Not Of Works

(This article originally appeared on my website (address below) but I thought it good to include it here as well: slightly edited.)

Salvation: ‘not of works’

It is a matter of fact that the whole of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ is offensive to the natural man: the first-born nature of us each: that which is dead to God, dead in trespasses and sins.

And a main aspect of this doctrine which man will never stomach – and perhaps it is one of the last bastions to fall before one comes into a knowledge of salvation – is the truth that salvation is ‘not of works’: ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’; ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done’ – it being a universal verity that those who ‘go about to establish their own righteousness’ do not, and cannot, submit themselves to the righteousness of God, Romans 10:3.

These are absolute statements: salvation is ‘not of works’, full stop. And there is nothing like an absolute to destroy all arguments against it; for before an absolute there is no discussion to be had; it is what it is, being complete in and of itself: it is rigid, unyielding, unsentimental: it cannot exist in any other state: it cannot be compromised, is not open to persuasion to change or amend itself; an absolute cannot develop, mutate, or ‘go with the times’. Therefore everything is stable, solid, and immutable with an absolute. Go back to its beginning and there it is, the same as it is today; follow it through to the end of time and find it yet unchanged. On absolute ground all is clear. Therefore, salvation is absolutely ‘not of works’.

Now this is – and always has been – offensive to the natural man for the simple reason that since the Fall, as man has sought what he perceives to be salvation, it has always been ‘by works’. Of course this desire is natural to us: it is the way we think, for it is what we are in our very nature. That means that there is a part of us which exists in our consciousness at a level more fundamental to that level in which our thoughts and wills dwell: deep down in the very fibre of our soul, beyond the realm of our senses, is this basic nature; and it is there that we believe salvation to be of works.

But it has to be admitted here that there is another reason we think this way. Apart from believing salvation to be of works because of our fallen nature, we also think the same because of our upbringing. What do parents say to their children? ‘If you’re a good little boy you’ll get…’ ‘No you can’t… because you’ve been a naughty girl!’ Works! How confusing it must be for children who go to chapels where the minister tells them that salvation is all of grace when often ‘in real life’ they experience the opposite doctrine of ‘be good and get rewarded’!

Therefore it is no wonder that we like to go out of our way to be ‘good’: comforting ourselves that we do a certain amount of ‘good’ from time to time. And there is a deep-seated reason for acting this way: safety beyond death. Some might say here, But not all in this world are religious; not all believe in God or an afterlife; many say they only believe in life before death; so they cannot be accused of doing good with the hope of heaven or reward after they die. Apparently so. But it is just not true. Because all do know – even if they will not admit to believing it – that there is a God, a judgment to come, and an afterlife; it is a knowledge built in to our very being as humans, as Romans 1:18-32 declares. So that deep down in each of us this knowledge exists, which brings forth this hope – however vague it might be – that if I do at least some ‘good’ in this life, if there is a hereafter – just in case there is – then hopefully ‘God’ will be pleased with me and I’ll be all right.

This is the secret belief – the deep down secret belief – of every ‘atheist’. And as for the hundreds of millions across the world who follow religions, worship gods, and believe other doctrines to what the Lord Jesus taught and revealed, works is uniformly the foundational tenet of their beliefs as well. So if we chant, light candles, burn incense; if we pray so many times a day; if we do sacrifice, deny ourselves, fast; if we evangelise, proselytise, and go on pilgrimage; if we build ‘temples’, develop forms of godliness and traditions of worship and perform ceremonies; all in all, if we work, then after death their understanding of what ‘salvation’ is will hopefully come to pass – or, at least, be well on the way to being attained.

But for all that, still, salvation is not of works. What is salvation? Well, as Jesus used the term ‘born again’, and Paul used the words ‘a new creature’ when describing the extent to which a man is changed when he is saved, then the saved man is one who has a new nature: a nature which has not existed before. Salvation, then, is not a refurbishment of the old man, a readjustment of what was before: making it somehow ‘better’ than it was before; and salvation is not the old man moving onto a higher plane of consciousness either; no; it is altogether ‘a new creation’. A person who is ‘born again of the Spirit of God’ is one who has come into a completely new existence. In fact in salvation the ‘old man’ is said to have been ‘crucified with Christ’: and something crucified is that which has been put to death. So the new nature is totally different to what has previously died.

Therefore ‘giving your heart to Jesus’ is utterly futile, and finds no place in the doctrine of the gospel. What does the Saviour want with a fallen and corrupt heart! He has said that it is his work to take away – not to accept and then renew – the stony heart out of your flesh, and to give you an altogether new heart, see Ezekiel 36:26. All those free willers who love their ‘simple gospel’, and who preach such perverse things as ‘letting Jesus into your heart’, know absolutely nothing of the nature and condition of that heart. Christ will not come and dwell in corruption: in an unsanctified, sin-ridden heart. Who do they think he is! Someone like them?

Just reason it out. If salvation was of works, then it would be by works that the old man performs – like exercising ‘faith’ – to ensure his continued existence, albeit now in a ‘saved’ state. But that is not what is required in the salvation of a soul. The old man cannot be saved as such: it cannot be transformed. No. The man in sin must be judged, punished and damned because of his sin: he must die for it, and in it. After all, the wages of sin is death – another absolute statement. ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’; no question about it: cause – effect.

Why else do you think the Lord Jesus had to die upon the cross? As he was himself ‘without sin’ then he should and would never have died. But die he did; so not for himself; no, his death was in the stead of his people, who all must die in and because of their sin. Therefore he died for them: it was a substitutionary death; and as far as the Father is concerned when Christ died for his people it was actually their dying. They look at the cross and see their own death. It is there they were punished for their sin and sins; there they experienced eternal separation from God for their rebellion against him. But they weren’t there! And they felt nothing! Jesus died and experienced it for them, but as them!

