His ascension into Glory. As he reckons himself to have died unto sin, and to be alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11), he begins to experience something of deliverance from the power of sin.
He comes to realize that over and above the indwelling law of death, there is the law of life within him: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). He begins to learn to “stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free” (Gal. 5:1).
In the Lord Jesus Christ the believer lives in the freedom of his Father’s will, not his own. Consider the Source of his new life, the Lord Jesus, who came to live in the freedom of His Father’s blessed will. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9). “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father, who sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49).
What unutterable tragedy it would be for God to allow fallen man free will! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). One might think that man had the freedom of will to crucify the Lord of Glory; but no–he thought he was free, but he was not.
Luke wrote, “The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child, Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the nations, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26-28).
Paul declared, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the ages unto our glory; which none of the princes of this age knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7,8).
What a comfort it is for the growing Christian, as he learns more of that old nature within him, to know and count upon the fact that he is a new creation in the Lord Jesus, and that he now has His nature! “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Not my will, but thine be done” (Phil. 2:5; Luke 22:42).
How strengthening it is for the believer to know and count upon the fact that “it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13)! My freedom is in the realization of the fact that my Father is working His blessed will through my will–it is “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Could I be in better hands as He carries out His good pleasure on my behalf, in His love, and for His glory?
DOES SATAN HAVE FREE WILL?
Although Lucifer was created with free will, he used that freedom to oppose God’s will, and thereby lost it. From Satan’s fall in heaven, until his final casting into the lake of fire, he is enslaved and controlled by God.
Terrible antagonist that he is, the Enemy is nonetheless a defeated foe. His doom was pronounced in Eden (Gen. 3:15); his doom was sealed at Calvary (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14); and his doom will be finalized in the lake of fire (Rev.20:10).
Through the years it has been sad to see so many otherwise gifted leaders attempt to lock horns with Satan in a so-called “deliverance ministry.” Inevitably, they go down into ignominious and crippling defeat, whether it be physical, mental, moral, or spiritual. Well-meaning as some of them are, they are nevertheless attempting to function in the wrong age, in a past era–or even previous to a future era.
Today, in this age of grace, the believer is to rest in his position in the ascended and victorious Lord Jesus Christ. Our scriptural instructions are to “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith.” “Neither give place to the devil.” “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (1 Peter 5:8,9; Eph. 4:27; James 4:7).
The Lord Jesus is our impregnable armor against the darts and wiles of Satan. “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” “Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Col. 2:9,10; Rom. 13:12).
We are told to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We are not told to overcome him (that we could never do), but when he meets the Lord Jesus Christ in us, he cannot stand that; he must flee.
Satan can create nothing, nor can he perpetuate any evil, physical or moral, without God’s sanction. His purpose on the divine program is outlined, the span of his perpetuation is set, and his inevitable doom is sealed.
Not a hair of the child of God can fall without God’s permission. Satan is but the unintentional instrument to accomplish God’s will; he can do no more than he is allowed to do. If trials come as a host against us, we know that the Almighty is between us and them. They will work out for us His own purposes of love. -S. Ridout
Another Plymouth Brethren commentator, F.W. Grant, has written:
The sovereignty of God is what alone gives rest to the Christian heart in view of a world full of evil, which is gone astray from Him. To know that after all, in spite of the rebellion of the creature, things are as absolutely in His hand as ever they were–this brings, and alone brings, full relief. Still He rules over all, and where evil cannot be turned to good, limits and forbids it: He maketh the wrath of man (and Satan) to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath (what would go beyond this) He restrains (Ps. 76:10).
“God often hatches His eggs under the Devil’s wings!”
OUR SOVEREIGN FATHER — Dr. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “‘Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people.’ This is a point concerning which we are daily fighting. Our opponents say, ‘Salvation belongeth unto the free will of man; if not to man’s merit, yet at least to man’s will’; but we hold and teach that salvation from first to last, in every iota of it, belongs to the Most High God. It is God that chooses His people. He calls them by His grace; He quickens them by His Spirit, and He keeps them by His power. It is not of man, neither by man; ‘Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.'”
