The Sovereignty of God in Reprobation

By A. W. Pink

(Being originally Chapter 5 of his book ‘The Sovereignty Of God’, omitted from the ‘Banner of Truth’ edition.)

[Editorial note: Inserted headings not in Pink’s original chapter.]

‘Behold therefore the goodness and the severity of God.’

Romans 11:22

Reprobation

In the last chapter when treating of the Sovereignty of God the Father in Salvation, we examined seven passages which represent him as making a choice from among the children of men, and predestinating certain ones to be conformed to the image of his Son. The thoughtful reader will naturally ask, And what of those who were not ‘ordained to eternal life?’ The answer which is usually returned to this question, even by those who profess to believe what the Scriptures teach concerning God’s sovereignty, is, that God passes by the non-elect, leaves them alone to go their own way, and in the end casts them into the Lake of Fire because they refused his way, and rejected the Saviour of his providing. But this is only a part of the truth; the other part – that which is most offensive to the carnal mind – is either ignored or denied.

In view of the awful solemnity of the subject here before us, in view of the fact that today almost all – even those who profess to be Calvinists – reject and repudiate this doctrine, and in view of the fact that this is one of the points in our book which is calculated to raise the most controversy, we feel that an extended enquiry into this aspect of God’s Truth is demanded.

That this branch of the subject of God’s sovereignty is profoundly mysterious we freely allow, yet, that is no reason why we should reject it. The trouble is that, nowadays, there are so many who receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of his conduct, which means they will accept nothing but that which can be measured in the petty scales of their own limited capacities.

Stating it in its baldest form the point now to be considered is, has God foreordained certain ones to damnation? That many will be eternally damned is clear from Scripture, that each one will be judged according to his works and reap as he has sown, and that in consequence his ‘damnation is just’, Rom. 3:8, is equally sure, and that God decreed that the non-elect should choose the course they follow we now undertake to prove.

From what has been before us in the previous chapter concerning the election of some to salvation, it would unavoidably follow, even if Scripture had been silent upon it, that there must be a rejection of others. Every choice, evidently and necessarily implies a refusal, for where there is no leaving out there can be no choice. If there be some whom God has elected unto salvation, 2 Thes. 2:3, there must be others who are not elected unto salvation. If there are some that the Father gave to Christ, John 6:37, there must be others whom he did not give unto Christ. If there are some whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life, Rev. 21:27, there must be others whose names are not written there. That this is the case we shall fully prove below.

Now all will acknowledge that from the foundation of the world God certainly foreknew and foresaw who would and who would not ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ as their Saviour, therefore in giving being and birth to those he knew would reject Christ, he necessarily created them unto damnation. All that can be said in reply to this is, No, while God did foreknow these ones would reject Christ, yet he did not decree that they should. But this is a begging of the real question at issue. God had a definite reason why he created men, a specific purpose why he created this and that individual, and in view of the eternal destination of his creatures, he purposed either that this one should spend eternity in Heaven or that this one should spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. If then he foresaw that in creating a certain person that that person would despise and reject the Saviour, yet knowing this beforehand he, nevertheless, brought that person into existence, then it is clear he designed and ordained that that person should be eternally lost. Again; faith is God’s gift, and the purpose to give it only to some, involves the purpose not to give it to others. Without faith there is no salvation – ’he that believeth not shall be damned’ – hence if there were some of Adam’s descendants to whom he purposed not to give faith, it must be because he ordained that they should be damned.

Not only is there no escape from these conclusions, but history confirms them. Before the Divine Incarnation, for almost two thousand years, the vast majority of mankind were left destitute of even the external means of grace, being favoured with no preaching of God’s Word and with no written revelation of his will. For many long centuries Israel was the only nation to whom the Deity vouchsafed any special discovery of himself – ‘Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways’, Acts 14:16; ‘You only (Israel) have I known of all the families of the earth’, Amos 3:2. Consequently, as all other nations were deprived of the preaching of God’s Word, they were strangers to the faith that cometh thereby, Rom. 10:17. These nations were not only ignorant of God himself, but of the way to please him, of the true manner of acceptance with him, and the means of arriving at the everlasting enjoyment of himself.

Now if God had willed their salvation, would he not have vouchsafed them the means of salvation? Would he not have given them all things necessary to that end? But it is an undeniable matter of fact that he did not. If, then, the Deity can, consistently, with his justice, mercy, and benevolence, deny to some the means of grace, and shut them up in gross darkness and unbelief (because of the sins of their forefathers, generations before), why should it be deemed incompatible with his perfections to exclude some persons, many, from grace itself, and from that eternal life which is connected with it? seeing that he is Lord and sovereign disposer both of the end to which the means lead, and the means which lead to that end?

Coming down to our own day, and to those in our own country – leaving out the almost innumerable crowds of unevangelised heathen – is it not evident that there are many living in lands where the Gospel is preached, lands which are full of churches, who die strangers to God and his holiness? True, the means of grace were close to their hand, but many of them knew it not. Thousands are born into homes where they are taught from infancy to regard all Christians as hypocrites and preachers as arch humbugs. Others, are instructed from the cradle in Roman Catholicism, and are trained to regard Evangelical Christianity as deadly heresy, and the Bible as a book highly dangerous for them to read. Others, reared in ‘Christian Science’ families, know no more of the true Gospel of Christ than do the unevangelised heathen. The great majority of these die in utter ignorance of the Way of Peace. Now are we not obliged to conclude that it was not God’s will to communicate grace to them? Had his will been otherwise, would he not have actually communicated his grace to them? If, then, it was the will of God, in time, to refuse to them his grace, it must have been his will from all eternity, since his will is, as himself, the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Let it not be forgotten that God’s providences are but the manifestations of his decrees: what God does in time is only what he purposed in eternity – his own will being the alone cause of all his acts and works. Therefore from his actually leaving some men in final impenitency and unbelief we assuredly gather it was his everlasting determination so to do; and consequently that he reprobated some from before the foundation of the world.

In the Westminster Confession it is said, ‘God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably foreordain whatsoever comes to pass’. The late Mr. F. W. Grant – a most careful and cautious student and writer – commenting on these words said: ‘It is perfectly, divinely true, that God hath ordained for his own glory whatsoever comes to pass.’ Now if these statements are true, is not the doctrine of Reprobation established by them? What, in human history, is the one thing which does come to pass every day? What, but that men and women die, pass out of this world into a hopeless eternity, an eternity of suffering and woe. If then God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass then he must have decreed that vast numbers of human beings should pass out of this world unsaved to suffer eternally in the Lake of Fire. Admitting the general premise, is not the specific conclusion inevitable?

The Testimony of Scripture

In reply to the preceding paragraphs the reader may say, All this is simply reasoning, logical no doubt, but yet mere inferences. Very well, we will now point out that in addition to the above conclusions there are many passages in Holy Writ, which are most clear and definite in their teaching on this solemn subject; passages which are too plain to be misunderstood and too strong to be evaded. The marvel is that so many good men have denied their undeniable affirmations.

‘Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses’, Joshua 11:18-20. What could be plainer than this? Here was a large number of Canaanites whose hearts Jehovah hardened, whom he had purposed to destroy utterly, to whom he showed ‘no favour’. Granted that they were wicked, immoral, idolatrous; were they any worse than the immoral, idolatrous cannibals of the South Sea Islands (and many other places), to whom God gave the Gospel through John G. Paton! Assuredly not. Then why did not Jehovah command Israel to teach the Canaanites his laws and instruct them concerning sacrifices to the true God? Plainly, because he had marked them out for destruction, and if so, from all eternity.

‘The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil’, Proverbs 16:4. That the Lord made all, perhaps every reader of this book will allow: that he made all for himself is not so widely believed. That God made us, not for our own sakes, but for himself; not for our own happiness, but for his glory; is, nevertheless, repeatedly affirmed in Scripture, cp. Rev. 4:11. But Proverbs 16:4 goes even farther: it expressly declares that the Lord made the wicked for the day of evil: that was his design in giving them being. But why? Does not Romans 9:17 tell us, ‘For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this 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’! God has made the wicked that at the end, he may demonstrate ‘his power’ – demonstrate it by showing what an easy matter it is for him to subdue the stoutest rebel and to overthrow his mightiest enemy.

‘And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’, Matthew 7:23. In the previous chapter it has been shown that, the words ‘know’ and ‘foreknowledge’ when applied to God in the Scriptures, have reference not simply to his prescience (i.e. his bare knowledge beforehand), but to his knowledge of approbation. When God said to Israel, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth’, Amos 3:2, it is evident that he meant, ‘You only had I any favourable regard to.’ When we read in Romans 11:2 that ‘God hath not cast away his people (Israel) whom he foreknew’, it is obvious that what was signified is, ‘God has not finally rejected that people whom he has chosen as the objects of his love, cp. Deuteronomy 7:7,8. In the same way (and it is the only possible way) are we to understand Matthew 7:23. In the Day of Judgment the Lord will say unto many, ‘I never knew you’. Note, it is more than simply ‘I know you not’. His solemn declaration will be, ‘I never knew you’ – you were never the objects of my approbation. Contrast this with ‘I know (love) my sheep, and am known (loved) of mine’, John 10:14. The ‘sheep’, his elect, the ‘few’, he does ‘know’; but the reprobate, the non-elect, the ‘many’ he knows not – no, not even before the foundation of the world did he know them – he ‘NEVER’ knew them!

Romans Chapter Nine : The Case of Pharaoh

In Romans 9:1-33 the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in its application to both the elect and the reprobate is treated of at length. A detailed exposition of this important chapter would be beyond our present scope; all that we can essay is to dwell upon the part of it which most clearly bears upon the aspect of the subject which we are now considering.

Verse 17. ‘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.’ These words refer us back to verses 13 and 14. In verse 13 God’s love to Jacob and his hatred to Esau are declared. In verse 14 it is asked, ‘Is there unrighteousness with God?’ and here in verse 17 the apostle continues his reply to the objection. We cannot do better now than quote from Calvin’s comments upon this verse. ‘There are here two things to be considered: the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God, and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God. As many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must first observe, that for the word ‘I have raised thee up’, or stirred up, in the Hebrew is, ‘I have appointed’, by which it appears, that God, designing to show that the contumacy [insolence] of Pharaoh would not prevent him to deliver his people, not only affirms that his fury had been foreseen by him, and that he had prepared means for restraining it, but that he had also thus designedly ordained it and indeed for this end, that he might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of his own power.’ It will be observed that Calvin gives as the force of the Hebrew word which Paul renders ‘For this purpose have I raised thee up’, ’I have appointed’. As this is the word on which the doctrine and argument of the verse turns we would further point out that in making this quotation from Exodus 9:16 the apostle significantly departs from the Septuagint – the version then in common use, and from which he most frequently quotes – and substitutes a clause for the first that is given by the Septuagint: instead of, ‘On this account thou hast been preserved’, he gives, ‘For this very end have I raised thee up’!

But we must now consider in more detail the case of Pharaoh which sums up in concrete example the great controversy between man and his Maker. ‘For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth’, Exodus 9:15,16. Upon these words we offer the following comments:

First, we know from Exodus 14:1-15:27 that Pharaoh was cut off, that he was cut off by God, that he was cut off in the very midst of his wickedness, that he was cut off not by sickness nor by the infirmities which are incident to old age, nor by what men term an accident, but cut off by the immediate hand of God in judgment.

Second, it is clear that God raised up Pharaoh for this very end – to ‘cut him off’, which in the language of the New Testament means ‘destroyed.’ God never does anything without a previous design. In giving him being, in preserving him through infancy and childhood, in raising him to the throne of Egypt, God had one end in view. That such was God’s purpose is clear from his words to Moses before he went down to Egypt, to demand of Pharaoh that Jehovah’s people should be allowed to go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to worship him – ‘And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all these wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go’, Ex. 4:21. But not only so, God’s design and purpose was declared long before this. Four hundred years previously God had said to Abraham, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge’, Gen. 15:13,14. From these words it is evident (a nation and its king being looked at as one in the Old Testament) that God’s purpose was formed long before he gave Pharaoh being.

Third, an examination of God’s dealings with Pharaoh makes it clear that Egypt’s king was indeed a ‘vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.’ Placed on Egypt’s throne, with the reins of government in his hands, he sat as head of the nation which occupied the first rank among the peoples of the world. There was no other monarch on earth able to control or dictate to Pharaoh. To such a dizzy height did God raise this reprobate, and such a course was a natural and necessary step to prepare him for his final fate, for it is a divine axiom that ‘pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall’, Prov. 16:18. Further, – and this is deeply important to note and highly significant – God removed from Pharaoh the one outward restraint which was calculated to act as a check upon him. The bestowing upon Pharaoh of the unlimited powers of a king was setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom. Had Moses, who not only was skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians but also had been reared in Pharaoh’s household, been suffered to remain in close proximity to the throne, there can be no doubt but that his example and influence had been a powerful check upon the king’s wickedness and tyranny. This, though not the only cause, was plainly one reason why God sent Moses into Midian, for it was during his absence that Egypt’s inhuman king framed his most cruel edicts. God designed, by removing this restraint, to give Pharaoh full opportunity to fill up the full measure of his sins, and ripen himself for his fully deserved but predestined ruin.

Fourth, God ‘hardened’ his heart as he declared he would, Ex. 4:21. This is in full accord with the declarations of Holy Scripture: ‘The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD’, Prov. 16:1; ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will’, Prov. 21:1. Like all other kings, Pharaoh’s heart was in the hand of the Lord; and God had both the right and the power to turn it whithersoever he pleased. And it pleased him to turn it against all good. God determined to hinder Pharaoh from granting his request through Moses to let Israel go, until he had fully prepared him for his final overthrow, and because nothing short of this would fully fit him, God hardened his heart.

Finally, it is worthy of careful consideration to note how the vindication of God in his dealings with Pharaoh has been fully attested. Most remarkable it is to discover that we have Pharaoh’s own testimony in favour of God and against himself! In Exodus 9:15,16 we learn how God had told Pharaoh for what purpose he had raised him up, and in Exodus 9:27 we are told that Pharaoh said, ‘I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.’ Mark that this was said by Pharaoh after he knew that God had raised him up in order to ‘cut him off’, after his severe judgments had been sent upon him, after he had hardened his own heart. By this time Pharaoh was fairly ripened for judgment, and fully prepared to decide whether God had injured him, or whether he had sought to injure God; and he fully acknowledges that he had ‘sinned’ and that God was ‘righteous’.

Again, we have the witness of Moses who was fully acquainted with God’s conduct toward Pharaoh. He had heard at the beginning what was God’s design in connection with Pharaoh; he had witnessed God’s dealings with him; he had observed his ‘long sufferance’ toward this vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and at last he had beheld him cut off in Divine judgment at the Red Sea. How then was Moses impressed? Does he raise the cry of injustice? Does he dare to charge God with unrighteousness? Far from it. Instead, he says, ‘Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious, in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!’ Ex. 15:11.

Was Moses moved by a vindictive spirit as he saw Israel’s arch enemy ‘cut off’ by the waters of the Red Sea? Surely not. But to remove forever all doubt upon this score, it remains to be pointed out how that saints in Heaven, after they have witnessed the sore judgments of God, join in singing ‘the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of nations’, Rev. 15:3. Here then is the climax, and the full and final vindication of God’s dealings with Pharaoh. Saints in heaven join in singing the song of Moses, in which that servant of God celebrated Jehovah’s praise in overthrowing Pharaoh and his hosts, declaring that in so acting God was not unrighteous but just and true. We must believe, therefore, that the Judge of all the earth did right in creating and destroying this vessel of wrath, Pharaoh.