This is proof enough that the old man – the old heart – is not meant to be refurbished in salvation. It must die. And Jesus died to crucify the old man and thereafter, in his resurrection, to bring in something completely new; a new man; a man not to be born again of Adam, but of God! If salvation was of works – of the works of the old man – then Jesus’ death upon the cross was needless. But as he did die, and effectually died for his people, then the truth is established: salvation is not of the works of the sinner. Work if you must; but if you continue to live, and then die, so doing, then you’ll end up on the left hand on the day of judgment, and will receive the sentence of eternal damnation and torment from him whose death upon the cross you so despise by your working.

Therefore it should be a cause of immense relief and rejoicing to hear that salvation is ‘not of works’, for if it was then not a single son of Adam could ever be saved. The only ‘work’ that we can perform – as those born in sin and therefore naturally unrighteous – is to work wickedness, even though outwardly we judge that certain things we do are ‘good’. But as all our righteousnesses are said to be as ‘filthy rags’ before God – and he is the ultimate judge in these matters – then what can all our unrighteousnesses be classed as? No. If works are the criterion for being judged in the realm of salvation, then salvation is impossible to man; none can be saved; all will be lost.

Now, the fact that there are a lot of people in this world who do ‘good’ things does not disprove what has just been said. In fact it establishes it. Remember that we can produce what are called ‘righteousnesses’: outward actions which we judge to be good; but they are, before God, unrighteousnesses. Why? Because God looketh upon the heart, and is not fooled – like us – by outward appearances. And what is the heart of man? Corrupt; desperately wicked; vile: the place from which springs all those things that defile a man, see Matthew 15:16-20.

Let us give a recent example of the apparently good, but actual unrighteous man. Until the news began to break here in Britain that Jimmy Saville was ‘a predatory paedophile’, more or less the whole nation, by way of the media – which teaches the general population how to think and judge – thought the former celebratory to have been a ‘good’ man. Tireless charitable work, millions raised for good causes, children’s entertainer, cheery personality, one who gave of his time and used his fame for the good of others and especially for the benefit of the less fortunate in society. But underneath the apparent goodness of the man lurked a corrupt and vile nature.

Now, before we vent our disgust towards him, and rise up in pride as we boast that we are not like him in the things that he did, just remember this: if Jimmy Saville is in hell now – and he will be in hell now unless in his latter days – unbeknown to us – the Lord in his mercy convicted him of his sin and applied the finished work of his Son to Saville’s pleading mercy for Christ’s sake – if he is in hell it will not be first and foremost because of his perverted lifestyle. No. He will be damned primarily because his nature was corrupt and fallen from his mother’s womb. That this corruption brought forth the fruit of heinous sins is only his fruit; our like corrupt nature brings forth our fruit: our sins which we like to indulge in.

You see, none of us is ‘better’ in and of ourselves than Saville. We are as wicked as he by nature. How that nature is manifest in us each by our own acts of sinning may differ from his, but still the apostles’ doctrine declares, ‘there is none righteous’: absolutely none. Regardless of the character, measure, ‘deviousness’ or otherwise of our sins, our sin – our very nature in and of itself which gives birth to sins – is enough to condemn us before God: in that sense our life of sinning is almost irrelevant.

But as to sinning itself; regardless of which sins you commit, or which commandments you break, the condemnation is that it is against the God who gave the commandments that you have sinned, cp. James 2:10,11. King David coveted his neighbour’s wife, committed adultery with her, and murdered her husband; but still, it was to God that he said, ‘Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight’, Psalm 51.

Yes, there are ‘good’ people outwardly, and there are ‘wicked’ people as judged by their lifestyle; but, actually, as all have been conceived in sin then all are wicked, all are evil, all are corrupt, all sin against God, and all are lost.

Do you still want to judge others in the light of your own perceived goodness? All right, just answer this question then: What is the greatest sin of man – the worst fruit that his nature brings forth? Invariably the scriptural answer is: Pride. ‘These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look’ is first on the list, and ‘God resisteth – lit. ‘setteth himself against’ – the proud.’ ‘The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts.’ Do you not suffer from pride? What characteristic is more prevalent than ‘the pride of life’ in those who will work for their salvation? Just listen to them on the day of judgment: ‘Have we not done…?’ But how often do we hear news of people being arrested and charged with ‘pride’? I don’t think pride is even an offence under British law. But there it is at the head of the list of things God hates and abominates. Watch out for the day of judgment, O proud man!

I wonder how many of my readers – who said ‘amen’ to the opening paragraphs of this article – now find themselves highly offended by what has latterly been written: and all but the true children of God will be offended by it. Of course the irreligious will be offended; but so will the professed but actually unsaved ‘Christian’. Why? Because works play a vital part in the plan of salvation, according to his understanding. Yes, the Pharisee will be offended – and that is what you are if you are offended – because he is a worker and therefore has no proper understanding of his sin; he just knows about sins; and because he has never committed such dreadful sins as, say, Jimmy Saville – and never will! – then he thinks that that will be a contributing factor to his salvation. But he is deluded; for salvation is ‘not of works’.

Salvation is not gained by being good; neither is it found by doing good deeds. Going to church or chapel won’t save you; neither will reading, studying, memorising, or even preaching the Bible. Praying won’t save you; neither will believing in God. Writing Christian articles never once saved a man; neither did exhorting, warning or encouraging another from scripture save.

Theological training, an elevated position in the church, denominational affiliation: none of these is saving. There is nothing saving in the singing of hymns, or psalms; in the using of the AV, or in Protestantism. Being described as a Calvinist: a Reformed, Conservative, Evangelical, brings as much salvation as being termed Charismatic, Liberal, and Arminian: which is none at all.