Dr. A.W. Tozer shares a fine statement concerning the sovereignty of our Father.
God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His creation, and to be sovereign, He must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are: were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal molecule of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and not absolute sovereign.
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to do what He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign.
To grasp the idea of unqualified freedom requires a vigorous effort of the mind. We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been shaped in a world where no absolute freedom exists. Here each natural object is dependent upon many other objects, and that dependence limits its freedom.
Wordsworth at the beginning of his Prelude rejoiced that he had escaped the city where he had long been pent up and was “now free, free as a bird to settle where I will.” But to be free as a bird is not to be free at all.
The naturalist knows that the supposed free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions, varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and that strongest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small plot of land and air assigned it by birdland comity. The freest bird is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free!
Our sovereign Father moves with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of action. No one can dissuade Him from His purposes; nothing can turn Him aside from His plans. Since He is omniscient, there can be no countermanded orders, no breakdown of authority; and as He is omnipotent, there can be no want of power to achieve His chosen ends. Our God is sufficient unto Himself for everything.
Dr. Alva McClain wrote, “To be Spirit-controlled does not mean the loss of free agency. A free agent acts as he pleases, and the Spirit-controlled individual pleases to act in accordance with the mind of the Spirit.”
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote in his Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 241,242:
When exercising his will, man is conscious only of his freedom of action. He determines his course by circumstances, but God is the author of circumstances. Man is impelled by emotions, but God is able to originate and control every human emotion. Man prides himself that he is governed by experienced judgment, but God is able to foster each and every thought or determination of the human mind.
God’s election is sure; for whom He predestinates, them–not more nor less–He calls; and whom He calls, them–not more nor less–He justifies; and whom He justifies, them–not more nor less–He glorifies. When predestinating, He assumes the responsibility of creating, calling, saving, and completing according to His purpose.
In calling He moves those to believe to the saving of their souls, whom He has chosen. In justifying He provides a substitutionary, efficacious Savior by whose death and resurrection He is legally able to place the chief of sinners in as perfect a relation to Himself as that of His Son.
And in glorifying He perfects all that infinite love has designed. The precise number that will be glorified will be the precise number and the same individuals–not more nor less–than He predestinated. Each one will have believed, have been saved, have been perfected and presented like the Lord Jesus in glory.
Men enter consciously into this great undertaking only at the point of believing, or responding to the efficacious call. Naturally, it seems to them that they, acting in freedom within the restricted sphere of their consciousness, determine everything. The point where misunderstanding arises is with reference to the fact that, so far as their cognizance serves them, they are certain that they act freely; yet every truly regenerated person will testify that he would not have turned to God apart from that all-important divine drawing of his heart.
Divine election is absolute. If this seems to be taking things out of the hands of men and committing them into the hands of God, it will at least be conceded that, when thus committed to God, things are in better hands and this, after all, is God’s own universe in which He has sovereign right to do after the dictates of His own will.
It will also be conceded that the sphere of human action, so far as it can mean anything in the sphere of human consciousness, is felt in perfect freedom of action. It should be deemed no crime on the part of God that He discloses to His own elect that His sovereign power and purpose are working through and over all human forces and secondary causes. No will, human or otherwise, was ever created to defeat the will of God, but rather the human will is one of the instruments by which God realizes His purposes for humanity.
The one who meditates on the Person of God, the eternity of God, the omnipotence of God, the sovereignty of God as Creator of, and Ruler over, all things, and the elective purpose of God, will be fortified against that form of rationalism–subtle in character and natural to the human heart–which imagines that, in His creation, God has unwittingly so tied His own hands that He cannot with that absoluteness which belongs to infinity realize His eternal purpose.
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THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was seated, his disciples came unto him. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, BLESSED ARE THE POOR (humble) IN SPIRIT; FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Matt. 5:1-3).