The case of Pharaoh establishes the principle and illustrates the doctrine of Reprobation. If God actually reprobated Pharaoh, we may justly conclude that he reprobates all others whom he did not predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. This inference the apostle Paul manifestly draws from the fate of Pharaoh, for in Romans 9:1-33, after referring to God’s purpose in raising up Pharaoh, he continues, ‘therefore’. The case of Pharaoh is introduced to prove the doctrine of Reprobation as the counterpart of the doctrine of Election.

In conclusion, we would say that in forming Pharaoh God displayed neither justice nor injustice, but only his bare sovereignty. As the potter is sovereign in forming vessels, so God is sovereign in forming moral agents.

The Sovereignty of the Potter

Romans 9:18. ‘Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth’. The ‘therefore’ announces the general conclusion which the apostle draws from all he had said in the three preceding verses in denying that God was unrighteous in loving Jacob and hating Esau, and specifically it applies the principle exemplified in God’s dealings with Pharaoh. It traces everything back to the sovereign will of the Creator. He loves one and hates another, he exercises mercy toward some and hardens others, without reference to anything save his own sovereign will.

That which is most repellent to the carnal mind in the above verse is the reference to hardening – ‘Whom he will he hardeneth’ – and it is just here that so many commentators and expositors have adulterated the truth. The most common view is that the apostle is speaking of nothing more than judicial hardening, i.e., a forsaking by God because these subjects of his displeasure had first rejected his truth and forsaken him. Those who contend for this interpretation appeal to such scriptures as Romans 1:19-26 – God gave them up, that is (see context) those who knew God yet glorified him not as God, Rom. 1:21. Appeal is also made to 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. But it is to be noted that the word ‘harden’ does not occur in either of these passages. But further, we submit that Romans 9:18 has no reference whatever to judicial ‘hardening’. The apostle is not there speaking of those who had already turned their backs on God’s truth, but instead, he is dealing with God’s sovereignty, God’s sovereignty as seen not only in showing mercy to whom he wills, but also in hardening whom he pleases. The exact words are ‘Whom he will’ – not ‘all who have rejected his truth’ – ’he hardeneth’, and this, coming immediately after the mention of Pharaoh, clearly fixes their meaning. The case of Pharaoh is plain enough, though man by his glosses has done his best to hide the truth.

‘Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth’. This affirmation of God’s sovereign ‘hardening’ of sinners’ hearts – in contradistinction from judicial hardening – is not alone. Mark the language of John 12:37-40, ‘But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe [why?], because that Isaiah said again, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts [Why? Because they had refused to believe on Christ? This is the popular belief, but mark the answer of Scripture] that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’ Now, reader, it is just a question as to whether or not you will believe what God has revealed in his Word. It is not a matter of prolonged searching or profound study, but a childlike spirit which is needed, in order to understand this doctrine.

Verse 19. ‘Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?’ Is not this the very objection which is urged today? The force of the apostle’s questions here seems to be this: Since everything is dependent on God’s will, which is irreversible, and since this will of God, according to which he can do everything as sovereign – since he can have mercy on whom he wills to have mercy, and can refuse mercy and inflict punishment on whom he chooses to do so – why does he not will to have mercy on all, so as to make them obedient, and thus put finding of fault out of court? Now it should be particularly noted that the apostle does not repudiate the ground on which the objection rests. He does not say God does not find fault. Nor does he say, Men may resist his will. Furthermore, he does not explain away the objection by saying: You have altogether misapprehended my meaning when I said ‘Whom he wills he treats kindly, and whom he wills he treats severely’. But he says, ‘First, this is an objection you have no right to make’; and then, ‘This is an objection you have no reason to make’ (see Dr. Brown). The objection was utterly inadmissible, for it was a replying against God. It was to complain about, argue against, what God had done!

‘Thou wilt say then unto me, Why, doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?’ The language which the apostle here puts into the mouth of the objector is so plain and pointed, that misunderstanding ought to be impossible. Why doth he yet find fault? Now, reader, what can these words mean? Formulate your own reply before considering ours. Can the force of the apostle’s question be any other than this: If it is true that God has ‘mercy’ on whom he wills, and also ‘hardens’ whom he wills, then what becomes of human responsibility? In such a case men are nothing better than puppets, and if this be true then it would be unjust for God to ‘find fault’ with his helpless creatures. Mark the word ‘then’ – thou wilt say then unto me – he states the (false) inference or conclusion which the objector draws from what the apostle had been saying. And mark, my reader, the apostle readily saw the doctrine he had formulated would raise this very objection, and unless what we have written throughout this book provokes, in some at least, (all whose carnal minds are not subdued by divine grace) the same objection, then it must be either because we have not presented the doctrine which is set forth in Romans 9:1-33, or else because human nature has changed since the apostle’s day.

Consider now the remainder of verse 19. The apostle repeats the same objection in a slightly different form – repeats it so that his meaning may not be misunderstood – namely, ‘For who hath resisted his will?’ It is clear then that the subject under immediate discussion relates to God’s ‘will’, i.e., his sovereign ways, which confirms what we have said above upon verses 17 and 18, where we contended that it is not judicial hardening which is in view (that is, hardening because of previous rejection of the truth), but sovereign ‘hardening’, that is, the ‘hardening’ of a fallen and sinful creature for no other reason than that which inheres in the sovereign will of God. And hence the question, ‘Who hath resisted his will?’ What then does the apostle say in reply to these objections?

Verse 20. ‘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?’ The apostle, then, did not say the objection was pointless and groundless, instead, he rebukes the objector for his impiety. He reminds him that he is merely a ‘man’, a creature, and that as such it is most unseemly and impertinent for him to ‘reply (argue, or reason) against God’. Furthermore, he reminds him that he is nothing more than a ‘thing formed’, and therefore, it is madness and blasphemy to rise up against the Former himself.

Ere leaving this verse it should be pointed out that its closing words, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’ help us to determine, unmistakably, the precise subject under discussion. In the light of the immediate context what can be the force of the ‘thus’? What, but as in the case of Esau, why hast thou made me an object of ‘hatred’? What, but as in the case of Pharaoh, Why hast thou made me simply to ‘harden’ me? What other meaning can, fairly, be assigned to it?

It is highly important to keep clearly before us that the apostle’s object throughout this passage is to treat of God’s sovereignty in dealing with, on the one hand, those whom he loves – vessels unto honour and vessels of mercy, and also, on the other hand, with those whom he ‘hates’ and ‘hardens’ – vessels unto dishonour and vessels of wrath.

Verses 21-23. ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.’ In these verses the apostle furnishes a full and final reply to the objections raised in verse 19. First, he asks, ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay?’ etc. It is to be noted the word here translated ‘power’ is a different one in the Greek from the one rendered ‘power’ in verse 22 where it can only signify his might; but here in verse 21, the power spoken of must refer to the Creator’s rights or sovereign prerogatives; that this is so, appears from the fact that the same Greek word is employed in John 1:12: ‘As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’, which, as is well known, means the right or privilege to become the sons of God.

‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?’ That the ‘potter’ here is God himself is certain from the previous verse, where the apostle asks ‘Who art thou that repliest against God?’ and then, speaking in the terms of the figure he was about to use, continues, ‘Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it’, etc. Some there are who would rob these words of their force by arguing that while the human potter makes certain vessels to be used for less honourable purposes than others, nevertheless, they are designed to fill some useful place. But the apostle does not here say, ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto an honourable use and another to a less honourable use’, but he speaks of some ‘vessels’ being made ‘unto dishonour.’ It is true, of course, that God’s wisdom will yet be fully vindicated, in as much as the destruction of the reprobate will promote his glory – in what way the next verse tells us.

But before passing to the next verse let us summarise the teaching of this and the two previous ones. In Romans 9:19 two questions are asked, ‘Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?’ To those questions a threefold answer is returned. First, in verse 20 the apostle denies the creature the right to sit in judgment upon the ways of the Creator: ‘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?’ The apostle insists that the rectitude of God’s will must not be questioned. Whatever he does must be right.

Second, in verse 21 the apostle declares that the Creator has the right to dispose of his creatures as he sees fit: ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?’ It should be carefully noted that the word for ‘power’ here is exousian, an entirely different word from the one translated ‘power’ in the following verse (‘to make known his power’), where it is dunamin. In the words ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay?’ it must be God’s power justly exercised, which is in view – the exercise of God’s rights consistently with his justice, because the mere assertion of his omnipotency would be no such answer as God would return to the questions asked in verse 19. Third, in verses 22 and 23, the apostle gives the reasons why God proceeds differently with one of his creatures from another: on the one hand, it is to ‘shew his wrath’ and to ‘make his power known’; on the other hand, it is to ‘make known the riches of his glory.’

‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?’ Certainly God has the right to do this because he is the Creator. Does he exercise this right? Yes, as verses 13 and 17 of this chapter clearly show us: ‘For this same purpose have I raised thee (Pharaoh) up’.

Verse 22. ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’. Here the apostle tells us in the second place, why God acts thus, i.e., differently with different ones – having mercy on some and hardening others, making one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour. Observe, that here in this verse the apostle first mentions ‘vessels of wrath’, before he refers in verse 23 to the ‘vessels of mercy’. Why is this? The answer to this question is of first importance: we reply, Because it is the ‘vessels of wrath’ who are the subjects in view before the objector in verse 19. Two reasons are given why God makes some ‘vessels unto dishonour’: first, to ‘show his wrath’, and secondly ‘to make his power known’: both of which were exemplified in the case of Pharaoh.

Vessels of Wrath… Fitted

One point in the above verse requires separate consideration – ‘Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.’ The usual explanation which is given of these words is that the vessels of wrath fit themselves to destruction, that is, fit themselves by virtue of their wickedness; and it is argued that there is no need for God to ‘fit them to destruction’, because they are already fitted by their own depravity, and that this must be the real meaning of this expression. Now if by ‘destruction’ we understand punishment, it is perfectly true that the non-elect do ‘fit themselves’, for everyone will be judged ‘according to his works’; and further, we freely grant that subjectively the non-elect do fit themselves for destruction. But the point to be decided is, Is this what the apostle is here referring to? And, without hesitation, we reply it is not. Go back to Romans 9:11-13: did Esau fit himself to be an object of God’s hatred, or was he not such before he was born? Again; did Pharaoh fit himself for destruction, or did not God harden his heart before the plagues were sent upon Egypt? – see Ex. 4:21!

Romans 9:22 is clearly a continuation in thought of verse 21, and verse 21 is part of the apostle’s reply to the questions raised in verse 20: therefore, to follow out the figure fairly, it must be God himself who ‘fits’ unto destruction the vessels of wrath. Should it be asked how God does this, the answer, necessarily, is, objectively, – he fits the non-elect unto destruction by his fore-ordinating decrees. Should it be asked why God does this, the answer must be, to promote his own glory, i.e., the glory of his justice, power and wrath. ‘The sum of the apostle’s answer here is, that the grand object of God, both in the election and the reprobation of men, is that which is paramount to all things else in the creation of men, namely, his own glory’, Robert Haldane.

Romans 9:23: ‘And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.’ The only point in this verse which demands attention is the fact that the ‘vessels of mercy’ are here said to be ‘afore prepared unto glory’. Many have pointed out that the previous verse does not say the vessels of wrath were afore prepared unto destruction, and from this omission they have concluded that we must understand the reference there to the non-elect fitting themselves in time, rather than God ordaining them for destruction from all eternity. But this conclusion by no means follows. We need to look back to verse 21 and note the figure which is there employed. ‘Clay’ is inanimate matter, corrupt, decomposed, and therefore a fit substance to represent fallen humanity. As then the apostle is contemplating God’s sovereign dealings with humanity in view of the Fall, he does not say the vessels of wrath were ‘afore’ prepared unto destruction, for the obvious and sufficient reason that, it was not until after the Fall that they became (in themselves) what is here symbolised by the ‘clay’. All that is necessary to refute the erroneous conclusion referred to above, is to point out that what is said of the vessels of wrath is not that they are fit for destruction (which is the word that would have been used if the reference had been to them fitting themselves by their own wickedness), but fitted to destruction; which, in the light of the whole context, must mean a sovereign ordination to destruction by the Creator. We quote here the pointed words of Calvin on this passage – ‘There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction; they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. Though in the second clause the apostle asserts more expressly, that it is God who prepared the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction, there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate gave up or cast themselves into destruction, but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot’. With this we are in hearty accord. Romans 9:29 does not say the vessels of wrath fitted themselves, nor does it say they are fit for destruction, instead, it declares they are ‘fitted to destruction’, and the context shows plainly it is God who thus ‘fits’ them objectively by his eternal decrees.

Further Witness

Though Romans 9:1-33 contains the fullest setting forth of the doctrine of Reprobation, there are still other passages which refer to it, one or two more of which we will now briefly notice:—

‘What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded [marg. hardened]’, Rom. 11:7. Here we have two distinct and clearly defined classes which are set in sharp antithesis: the ‘election’ and ‘the rest’; the one ‘obtained’, the other is ‘hardened’. On this verse we quote from the comments of John Bunyan of immortal memory: ‘These are solemn words: they sever between men and men – the election and the rest, the chosen and the left, the embraced and the refused. By ‘rest’ here must needs be understood those not elect, because set the one in opposition to the other, and if not elect, whom then but reprobate?’

Writing to the saints at Thessalonica the apostle declared, ‘For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Thes. 5:9. Now surely it is patent to any impartial mind that this statement is quite pointless if God has not ‘appointed’ any to wrath. To say that God ‘hath not appointed us to wrath’, clearly implies that there are some whom he has ‘appointed to wrath’, and were it not that the minds of so many professing Christians are so blinded by prejudice, they could not fail to see this clearly.

‘A Stone of stumbling, and a Rock or offence, even to them who stumble at the Word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed’, 1 Peter 2:8. The ‘whereunto’ manifestly points back to the stumbling at the Word, and their disobedience. Here, then, God expressly affirms that there are some who have been ‘appointed’ (it is the same Greek word as in 1 Thessalonians 5:9) unto disobedience. Our business is not to reason about it, but to bow to Holy Scripture. Our first duty is not to understand, but to believe what God has said.

‘But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption’, 2 Peter 2:12. Here, again, every effort is made to escape the plain teaching of this solemn passage. We are told that it is the ‘brute beasts’ who are ‘made to be taken and destroyed’, and not the persons here likened to them. All that is needed to refute such sophistry is to inquire wherein lies the point of analogy between the ‘these’ (men) and the ‘brute beasts’? What is the force of the ‘as’ – but ‘these as brute beasts’? Clearly, it is that ‘these’ men as brute beasts, are the ones who, like animals, are ‘made to be taken and destroyed’: the closing words confirming this by reiterating the same sentiment – ‘and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.’

‘For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ’, Jude 1:4. Attempts have been made to escape the obvious force of this verse by substituting a different translation. The Revised Version gives: ‘But there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation.’ But this altered rendering by no means gets rid of that which is so distasteful to our sensibilities. The question arises, Where were these ‘of old written of beforehand’? Certainly not in the Old Testament, for nowhere is there any reference there to wicked men creeping into Christian assemblies. If ‘written of’ be the best translation of prographo, the reference can only be to the book of the divine decrees. So whichever alternative be selected there can be no evading the fact that certain men are ‘before of old’ marked out by God ‘unto condemnation.’