Is my religious reader still offended? Good. It’s not the true gospel if the natural man isn’t offended by it. You must be offended in your first-born state if you are ever to find salvation. Every shade of outward Christian profession must be exposed as being no ground on which to lay any hope for salvation. Every idea that one holds on to in their doing or being, which causes them to think that because of it they are – they must be! surely! – saved, must be rooted out and thrown down. No. Salvation is not of works; not of Christian profession – however sincere, or not; not of being anything in name or position. Every outward act, work or appearance must be abandoned as counting anything towards the salvation of your soul.

Now I said something earlier which will certainly have been offensive to many who think that ‘bad’ people cannot find salvation. And that was that if Jimmy Saville found repentance and mercy before God in his latter days – unbeknown to us – then he would indeed now be in heaven. But the offence is caused because they do think that salvation is of works; is only for those who have attained to some level of respectability: who have never really fallen ‘beyond the pale’. But they are ignorant of the true way of salvation: which is by the grace of God alone, and that experienced, not just believed as a doctrine. And as grace is unmerited then workers don’t need it, as they are just looking for reward.

Another godless man – the late boxer Mohammed Ali – once said in an interview that he hoped that, in the end, all his good works would outweigh his bad so that, on balance, he should get to heaven. Yet this is what millions of professing Christians actually believe in their heart of hearts when they judge themselves against the likes of Saville. Well, I’ve never been that bad! See Luke 18:10-12. So, you’ve been ‘good’ have you? You’ve never sunk to such a reprobate level so as to make your good works void of their merit? Perhaps your giving your heart to Jesus – what a singular work! – has outweighed all your ‘sins’ and continued love of the world? Perhaps your sincere Christian profession has nullified – in effect – all that jealousy and lust which at times rages in your breast behind that O so sanguine religious smile? Perhaps your solemn deportment in chapel cancels out that self-righteousness, pride, and abominable Pharisaism which resides steadfastly in your breast, and which sometimes seeps out in your conversation, or reveals itself in a haughty look? Nevertheless, salvation is more or less assured?

Sorry. Salvation is not assured. For salvation is not of works. Listen again to all those ‘committed Christians’ on the day of judgment: ‘Lord, Lord, have we not done…’ There is their plea: there is the exposure of the state of their hearts all along: Works. Works, plain and simple. And as salvation is not of works, then the Lord of glory turns and calls them ‘ye that work iniquity.’ Workers, yes; but not workers of that which was good; but of that which was iniquitous. They prophesied – preached, witnessed, declared the gospel, in his name – in Jesus’ name: but it was all iniquity. They had power over devils in their daily lives: Satan fled at the name of Jesus as they exercised ‘faith’ in his name: but it was all iniquitous presumption. And – were there ever a people like it for doing good! – they did many wonderful works. These were not your half-hearted, Sunday-only Christians; these were the totally committed: many wonderful works – didn’t we do works – didn’t we do? – in thy name? ‘Yes, you did works’, confirms the judge, ‘but there’s the problem, you see; for salvation is not of works. Depart from me for ever.’ Matt. 7:21-23.

But why? Why? Because performing works – even in Jesus’ name – has at its root the mentality which says ‘I will glory in his presence’; and as hinted at earlier, it exposes a seeking to establish a righteousness of their own instead of seeking only the righteousness of God. So working is also a case of out-and-out rebellion: rebellion against God and his truth – against the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. And all along they thought they were believers of the gospel! But workers don’t believe! They work! Yet their work is not the work of faith, which, as we shall see, is constantly to believe and not work.

‘By grace…’

So if salvation is not of works, then what is it of? Salvation is by grace: ‘By grace are ye saved… not of works, lest any man should boast’; then boasting must be excluded. But grace is something you cannot work; if it was then it could not be saving. But thanks be unto God: Grace is Grace. And grace is of God – exclusively; and not of us. Works are of us; but works aren’t saving; grace is.

Now, let the Arminian, let the legalist go and work grace if he can: for he must work. Go on. Grace, Grace, Grace: work it up: believe it down; claim it, quote it, write it into your confessions of faith; reference it from scripture, preach on it, expound it, weep over the pleasing thoughts it gives you; catechise your children on it: and see if that will issue in salvation. It will not. None of these works – although related to the word ‘grace’ – will save you.

The grace of God in Christ is something which emanates totally from outside ourselves; and as it is the grace of God then it emanates from eternity. Now, again, this is highly offensive to the natural man – to the worker. Firstly, salvation is not of works; secondly, it is of God, and now, it is of God from all eternity. So gradually, and by degrees, salvation is slipping away from our doing; it is retreating into the eternal counsels of God and finds its source in something which must be the ultimate offence to the worker – predestination.

Predestination: the eternal purpose of God, which he purposed in himself before the world began. Now the pride of man is raging. Now his believing that ‘he shall be as God’ in choosing whether or not to be saved, is exposed as a great deception; for the truth of ‘who is God indeed’ is now revealed: and it is not man! But to the worker – to the one who thinks his eternal destiny lies in his own hands if he works well and does his best – the whole idea of God’s predestinating those to whom his grace is to be bestowed is anathema; it cuts across the very reason for his existence – so he thinks. ‘Then why am I working if God has already decided whom he is going to save, and if that salvation is by grace alone and not of reward?’ Why indeed.

Yes, under grace, and by predestinating grace, all workers are overthrown; all works nullified; they don’t mean a thing; in fact, they are vanity; more; they are vanity and lies. More. They are a hindrance to salvation. Even more. They are rebellion towards the truth of salvation in its very nature. How can a working man be saved! He cannot! In fact, his works compound his already condemnation because of his sin, for he is looking to another way of salvation to the one which God has designed. Oh, torment of torments for all workers.

But why is it so important to relate grace to predestination and therefore to the sovereignty of God? Because workers in Christianity are happy to allow a definition of ‘the grace of God’ in their doctrine of salvation by works: after all, as Bible-believers they do love to quote, ‘By grace are ye saved.’ But their understanding of grace is that it is only the grace of God exercised in providing salvation in sending his Son to die; so that with their work of accepting the free gift of grace, based on their work of believing in Jesus, they can then say both, ‘thank God for his grace’, and, ‘thank God that he gave me the opportunity to respond and believe in Jesus’: after all, they reason, not everyone hears of Jesus, so not everyone gets the chance of being saved… ‘Oh, what can we now do to get more people to hear, so that less will be lost?!’ There it is: a professed belief in the grace of God with, still, works, works, works.