The King is here speaking to His Jewish disciples, of His coming kingdom. Those of the kingdom are to be characterized by humbleness of spirit. They will mainly be humbled because of the realization of what they did to their King. Humility and contriteness will be requirements for possession of the millennial kingdom.
In Isaiah’s vision of the coming manifestation of the King to His kingdom, he wrote, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).
To the CHRISTIAN, Paul writes, “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col. 3:12). He is not to put on the virtue of humility in order to gain either the kingdom, or heaven. These virtues are already ours in Christ, as they are elements of the character belonging to the new creation.
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN; FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED (Matt. 5:4).
Israel will mourn until, and especially when, she sees her King coming in His kingdom. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” (Zech. 12:10).
Morning is not a characteristic of the BRIDE OF CHRIST. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 3:1; 4:4).
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK; FOR THEY SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH(Matt. 5:5).
“With righteousness shall he judge the poor (humble), and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isa.11:4). Meekness is to be rewarded by inheritance of the earthly kingdom. The King’s righteousness will prevail upon the earth for the poor and the meek, in the kingdom.
The meek are certainly not inheriting the earth now, nor is there any such promise to the CHURCH, to whom no earthly promise is made. The BELIEVER finds all reversed–his citizenship and home are in heaven, while here on earth he is but a stranger and a pilgrim.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3,4).
BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH DO HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS; FOR THEY SHALL BE FILLED (satisfied) (Matt. 5:6).
Kingdom righteousness must be attained (law). “For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
The BELIEVER may hunger and thirst for a more righteous walk with the Lord Jesus, but he has already obtained (grace) and has been made “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL; FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY (Matt. 5:7).
This is Kingdom Law. “Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight. With the merciful thou will show thyself merciful” (Ps. 18:24,25).
The CHRISTIAN received mercy by grace, not by being merciful. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4,5).
“That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Rom.9:23,24).
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART; FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD (Matt. 5:8).
Here is a kingdom promise. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He who hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3,4). “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly….Thine eyes shall see the king in His beauty” (Isa.33:15,17).
Moses (Law): “Show me thy glory” (Ex.33:18). “But we see Jesus” (Heb.2:9). “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS; FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED THE CHILDREN OF GOD (Matt. 5:9).
The King, who is “the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), shall reign in righteousness and peace upon the earth during the millennial kingdom. Those who promote peace in the kingdom “shall be called the children of God.”
The BELIEVER is not constituted a child of God by any works, peace-making or otherwise. Actually, they are sons of God, far beyond the status of children. “For ye are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26).
BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE; FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Matt. 5:10).
The issue is legal–“for righteousness’ sake.” The CHRISTIAN suffers with the Lord Jesus and for His sake, and his reward is in heaven. “We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.” “But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake” (2 Cor. 4:11; John 15:21).
BLESSED ARE YE, WHEN MEN SHALL REVILE YOU, AND PERSECUTE YOU, AND SHALL SAY ALL MANNER OF EVIL AGAINST YOU FALSELY, FOR MY SAKE. REJOICE, AND BE EXCEEDINGLY GLAD; FOR GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN; FOR SO PERSECUTED THEY THE PROPHETS WHO WERE BEFORE YOU (Matt. 5:11).
Here the Lord Jesus speaks directly to the disciples, soon to become Christians–“blessed are ye.” The CHRISTIAN is called to suffer for the Lord Jesus’ sake. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).
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These nine Beatitudes of the Kingdom are promises with legal conditions. They are future blessings for those who will merit them by their own works.
For the CHRISTIAN, the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit of Christ is provided by grace as a present possession of His nature and life. Each is to be developed in the walk, growing from His life within–“Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23).
The undiscerning may feel it their duty to uphold and place such requirements (the Sermon on the Mount) upon those who are forever perfected in Christ, but this would be due to the failure to understand what it means to be in Christ and perfected forever. Even those who apply these requirements to themselves and to others utterly fall short of fulfillment of them.