‘…and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder [at the beast], whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world…’, Rev. 17:8; cp. also Rev. 13:8. Here, then, is a positive statement affirming that there are those whose names were not written in the Book of Life. Because of this they shall wonder at the beast and render allegiance to and bow down before the Antichrist.

Here, then, are no less than ten passages which most plainly imply or expressly teach the fact of reprobation. They affirm that the wicked are made for the Day of Evil; that God fashions some vessels unto dishonour; and by his eternal decree (objectively) fits them unto destruction; that they are like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, being of old ordained unto this condemnation. Therefore in the face of these scriptures we unhesitatingly affirm (after nearly twenty years careful and prayerful study of the subject) that the Word of God unquestionably teaches both Predestination and Reprobation, or to use the words of Calvin, ‘Eternal Election is God’s predestination of some to salvation, and others to destruction’.

Cautionary Considerations

Having thus stated the doctrine of Reprobation, as it is presented in Holy Writ, let us now mention one or two important considerations to guard it against abuse and prevent the reader from making any unwarranted deductions:—

First, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean that God purposed to take innocent creatures, make them wicked, and then damn them. Scripture says, ‘God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions’, Eccl. 7:29. God has not created sinful creatures in order to destroy them, for God is not to be charged with the sin of his creatures. The responsibility and criminality is man’s.

God’s decree of Reprobation contemplated Adam’s race as fallen, sinful, corrupt, guilty. From it God purposed to save a few as the monuments of his sovereign grace; the others he determined to destroy as the exemplification of his justice and severity. In determining to destroy these others, God did them no wrong. They had already fallen in Adam, their legal representative; they are therefore born with a sinful nature, and in their sins he leaves them. Nor can they complain. This is as they wish; they have no desire for holiness; they love darkness rather than light. Where, then, is there any injustice if God ‘gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts’, Psalm 81:12!

Second, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean God refuses to save those who earnestly seek salvation. The fact is that the reprobate have no longing for the Saviour: they see in him no beauty that they should desire him. They will not come to Christ – why then should God force them to? He turns away none who do come – where then is the injustice of God fore-determining their just doom? None will be punished but for their iniquities; where then, is the supposed tyrannical cruelty of the Divine procedure? Remember that God is the Creator of the wicked, not of their wickedness; he is the Author of their being, but not the Infuser of their sin.

God does not (as we have been slanderously reported to affirm) compel the wicked to sin, as the rider spurs on an unwilling horse. God only says in effect that awful word, ‘Let them alone’, Matt. 15:14. He needs only to slacken the reins of providential restraint, and withhold the influence of saving grace, and apostate man will only too soon and too surely, of his own accord, fall by his iniquities. Thus the decree of reprobation neither interferes with the bent of man’s own fallen nature, nor serves to render him the less inexcusable.

Third, the decree of Reprobation in no wise conflicts with God’s goodness. Though the non-elect are not the objects of his goodness in the same way or to the same extent as the elect are, yet they are not wholly excluded from a participation of it. They enjoy the good things of Providence (temporal blessings) in common with God’s own children, and very often to a higher degree. But how do they improve them? Does the (temporal) goodness of God lead them to repent? Nay, verily, they do but ‘despise his goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering, and after their hardness and impenitency of heart treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath’, Rom. 2:4,5. On what righteous ground, then, can they murmur against not being the objects of his benevolence in the endless ages yet to come? Moreover, if it did not clash with God’s mercy and kindness to leave the entire body of the fallen angels under the guilt of their apostasy, 2 Peter 2:4; still less can it clash with the Divine perfections to leave some of fallen mankind in their sins and punish them for them.

Finally, let us interpose this necessary caution: It is utterly impossible for any of us, during the present life, to ascertain who are among the reprobate. We must not now so judge any man, no matter how wicked he may be. The vilest sinner, may, for all we know, be included in the election of grace and be one day quickened by the Spirit of grace. Our marching orders are plain, and woe be unto us if we disregard them: ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature.’ When we have done so our skirts are clear. If men refuse to heed, their blood is on their own heads; nevertheless ‘we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are a savour of death unto death; and to the other we are a savour of life unto life’, 2 Cor. 2:15,16.

Apparent Scriptural Contradictions Refuted

We must now consider a number of passages which are often quoted with the purpose of showing that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction or ordained certain ones to condemnation. First, we cite Ezekiel 18:31: ‘Why will ye die, O house of Israel?’ On this passage we cannot do better than quote from the comments of Augustus Toplady: ‘This is a passage very frequently, but very idly, insisted upon by Arminians, as if it were a hammer which would at one stroke crush the whole fabric to powder. But it so happens that the ‘death’ here alluded to is neither spiritual nor eternal death: as is abundantly evident from the whole tenor of the chapter. The death intended by the prophet is a political death; a death of national prosperity, tranquillity, and security. The sense of the question is precisely this: What is it that makes you in love with captivity, banishment, and civil ruin? Abstinence from the worship of images might, as a people, exempt you from these calamities, and once more render you a respectable nation. Are the miseries of public devastation so alluring as to attract your determined pursuit? Why will ye die? die as the house of Israel, and considered as a political body? Thus did the prophet argue the case, at the same time adding, ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth saith the Lord God, wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye.’ ‘This imports: First, the national captivity of the Jews added nothing to the happiness of God. Second, if the Jews turned from idolatry, and flung away their images, they should not die in a foreign, hostile country, but live peaceably in their own land and enjoy their liberties as an independent people.’ To the above we may add: political death must be what is in view in Ezekiel 18:31,32 for the simple but sufficient reason that they were already spiritually dead!

Matthew 25:41 is often quoted to show that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction: ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ This is, in fact, one of the principal verses relied upon to disprove the doctrine of Reprobation. But we submit that the emphatic word here is not ‘for’ but ‘Devil.’ This verse (see context) sets forth the severity of the judgment which awaits the lost. In other words, the above scripture expresses the awfulness of the everlasting fire rather than the subjects of it – if the fire be ‘prepared for the Devil and his angels’ then how intolerable it will be! If the place of eternal torment into which the damned shall be cast is the same as that in which God’s arch enemy will suffer, how dreadful must that place be!

Again: if God has chosen only certain ones to salvation, why are we told that God ‘now commandeth all men everywhere to repent’, Acts 17:30? That God commandeth ‘all men’ to repent is but the enforcing of his righteous claims as the moral Governor of the world. How could he do less, seeing that all men everywhere have sinned against him? Furthermore; that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent argues the universality of creature responsibility. But this scripture does not declare that it is God’s pleasure to ‘give repentance’, Acts 5:31, to all men everywhere. That the apostle Paul did not believe God gave repentance to every soul is clear from his words in 2 Timothy 2:25: ’In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’

Again, we are asked, if God has ‘ordained’ only certain ones unto eternal life, then why do we read that he ‘will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth’, 1 Tim. 2:4? The reply is, that the words ‘all’ and ‘all men’, like the term ‘world’, are often used in a general and relative sense. Let the reader carefully examine the following passages: Mark 1:5; John 8:2; Acts 21:28, 22:15; 2 Cor. 3:2 etc., and he will find full proof of our assertion that 1 Timothy 2:4 cannot teach that God wills the salvation of all mankind, or otherwise all mankind would be saved – ‘What his soul desireth even that he doeth’, Job 23:13!

Again; we are asked, Does not Scripture declare, again and again, that God is no ‘respecter of persons’? We answer, it certainly does, and God’s electing grace proves it. The seven sons of Jesse, though older and physically superior to David, are passed by, while the young shepherd boy is exalted to Israel’s throne. The scribes and lawyers pass unnoticed, and ignorant fishermen are chosen to be the apostles of the Lamb. Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent and is revealed to babes instead. The great majority of the wise and noble are ignored, while the weak, the base, the despised, are called and saved. Harlots and publicans are sweetly compelled to come in to the gospel feast, while self-righteous Pharisees are suffered to perish in their immaculate outward morality. Truly, God is ‘no respecter’ of persons or he would not have saved me.

That the Doctrine of Reprobation is a ‘hard saying’ to the carnal mind is readily acknowledged; yet, is it any ‘harder’ than that of eternal punishment? That it is clearly taught in Scripture we have sought to demonstrate, and it is not for us to pick and choose from the truths revealed in God’s Word. Let those who are inclined to receive those doctrines which commend themselves to their judgment, and who reject those which they cannot fully understand, remember those scathing words of our Lord’s, ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken’, Luke 24:25: fools because slow of heart; slow of heart, not dull of head!

Once more we would avail ourselves of the language of Calvin: ‘But, as I have hitherto only recited such things as are delivered without any obscurity or ambiguity in the Scriptures, let persons who hesitate not to brand with ignominy those Oracles of Heaven, beware what kind of opposition they make. For, if they pretend ignorance, with a desire to be commended for their modesty, what greater instance of pride can be conceived, than to oppose one little word to the authority of God! as, ‘It appears otherwise to me,’ or ‘I would rather not meddle with this subject.’ But if they openly censure, what will they gain by their puny attempts against heaven? Their petulance, indeed, is no novelty; for in all ages there have been impious and profane men, who have virulently opposed this doctrine. But they shall feel the truth of what the Spirit long ago declared by the mouth of David, that God ‘is clear when he judgeth’, Psalm 51:4. David obliquely hints at the madness of men who display such excessive presumption amidst their insignificance, as not only to dispute against God, but to arrogate to themselves the power of condemning him. In the meantime, he briefly suggests, that God is unaffected by all the blasphemies which they discharge against heaven, but that he dissipates the mists of calumny, and illustriously displays his righteousness; our faith, also, being founded on the Divine Word, and therefore, superior to all the world, from its exaltation looks down with contempt upon those mists’.

Endure Sound Doctrine

In closing this chapter we propose to quote from the writings of some of the standard theologians since the days of the Reformation, not that we would buttress our own statements by an appeal to human authority, however venerable or ancient, but in order to show that what we have advanced in these pages is no novelty of the twentieth century, no heresy of the ‘latter days’ but, instead, a doctrine which has been definitely formulated and commonly taught by many of the most pious and scholarly students of Holy Writ.

‘Predestination we call the decree of God, by which he has determined in himself, what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny: but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death’ – from John Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ (1536 A.D.) Book III, Chapter XXI entitled ‘Eternal Election, or God’s Predestination of Some to Salvation and of Others to Destruction.’

We ask our readers to mark well the above language. A perusal of it should show that what the present writer has advanced in this chapter is not ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ but real Calvinism, pure and simple. Our purpose in making this remark is to show that those who, not acquainted with Calvin’s writings, in their ignorance condemn as ultra-Calvinism that which is simply a reiteration of what Calvin himself taught – a reiteration because that prince of theologians as well as his humble debtor have both found this doctrine in the Word of God itself.

Martin Luther in his most excellent work ‘De Servo Arbitrio’ (Free Will a Slave), wrote: ‘All things whatsoever arise from, and depend upon, the divine appointments, whereby it was preordained who should receive the Word of Life, and who should disbelieve it, who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them, who should be justified and who should be condemned. This is the very truth which razes the doctrine of free will from its foundations, to wit, that God’s eternal love of some men and hatred of others is immutable and cannot be reversed.’

John Foxe, whose Book of Martyrs was once the best known work in the English language (alas that it is not so today, when Roman Catholicism is sweeping upon us like a great destructive tidal wave!), wrote, ‘Predestination is the eternal decreement of God, purposed before in himself, what should befall all men, either to salvation, or damnation’.

The ‘Larger Westminster Catechism’ (1688) – adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church – declares, ‘God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory, and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof; and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favour as he pleases), hath passed by, and foreordained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice’.

John Bunyan, author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, wrote a whole volume on ‘Reprobation’. From it we make one brief extract: ‘Reprobation is before the person cometh into the world, or hath done good or evil. This is evidenced by Romans 9:11. Here you find twain in their mother’s womb, and both receiving their destiny, not only before they had done good or evil, but before they were in a capacity to do it, they being yet unborn – their destiny, I say, the one unto, the other not unto the blessing of eternal life; the one elect, the other reprobate; the one chosen, the other refused’. In his ‘Sighs from Hell’, Bunyan also wrote: ‘They that do continue to reject and slight the Word of God are such, for the most part, as are ordained to be damned’.

Commenting upon Romans 9:22, ‘What if God willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’, Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 4, p. 306, 1743) says, ‘How awful doth the majesty of God appear in the dreadfulness of his anger! This we may learn to be one end of the damnation of the wicked.’

Augustus Toplady, author of ‘Rock of Ages’ and other sublime hymns, wrote: ‘God, from all eternity decreed to leave some of Adam’s fallen posterity in their sins, and to exclude them from the participation of Christ and his benefits’. And again; ‘We, with the Scriptures, assert: That there is a predestination of some particular persons to life, for the praise of the glory of divine grace; and also a predestination of other particular persons to death for the glory of divine justice – which death of punishment they shall inevitably undergo, and that justly, on account of their sins’.

George Whitefield, that stalwart of the eighteenth century, used by God in blessing to so many, wrote: ‘Without doubt, the doctrine of election and reprobation must stand or fall together… I frankly acknowledge I believe the doctrine of Reprobation, that God intends to give saving grace, through Jesus Christ, only to a certain number; and that the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left of God to continue in sin, will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages’.

‘Fitted to destruction’, Rom. 9:22. After declaring this phrase admits of two interpretations, Dr. Hodge – perhaps the best known and most widely read commentator on Romans – says, ‘The other interpretation assumes that the reference is to God and that the Greek word for ‘fitted’ has its full participle force; prepared (by God) for destruction.’ This’, says Dr. Hodge, ‘is adopted not only by the majority of Augustinians, but also by many Lutherans.’

Were it necessary we are prepared to give quotations from the writings of Wycliffe, Huss, Ridley, Hooper, Cranmer, Ussher, John Trapp, Thomas Goodwin, Thomas Manton (Chaplain to Cromwell), John Owen, Witsius, John Gill, and a host of others. We mention this simply to show that many of the most eminent saints in bygone days, the men most widely used of God, held and taught this doctrine which is so bitterly hated in these last days, when men will no longer ‘endure sound doctrine’; hated by men of lofty pretensions, but who, notwithstanding their boasted orthodoxy and much advertised piety, are not worthy to unfasten the shoes of the faithful and fearless servants of God of other days.

‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever, Amen’ , Rom. 11:33-36.

‘Of him’ – his will is the origin of all existence;

‘through’ or ‘by him’ – he is the Creator and Controller of all;

‘to Him’ – all things promote his glory in their final end.

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My Old Friend Mr. Snowball

Many years ago, not long after I was first awakened and floundering under a ministry of ‘do and live’, I met an elderly man by the name of Tom Snowball. He is gone now but recently I found a letter he wrote me which seemed to sum up the things he would minister to me. I used to visit him in his home and there found a man who had been ‘banned’ from preaching in the churches and chapels around the many places he’d lived because he’d preach the necessity of a vital knowledge of Christ and him crucified in the daily experience of the child of God. So there he was left, devoid of spiritual fellowship, except with his wife with whom he would sit and meditating upon the things of God.

At first, when I visited him, I did not really follow a lot of what he said: it sounded ‘deep’ to me, and yet there was a glory both in what I perceived he was trying to convey to me and in his face as he spoke. Gradually I began to appreciate the things he said and often drove home in something of a glorious daze. And what was it that he would minister to me? It was Christ. For the first time, under Mr. Snowball’s ministry, I began to see something of the glory and beauty of the Saviour; and the result was that I desired after Him. There seemed to be something so simple in the truths the old man spoke, and yet they were so profound and wonderful. There follows the letter which he wrote to me.