No, the grace of God has to arise from predestination, and that, from the absolute sovereignty of God, in order to do away with this idea that salvation is of ‘grace’ and of our beloved works. Be assured: salvation has been designed by God in such a way so as to ensure ‘that no flesh should glory in his presence.’

So what is grace? The usual definition of grace is that it is the unmerited favour of God toward sinners. It is that, but it is more than that. Not only is the grace of God unmerited but it is naturally unsought by the sinner: ‘I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me’, Romans 10:20. Grace, if it is to retain its absolute definition, must be totally and absolutely of God from first to last. It must be of God in the character of it, in the determining of it, in the purpose for it, in the bestowing of it, and in the objects of its reception.

Grace – by definition – cannot be teased from God as though we were meant to try and seduce it from him; God does not promise grace if we will exercise our minds and incline ourselves towards it; grace is not some sort of heavenly carrot dangled before our eyes, but just out of reach, which we can take to ourselves only if we expend the maximum amount of spiritual effort. Grace cannot be claimed by the sinner; God is not bound to bestow it because of any action or supposed worthy attribute of the sinner; God is in no way obliged to part with his grace at all: again, by definition.

Grace is absolutely unmerited; and it is naturally unsought by its eventual recipient; so is therefore totally within the prerogative of God to bestow, if he will. Look at Saul of Tarsus: the great ‘pattern’ of all that are to be saved by the grace of God, 1 Timothy 1:16. He received grace upon the road to Damascus; but please show me his praying for it; his desiring after it; his expectation of it if he did certain things. The opposite is true. The whole concept of ‘grace’ – in its character, need, or expectation – was not in all his thoughts: well, he was a worker after all! No; he was far too busy ‘breathing out threatenings and slaughter’ against the followers of the Lord Jesus: that impostor – as Saul would have thought him – into his ancient and beloved religion: Jehovah’s religion! (Remember, Saul didn’t think himself to be under an ‘old’ covenant as such, for workers always expect to remain under the legal rule.)

And yet in the midst of all his raging – and he was after all the sole perpetrator of this first persecution of the early church, see Acts 9:26-31 – we do see evidence that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was already at work; for he said to the Pharisee, ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks’, Acts 9:5. In his rage Saul was kicking against something he was beginning to perceive was true. He, along with others, had not long since been ‘cut to the heart’ by Stephen’s words, ‘Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it’, Acts 7:51-53.

What could cut a Pharisee’s heart more deeply than the suggestion that he had the wrong circumcision; that he had not kept the law; and that he had been complicit in the murder of the One of whom all his beloved prophets had spoken as he that should come! Saul was kicking against the pricks of conscience and of the shocking suggestion that the whole of his religion – though performed in the name and supposedly for the glory of Jehovah – was wrong, and that he was totally out of the way. Then what of his good works? What of his ‘blamelessness’ under the law? It all added up to ‘persecuting Christ’. For not only was Saul persecuting the Saviour in persecuting his people – the followers of ‘this way’ – but he was persecuting Christ in the doctrine of His gospel by his working for salvation.

This, then, is what ‘working for salvation’ is at its very heart: a denial of Christ and his doctrine; enmity against, and a disobeying of, the gospel; a denial of the fulness and all-sufficiency of his work upon the cross; and a trampling under foot of the blood of the new covenant – the only way of salvation. Although the worker will say that he does look to the cross for his salvation, his working necessarily diminishes the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice and declares that additional work is required for a full and final deliverance: in other words, it wasn’t finished at the cross; the sinner must work further to make Christ’s salvation effectual: even if he only thinks that he must add his ‘faith’ to it.

But, no. Again, no. Salvation and the reception of grace is not of works; is not of the sinner; and Christ’s work does not need adding to to complete it. So why keep trying?

‘By grace, through faith’

The verses I have been alluding to in this article are Ephesians 2:8,9; where Paul writes: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’

We have seen that salvation is not of works, but that it is by the grace of God alone. We have also hinted at the fact that ‘faith’ is not a work – it not being something we naturally possess or can ‘do’. There are many who think that they have to exercise their own faith towards Jesus to be saved: as though God has provided the possibility of salvation in his Son, but that it is now up to us to ‘believe in him’ to receive this salvation so freely offered to all who might like to take it.

But here Paul tells us unequivocally that the faith required for the receiving of salvation is ‘not of ourselves’: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that – faith – [is] not of yourselves.’ So if this faith is not of ourselves then who is it of? Well, as it is ‘the gift of God’ then it must reside in him. All things necessary for salvation reside in the Godhead. We have seen that the purposing of salvation is his; likewise the working of it; even the determining of who the recipients of it are to be is of him: all is of him, and is of him from all eternity. So also is the faith to be bestowed for the reception of salvation his to give: ‘through faith… it is the gift of God’; and, obviously, he will give it to all who have been predestined to receive it: in fact, without this gift they cannot receive salvation at all.