The present superabounding grace of God does not merely forgive the one who breaks the law; it saves one from any obligation to a merit system. Paul said, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
Who but the most prejudiced Arminian can incorporate into his schemes of doctrine the threefold warning against hell fire which is found in this (Sermon) portion of Matthew (5:22,29,30)? Christians “shall not come into judgment”; “they shall never perish;” “there is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (John 5:24; 10:28; Rom. 8:1).
Grace alone now reigns through Christ to the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. –L.S. Chafer (Systematic Theology, Vol.5, p. 106)
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THE TRUE VINE
The context of John 15 concerning the True Vine deals with relationship, fellowship, and fruitbearing–it is an illustration, not a doctrine. Its primary purpose centers in the imminent transition of the disciples from the nation of Israel to the Body of Christ.
As in all Scripture, the imagery contains truths that are helpful and instructive to Christians, but there is no directly applied doctrine there for the risen believer. When it comes to fruit-bearing in the life of the Christian, the underlying doctrines are to be found in the realms of truth which relate directly to him, such as 2 Corinthians 3:18 (abiding); 2 Corinthians 4:11 (pruning); and Galatians 5:22, 23 (fruit-bearing).
Until the day of Pentecost, the disciples were Israelites. They were Jews, they were in the flesh, they were still in the first Adam. It is true that they had faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. They were of the believing remnant of Israel, they were His disciples. Nevertheless, they were still branches in the vine, Israel. And Israel was a fruitless vine!
After God brought Israel out of Egypt, He planted her in Canaan as His vine. “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the nations, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land” (Ps. 80:8,9).
God planted His vine in the fruitful land of Canaan and yet, under His holy Law, under His priests, under His kings and prophets, under His chastisement via the reign of the Gentiles, right down to New Testament days, Israel brought forth no fruit unto God. “And he dug it, and gathered out the stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress in it; and he looked for it to bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa. 5:2).
He said to Israel through Jeremiah, “For of old I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress, when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot. Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How, then, art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer. 2:20, 21).
A fruitless vine is worthless. “What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken of it to do any work? Or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel on it?… Therefore, thus saith the Lord God: As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Ezek. 15:2,3,6).
Throughout its history, Israel was true to its Adamic nature. “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (Hosea 10:1). The fruit Israel brought upon itself was loss of the kingdom, and bondage to Imperial Rome–500 years in the hands of the Gentiles.
In His mercy–and in His own time–God returned to His desolated nation in the person of His Son, its true King, who offered Israel its kingdom. According to its Adamic nature, Israel not only refused its kingdom, but utterly rejected its King–and was soon to murder Him and cast Him out of His world.
On the very eve of the crucifixion crime, the rejected King shared the illustration of the vine with His disciples. It was to be a part of their preparation for the “great transition”–from being branches in the fruitless vine to being fruitful branches in the True Vine; from being in the kingdom to being in the King–members of His Body, with Him as its Head.
At this point the disciples were still in the first Adam. If any one of them had died prior to Pentecost, he would be among those resurrected at the second advent as a member of the earthly millennial kingdom. Their faith was in the Messiah-King; they were His disciples–followers, learners, in subjection to Him and to the external law of Moses. They were not yet born again; they were not in the Lord Jesus, and He was not in them.
As for the Son of Man, He stood before the disciples as Israel’s rejected King, patiently and lovingly offering the kingdom that would be spurned by Israel. He was still in the position of Israel’s Messiah. He had not yet taken His place as the Last Adam. He had not died, nor risen, nor ascended, nor had He yet been glorified. Hence the Holy Spirit had not yet descended (Pentecost) to begin forming His Body.
He had just explained to these disciples that “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone” (John 12:24). And He is alone as He faces His disciples and shares His word-picture of the vine. He is the True Vine, sans branches.