‘Dear Andrew, In the School of Christ, the Holy Spirit is engaged on one thing only, and that is to lead us more and more into the light: (the light of) ‘the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ It shall be true in our case that, ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (mid-day)’, Proverbs 4:18. Many people have thought, and are thinking so, but have been disappointed, because they think the way is going to get easier and easier, brighter and brighter, and more cheerful as we go on. But it does not work out that way. I do not see it to be true in the circumstances and outward condition of the saints anywhere at any time. For them the path does not become brighter and brighter outwardly.

‘But if we are really moving under the Spirit’s government, we can say with the strongest affirmation, that in an inward way the light is growing. The path is growing brighter and brighter. We are seeing and seeing and seeing. That is God’s purpose until the time comes when there is no darkness at all, and no shadow at all, and no mist at all, but all is light, perfect light. We see through a glass NOT darkly, but face to face; we know even as we are known. That is God’s purpose, put in a certain way. I know that you will see. Tom.’

I miss my old friend Mr. Snowball. When I seem to lose something of the glory of what it means to be in Christ I often remember what he used to say to me, ‘Andrew, if you’re occupied with self, you’re going to be miserable.’ It was Christ, he would say, and knowing him in the fulness of his death and resurrection life and power which was the only way to an overcoming life, and it is the Spirit’s work to lead his people into that path. One of his most commonly quoted texts was Revelation 12:11, that, amidst all the tribulations that God’s people face, often at the hand of an accusing and contrary devil, yet, ‘They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.’ It was the cross and the way of the cross which he preached to me. The Lord Jesus walked in the way of the cross – the way of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and absolute obedience to the will of his Father – which led inevitably, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, to the cross of Calvary itself. Thus he would quote the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me… And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple’, Luke 9:23, 14:27: the words ‘daily’ and ‘cannot’ would be emphasised.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses’, 1 Timothy 6:12. And it is a fight, a battle; but, says Paul, it is a good fight, the fight of faith; and as the Spirit leads and guides, and reveals more and more of the glory of the Saviour, and as the light shines within, then we are more enabled to take up our cross – to say no to self, daily, and to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, see Revelation 14:1-5. There simply is no other way which leadeth unto life.

A One Man Ministry?

Appealing to the testimony of Scripture alone: to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, we can say that as the church became established in the apostles’ doctrine, there was no place found in it for a one man ministry.

That this statement is plain contrary to what has arisen in the professing church should not surprise those who seek the mind of the Lord on these matters; because, as I have begun to show in some of my recorded messages (link below), today’s church no longer resembles the church which Christ said he would build, it having gone astray in so many aspects from the original doctrine of the apostles, not least in this question of the ministry.

Read the apostles’ doctrine for yourself: read the epistles, and see if you can find a one man ministry established or exhorted in the church: see if you can find one man ministering to a ‘church’ alone, from anything resembling a pulpit, separate and above a mute congregation on a regular ‘service by service’ basis. See if you can find a ‘sent ministry’, an ‘anointed preacher’ or, for that matter, the equivalent of a Bible College/Seminary trained preacher: a Reverend, a Doctor, an Evangelist, a Pastor – all as understood to the modern mind. You won’t find one.

Therefore what exists today in the church as ‘the ministry’ has no foundation in scripture, is a corruption of the true, and cannot sustain and feed the spiritual children – the sheep – of Christ: something which they come to realise over a long and painful period of awakening.

Now, of course, many arguments will already have arisen in the minds of the readers as they balk against this; which is understandable, as the validity of the whole of their church system is being brought into question. And up until a few years ago I would have been one of them: arguing against what has been written thus far. There are many people – most everyone, I suppose – who attend church or chapel regularly, and who have done so all their lives, who might stand up and say that, yes, there are things wrong in the church; but if we can weed out the errors and seek to return to the teaching of scripture, then everything will be much better. I’ve been there. And in some places and denominations the question of the ministry has been addressed, and they have readjusted their services accordingly to try and make things fit more with what they perceived it was like at the beginning. But ultimately it is no good, because seeking to prune or train the branches of what is a corrupt tree is useless: the tree itself must be uprooted. What’s wrong with the modern church – in all its various manifestations – is not just this or that doctrine or practise, but the whole of it is corrupt and cannot be ‘made better’. This is why the Spirit-taught children of God are eventually called out of it to seek the Lord for a true gathering of his body.

The Principle of Preaching in the New Testament

It is my purpose in this article to discover the principles which underpin this aspect of the manifestation of the true church and then leave it to the readers to apply any scriptures they use to justify their system to that principle to see if they hold up. If you are an exercised soul then it will be a profitable, if costly, exercise; but truth received by revelation of the Lord himself must be our only desire: we can be taught much truth by ‘flesh and blood’ alone, and so be wrong at last: at least that is the teaching of the Lord Jesus relating directly to his church in Matthew 16:15-18.

What is preaching? Preaching is simply a declaration of the truth of the gospel by those who have been taught the message by the Lord himself. This is the preaching which feeds the sheep of Christ; is spiritual food for their souls; is the message of Christ upon which they live. There is ‘word only’ gospel preaching, see 1 Thessalonians 1:5, but that is dry and dead to the Spirit-born, cannot feed nor sustain them, and indeed tends to starve them and therefore repulse them. They cannot away with this soul destroying fare, and they quickly flee it.

Such preaching is produced by those who have only learnt their gospel out of books – even by study of the Book – from commentaries, traditions, natural application to the text of scripture: in short ‘of men’. But the Lord never reveals his truth by utilising the revelation of flesh and blood. Look at the apostles. Who taught them the truth of the gospel in their experience? Their fathers? The scribes, Pharisees or doctors of the law at synagogue or temple? Did Jesus even send them to scripture to learn his gospel before they could teach it? No. They were taught of the Lord himself.

‘And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, Mark 3:13,14. This is the order by which the Lord works with all who are to declare the truth, whether they be apostles at the beginning or any of the Lord’s people to this day. He first separates them unto himself and teaches them, before they bare witness to his gospel.

But of all his people without exception it is said: ‘And they shall be all taught of God’, John 6:45. But those who preach the gospel in word only: who do not feed the sheep or lambs, cannot be said to have been taught anything by God; for if there is one thing the teaching of the Lord does, it feeds his people. Notice what Paul writes to Timothy: ‘But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them’, 2 Tim. 3:14. Who is the ‘whom’ in this verse? Paul? The scriptures? Hardly the scriptures: they are a book not a ‘whom’. No, Timothy learned of the Father, of Christ by revelation; of God himself. Paul goes on to say that the scriptures themselves, which from a child Timothy had known, were able to make him, an already child of God, ‘wise unto salvation’, in that they were the record of the work and doctrine of God which He uses to establish his children in the truth; but it was God himself who taught Timothy, and that by revelation.

Paul himself had just written that he knew ‘whom he had believed’, 1:12, not just ‘what he believed’, as the doctrine in the head only. In fact Paul’s desire – as is the desire of all taught of God – was to know Christ himself, and to preach HIM, not just to know about him and preach doctrines pertaining to him, as though the message was somehow detached from the Person. ‘Word only’ gospel preaching is only about Christ and his salvation, whereas true preaching is to preach Christ himself, the Person, by revelation of him.

Which brings us to Galatians Chapter One. This is Paul’s clearest testimony to the difference between learning the gospel of Christ from men only: ‘in word only’ – the Lord’s ‘flesh and blood’ of Matthew 16 – and by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Read what he said: ‘I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but [except] by the revelation of Jesus Christ’, verses 11,12.

Look at Paul as Saul of Tarsus. He was learned in the scriptures; was a Pharisee, and sat at the feet of Gamaliel, no less: ‘a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people’. Saul was ‘taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers… zealous toward God… more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers’, in that when ‘this way’ came along which seemed so contrary to the religion of his God – the Lord God of Israel – he ‘persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.’ So much for the revelation of flesh and blood. So it is not surprising that when Christ called him and was revealed in him, he came to count all his natural learning – even of Jehovah’s religion – as ‘dung’ in comparison to knowing Christ and preaching him, Philippians 3.

And when Christ was revealed in him, and the Lord started teaching him the gospel by revelation, what did he then do? Go to man again to learn the gospel in all its fulness, so he could be fully equipped to preach it? No. Paul didn’t even go to those who already had the revelation of the truth from the Lord himself: ‘neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me’. No, notice what he said when Christ was revealed in him: ‘immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood’, Gal 1:15-17. Not from or with flesh and blood EVER, in regard to learning the truth of God, of the gospel, to preach it. How could he have? Neither flesh and blood, nor anything which emanates from flesh and blood, can inherit the kingdom of God.

But go to the Bible Colleges today, and go listen to the men who have been taught their gospel by that ‘flesh and blood’ system, and if you are one of Christ’s sheep you will starve under their dry, dead, word only preaching. No, Paul, the apostles, and all of God’s people are ‘taught of God’: they learn the truth of the gospel by revelation of Jesus Christ. They don’t start with revelation and then go to man, they learn of him all the way through: the teaching of the Lord – the manna – is all their meat; they receive it of him, they feed their brethren with it as they declare – preach – it to one another: they ‘give me meat’, says Christ, Matt. 25:35. No other food will do; no other meat is palatable to the sheep, but God-revealed truth. And do you think you have to go to a stone building on a supposedly sanctified day, to receive that from the brethren? Away with all carnality.

Anointed to Preach

Another aspect of preaching which is misunderstood, and wrongly claimed, is this question of being ‘anointed to preach’. Many people believe that if you stand in the pulpit then you have not only been called but anointed to preach. In the last denomination of which I was a member this was the belief. It ran something like this: He’s been ‘called to the ministry’; he’s received the command to ‘go’; he’s been anointed by the Lord to preach the gospel: and because he is now one of ‘the Lord’s servants’ then ‘touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do his prophets no harm.’ Did you get that? Instantly you have a man in the pulpit, put there by God himself, he preaches the gospel – obviously – and we can never question it. Furthermore: as we believe men can only be saved – called – under the sound of ‘the gospel’, by those sent to preach it – enter a misuse of Romans 10 – then we must attend to this ‘means of grace’ if we would be saved.

Other denominations and traditions might use different phraseology but this is in effect what many believe. But where is that in the doctrine of Christ? What! these men anointed to preach? And your soul’s salvation bound to their ministry? I used to answer ‘yes’ to that proposition, until the Lord showed me otherwise.

There is actually only one Person described in the New Testament who is anointed to preach, and that is the Lord Jesus himself. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME, because he hath anointed ME to preach the gospel…’, Luke 4:18. And no-one else is described as such. Jesus never taught the apostles that they were anointed to preach; they never thought it, nor declared it themselves. None claimed ‘a sacred anointing’ to preach the gospel; no-one else in the early church admitted the apostles’ anointing; this teaching is just plain absent from the testimony of scripture.

The fact that John writes that all of God’s people are ‘anointed/have an unction from the Holy One’, 1 John 2:20,27, is irrelevant to the subject at hand, for the apostle nowhere relates it to the ministry. Every member of the body, from the little children – newly regenerated – up, have been baptised into Christ, have this anointing: they could not be members of his body otherwise. These were those who were being taught of God: ‘But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you [recognise that?]: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.’

So the Lord Jesus is the only person described as anointed to preach the gospel, and he is still the only one. He said, ‘My sheep hear MY voice’. Never a man speaks like this man. Hear ye him. Today, if ye will hear his voice. Learn of me. They shall be all taught of God. And you don’t need a preacher in a pulpit to channel that voice. Which preacher was Saul listening to on the road to Damascus? To ‘anointed’ Peter, or John, or James? If you are a child of God and have heard the Lord’s voice calling you, convicting you, condemning you, revealing truth to you, pardoning you, comforting you, commanding you, revealing his will to you, promising you something, you will know that it has more often than not come directly from him, without the means of ‘sent ministers’, chapel attendance, or Bible reading.

This is not to say that the Lord does not speak or minister to his people when they are gathered, for there is something very special about the Lord being in the midst of his gathered saints. The Thessalonians heard ‘the word of God’ ‘of us’, said Paul, which effectively worked in them that believed, 1 Thes. 2:13. God ministered to their hearts, as Paul, Silvanus and Timotheus preached the truth. But that doesn’t mean that every time they heard these men declare the truth they heard the word of God. The Lord is not, and will not be bound to ‘means’ to communicate to his people.

Just read the Gospels for yourselves. Look to see if the Lord waited till the sabbath day, or until he and his disciples were in the formal gathering of synagogue, before he would teach his disciples the truth of his words. Rarely happened like that. Go through Acts the same. The Lord and his disciples preached and taught the people anywhere and everywhere. The New Testament is nothing but a great proof that ‘this mountain’ and ‘Jerusalem’ have become irrelevant to all those who would learn of God, John 4:21. Believe it and embrace it, and be liberated from the dead, stifling traditions of men.

‘When Ye Come Together…’

Having just mentioned the Lord being in the midst of his gathered saints let us turn to 1 Corinthians 14:26ff where this situation is described. Here is the church, the ecclesia: the body of out-called in one place. This has nothing to do with buildings, days, times, services, Sunday best. Neither is it a gathering of saved and unsaved: there are no unsaved here. These are the saints. Some may be yet carnal, some babes still – see the earlier chapters of Corinthians – nevertheless this is the body of Christ separated from the world, turning aside from the labours and cares of the day, gathered to worship God and be edified (a frequently used word in this passage) one of another, the Lord being in the midst. Wonderful! And how could it not be in his presence; he is the one who has called them, they make up his body, it is HIS church! ‘My church’.

There is nothing dry, staid, or formal in this gathering. It is orderly, yes, but not dead.

Now, keeping strictly to our subject, this passage reveals no one man ministry. First of all Paul says, ‘How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath…’ Every one of you has something to contribute to the gathering: unto edifying; amongst which is ‘a doctrine’ and ‘a revelation’. A little later Paul says: ‘Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another [prophet] that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye [prophets] may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted’, verses 29-31.

Here is the ministering of the gospel in the gathered assembly, and it is by ‘two or three’. These prophets ‘speak forth’, declare the doctrine of Christ before the people and the present Lord comforts and edifies the whole assembly in the truth. This is preaching! This is the ministry in the church. The Lord is there, anointed to preach the gospel to his people: and as he does, he heals the spiritually broken-hearted, delivers those held captive in unbelief, doubt, fear, temptation, oppression; he recovers the sight of them that are blind: that cannot see; and liberates them that are bruised, battered and world-weary. That’s the purpose of the preaching in the assembly. Look, here it is again in Ephesians 4: ‘And he gave some, apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’, verses 11,12.

The gathering of the body is for the benefit of the body as a whole: not just for ME to get my own personal blessing. And look how it is wrought in the assembly by the Lord. There are two or three ‘prophets’, likely elders, mature brethren, perhaps fathers, whom the Lord has testified to the local body that these are those whom he has entrusted to teach the truth of the gospel among them; to preach the doctrine of Christ – which they’ve been taught themselves by him through long experience. This is that doctrine, ‘my doctrine’, which establishes the people in the truth, and which warms their hearts; causing them to glorify their Saviour; humbling them each before him who has been so gracious as to save and call such an unworthy body of people to show forth his praise. Truly they know and experience the fact that He preaches the gospel to the poor!