Faith is given by God to all for whom Christ died, so that they can believe upon Christ’s finished and full salvation when they have come to the end of trying to work for it themselves. Yes, and one of those works they’ve latterly given up is the trying to believe. There are many who, having placed ‘their’ faith in Jesus, skip merrily into their new found Christian lives who have never been given the gift of faith at all. No, their work was good enough; after all, they believed, and it worked! For now they are saved, are full of rejoicing, assurance, peace and thanksgiving, and are – more or less – ‘happy all the day’! But for all that, they are not found in Ephesians 2:8,9; because their faith is something they’ve done and can now boast in: as they sometimes sing: ‘I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back’. And if you ask them about their conversion they will be able to tell you exactly where and when they ‘did it’. But Paul says that receiving the gift of true saving faith is not something you do, and it does not issue in boasting: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’

There is such a yearning in that ‘lest’ of the apostle. He knows that the validity of the Ephesians’ whole profession depends upon the fact that they fully understand, and have experienced, a salvation which has not caused them to boast in any way whatsoever. Paul used the same word – ‘boast’, but translated ‘glory’ – in 1 Corinthians 1:29. In speaking of God’s sovereign election of those who are called – and therefore saved – he concluded that it is thus, so ‘that no flesh should glory in his presence.’ But you will invariably find that those who do glory or boast in their exercising faith for salvation also deny – or in one way or another pervert – the truth of God’s election. But let them glory now in their disobedience and rebellion against the doctrine of Christ; and let them boast in and enjoy their ‘salvation’; they will soon find that it pertains only to this life; for no flesh shall glory – in his presence.

But the modern churches are full of people who do glory, even though from time to time they like to talk about and hear ‘good ministry’ about ‘grace’; and they glory simply because the ‘gospel’ which they hear from their preachers allows them to boast. So, both the gospel, the preachers, and the churches which permit this glorying are false. Then ‘come out from among them, my people’, saith the Lord – commands the Lord; ‘Come out.’

But let us consider this doctrine of ‘faith’ over-against ‘works’ for salvation. Works are performed under the law, while faith is exercised under the gospel. It might be helpful to point out here that in the scriptures the words ‘faith’ and ‘believing’ mean exactly the same thing: they are both the same word in the original. So Paul’s words could just as easily have been translated, ‘For by grace are ye saved through believing…’ Likewise his ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ of Acts 16:31 could have been rendered, ‘Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’. So faith is believing, and believing is faith; which is why we read in one place that ‘Abraham believed God’, and in another, ‘By faith Abraham…’

So let all workers acknowledge and fall under this great scriptural – gospel – truth: ‘the law is not of faith’: the law does not command or require faith in any way whatsoever. If you are working for salvation then you are necessarily devoid of faith: for salvation is ‘not of works’, but ‘through faith’: faith and works being mutually exclusive. Works are of the law – the old covenant – while faith is of the gospel – the new covenant. But then, as we have just seen with Abraham, salvation never was of works even in Old Testament times: it was always of faith! Just read Hebrews Chapter 11 – old covenant saints all! It is obvious that Abraham knew nothing of the law in his walk of faith, not least for the simple fact that the law wasn’t given until over four hundred years after he had received free justification by believing! not working! Galatians 3.

And consider the children of Israel. Before the law was given Moses led them out of Egypt and through the Red sea by faith: ‘Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD’! And two years later, though the Law had now been given, still, the entering into the promised land would only have been achieved ‘by faith’: witness the combined testimonies of Caleb and Joshua in Numbers 13:30 and 14:6-9: theirs was the language of faith and believing in the LORD to deliver the land – with all its giants – into their hands. But when the people would not hearken to their words, the LORD said to Moses: ‘How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be before they believe me…?’ as Joshua and Caleb had done, Numbers 14:11. So as the people refused to believe the testimony of those who lived by faith, they were turned away to wander in the wilderness for a total of forty years: there eventually to die in their unbelief. Then when Moses – who typified ‘the law’, although he was a man of faith – had died because of one faithless act, Numbers 20:7-12, it was Joshua the man of faith – a type of Christ – who by faith finally led the children of Israel into the promised land, see Deuteronomy 34:9-Joshua 1:11, etc.

So we can see that the law wasn’t given to command faith, nor to bring about salvation: and if you walk by faith alone then you are not and cannot be under that law for salvation. No, the law was given because of sin: to show up, expose and bring to light the knowledge of sin; therefore to condemn the faithless in their unbelief, until Christ should appear with his salvation by grace. And you still think works are saving?! Let all workers tremble.

‘The Faith of Jesus Christ’

At this point it becomes important to write something of ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’, as it is central to the doctrine at hand: that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and not by the works of the law.

We have already seen that saving faith emanates from God – it is his possession to give to all his people. But not only is faith God’s gift, but the Lord Jesus has procured justifying righteousness – a main element of salvation – by faith. Paul has told us that our receiving salvation is only by the grace of God; that it is by a faith which resides in God alone; and that it is not of works on our behalf. Obviously the work of salvation is God’s to perform, as Jesus said to his Father: ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’, John 17:4, but that ‘work’ of the Saviour was not a work wrought under the law but was a work of faith. Indeed, we can declare this truth absolutely and forthrightly: that the Lord Jesus brought salvation in by faith alone and not by the works of the law – the ‘obedience’ of Romans 5:19 being ‘the obedience of faith’: See also Romans 16:26. This is very important; not least because Paul says this very thing on more than one occasion; and therefore makes it a fundamental part of the apostles’ doctrine, the foundation upon which the true church is built, 1 Corinthians 3:9-11.

Listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:11: ‘But that no man is justified by the law’ – an absolute statement – ‘in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith’. So the Lord Jesus – a just man – must have lived ‘by faith’ and not by the law. This has to be the case, not least because his people who are to ‘follow his steps’ are not under the law for their walk: they too ‘walk by faith’. And again: as ‘no man is justified by the law’ – absolutely – then the righteousness of God which Christ brought in by the shedding of his blood upon the cross can only have been ‘by faith’; which is again what Paul wrote earlier in this epistle: ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,’ – by no man’s works of the law, either by ours or by Christ’s – it is again evident, for a man is justified ‘by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified’, Galatians 2:16.