“I AM THE TRUE VINE” (JOHN 15:1) — What a shock that declaration must have been to the disciples! Branches in God’s national vine of many years standing, and now to be told that they were in the rejected one! And that the accepted vine, the true vine, is not a nation, but a person–even their Messiah!
By the mighty hand of God Himself, their vine had been brought up out of Egypt! And was not Israel God’s son, as well as His vine? “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1).
True, but had not Peter just been shown by that same God that this very man was His Son? “We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69).
This Son, also, had been brought up out of Egypt. “When he (Joseph) arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Hosea), saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Matt. 2:14,15).
Having rejected both its King and its kingdom, God set aside that rebellious and fruitless vine, and presented to the believing Israelites His Son, the True Vine. Grace!
“MY FATHER IS THE VINEDRESSER” (John 15:1) — Coupled with the shock concerning the True Vine is another: His Father is the dresser of the branches of that Vine!
One reason for Israel’s fruitlessness was the corruption of her husbandmen and vinedressers. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so.” “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jer. 5:31; 6:13).
Finally, the vinedressers cut down the True Vine! “Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him” (Matt. 27:41,42).
Yet in the very act of cutting down the True Vine, these wicked husbandmen felled their very own vine! “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down” (Matt. 3:10). And down went Israel at the Cross! “Which none of the princes of this age knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor. 2:8).
As if that were not enough, these same vinedressers sought to decimate every branch of the True Vine that they could lay their hands upon–all the way from Stephen to Paul!
Even so, the branches of the True Vine are lovingly tended by their Father, the True Vinedresser. The pruning of Stephen produced glory: “When they (the wicked vinedressers) heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” “But he (Stephen, the branch), being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus (the True Vine) standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54:55).
Later, the True Vine said to the branch, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The abiding branch replied concerning his pruning, “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2Cor. 12:9,10).
“EVERY BRANCH IN ME THAT BEARETH NOT FRUIT HE TAKETH AWAY” (John 15:2).
The often-missed key to this statement of our Lord is the word “in.” A branch in the True Vine is there by union of eternal life, and cannot be removed. The Vine would first have to die, and that is impossible. “Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him….Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be …alive unto God through (in) Jesus Christ” (Rom. 6:9,11).
If for one reason or another–the Vinedresser alone can judge–a branch does not bear fruit, the Father may remove it from earth unto Himself; but certainly not out of the True Vine to be cast into the fire for burning. The Word says “taketh away,” not “cast forth,” as in verse 6–something altogether different. The branch may be through with its bearing; it may be shelved for not bearing; it may be necessary to take it away as in 1 Corinthians 11:30–but never cast forth out of the Vine.
Pruning, as a vinedresser’s art, does not consist in cutting off branches, but of trimming away excess and misdirected growth. That may involve a branch being cut back, but it is not removed from the vine.
“EVERY BRANCH THAT BEARETH FRUIT, HE PURGETH IT, THAT IT MAY BRING FORTH MORE FRUIT” (JOHN 15:2).
The purpose of the branch is to manifest the life and character of the vine. The fruit of the True Vine which is to grow in His branches is the “fruit of the Spirit.” And “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
The actual fruit of the Vine in the branch is a product of the Holy Spirit by means of spiritual growth. It is not service, nor the exercise of one’s gifts. Good works there may be in abundance; but they are not based upon, nor are they a result of, the fruit of the Vine. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love (fruit), I am nothing” (1Cor. 13:2).
As we abide in the True Vine our service will be carried out in a Christ-like manner, and it will be acceptable to God and beneficial to man. We are to “walk (and serve) worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
Even though a branch is fruitful, there is ever the tendency to produce the “works of the flesh.” Thus the Father prunes the branches, that they may bring forth more fruit of the Spirit, and less works of the flesh. His pruning, His purging, His chastening is by His hand of love–the application of the Cross in order that the fruit pleasing to Him, the life of His Beloved Son, may be manifested more abundantly in our lives.