So as one prophet begins to speak and open the truth as led of the Lord – not ‘take a text’ and ‘preach a sermon’ from it with one eye on the clock till end of meeting – the others judge: they listen and feed; and then if another has something to add he will signal to the first who will hold his peace – perhaps he’s said all he has to say for now – and the second will speak. Then a third might say something or add a new element to what is being spoken: all ‘unto edification, exhortation and comfort.’ Yes, this is the ministry, and this is preaching in the church. The Lord is doing it: he is ministering to his people in their hearts. Some perhaps are being rebuked, others comforted, others are receiving new and further revelation of the truth; some a promise, others an answer to their cries; some are being stirred up to cry, others are being chastised for their unbelief and cold-heartedness; some are having their feet washed, others melted in the love of God. You see, the Lord is ministering to his people in the assembly in a way which is unique to that gathering. Yes he communicates these things to his people sometimes when they’re on their own, but there is a particular ministry which the Lord administers when his people are gathered together.

Can you see it? Have you ever experienced it? You won’t in the corruption of the ‘man-in-the-pulpit’ system. I can honestly say that since the Lord has called me out of that wretched system he has caused me to experience this ministry of the Lord when gathered with my brother, and I couldn’t have written the above paragraphs before I left it all, because I hadn’t experienced it then.

Two and Two

But let us just consolidate our fundamental point regarding the absence of the one man ministry from the New Testament. Right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he called and ordained disciples, apostles. Never was there one man with his own ministry. In fact even the Lord Jesus himself did not constitute a one man ministry. When he was speaking with Nicodemus in John 3, he said, ‘We speak that we do know…’ – and Jesus wasn’t just employing ‘the royal we’ here. So who was the ‘we’? In the context of the opening chapters of this Gospel the ‘we’ was John the Baptist and Jesus. John came preaching in the wilderness, gained some disciples, but pointed them straight to the Lord Jesus when he appeared: ‘And the two disciples [of John] heard him speak, and they followed Jesus’, John 1:29-37.

The truth is that you cannot attend unto the ministry of the Lord Jesus – ‘My sheep hear my voice’ – until you have heard the voice of the one that crieth in the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry always comes in the context of John’s preparation ministry: always. You have to be taught what your life is in this world, as grass, vanity; being brought into that spiritual wilderness in your soul – which could take years to experience – before you hear this voice which points you to the Lamb of God. As that is the gospel order of the experience of every child of God who is brought to Christ, then what is this modern gospel, sounded out by these modern salvation salesmen, which tells you that, God loves you, Jesus died for you, if you want to go to heaven when you die then just accept him. The Bible tells you you’re a sinner, and if you will trust in him he will save you…, etc. Yes, the Bible might say that ‘all have sinned’ – whoever the ‘all’ are in that verse – but until you are taught in your own hard experience what a sinner is: involving coming to realise your inability to believe yourself, pray yourself, cry yourself into salvation has been fully proved and you find yourself in a barren spiritual wilderness; then the Lord Jesus will remain out of reach, out of sight, unknown, unheard. You can’t ‘just’ come to him. There are many things that you must experience before ‘the coming of the Lord’.

And again. Mental assent to the doctrine of the gospel and a deliberate determination to believe it and ‘embrace Christianity’ is no more saving than the previous deception. The wilderness must be entered. The voice that cries in the wilderness must be heard; and eventually the Saviour must be revealed; the SAVIOUR must be revealed! What do you think salvation is? Something you partake in, as though you are called upon to do something? No. It is the RESCUE of a lost, barren, desperate soul, who cannot save himself. People talk so loosely about ‘salvation’ – ‘Oh, the Lord saved me when I…’ – when they have never experienced an actual rescue out of a wilderness.

Well, you need to have been under John’s ministry before you will come to hear the Lord’s ministry: ‘We speak.’ So no, even John the Baptist, even the Lord Jesus, didn’t exercise a one man ministry.

So Jesus sent disciples: two and two, Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1. On Pentecost it wasn’t just Peter who spoke ‘the wonderful works of God’, Acts 2. Paul was never sent out alone: ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’, Acts 13:2. And when Barnabas left, Silas went with Paul, Acts 15:36-41. Nearly all his epistles are addressed from himself and at least one other – see the salutations of each. As the church was established it was, ‘Ordain elders in every city’, Titus 1:5, or ‘in every church’, Acts 14:23. The verses in Ephesians 4 already quoted pertaining to the gifts of the ascended Lord to the church, are all in the plural: ‘Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’, verse 11, never ‘a pastor’, or anything like it: not in the settled life of the local assemblies.

Of course from time to time we do read of individuals being sent at specific times and for certain purposes to ‘preach’, like Philip in Acts 8; or others being called to testify of their faith, as Stephen in the previous chapter, but these are exceptions to the rule, and cannot be used to dismiss the whole argument here, so that people can sustain their own long-held tradition.

Well, there is more which could be said relating to this subject; but my hope is that what has been written will encourage the reader to look further into these things; that the Lord will set his people free from the religion of men, and gather his own out-called together so that they might be enabled to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.

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(Preaching messages mentioned can be found linked from the Home Page of www.separating-gospel-truths.co.uk. Search for Audio or Video Messages.)

“Comforted … Tormented”

In Luke 16 we read Jesus’ account of the rich man: ‘there was a certain rich man’, and Lazarus: ‘and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus’: actual people – this is not a parable. The striking thing about the language Jesus uses is its succinctness: he describes briefly the character of the two men’s experiences in life, records the plain fact that they both alike died, and gives minimal descriptions of their present situations. Therefore the Saviour needed only to use few words to convey profound truths regarding life, death, and the eternal state.

In looking at this passage – which is part of the doctrine of Christ – we can examine ourselves as to where we really stand in life and can judge what our experience will be after death, simply by comparing ourselves with these two men. For you must realise that the ‘rich man’ and the ‘beggar’ represent the only two types of people in the world – spiritually considered, and if you can discern which you are now, then you will know what awaits you after you die.

Then please do read carefully and judge yourselves righteously in the light of the doctrine of the gospel.

I write this in the context of the death of a loved one: someone who lived a long life and who had a relatively sudden end. Much comment has been made to me regarding her length of days – 34,027 to be precise, Psalm 90:12 – but little if anything has been said about the fact that ‘the end’ has been reached and that if she died without Christ then the great span of her life will have been nothing to marvel at.

All this has caused me to ponder afresh ‘the end’ of things; for the end is the everlasting state: it comes to us all. Therefore it should be our most important consideration in this life, far above and beyond the fulfilment of all our ambitions, etc. Consider for a moment the following words from Psalm 37: ‘Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off’, verses 37,38. Notice how these characters have an ‘end’: of the one it is ‘peace’; of the others it is ‘destruction’ and a ‘cutting off’.

The wise man spoke similarly when he said, ‘There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness’, Prov. 14:12,13, ‘the end’, ‘the end’. Now although in these verses it is not necessarily the end in death which is being alluded to, yet it is still evident that the scriptures are forward in reminding men and women – and the young also, cp. Ecclesiastes chapters 7 and especially 11:7-12:14 – to consider their latter end, Deut. 32:29, Prov. 19:20,21. Every time I hear on the news that some famous person has died, and listen to equally famous people eulogising them, I think, ‘Yes, but what are they thinking now for all their fame; probably most are shouting out in horror, ‘Stop! Don’t ‘celebrate’ my life, it was all vanity and lies, someone go back and tell them…!’ Famous or not, our end will come too, and then where will we be? My departed loved one has now come to her end: and what is that end? According to the Lord Jesus it is either ‘comfort’ or ‘torment’.

But to judge ourselves in this matter – and it is vitally important that we do judge ourselves – we will look at the two men Jesus described: the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus.

The Rich Man

The rich man in this account is a man with no name – he is not recorded in heaven: in the book of life. The beggar has a name though: Lazarus’ name has been written in that book from the foundation of the world, Rev. 17:8, he having been known to the Lord and chosen in Christ from all eternity, Eph. 1:4. But not the rich man; for all those that are ‘known’ of the Lord are brought to ‘know’ him in this life, John 17:3; 1 John 5:20, and there is no evidence – of course there is no evidence – that the rich man ever knew his Creator. No, all he knew was ‘the good things’ of this life and he was quite content with them. Because he was rich in this world’s goods he had no need – so he thought – of knowing the God of eternity, and therefore had no need to consider seriously his latter end.

But the man was a fool; ‘for what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?’ in the end! Luke 9:25. What advantage to the rich man now in his torments; what good, what profit does he now think all his riches, finery and feasting were to him when ‘the end’ has turned out to be so horrendous? If only we would see beyond this brief moment of time we call ‘our lives’ to ‘the end’: to the ultimate reality.

But let us have a look at what made this man rich, and why he thought those ‘riches’ were all and sufficient; and in the light of it let us see if we too have riches and are likewise content in them. We are told what his riches were: he ‘was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day’, Luke 16:19; he ‘received his good things’ in his life, verse 25; he owned a house, verse 20; had a large immediate family: ‘five brethren’, verse 28; and perhaps most importantly of all, he had access to the writings of ‘Moses and the prophets’, verse 29.

And what of us today? I read once a statistic which said that if we have the financial means to house ourselves – either by renting or buying – and feed ourselves adequately; if we are relatively healthy and have ready access to good health care; if we can read and write sufficiently to enable us to make our way in this world; and if our income generally exceeds our normal ‘cost of living’, then we are in the top eight percent – 8% – of the world’s richest people! And considering also the benefits of living in a ‘social security’ society then this figure must apply to just about everyone living in ‘the West’ today: therefore we are rich!

What is more many of us have the added means to be ‘clothed in purple and fine linen’, and to ‘fare sumptuously’ at least three times every day. That is, we can have a varied wardrobe; can dress seasonably, or for the occasion – even though at times we cry in exasperation that ‘I have nothing to wear!’; and we all have access to supermarkets which stock the widest variety of foodstuffs – both necessary and indulgent – to cater for what we feel like eating at any given time. Also if we are ‘too tired to cook’ then we can visit any number of eating establishments who will ‘do all the hard work for us’ while we just sit there waiting to be fed – either cheaply or finely. And between meals we can always nibble something to ‘keep us going’ till tea-time. This is being ‘clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day’.

Moreover there are other things we can readily enjoy above and beyond mere ‘food and raiment’. As the rich man in his lifetime received his good things so we are able to avail ourselves of just about anything our hearts immediately desire. Our homes can be furnished with all and more than we need; we can mix and match; rip out the old and replace with the latest styles when we get tired or ‘bored’ with what we had before. We can have our hobbies and pastimes, indulge our interests; enjoy our trips out, and our holidays: ‘where shall we go this year, dear, home or abroad?’ There seems to be no end to the latest things, gadgets, ‘stuff’, that we must acquire for ourselves or for our children – for us to ‘keep up with the world’; well, we can afford it all, or can afford the repayments on the loans we have to take out to have these things. And the list of ‘good things’ goes on.

We can afford various insurance policies just in case of ‘misfortune’ or the unforeseen. So we can insure our lives, our health, our holidays, and even our pets. We can ‘put something aside for a rainy day’ – what, for when it rains fire and brimstone from heaven?! – well, not that, but at least for our old age: a private pension plan and a lump sum upon retirement, so that we can continue to have security and enjoy our ‘good things’ into old age. Moreover when we are feeling a little generous, or when our uneasy consciences prick us, then we can let fall ‘a few crumbs’ from our ‘table’ to aid the poor or ‘less fortunate’ in the world who will be so grateful for our spare cash, spare time, or our throw-away clothing or goods which we don’t want any more. Well, look how little it costs us to benefit them so much! cp. Mark 12:41-44.

But let us not think that these are the characteristics of the irreligious only, for remember, this rich man, like his brethren, also had ‘Moses and the prophets’ – in other words, the scriptures freely available to be read and obeyed. And no doubt being Jews they were familiar with them, reverenced them, and heard them read regularly at the synagogue, and did, to some degree, conform to their precepts and commandments – so long as they didn’t interfere too much with their life of acquiring and enjoying their ‘good things’. But notice how Abraham in verse 29 says of the rich man’s brethren, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’, not just read them. Thus the father of the faithful exposes the typical attitude of the religious who are devoid of true saving faith: they never ‘hear’ the scriptures though they might read them and even ‘believe’ them. But ‘faith cometh by hearing’ specifically, and ‘hearing by the word of God’ – the spoken word; whereas false, presumptuous ‘faith’ can be acquired any number of ways in an outward Christian profession.

So this rich man can be seen to have been someone who was not necessarily devoid of religion, even of the religion of Jehovah; but he nevertheless remains in torments to this day.

Thus we have gradually begun to realise that riches in themselves do not consign those who have them to everlasting torments, it is our attitude towards them which exposes the state of our hearts, and hence gives us an inkling as to what our end might be. And this is a great gospel principle. Money is not the root of all evil, the love of money is. Those who are rich in this life – as we all are to a degree – are not automatically condemned in the world to come because we possess them; Jesus never said that it was impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, but ‘how hard it is’ for him to do so, Mark 10:23. Why? Because it is likely that he is ‘trusting’ in those riches, verse 24; because ‘they that will – desire to – be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred – or been seduced – from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God [Timothy], flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life…’, 1 Tim. 6:6-12.

Notice here the prime fruit of coveting and pursuing wealth in this world is that we will be seduced from the faith, and leanness will be sent into our souls, cp. Psalm 106:10-15. And notice also how Paul didn’t exhort Timothy to follow after poverty in light of the fact that the love of money was the root of all evil and a snare; for as we will go on to discover, Lazarus didn’t receive comfort after his death simply because he was an actual beggar in this world. No, riches in themselves are not evil as such, it’s when our hearts are set on them; when we become dependant upon them; when we become used to them and take them for granted – or even as our right, that the subtle snare comes and we loose sight – at least – of the Hand which has bestowed them upon us for the time being.

Paul later tells Timothy to ‘charge them that are rich in this world’ – that is, those in the church who possess worldly riches – not to get rid of them because they are God’s children, but to use their riches wisely and to the benefit of others: ‘that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate’, or share – in accordance with Matthew 6:1-4 of course; because it is God who has given these things to them so that they might ‘richly enjoy them’. And what better way to ‘enjoy’ your wealth as a child of God than to use that wealth for the good of others; especially the household of faith – even as it was from the beginning, Acts 2:44,45, 1 Tim. 6:17-19.

We must remember also that there are many people who hear the word of the kingdom and receive it with joy; but when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, they are at length offended and fall away. And what is one of those things that offends them? What gives them tribulation and persecution? Why, their own hearts are offended when the doctrine of the gospel declares that they cannot serve God and mammon – riches; that they are called to deny themselves in this world and to take up the daily cross if they would be Jesus’ disciples; and how hard that is; and how quickly they perceive that the axe must be laid to the root of their natural love for the world and the things – the good things – of the world; it is then the offence comes; called ‘the offence of the cross’ – in the fullness of the meaning of that phrase, cp. 1 Cor. 1:23, Matt. 19:16-30, Luke 9:23,24, 14:27.

But then there are those who likewise hear the word, and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and they become unfruitful – no fruit of the Spirit is seen in them, for he does not dwell in them. These are ‘they that would be rich…’

Furthermore, there are those with a profession of the name of Christ – who appear to be part of the body of Christ – but who in time reveal what they really are. Paul writes: ‘For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things’, whose mind is on earthly things, Phil. 3:18,19. Do you see where the desires of their hearts really lie? Do you see what reigns on the seat of their affections, even though they might apparently be part of the body, the church? ‘Earthly things’. ‘Thy good things’. Paul’s ‘set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’ is anathema to them, showing that they have no real union with Christ at all, Col. 3:1-4.