Indeed, how could we be justified – saved – by Christ’s ‘works of the law’ if, first, salvation is not of works, and second, Christ walked by faith? We couldn’t, and we aren’t; because salvation is not of works, and Christ did bring salvation in by faith. Paul wrote this again in Romans 3:20-22: ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of’ – not salvation from – ‘sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law’ – totally outside the realm of the law – ‘is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets’ – remember, Jesus said that he came to fulfil – not ‘keep’ – the law and the prophets, Matthew 5:17,18 – ‘even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe’, not work.

So we see that the Lord Jesus lived by faith; in his dying upon the cross he fulfilled all the types and shadows of the law regarding sacrifice for sin by faith; he fulfilled all the prophetic writings regarding his coming, his suffering and his death, by faith; and in so doing brought in the righteousness of God – that righteousness by which we are justified – solely by faith, and not by the law.

Jesus wasn’t under the law as his rule of life – was he? If the law was ‘not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane… etc.’, 1 Timothy 1:9,10, then Christ must have lived and walked totally outside the realm of the law. If you doubt that, then just ask yourself why it was that, when Jesus spoke of the law to those who were under that law, he didn’t associate himself with it or with them: in John 8:17 and 10:34, for instance, he used the words ‘your law’, not ‘our law’; in Mark 10:3 he said, ‘What did Moses command you’, not ‘us’; and in John 7:19 the Saviour again said ‘you’ instead of ‘us’ in relation to the giving of the law. If Jesus lived by the law then surely he wouldn’t have been so detached from it in his speech.

But no. Jesus was ‘the Author and Finisher of faith’, Hebrews 12:2; by him came ‘grace and truth’, as opposed to that which came by Moses: ‘the law’, John 1:17. After all, in direct contrast to the Jews who were ‘Moses’ disciples’, the Saviour said of himself, ‘I do always those things that please my Father’, John 8:28,29; ‘thy law is within my heart’, Psalm 40:7-10, and we know from the apostles’ doctrine that ‘without faith it is impossible to please him’, Hebrews 11:6. Jesus brought in justifying righteousness, again, ‘thy righteousness’, by his faith alone; and as that is the case – according to the doctrine of the gospel – then salvation is seen even more to be ‘not of works’; just as Paul said: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’

‘His workmanship… His creation’

The next thing that Paul writes in Ephesians 2 is this: ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’, verse 10. These words are often referred to by those who like to work as proof that we must do something: ‘because God has told us to do good works.’ But this verse – even if taken on its own out of context – still speaks of the working of God, and of a mighty change in a person – a change which no worker ever experiences. And it is only after this change has taken place – when a person has received a knowledge of salvation – that ‘good works’ are mentioned. But then it is not even works which we do as such, but those ‘which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’: something vastly different, as we shall see.

First of all this verse confirms what has already been said: salvation is not of works but of God: ‘For we are his workmanship.’ God saves: he works the salvation by his Son. God’s people are those who have been ‘wrought upon’ by their Creator, see 2 Corinthins 5:5, John 3:21: well, he must work our salvation if we cannot! And this is where his grace is seen again. We are lost. We try to work for salvation, but we cannot. We try to believe, but cannot. Then all is lost and we are without hope. But it is God who, in his grace, has taken hold of us, and is convicting us of our sin, and of our sins. We kick against the pricks which pierce our conscience, telling us that we are wrong, wrong, wrong. Eventually we are shown the Saviour who wrought the salvation of all his people upon the cross, and we look and plead that he might save us. This is an exercise in us which is wrought of God.

Then hearing the voice of the Son of God declaring to us something of the truth of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ we are given the gift of faith to see and believe that Christ did die for me upon the cross; that I am one of those for whom he prayed as he was being nailed to the tree: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ All this is brought about by revelation and the witness of the Spirit; and with this gift of faith we begin to realise that we have been ‘made anew’ and are ‘alive unto God’; that we’ve been ‘born again’: ‘born of God’, and that we have received a knowledge of the forgiveness of our sins! Thus we are manifest – poor helpless creatures of the dust! – to be ‘his workmanship’. The heavenly Potter has taken a dead formless lump of clay, and has begun to form it into the likeness of his Son; and breathing the breath of spiritual life into its nostrils, it has become a new living soul.

So ‘we are his workmanship’ by the grace of God. That is the apostles’ doctrine. Not that ‘we are our own workmanship’ by our decision to believe in Jesus; but we are his workmanship ‘created in Christ Jesus’. There is no salvation outside of the Son; salvation is only to be found ‘in’ Christ. Therefore it is essential that for us to be in a saved state, we must be placed in the Son. And this is what Paul teaches here. We are ‘created in Christ Jesus’. First of all we were created in Adam; but Adam fell into sin, and we in him. Therefore to be saved from sin we must be newly created ‘in Christ Jesus’ the last Adam – and there are to be no other Adams. And as we have seen that the old man cannot be saved and placed into Christ, whose body – the church – is not made up of ‘sinners’, so a new man has to be formed – a saint – which can dwell ‘in Christ Jesus’. And this too is a work of God. Well, we who are dead cannot work, cannot create, can we? No, this new man appears as ‘his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus’.

I hope I never tire of saying it. The saved soul is one who was ‘in sin’, but is now by the new birth ‘in Christ’ as a settled state. And as far as God is concerned: what he actually sees in his Son, is a body of people who are now without sin, whose sins and iniquities he can no longer remember, as he has removed their transgressions from them ‘as far as the east is from the west’ – an infinite distance. You may not always ‘feel’ it, child of God, but when did the validity of God’s workmanship ever stand in the fluctuating feelings of men? If you have been wrought upon by God; if you have been born again of the Spirit; if your only object of faith is Christ and his blood; and if you know that that faith is not natural to you, but is the received ‘gift of God’; and if as a result you can only glory in his work in you, and never in your own; then you stand secure ‘in Christ’; it is a state that you are in – that you have been placed in by his grace – and is a state out of which you will never be removed: indeed, it is God himself who keeps you in it by his grace; for you know by experience that it is not you who keeps yourself – least of all by works! 1 Peter 1:5.