All of the Father’s vinedressing work is carried out in love, not anger. It is all purgative, not punitive. The pruning knife is in the nail-pierced hand; and, while “no chastening (pruning) for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised by it” (Heb. 12:11). “The Vinedresser is never so near as when He is pruning.”
“NOW YE ARE CLEAN THROUGH THE WORD WHICH I HAVE SPOKEN UNTO YOU” (John 15:3).
The disciples had put their trust in the Messiah. He was their Redeemer–they were redeemed from their sins and were members of His kingdom. The Lord Jesus had said to them the day before, “He that is washed needeth not except to wash his feet, but is entirely clean; and ye are clean, but not all of you. For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean….I speak not of you all (I know whom I have chosen), but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me” (John 13:10,11,18).
“ABIDE IN ME, AND I IN YOU” (John 15:4) — It is to be remembered that this illustration of the True Vine is part of His preparation of the disciples for the soon-coming events of the Cross, and of the day of Pentecost. They were not in Him, nor was He in them. “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe” (John 14:29).
“Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me. Because I live, ye shall live also. At that day (Pentecost) ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:19,20). In a few hours they were to hear Him pray to His Father, their Vinedresser, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also (you and me) who shall believe on me through their word…that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20,21).
At Pentecost, when the Spirit would baptize them into a living oneness with the ascended Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 12:13), He would also be in them. It is only on that basis that they could abide in the True Vine–they would first have to be in union with Him.
To “abide” means “to stand fast, to remain, to go on being, to reside.” “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” “Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (John 14:16; Acts 27:31).
Upon becoming a branch via the new birth, the believer tends to work to bring forth fruit unto God. But that fruitless struggle of Romans Seven is designed to teach that branch the absolute necessity of abiding, resting, in his position in the True Vine.
He is to learn by means of sterile effort that the living fruit of the Spirit can never be produced by the branch. He learns to depend upon, to fellowship with, to abide in nearness of heart in the One who is his very life–that His fruit might grow. “That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11).
“AS THE BRANCH CANNOT BEAR FRUIT OF ITSELF, EXCEPT IT ABIDE IN THE VINE, NO MORE CAN YE, EXCEPT YE ABIDE IN ME. I AM THE VINE, YE ARE THE BRANCHES. HE THAT ABIDETH IN ME, AND I IN HIM, THE SAME BRINGETH FORTH MUCH FRUIT; FOR WITHOUT ME YE CAN DO NOTHING” (John 15:4,5)
As we abide in and fellowship with the Vine, and thereby come to know Him more fully, the fruit of His life is manifested in us. “Fruit is not produced by making fruit an object, or by thinking of fruit; it is the outcome of having the Lord Jesus as our Object. He precedes, as well as produces, fruit.”
Our abiding-place is in the light and the Holiest of all, not by reason of our subjective condition of soul, but because the Lord Jesus has made the position ours by the putting away of our sins, and by bringing us to God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the Blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh. . . .Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19,20,22).
Here it is that the child of God is to walk–“If we walk in the light as He is in the light.” How we walk is a question to be settled after it is determined where we walk. And walking in the light, fellowship follows, not as an attainment (law), but as a consequence (grace). –H.F. Witherby (The Child of God, p. 283)
“IF A MAN ABIDE NOT IN ME, HE IS CAST FORTH AS A BRANCE, AND IS WITHERED; AND MEN GATHER THEM, AND CAST THEM INTO THE FIRE, AND THEY ARE BURNED” (John 15:6).
Heretofore the Lord was addressing the disciples personally concerning their coming relationship to the True Vine. He said, “Ye are clean”; “I in you”; “ye are the branches,” etc. But in verse 6 He said, “If a man . . . .” If a man is not organically in Him, he cannot abide in Him. And if he therefore does not abide in the Vine who is Life, he is ultimately cast forth to his doom. “Cast forth” is a far cry from being taken away!