Yes, their ‘riches’ hold their hearts captive even with a profession of the Lord upon their lips. So their end will be torments, unless they repent.

In relation to this the next thing we can say about the rich man – and those like him – is that having received all his good things in his lifetime he could therefore be said to have ‘gained the whole world’, Matt. 16:26. Though in the West there are differing levels of wealth accumulation amongst us, it is all still only relative. Therefore compared to the vast majority of people living in what is disparagingly called ‘the third world’, even a ‘poor’ Englishman in his two-up, two-down terraced house; with his low-paid job, small car, and two-week holiday to the sea every year, is still ‘rich’ if he is satisfied with his lot. If he wants for nothing, is settled into his secure routine of ‘life’, then he can be said to have ‘gained the whole world’ just as much, and perhaps even more so than the very rich man with his mansions, yachts, Swiss bank accounts, favourable connections, and playboy lifestyle. For the fact is that the latter will probably always be looking for ‘just a little bit more’ to make him ‘happy’; but not the former; for the ‘world’ that he has ‘gained’ is all and sufficient to his limited expectation.

So let us not think that this rich man who is now in torments is so vastly different to us. We are all like him to a degree – but that degree is potentially a very dangerous degree because it could be leading us into the flames. So as we now come to look at the beggar – Lazarus by name – and if we would have his end, then we must see in ourselves and in our experience a great degree of similarity with him.

The Beggar

There are three things to note about the beggar: that he in his lifetime received evil things; that he is now found in Abraham’s bosom; and that he is comforted. And of course these are all related.

We have already commented that the beggar is named by the Lord Jesus: the Saviour knew Lazarus as one of his own, John 10:14; had called him by name, John 10:3; kept him safe in his hand, and had given unto him eternal life, John 10:27,28. Now although we read of Lazarus being comforted after death, despite outward appearances he had known comfort in his life also, for God says only of his people, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…’, Isa. 40:1; and in verse two God commands ‘speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’ Thus Lazarus, despite the fact that he had been a poor man in this world’s goods, had actually been ‘poor in spirit’ as well, which was a blessed poverty – and the two don’t always go together, Matt. 5:3.

In this life he had needed comforting because of his sins; because of his felt enmity with God which was at one time destroying him; and because of his iniquities which had reached up to heaven. Lazarus had been lost; had been a servant of sin; had been condemned under the law; had been without faith; and had therefore needed a Saviour to come to end the warfare, pardon his iniquity, and cover abundantly and totally all his sins. Such a Saviour was Jesus Christ the Son of God. His work upon the cross – his broken body and shed blood – was to bring redemption, forgiveness and justification to the spiritually poor man Lazarus, and in time he had been given faith by God to look to that finished work as all his expectation, hope and salvation; which, of course brought him that comfort of which Isaiah spoke. Thereafter it could be said of him that he was a child of Abraham – in whose bosom he is now comforted – because he was found in the way of faith, cp. Galatians 3:6-9, John 8:31-44.

In the light of that, what were the ‘evil things’ Lazarus endured in his lifetime which resulted in him now receiving comfort? Well it was not because he had been a beggar, found day by day at the gate of a rich man hoping for a few scraps of nourishment; nor was it because he was full of sores; neither was it for having to suffer the ignominy of dogs licking those sores – I don’t know if that would have been beneficial to him or not; and it wasn’t because of his probable lameness – as one who had to be ‘laid’ at the gate. No, Lazarus’ ‘evil things’ were the hardships he endured through loving and standing for the truth of the gospel; through following Christ, which meant taking up the cross and denying self; through suffering his affliction patiently rather than making a noise about his lack of ‘state aid’ and ‘human rights’. His evil things came upon him through suffering the loss of all things for Christ, and being hated of all men for Christ’s sake; through being spoken well of by few; suffering persecution because he lived godly in Christ Jesus; and through being at times chastened of the Lord and scourged of Him because He loved him.

Perhaps these things can best be summed up in this one verse: ‘We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God’, Acts 14:22; or in this word of the Lord Jesus: ‘in this world ye will have tribulation…’, John 16:33. Yet again this tribulation is not referring to the general trials that all humans go through in this world: family problems; financial problems; health problems, etc.; no, these are the tribulations, trials and temptations peculiar to those who are in the faith; who are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; who are hearing Christ’s voice and following him whithersoever he is leading; and who are discerning the will of the Father and doing it – despite the cost to self, Matt. 7:21.

These are the sheep who, because they stand firm in the truth of the doctrine of the gospel, suffer persecution, opposition, ostracism, enmity and hatred from those who obey not the gospel, and whose hearts are gone after the ‘good things’ of this world: i.e. from the goats. But the goats at whose hands they suffer the most are those who think themselves sheep – Christ’s sheep. They love Jesus, believe in him, live their lives for him, praise and worship him so easily and readily; and yet hate his doctrine; hate his discipline – negating, therefore, their claim to be disciples; are aliens to his correction and chastening; and despise the thought that they cannot somehow serve God and mammon while still arriving safely in glory at the end.

No, they really hate the truth of the gospel of Christ; loathe in their hearts – which loathing sometimes seeps out onto their otherwise smiley, ‘loving’, countenance – the true people of God: the beggars with a name; and they will not humble themselves, deny themselves, and abandon themselves, their lives, their thoughts or their things daily into the sovereign hands of Almighty God. So, despite all their religion – their comparatively easy religion in Jesus’ name: a ‘good thing’ to them – when they come to die they will have no need of comfort. Why, they don’t even look for it now, and have no longing for it because they aren’t spiritual strangers and pilgrims among the people of the world. Therefore they never feel their need to enter into that rest which remaineth for the people of God; never feel the enmity of the flesh, to put it off and be clothed with a glorified body – except perhaps when they get old and naturally weary; and never really tire of this world, nor of the things of the world – except perhaps again in old age: in ‘the evil days’, Eccl. 12:1. So being relatively content in this life they never really long to depart and be with Christ which they feel will be far better; because they never really suffer because of sin, or temptations, nor at the hands of enemies of the truth; never, never, never experience anything particular to the true children of God in this world. So, unlike Lazarus, they will never be comforted. Then, they will be tormented; for that is the only other ‘end’, according to the Lord Jesus.

Now hear the sentence that many of them will receive from the judge of all the earth – Christ himself – on the coming day of judgment: ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’, Matt.7:21-23. Depart? But where? Into torments of course! ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels… And these shall go away into everlasting punishment’, Matt. 25:41-46. ‘And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night’, Rev. 14:11. The torment is everlasting, for ever and ever, without rest, without let up, without intermission; for this torment occurs outside of the time state in eternity. Listen to the rich man crying; and listen to what you will be crying if you are like him now in character and die in the same state: ‘I am tormented in this flame!’ And he is still crying it.

Now, reader; now professing Christian; where are you found in all this? What is your experience in this life? Are you like the rich man, enjoying life with all your ‘good things’, accompanied by your constantly smiling saviour, and with little real trouble in your soul? If you are; if you are ‘finding’, ‘saving’ and ‘loving’ your life day by day – in other words, if you are always insisting on having your own way – then you will lose it for ever in torments, Matt. 10:39, Mark 8:35, John 12:25. But if you are like Lazarus: poor in spirit but rich in faith; a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth; an alien in this world and even in your own family, Psalm 69:8, Mark 10:29,30; one separated unto Christ and his gospel; one troubled with the workings of the flesh, with that ‘law in your members’ and with indwelling sin, Rom. 7:7-23; one vexed with the enmity of the goats – especially those ‘Christian’ goats; then you have the prospect of comfort at the end – oh, how you need comforting! – you will rest in Abraham’s bosom and will be for ever with the Lord.

Judge yourselves. Time is so short, life is so fleeting and full of vanity; eternity is so long. The wide gate of false conversion and the broad way of presumption which leadeth to destruction is so easy and straightforward – many are found on that way. Light, happy – though at times sincere – Christianity is so popular, and so comfortable to the flesh and to the deceived mind; but what a dreadful end it brings: ‘destruction’, Matt. 7:13,14. Judge yourselves. What are your ‘good things’? Are they Christ’s things only? Or are they your things? Phil. 2:21. Are you suffering affliction with the people of God for the truth’s sake, or are you enjoying the pleasures of sin? – including religious sin like hypocrisy, the forms of godliness without the power, and the honouring of God with the lips while the heart remains happily far from him – and, yes, these can prove very pleasurable… until the end comes. Are you suffering – or are you prepared to suffer – the loss of all things for Christ? If not, you will suffer the loss of all your things without Christ in everlasting torments.

For it came to pass that, in the end, ‘the rich man died, and was found in hell’.

Then do judge yourselves. Judge yourselves. Why won’t you judge yourselves?

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(This article originally ended there, but then I got taken up with the following ‘afterthought’: it made me tremble to write it, and makes me tremble to read it back.)

‘Comforted’

In this account of ‘the end’ of Lazarus Abraham says that ‘he is comforted’. Nowhere here is Lazarus recorded as saying anything, it is what he’s experiencing that matters. Comfort is a known experience: an actual state which one feels; therefore after death – the death of the body – those who are then found residing in Abraham’s bosom are actually aware of their continued existence. The same, of course, is true for those who are found in torments. Whereas once they were ‘in the body’, in the flesh, now, the spirit having departed the body, they still know and have feelings. Therefore death is not the end of the person but simply a translation from one realm to another. After we leave ‘time’ we enter ‘eternity’. Everyone who dies – regardless of the circumstances under which the heart stops beating and the life departs the body – immediately relocates their state of consciousness to a place out of the body. Yet they are still the same person, with the same mind and understanding of who they are and how they have lived their lives; only now that knowledge is acute: all those things long forgotten suddenly flood back into mind and are crystal clear in their memory.

But it must immediately be said that this ‘relocation of their state of consciousness… out of the body’ is nothing akin to the New Age thinking of moving onto a higher realm, ascending into a higher self, or returning in some sort of advanced reincarnated state. This translation into ‘the other world’ is a once only and final translation: that is, into either ‘comfort’ in heaven, or ‘torment’ in hell. And as it is appointed unto man once to die, and once only, Heb. 9:27, then we do not ‘come back’, we ‘cannot be found’, and there is no ‘second chance’. The spiritual state of our soul at death fixes our eternal state. Jesus tells us here that Lazarus died and was found in Abraham’s bosom. Likewise the rich man died and was found in hell.

When the rich man starts calling out to Abraham in his torments the patriarch says very clearly that ‘between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence’, Luke 16:26. The word ‘fixed’ here means something which stands established – it is firmly in place and cannot be moved or changed. So both men instantly arrived in places that are separated immutably: it was impossible thereafter for either to change their settled state.

You doubt it? Are you looking for some sort of transitory place after death where you can perhaps be purged from the residue of your sins before stepping up into heaven at last? Well, purgatory finds no place in the doctrine of Christ. If like the rich man you die without Christ then you will go straight into torments with no hope of remission. Just look at that word of Abraham in the verse quote above: ‘…cannot…’ It is an absolute. When you arrive in eternity it will be impossible for your habitation to change… ever.

But we are considering the comfort of Lazarus. It is the only word used here to describe his experience in eternity. We have already looked at the poor man’s experiences in this life which caused his needing comfort afterwards: it being only because his trials and tribulations were ‘for Christ’s’ sake, not just because he was poor in this world. It is a sorry fact that millions of poor, destitute abjects live in this world who will find torments in the next because they live in their misery and die outside of Christ. ‘Misfortune’ in this life is no guarantee of rest and comfort in the next. No. People die solely because of sin: sin must pay its wage. The quality or otherwise of one’s life ‘in sin’ is irrelevant. Poor miserable wretches, whose lives in this world were plagued by starvation, disease, hopelessness, despair, instability, lack of love, lack of opportunity; who were used and abused, exploited, enslaved and even brutally done away with in the end will go straight into more torments – torments that they had never known or even imagined – if they died without Christ. Hard as it may be able to stomach by those who have no love for the truth of the gospel of Christ, this is the only judgment: ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned’ – damned, Mark 16:15,16. Those are the words of the Lord Jesus.

So Lazarus’ comfort was not a ‘pay back’ for his horrible life: a rebalancing of things to ‘make it fair’. No. Beware all you who think things must be fair in the end. God doesn’t deal in ‘fair’, he deals in righteousness, truth, justice and holiness. If you are to find comfort in the end you must experience in this life suffering and tribulation as a result of having ‘lived godly in Christ Jesus’: for the gospel’s sake, for Christ’s sake: as a result of your walking in the narrow way of the few: in the way of the cross. What other life is there, spiritually considered, that could end in the receiving of comfort from the One for whom you have suffered these things?

Again, do you not like the sound of all this? Is it all a bit too ‘harsh’ for you? Well, contrary to popular belief, this world does not belong to man, and he does not set the rules. His thoughts, reasonings and judgments do not matter; he is not the final arbiter on what is right and wrong, on what is just and what isn’t; and he is not the coming judge of all the earth. The gospel of Christ is not a series of general and vague ideas which the Saviour threw out at the beginning for man – religious man – to take up and develop into something believable and acceptable based on his own standards of wisdom, understanding and taste. No. This earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof. His commandments and judgments are the only ones which hold any weight in the court of heaven. He only has, and is, Wisdom. His word only stands. In fact, his word has been from all eternity; is, and always has been, ‘settled in heaven’, long before time and man came into being, and it will endure forever. Christ is the coming judge of all the earth and every man will be judged by his word. The gospel is his gospel, Rom. 1:16, which has been complete from the beginning and cannot be changed: added to, subtracted from, amended, or diluted without it being perverted and changed into ‘another gospel’.

Lazarus, for all his temporal poverty, knew, believed and lived in the light of these truths – to his much tribulation: but now he is comforted. Another gospel was abhorrent to him. A gospel of the will of man, or of works for reward – even if it was believing for reward – was alien to the way he had been taught. His faith did not stand in the wisdom of men, and he didn’t trust man’s interpretations of the words of God; he only ever found rest and comfort in the Scriptures if God himself had opened the true meaning of them to him by revelation. Salvation he knew to be of the Lord through and through, and even in his receiving mercy, knowledge of his own election of God, and revelation of the truth of the pure gospel into his heart, he never gloried in God’s presence like the easy-believer does; never boasted in his acts of faith like the free-willer does; and never counted his obedience to the commandments of the Lord as anything other than ‘unprofitable’, which the Arminian never does. And among the religious generation in which he lived this caused poor Lazarus much opposition, ridicule, and hatred from them: but now – in the end – he is being comforted.

Lazarus’ walk in this world had been characterised by his obedience to the doctrine of Christ, Rom. 6:17. He had taken up the cross of self-sacrifice daily in his following of the Saviour. This entailed hearing his voice often and obeying what he heard. Again, it meant discerning the will of the Father in any given situation and ‘doing’ that will regardless of what it cost him in the flesh, and regardless of what he might have liked to have done instead. Lazarus had known that because he had been – or was to be – ‘bought’ by Christ’s blood, then he was no longer his own. His will, his desires, his lusts, were all to be ‘crucified with Christ’, and therefore he counted himself to be ‘dead’, with his life now ‘hid with Christ in God’.