Let us try and get this aspect of the doctrine of Christ clear and fixed in our minds. When we say that the saved soul is now a saint – i.e. a holy one – and that he is now ‘without sin’ and therefore no longer called a ‘sinner’; we are not saying that he is now a perfect man in the flesh: this is not perfectionism. No, the doctrine is declaring what we are ‘in Christ’, how we stand judicially in him. The children of God are counted by God – their Father – as being members of the body of Christ and therefore holy. And if you think about it how else could they be designated! Is Christ’s resurrected body defiled? When they pray and are heard of their Father they cannot be called ‘praying sinners’, for ‘we know that God heareth not sinners’, John 9:31; he only hears the prayer of the righteous, Proverbs 15:29; and according to Peter in his doctrine ‘the righteous’ and ‘the sinner’ are not one and the same person, 1 Peter 4:18, because those two words describe opposite states that men reside in.

Remember, according to the doctrine of the gospel, a sinner is someone who is ‘in sin’; while the righteous are those who are ‘in Christ’. The righteous are so because the righteousness of God has been imputed to them as a result of the shedding and sprinkling of Christ’s blood; this work of God transforms them from being classed as ‘sinner’ to being called ‘righteous’. So, again, ‘The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry’, Psalm 34:15; compare also the distinction made between ‘the righteous’ and ‘the sinners’ in Psalm 1.

Therefore those who call upon the name of the Lord and are heard – though they feel themselves to be sinners – are actually already righteous in Christ. From the moment his blood was shed for them, in the estimation of the Judge of all the earth, they were called righteous. These only are called true believers; for how shall they call on him in whom they have not already believed? – only true believers call and are heard, Romans 10:14. This is all such wonderful doctrine, and is immensely liberating to those who feel their hearts drawn out to God in prayer, and who receive answers to their prayers; for these are the righteous; and regardless of how much they feel their sinnership in the flesh, they are not sinners in God’s sight, but are holy; they are in Christ and therefore are as he is.

This is why I said earlier that Jesus was not under the law as a rule of life when he was on earth; and is why his people are not under the law either: because he and they are ‘the righteous’: the law not being made for the righteous, but for the sinner: to teach the latter of his need for Christ, 1 Timothy 1:9, Galatians 3:23-26: look out for those words ‘no longer’ in that second reference.

So they are ‘created in Christ Jesus’. Of course in one sense – according to the eternal purpose of God in Christ – they have always been ‘in Christ’: ‘Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me’, Isaiah 8:18; see also Ephesians 1:4. But the actual working of their creation in Christ Jesus occurred in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. There they were, dead in trespasses and in sins: ready to be judged and put to death because of their sin. But Christ their substitute comes and takes their place in that judgment: he dies the just for the unjust; and so they die in him upon the cross. Then in him they are buried in the grave; the old man is dead and buried: gone for ever. Paul saw this, and so he said, ‘I am crucified with Christ.’

But a new man must appear the other side of death: there must be a new creation in Christ Jesus. And as the old man cannot be raised to life, so a new man must appear: a new creation. And this is what happened when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. As his death had been that of the old man, so his resurrection is that of the new man. His people are therefore seen to rise to newness of life in him. Again, this is not their old man rising; this is altogether a new creature. This is a new body, a new life, as far as they are concerned. And as this is a new man which lives beyond the grave, then it lives beyond the reach of the law and completely outside the realm of works. This new man dwells in grace and lives only by faith: thus it is said to be ‘created in Christ Jesus’.

Is there someone reading this who is struggling under the legal rule? Are you still ‘Moses’ disciple’? John 9:28. Do you still think that you must produce something good to please God: to cause him to look upon you with a degree of favour? Surely now you must realise that you are totally out of the way. Christ, and the work of Christ, is all that the Father requires and delights in: the work of the Godhead is all your salvation. To those who are struggling in this, the gospel message is simple: Salvation is not of works: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. If you are being wrought upon by God in your exercises – if you are his workmanship – then don’t despair; he will bring you to faith under the sound of the truth, for his name’s sake, and for his glory alone.

‘Unto good works’

And so what is the fruit of this doctrine? Is it what the ignorant call ‘antinomianism’? ‘Now that we are righteous, and no longer under the law, we can live as we please’? Not a bit of it. In fact, the opposite is true. The righteous – now possessing, amongst other things, ‘the mind of Christ’ – are hardly going to have the frame of mind which says, ‘Let us continue in sin so that grace may abound’, because they know that to ‘continue in sin’ means to be in the state of sinnership. But now being in the complete opposite state – ‘in Christ’ – they are no longer in sin, no longer ‘serve sin’, and therefore cannot continue in it. This is why Paul answered ‘God forbid’ to the question, see Romans 6:1 in context. God’s people cannot continue in sin for his seed remaineth in them: and they cannot sin, because they are born of God! 1 John 3:9. Yes, while they remain in this body of death, they will still commit sins and fall into temptation; but this is not ‘continuing in sin’.

So let us see why ‘loose living’ is not the fruit of being ‘in Christ’. Paul writes that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ‘unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’. Far from being in Christ leading to lawlessness, it leads to ‘good works’: ‘unto good works’, meaning that works follow salvation not precede it. Now is this where the worker can at last gain some encouragement? No, not at all. So what are these good works?

These works, like our salvation and our faith, are of God! They are works which he has before ordained that we should walk in them. (William Tyndale, interestingly, has the emphasis of what was ‘before ordained’ resting on us rather than the works: ‘…created in Christ Jesus unto good works, unto the which God ordained us before, that we should walk in them’: stripping any last semblance of pride that might still be lurking in ‘the worker’!) This is not us being sent running along a Christian pathway from salvation to do and to be the best we can ‘for Jesus’; as though he is now looking down from heaven upon a newly released child to see what he will now do with his liberty. The Lord is never detached from the lives of his children; how can he be! they are ‘in him’! As I said, God doesn’t ‘set us running’ and just sit back and be pleased with any good that we might like to think we do – especially ‘in his name’. No. As we are his workmanship through and through, then it is he ‘that worketh in us both to will, and to do of his good pleasure’ those things which he has before ordained that we should walk in them. And how can we not walk in the good works which God is working in us? Will not his ‘good pleasure’ be fulfilled? Does anything which he has before ordained not come to pass? So it is not up to us to do good works, but that good works will be done in us – we will ‘walk in them’ – as a result of God’s willing and doing; which will be for his glory alone, and will, again, remove any thought of boasting in ourselves.