“IF YE ABIDE IN ME, AND MY WORDS ABIDE IN YOU, YE SHALL ASK WHAT YE WILL, AND IT SHALL BE DONE UNTO YOU” (John 15:7).
In verse 7 the Lord again addressed the disciples: “If ye abide in me.” As we abide in and fellowship with the Lord Jesus, His Word will become the arbiter and motivation of our will and affections. Hence we are able to ask according to His will. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” (1John 5:14,15).
The Lord Jesus is the express image of God (Heb. 1:3), and thereby the Father was glorified in Him (John 17:4). As the fruit of the Spirit (the express image and character of the Lord Jesus), is manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:11), our Father is glorified in us. It is the “much fruit” that He produces through the Vine and in the branches. That fruit of life alone brings forth fruitful service. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
A healthy branch has no source, no object but the Vine. J.B. Stoney has made the following helpful comments:
I draw near to Him in proportion as I know His mind and feelings toward me; and no message from His presence could effect so deep an assurance and joy in the heart as the light of the Gospel of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the image of God; for from henceforth the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is my portion and privilege (2 Cor. 4:6). And this imparts such a tone and character touching everything, that not only do our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, but we are transformed by association with Him in the glory so that all present things are superseded and supplanted in the heart.
Everything is judged in relation to that glory which displaces and consumes all that is not of it, and allows only that which has been formed by it, and is consequently for it. If souls have not the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, they cannot adorn the Gospel; but if they have, all that is of the old man is proportionately eclipsed, and the Lord Jesus is testified of and manifested, while our portion in God is the unfailing joy of the heart. The reason there is so little growth is that there is so little association and occupation with the Lord Jesus where He is. The glory invites now, instead of the law repelling; and the practical effect is, “changed into the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18).
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GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND MAN’S RESPONSIBILITY
The natural mind is not able to give due place to both sovereignty and responsibility and hence all theological systems fail on one side or the other. But it is clear that Scripture maintains both, and the spiritual mind is always in accord with Scripture.
God carries out His purposes in the sovereignty of His mercy and love; if He did not do so, they would most certainly fail completely, man being what he is. But the work of God is a moral one, and God addresses Himself to the conscience and heart of His poor fallen creature, and deals with him in a thousand ways which recognize his responsibility and awaken a sense of it in his soul.
The fear of God might almost be defined as the recognition of responsibility on man’s part; yet it is undoubtedly brought about by a sovereign act of God in new birth. God works sovereignly along lines which always recognize and maintain responsibility. The principle runs all through the history of the saints also. God is working out in them His purpose, which will culminate in their being conformed to the image of His Son in glory.
But in view of purpose He works along moral lines, and on this line the obedience of faith comes in, self-judgment, watchfulness and prayer, purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord, faith in Christ Jesus and love to the saints, Christ as Object and as Teacher, meekness and lowliness as learned of Him. Sowing to the Spirit and walking in the Spirit come in here also, and all this and everything connected with the moral exercises of the saints cannot be dissociated from the thought of responsibility.
Thus the moral or responsible line and purpose line are very intimately blended in Christianity and both will ultimately coalesce, when saints are seen not only as the fruit of God’s purpose, but also as the subjects of His work and ways. We only reach the land, the sphere of His purpose, through the wilderness and through the innumerable exercises to which our responsible history gives occasion. At the end of the wilderness it can be said of the saints: ‘What hath God wrought!’ They are brought into moral suitability for introduction into the Land.
We cannot mentally reconcile sovereignty and responsibility, but we can spiritually, as seeing that the maintenance of both is essential. The Spirit alone can maintain the right balance of the two in our thoughts and I am sure, as we go on, we learn to attach the true value to each, neither letting ourselves off easily by enfeebling the thought of responsibility, nor stopping short of that depth of holy self-judgment that casts us altogether upon the sovereign mercy and love of our Father. –C.A. Coates (Letters, p. 75)
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Miles J. Stanford