And how most of the professors of Jehovah around him hated that doctrine! As they still do today. But surely, they argue, we now have liberty! We can freely praise, worship and rejoice in our God! Jesus loves us and has forgiven all our sins past, present and future. Our faith and our full assurance guarantees us heaven at last. We are secure in God’s hand and nothing we can do now will ever cause us to be plucked out of that hand – hallelujah! So long as we live now in a cleaner way than we did before we ‘believed’, then everything will be all right ‘in the end’. Any doubts we might have regarding our salvation are only attacks of the devil which we easily dismiss with a quoting of our favourite promises. Yes, there is a wonderful victory and assurance to this Christian life, and people like Lazarus who come along from time to time, trying to undermine our faith with questions regarding our assurance, or by quoting Bible verses about self-examination or warnings to the presumptuous – which don’t apply to us – just fill us with rage. Therefore we argue against these miseries with ‘the authority of the Bible’ and when they shake the dust off their feet against us in their judgmental pride and walk away, we just say ‘good riddance’ to them in our hearts.

But for all their ‘faith’, Lazarus is now comforted, and they are, and will be, tormented.

Oh, what comforts Lazarus now feels! He has been taken out of the world at last – fully: out of that world which lieth in wickedness, vanity and lies. He has been released from the influence and enmity of false religion – especially from that which is practised in Jesus’ name. He has been finally and eternally separated from all contact with the goats – what comfort! The flesh – his own flesh – which so often rose up in enmity against the right way will trouble him no more. He will never again suffer at the hands of a subtle deceiving devil who was always seeking to turn him from the narrow way into the accommodation of the flesh and of ‘self’. He has finally been rescued from the vicious attacks of that same Satan: whose accusations harassed, whose insinuations harangued, and whose lies caused endless fears – none of which ever materialised. He has been liberated from the workings of a lustful mind, from an often lethargic will, and from the law in his corrupt members which constantly seemed to war against the law of his mind – for he did have the mind of Christ – which brought him so often into captivity to the law of sin which, although it had been put away by Christ, still dwelt in his members. Lazarus had known and mourned over the fact that when he would do good evil was present with him; and when he found himself doing that which he did not really desire to do he knew that it was no longer him that fell into it, and did it, but sin that dwelt in him.

Needless to say this caused the poor man many tears, not a little heaviness in mind and spirit, and caused much crying to the Lord to save him out of them: indeed, his often cry was, ‘Lord, save me from this hour’, as well as, ‘O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.’ And when sometimes he related these things to those others who said they ‘loved Jesus’, he more often than not… usually… always! got a quick rebuff for being ‘faithless’, constantly having ‘wonderful’ texts quoted at him to cheer him up. All this, of course, just added to his pain. But now, at long last, he is comforted completely.

But before that the time had arrived for Lazarus to die. And for some of that time when he knew his end was near his strength and hope left him. For a child of God; for one in the faith; it seemed strange to those others at synagogue that he was often ‘in trouble’; they were never in trouble, Psalm 73:1-5. Lazarus was no presumer, you see. He knew the enmity of the flesh, the corruption of his heart, the oppression of temptation, and the assaults of the enemy of his soul. These others would live and die in full assurance; marching triumphantly to the gates of heaven with no doubts or fears. But that was because Satan was not their enemy; and so he would never attack them at the eleventh hour as he does Christ’s sheep. But then, in the end, Lazarus does breathe his last, the enemy can do no more, and comfort comes. But they, for all their ‘blessed assurance’ till the end – who die peaceably – are tormented.

Comfort is that which brings all sighing and tears to an end. Comfort soothes bruised spirits. Comfort brings an end to the life of faith, and endurance. Comfort fully satisfies and justifies hope. Comfort follows great tribulation. Comfort fulfils desperate longings. Comfort is the end of experiencing ‘evil things’. Comfort is accompanied with rest, and peace, and joy, and amazement, and wonder, and thanksgiving, and gratitude, and real praise and worship. Comfort is the fulfilment of grace, and mercy, and election, and redemption, and justification, and sanctification, and every exhaustive part of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. Comfort is experienced, rejoiced in and dwelt in… for ever. The God of all comfort who spoke so comfortably to his people in their lives here on earth, consummates his relationship with his bride – his people – in comforting their hearts in his presence for ever.

‘Tormented’

But relatively few find this comfort. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus calls this place of comfort ‘life’: ‘and few there be that find it.’ A little later he calls it ‘the kingdom of heaven’; but not every one that calls him Lord will enter into it. No, for most – the ‘many’ in comparison to the ‘few’ in Matthew 7:13,14 must be the most – with a Christian profession will find no comfort when they die, but torments only. They will be tormented in the flame of hell.

To be tormented is to be troubled. They had experienced little or no real trouble in this life amidst the enjoyment of all their ‘good things’, so now trouble is theirs. Why? Because sin specifically was not a trouble to them: well, after they’d easily ‘believed’ in their youth their lying Sunday School teachers and false preachers assured them that sin was now more or less gone and forgotten. Every time thereafter they ‘did something wrong’ they simply had to say a prayer for forgiveness to receive instant pardon: so they went on throughout their lives until the end. Therefore it had been a trouble-free life of faith! But sin troubles them now; because one thing they failed to realise was that God never actually answered and spoke pardon to them, they took it presumptuously for themselves from the Bible, claiming promises which didn’t apply to them.

Torment is tribulation. Their trials in this life had been the same as were common to all who are born in sin. The fact that they said prayers to their God when these tribulations came upon them and – amazingly – those trials subsided shortly afterwards – with strengthened faith and peace of mind – didn’t negate the fact that never once were their tribulations because of obedience to Christ’s commandments. So now they receive tribulation.

But this tribulation is also theirs because they troubled the people of God – the saints. In this we are reminded that this torment is suffered at the hands of God himself, for Paul writes to the Thessalonians: ‘Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you’, 2 Thes. 1:4-6. ‘Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these – the least of my brethren – ye did it unto me’, Matt. 25:40-46. Beware, then, how you treat those who tell you these truths.

Torment is pain. Again they may have suffered pain in this world: medical pain; the pain of heartbreak or lost love; the pain of disappointment or unfulfilled desire; the pain felt as the result of sin and self-centredness. But they never felt the pain of spiritual starvation at the hands of false, dead, dry preachers. Never felt the pain of wandering in a solitary way devoid of the love and fellowship of other sheep – wherever they might be. Never felt the pain brought about by seeing those who said they were Christians being satisfied with vain, light, fleshly religion, while shunning and caring nothing for the true gospel of Christ. They never felt the pain of a longing soul to hear from their Lord words of eternal life spoken by revelation into their hearts. No. Never experienced pain on the broad way: well, it is a pain-free way after all. But now in the end they have the pain of torment.

Again we can look at Asaph’s revelation of ‘the end’ of the ungodly: while speaking with his Lord about these wicked he suddenly realised, ‘Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors’, Psalm 73. Utterly consumed with terrors!

So torment brings fear. Now they fear. They’d had no fear of the Lord in their lives, and they did not fear – barely believed in – the judgment to come; but now they are experiencing that judgment at the hands of the hitherto ignored God; so fear is now their meat ‘day and night’ – perpetually, proving the scripture to be true: ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, Heb. 10:31. Added to that they fear for others also: ‘Send Lazarus to my brethren that he may testify to them lest they come into this place of torment!’ But no. The fear – the horror – is that the warning will never be heard; because those who are being comforted never go back to ‘tell how it is on the other side’, and so the fear is a dread and a frustration that nothing can now be done from the place of torment to warn those loved ones still alive who are happy to go on living in contradiction of the truth.

Fear hath torment. A fear arises with the realisation that ‘the end’ has come and is fixed. In an instant this fear teaches that all the good things enjoyed in life were vanity and less than vanity. It shows that those things cannot now be seen to have been merely a waste of time but a hindrance. They were a lie. They said, ‘All this is worthwhile; beneficial; to be valued’; but they proved to be the opposite. They deceived and deviated the mind, heart and soul from the supreme occupation of man: to turn from a life of rebellion and self-indulgence to seek the Lord; to consider eternity; to number the days of our lives; to redeem the time and follow the voice of conscience; to believe in and seek to flee the judgment to come; to have an eye – nay, both eyes – on our latter end; on ‘the end’.

But none of these things were done – none were even sought. And what fear this now brings. The fear of righteous judgment. The fear of constant torment because of rebellion. Fear born of the despair that there is no hope of let up. And this fear is an eternal fear; that is, it is a fear experienced outside of time. So it is a constantly experienced fear, a fear lived in the eternal moment of now. This fear won’t wane; it will not diminish or become more bearable ‘with time’, or ‘through experience’. For this fear is now: and now constantly. Just think of those moments in life when you are the most afraid; just that first moment when the rush of fear comes into the mind, senses and bowels. Well, capture that moment and live in it constantly, with no remission, and then realise something of what this torment is to be like.

Torment is regret. Jesus speaks three times of the worm – the maggot – that never dies, Mark 9:43-48. This is the gnawing sensation of regret and remorse – but not repentance – for things done and said which cannot now be reversed. The agony of the sleepless night, the tossing and turning, the ringing of hands, the cries and tears, the torment! born of ‘if only I hadn’t…’ But you did. And you did it a million times in your short life. Every act of rebellion; each moment lived in unbelief; each word, thought and inclination of contention against the truth: every single idle – spiritually unprofitable – word uttered; each one is a worm which will burrow into your tormented body and mind, reminding you constantly of what you did, or what you didn’t do; of what you said; of what you thought; of what you imagined, of what you intended: over and over and over: ‘where their worm dieth not.’ This worm, this maggot, will never cease its work. It is an eternal worm which is never filled for all its consuming. It will just go on eating, go on gnawing away; ever busy; ever hungry; always finding fresh matter in mind, body and battered conscience to feed upon. Yes, this worm is in you.

Think of all those people who hear the truth of the gospel – like the reader is now – and yet they refuse it, disobey it, will not receive it, and contend against it. Well, they will remember that rebellion for all eternity. I often think of the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 10 where he says that it will be ‘more tolerable’ for the Sodomite in the day of judgment than it will be for these religious people who reject the true gospel, cp. verses 14,15. Yes, it will be more bearable for those who defile themselves with mankind than for those who profess the name of Christ but believe ‘another gospel’. Whereas the worm of the former will still have its work, the worm of the latter will be even busier in its tormenting gnawing; having even greater depths of sin and rebellion to bring to mind. You false, presumptuous, hypocritical Christians have been warned again.

Then torment is brought about by fire and burning. ‘I am tormented in this flame.’ Jesus taught constantly of those who would be cast into hell, into the fire, into the furnace of fire, into everlasting fire, into the fire that shall never be quenched, into hell fire (yes, Jesus was a ‘hell fire’ preacher, Matt. 18:9, etc.). John the Baptist likewise spoke of the chaff – actual people – burning with fire unquenchable, Matt. 3:12. Paul again to the Thessalonians wrote of the Lord Jesus himself taking vengeance ‘in flaming fire’ upon them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thes. 1:7,8; after all, this torment is said to be suffered ‘in the presence of the Lamb’, Rev.14:9-11. Also in Revelation we read of ‘the lake of fire and brimstone’, and ‘the lake of fire’, while Jude had written of ‘eternal fire’, Jude 7. So let us not be in any doubt but that the doctrine of the gospel speaks readily about the existence of this fiery place of torment after death. (Actually the lake of fire spoken of in Revelation is that very final place of torment into which ‘death and hell’ will be cast after the day of judgment, Rev. 20:11-15.)

Therefore the main sensation in this fire is of being burnt – and it will be 100º burns – of being charred, scorched, blistered; in perpetuity. And what torment that must bring. But then there is the unbearable heat of the fire: as the rich man confessed: ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But there is to be no cooling sensation there; no drop of water will ever be given to quench – but for a moment – the dreadful thirst; for there is no water in hell. There is no dew; no mist; no condensation; no dampness at all. Not a drop of moisture can be wrung out of anywhere to cool the tongue: the only thing in this ‘lake’ is flames of fire: for ever; for the fire will never be quenched.

As well as heat the fire produces smoke: ‘the smoke of their torment’, Rev. 14:11. Smoke exacerbates the sensation of thirst because it is so drying. When in autumn you’ve got a good bonfire going you can put damp leaves on top which will dry out in the smoke so the flames can consume them. Smoke also dries and burns when it gets into the eyes and down the throat: drying, burning and tormenting.

And then, as well as all these sensations, there is the darkness. Those who find themselves in such a stifling situation at the end of their lives will experience darkness: well, they had loved darkness rather than light in this life, John 3:19, so now they have it to the full. But this darkness won’t be like any darkness they’d known before; for this is ‘outer darkness’; a place so dark that it could almost be described as being beyond darkness. This is a darkness which may be felt. In childhood we are afraid of the dark because we don’t know what might be ‘there’ in the dark. Being in darkness means we cannot see. On earth we may at least be able to pick out shapes or forms in the dark, and in time our eyes adjust and we get used to the dark. And if we are blind or go blind then at least we are able to form images in our minds based on memory or imagination causing us to ‘see’ to a degree. Again, our other senses might become heightened to compensate for our loss of vision so that ‘a blind man can sometimes see better than a sighted man’. But not in outer darkness. There, there is no seeing at all; even the ‘flames’ give no light. All is dark; all is unknown – more fear; there is no perception of the surroundings which could perhaps give at least some vain hope of security – even for a moment.

But even this outer darkness – terrible as it is – does not come alone; for in the three times that the Lord Jesus mentions it – and he is the only one who does – he always couples it with ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, Matt. 8:12, 22:13, 25:30. Weeping is born of sorrow. This is the exact opposite of the experience of those who are comforted for eternity, for their previous tears have all been wiped away, Rev. 21:4. Weeping comes about because of the sorrow of remorse, loss, broken pride, and despair. Those weeping in eternity are suffering retribution because of rebellion; the wrath of God because of sin; the unadulterated wrath of the Lamb. They are suffering ‘indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish’ because of contentiousness against and disobedience of the truth. All their fears are now coming upon them; for all their sins and iniquities they are receiving ‘double’; they are weeping in torments and the weeping will never end. But no, not even then will tears roll down the cheeks onto the tongue to quench the thirst – that just doesn’t happen in a place where there is no comfort whatsoever.

But this weeping is not a silent, private, stoical, weeping; this is an out and out wailing. This is tormented crying, full throated howling, and is accompanied by ‘gnashing of teeth’. This is not just sorrow for sin, tears of regret, or a self-reprimanding because of stupidity. This is hatred towards God, against his Son, his truth, his gospel, cp. Acts 7:54, and against his righteous judgments unleashed. This is a wild fury at the Person of God and against all his attributes. Their love of darkness in life had been because their deeds were evil; but God – whose eyes are in every place and are as a flame of fire – had seen the evil they had committed; and now they hate him for it. They had believed the lie that they could be as gods – in control of their own lives – and now they hate and resent the fact that that was a lie, and that there was actually a true and living God apart from themselves who is now meeting out his vengeance upon their beloved rebellion. And they will scream their foul hatred against him for as long as they are in the dark, for as long as the flame torments, and for as long as the worm continues its work; because contrary to the godless humour of the world: hell will never freeze over.

What a terrible state to be in, then; to be gnashing ones teeth for ever and ever. What pain, what fear, what torment, what terror, and still what risings up again of pride in the face of holy rendering must be present to cause unremitting anger from so miserable a wretch in such a dire situation. But such is the end of sin. Death is horrendous; this ‘second death’ which all out of Christ will experience for all eternity: a living, conscious, felt – intensely felt – death. For the doctrine of the gospel is very clear: one is either ‘in sin’ when he dies, or he is ‘in Christ’; and those in sin will go to hell; while those in Christ will go to heaven.

You don’t believe it? You don’t think ‘a God of love’ would mete out such vengeance upon the disobedient? Well, what does it matter what you think. The truth of the gospel stands without the opinion of fallen man. Perhaps you think all this has been too unremitting. Well, you had better get used to it. The word ‘unremitting’ describes the very essence of the experience of the place of torment – but, of course, you will never ‘get used to it’. Or perhaps you stand back in your ‘knowing’ pride: full of the advanced ‘wisdom’ of this age and quietly chuckle to yourself to think that there are still some around who believe the ‘out-dated’ message of that dusty old Book; well, laugh on; enjoy your lives now; but be warned: ‘Woe unto you that laugh now! Ye shall mourn and weep’, ‘ye shall’, says your coming judge. Oh yes you will. Luke 6:25.

And a word to those who might like to wriggle out of their accountability upon reading this article with a quoting of the hymn-writer: ‘Law and terrors do but harden…, etc.’ – and these people know who they are. But just remember this: the hymn-writer was wrong: unbelief and rebellion harden. The law has been designed by God to convict his people of their sin and lead them unto Christ; and terrors are designed to cause them to flee to Christ for salvation. But instead of being engaged in this work of the Lord you carelessly ape the words of the hymn-writer and sit back passively waiting for some imagined ‘sense of blood-bought pardon’ to dissolve your heart of stone; but until then you’ll remain in ‘unbelief and hardness of heart’ by your own rebellion: and for that you can expect to be tormented, Psalm 95:7-11, Mark 16:14.

In the light of these things then, if you were to die tonight where would you be? In torments? Or would you be comforted? Do you care? Many don’t care. If you don’t, you will care when you are in the flames; but it’ll be too late then. It is no wonder then that ‘God now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [Jesus Christ]; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead’, Acts 17:22-31.

Heed the word. Heed the truth.

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‘And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

‘Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

‘But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.’

Luke 6:20-26.

Mercy

A short consideration on the principle of mercy.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Romans 9:15, Exodus 33:19.

Thus saith the LORD.

In declaring such a thing Jehovah states clearly that the will to bestow mercy is his and his alone. If mercy could be claimed, or grasped, or taken to oneself upon the merest desire for it – as if it were something offered – then it would no longer be mercy in the true sense of the word.

The mercy of God, which he bestows, can only be mercy if it is sovereignly given; and the characters who rightly receive it are, first, those who don’t deserve it – and know they don’t deserve it; and secondly, those who nevertheless in faith seek for it. In fact, the seeking from a helpless state after One who is able to bestow mercy, if he will, is the only ground upon which mercy can be hoped for and rightly found; any other element added disannuls mercy.

If the Lord were in any way indebted to a poor helpless creature to show mercy, then mercy would no longer be mercy; it would to some degree be debt. But the one being sought for mercy is under no obligation to be so; for in that it is solely of his own will – for reasons found only within his own nature and character – then if bestowed it will be mercy indeed.

The leper came to Jesus in a real seeking after mercy with these words, “If thou wilt, thou canst…”: the bestowing of the mercy in cleansing him was completely the prerogative of Jesus to perform if it was his will to do so – and for no other reason. The leper brought no other plea but pure undeserved mercy; neither did he bring a reason as to why he thought Jesus should be merciful; he just pleaded and waited. All the will to be merciful was on Jesus’ part. The leper knew that Jesus could be merciful – why else would he have come?! – but was he willing? That was the question in the leper’s mind. As one filthy, unclean, and under the law, he had no hope of mercy from any one, but the One he believed to be God. So it was pure mercy the man craved, and Jesus of Nazareth being who he was – Jehovah in the flesh – bestowed upon the man that for which he pleaded; as indeed Christ will to all who come to him in such a way; for mercy is God’s delight, and all who call upon him for mercy will surely receive it, for he said, “I will”; and, “Him that cometh to me [in such a way] I will in no wise cast out”, Matthew 8:2,3.

And how could he cast them out, for he is the merciful God, full of mercy and compassion, and only those who seek to introduce an element of merit in their cry will be ignored and receive nothing – not that they truly want mercy anyway.

But how many are there today who think they have received mercy simply because they have asked for it under the guise of ‘the sinner’s prayer’? Having made a commitment, or sincerely prayed to be forgiven based on, say, 1 John 1:9, they believe that as soon as they said the words then God has immediately heard, answered, bestowed mercy, forgiveness and salvation. But there has been no thought or expectation that the Lord must reply! It is all presumption and terrible delusion to think that the prayer for mercy doesn’t actually need answering.

This would be like hearing the leper say to Christ, “If thou wilt, thou canst…”, and immediately going his way rejoicing that, because he’d asked – and, yes, asked the right person – he’d obviously been healed! No one who witnessed the scene would conclude anything other than that the man was a fool to think such a thing, for Christ had not answered, and it was quite obvious that the man’s leprosy remained.

But this is how it is with masses in the churches. Just pray for forgiveness, don’t worry about receiving replies or, yes, actually seeking for mercy; just say a prayer, believe, and go on your way in the full assurance that God has heard, forgiven, and saved. No need to worry about scriptures like, ‘And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean’; just forget about the woman who asked mercy of Jesus, but ‘he answered her not a word’, so she kept pleading till she heard, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”, Matt. 15:21-28. How can these who claim instant salvation upon the muttering of a few words ever cry with David in Psalm 28:1, “Be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit”? They cannot.

And the reason they cannot is because many of them are poisoned with this proud idea that they have some sort of free will, and that when they feel like it they can call upon the Almighty in the supposed light of many-a-text of scripture and receive instant salvation. But it is not of him that willeth, nor, we may say, of him that prayeth, but of God that showeth mercy. It is then God’s will which is at work, for his is the only will that is free.

Yes, it is mercy that the sinner needs; and if he really feels the depth of corruption in his own soul, and his utter inability to save himself, then he will quickly come to realise that no praying, natural believing, presuming, claiming, or attempts to persuade the Almighty will effect anything until he that ‘will’ be merciful, is! The doing is all God’s; the bestowing is his, and the recipient is helpless and destitute of mercy until that mercy is shown. Therefore mercy is all of free and sovereignly exercised grace; yea, ‘the grace of God that bringeth salvation’; for it is ‘according to his mercy he saved us.’

Therefore never stop short of receiving mercy from the very hand of God. Any profession of Christ without this is nothing but groundless presumption; and, despite ‘many wonderful works’ which may subsequently be performed ‘for the Lord’ and ‘in his name’, all will be to no avail; for if you have not heard the voice of the Son of God in this life communicating grace and mercy to your soul in the felt need of it, then you will hear his voice for the first and only time on the day of judgment, saying, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Things God Cannot Do

It would seem to be blasphemous to suggest that there are things which God cannot do, nevertheless scripture does reveal this truth in at least two places: Titus 1:2 – ‘God cannot lie’, and 2 Timothy 2:13 – ‘he cannot deny himself’. Actually from the immediate context that second example is speaking especially of the Lord Jesus Christ: God manifest in the flesh.

The reason some would cry ‘blasphemy’ upon reading the title of this piece is because it is generally understood nowadays that ‘God can do anything’: if we have enough faith God will hear and answer our prayers: after all, he is the God of the impossible! The reason people say this is for a number of reasons: Firstly, because they just don’t know the testimony of scripture – see above verses; Secondly, because when they ‘believed’ God didn’t actually say or do anything in response to their ‘commitment’, so they have never really experienced, or even looked for, an answer from him in anything, just that they’ve always presumed that when they’ve prayed he has automatically heard, saved them, or answered their prayers eventually through changed circumstances or feelings of peace.

Thirdly, they believe that as God is Omnipotent – All Powerful – then it necessarily follows that he simply must be able to do anything and everything because he is God! And, Fourthly, they believe that God can do anything because they have never really understood the meaning of words like, ‘God doeth all things according to the counsel of his own will’, or, ‘Our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased’, for they’ve missed the simple fact that conversely God cannot actually do that which is not according to his will.

And therein lies the reason why God cannot do some things: for they lie outside of his will. If God has not willed to do something then he cannot possibly ‘change is mind’ and act contrary to his will. I believe that there are many people who think that God acts mostly as a response to their requests; as though he is some sort of heavenly reactionary to events as they occur. We are entering the realm of God acting or reacting according to ‘unforeseen circumstance’, as if he ‘hadn’t seen it coming’, but the suggestion that these things might be the case is indeed blasphemy – speaking evil of God.

Yet many do believe that God acts as a response to their requests because – as we have already hinted – he did respond to their ‘sinner’s prayer’ by saving them – so they thought. They were told from the beginning that God ‘wanted’ to save them if only they would believe, and that he wouldn’t or couldn’t save them until they did respond to his offer of salvation. So you see that right from the beginning they have been taught that God is there waiting to save, give, bless, heal, answer prayers, etc. but that he cannot do these things unless we are willing to let him, or if we pray to him to do them.

And here is the real blasphemy: The Sovereignty of Man, and The Servant God. In effect this is what people believe, or how they perceive God to be. But at this point I always like to quote the once heathen king, Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4: he’ll tell you what is true about Almighty God: “I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?… Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

Yes, “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased”, Psalm 115:3. And again, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure… yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it”, Isaiah 46:9-11.

Now read those words and see if you can find a God who is ‘looking to do something’ if he can only get the co-operation of man, or of a believer. By the way, those last verses in Isaiah are often quoted as ‘God knows the end from the beginning’, but he definitely says that he ‘declares’ the end from the beginning, something way beyond merely knowing what will happen, God actually declares what is going to happen, for he in his sovereignty has purposed it. He is not a reactionary.

Therefore we can say that God only acts in accordance with his will and his purpose: a will and a purpose which is like himself – eternal and unchanging. In fact we can say that God is bound to his will, as he is bound to the nature of his own Person. Think about it: God is Holy, so therefore he cannot sin – can he? Can God sin? No, the thought is unimaginable. Well there is something he cannot do. God is true; Jesus even declared himself to be “the truth”; therefore can he lie, deceive, or be tempted of evil? He cannot. When God speaks he not only speaks true things, but actually speaks in accordance with ‘the truth’. He can only speak in accordance with his nature, which is true. After all, ‘God cannot lie’, cannot exaggerate, cannot tell ‘half-truths’, cannot lead people to think he’s saying one thing when he means another, cannot give a deceitful impression. In fact he is the only Person who always speaks ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ How refreshing, how trustworthy, how absolute he is. Has he spoken to you? Has he revealed his will to you? Has he promised you something – either according to blessing or warning? Then his word is sure, certain, and will come to pass. He means what he says, he will carry out what he has revealed, and you will not be able to counter it, talk him out of it, or fail to see the fulfilment of it. Bow. Worship. Be silent before him.

No. God cannot deny himself. He cannot. Our greatest liberty is to know him and to abide in the truth of who God is. It is to lose self completely. Free-will? Nowhere to be seen. How can sinful man’s will be free when the will of the Holy God is not even free, being itself bound to the nature of his own Being. Such arrogance fallen man in his blindness and ignorance displays. God is sovereign, God is just, God is almighty, God is true; and he cannot be anything other. Those born of the Spirit see it, know it, and rejoice in it. The rest argue and rebel against it. Nevertheless it does remain true: That there are indeed some things which God cannot do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Out of Touch with Reality”

A while ago on a religious discussion forum, after a lot of toing and froing with people – mostly atheists – on matters of the truth, someone charged me with being ‘out of touch with reality’.

Is this an insult for the child of God? On the face of it it seems to be. But then, what was the unbeliever actually saying? He used the word ‘reality’ to describe what he judged as being normal, true, right, and reasonable according to the mind of this world and said that I was out of touch with what he perceived these things to be. In other words I didn’t show any signs of thinking the way the world does, or of seeing things the way the world perceives them.

But in saying this he inadvertently testified to the work of God in my soul, and gave the ‘amen’ to the doctrine of the gospel as it pertains to the fruit of that work. I quickly found this very encouraging because even a spiritual enemy could not help but justify the doctrine of Christ. Verily, The wrath of man shall praise God, Psalm 76:10.

So what of the doctrine was justified by my being ‘out of touch with reality’? That one born again of God is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold all things are become new, 2 Cor. 5:17. An easily and often quoted verse of scripture, but just look at the absolute which is in it. This is not just someone ‘getting saved’ when they ‘believe in Jesus’; nor is it someone ‘committing themselves to Christ’ and, turning over a new leaf, trying their hardest now to be ‘a good Christian’. This is a fundamental work of God making a new man – not refurbishing the old man – so that a new nature has appeared having a new mind, one which thinks, reasons and judges everything about the things of God, of himself and of the world around him in a totally different way than he did before.

Here is true regeneration, the outworking of the death of the old man which was crucified with Christ upon the cross, and the appearance of a new man from the dead. And as this new man lives and moves and has his being in this world he gradually loses touch with the old ‘reality’ of life in the flesh: thinking as the world thinks, reasoning with carnal judgment, for he now, being in Christ, has the mind of Christ, he thinks and sees everything as Christ does, concluding at length that the whole world lieth in wickedness, that it is all full of vanity and lies, that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, that natural reasoning is blind ignorance, and that he has become a stranger – an alien – upon the earth.

Being ‘out of touch with reality’ testifies therefore to a genuine work of repentance wrought by God within. For repentance is a change of mind, of mentality, one which begins to savour – mind – the things which be of God and not the things which be of men. The fruit of true repentance is not just giving up smoking, swearing and going to the pub; it is not just becoming a Bible-believer, a Sabbath-keeper, and a better person, it is an entering into the mind and will of God, of seeking his thoughts instead of our own, of his desires and abandoning our own, for we see them for what they are: founded in pride, independence, rebellion, sin and death. In fact, to receive the mind of Christ, to think how God thinks, to seek his will over our own, and then to be given grace to walk according to his revealed will is to experience true liberty, for it frees us from one of our greatest enemies – Self.

So to be ‘out of touch with reality’ is to be manifest as being ‘not of this world’; as Jesus said in his prayer to his Father regarding his people: “they are not of this world”. That was a statement of fact. In Christ they are no longer ‘of’ the world, for they have been born ‘of’ God. They now realise that to love the world – to conform happily to the way the world thinks and reasons – is a sure proof that the love of the Father is not in them; and that even friendship with the world – a momentary returning to the mentality of the world and its ‘reality’ – is enmity with God, and makes them a spiritual adulterer or adulteress against Christ, James 4:1-4.

But to return to this state is abhorrent to the child of God, he has no desire to live in that old reality again, although at times he does slip into it, to his own hurt. And this is the other great fruit of losing touch with the former reality – which, of course, was no reality at all, but a lie – is that the desires have changed. You now know God, you know Christ, they are the reality, and you desire to abide in the truth of God – to abide in Christ and his doctrine. All of Paul’s desire was to ‘know Christ, and be found in him’, and this is a ‘reality’ not only different from, but totally outside the realm of that which is found in the world, in an unregenerate state, and in a carnal profession of the name of Christ.

And it is all the work of God in you. You do nothing. You cannot change yourself. You cannot grant yourself repentance unto life. You cannot give yourself the faith of God’s elect, it is the gift of God. You cannot and will not glory in anything you have done as they do in Matthew 7:21-23, for you know that you have been made a recipient of the grace of God in Christ, and all the glory for that can only go to Him!

So what a blessed insult it is to receive, when you are told that you are ‘out of touch with the world’s reality’, for it means that Almighty God has come and done a work in you, a work which he does only in his own people, and which he does in all his people.