This is also what ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ is. So often the ‘fruits’ – as they are usually referred to – in Galatians 5:22,23 are taken as a list of characteristics that we must strive to produce so that we can show people what good Christians we are becoming; but this is wrong. First of all, they are not fruits, but ‘fruit’ – singular: the whole is the fruit. Those who love to work invariably pick out of the list those things which they think they are [naturally] most suited to perform, and when they see the fulfilment – or practising – of them in their lives then they think that the fruits of the Spirit are being seen in them. But this is error – of course it’s error if it’s works – because, secondly, Paul says that this fruit is the fruit ‘of the Spirit’, and not our fruit – the fruit of our work and effort – although the fruit is seen in us. No, it is the fruit of the work of the Spirit who, being God, works in us both the will and the doing of his good pleasure.

And this is what Jesus taught in John 15. There the branches which abide in the vine will bring forth good fruit: it is impossible that they won’t because the life, the sap, the nourishment which flows in and through them is that which emanates from the root of the vine and not from the branches. So as they abide in the vine they cannot help but bring forth fruit. Likewise as it is God who is working in us these good works which he has before ordained that we should walk in them, then the good works will doubtless appear: but not by our doing, but by his!

The fruit is seen to be on the branches only because the branches abide in the vine. No one seriously believes – even in nature – that a branch can of itself bring forth fruit, though the fruit appears on the branch. So likewise, though fruit is seen in the lives of the children of God – and very often they don’t see the fruit themselves, cp. Matthew 25:34-40, “When saw we thee…?” – it has not appeared of themselves, but only from their abiding in Christ and by being indwelt of the Spirit. So the fruit is His fruit in them, and it is without works on their part – though it be called ‘good works’. So the poor workers are deflated and defeated again.

Now we can reiterate this by understanding the word ‘walk’ here: ‘…before ordained that we should walk in them.’ This is different than just ‘doing’ things; this is walking. To walk is to remain in a state and to continue in a way: it indicates a constant, rather than a series of one-off doings. Similar words used to describe the same state in scripture are, as we have just seen, ‘abiding’, along with ‘remaining’, ‘continuing’, ‘dwelling’. To abide in Christ is to walk in him; and as they ‘walk in the Spirit’, the called are continual ‘followers’ of the Lord Jesus ‘whithersoever he goeth’.

Similarly, to ‘keep’ his commandments – the commandments of the Lord Jesus, not the Law of Moses – is not to set them objectively before our eyes for the purpose of trying to do them to the best of our ability – which is the mentality and, therefore, the constant miserable failing experience of the legalist, who even tries to turn the exhortations of the gospel into a legal rule – but like Mary, see Luke 2:19,51, it is to hide – keep – Christ’s commandments in our hearts, where they are pondered over, meditated upon, and indeed, fed upon, so that they infuse into our very being, moulding our (new) minds to think in accordance with them, therefore causing us – necessarily – to walk in them.

This is what Solomon meant when he said of his father: ‘He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live’, Proverbs 4:4. If we remember that the word ‘keep’ can also be used to describe a prison – a place which holds something fast – then we will come to realise that ‘keeping’ is something much more profound than just ‘doing’; in fact the word ‘retain’ in the above verse also means ‘to hold up’, as in a hold.

Those who are saved walk in ‘a new and living way’; and it is on this way alone that they are said to keep Christ’s words and commandments, and therefore ‘walk in good works’. This is all the fruit of being ‘in Christ’. Whereas before we ‘walked’ in sin; in darkness; in rebellion and enmity; now we walk utterly differently: in ‘good works.’ So once again, no flesh will glory in his presence; cp. John 14:20-24, 1 John 2:3-6.

The Good Works

So what are these good works which the children of God walk in, but do not produce of themselves? Well, they can best be described as ‘the work of faith – believing, the labour of love, and the patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’, which, in principle, are the only valid good works in the sight of God and our Father, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, see also Hebrews 11:6.

What is the work of faith? Well, we have already seen something of Christ’s work of faith in his incarnation and sacrifice upon the cross to procure our salvation. The work of faith is simply ‘believing God’ when he speaks, and obeying: falling under the hearing of what he says; as it was said by the Lord Jesus himself: ‘My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me’. And that is a statement of fact by the Saviour, not a wish that they would. The obedience of faith – the work of faith – is to follow Christ in all the ways he commands and leads; is to be led of the Spirit in the way of faith; which will ultimately result in ‘doing the will of the Father’, Matthew 7:21. It is not just entering through the strait gate of conversion, but is thereafter a walking on the narrow way also. It is to believe the Lord when he speaks and to obey his voice regardless of the cost to self. And the same is to be called ‘the children of Abraham’ who is ‘the father of all them that believe’, Galatians 3, Romans 4.

The work of faith is not us reading the Bible and picking out the bits that we feel we’d like to obey, and then bringing those works – that obedience – to God saying, ‘Look what I’ve done!’ And there are many who do this: who turn the work of God – so they think – into just one long round of religious employments; but God is not working in them at all – they are working. So the work of faith is an elusive work today; but God is still bringing it to pass in his people, and will continue to do so despite the many counterfeits.

Likewise the labour of love. Here again is a ‘good work’; yea, a labour, no less. Now let the self-congratulatory workers embark on this type of labouring and see how far they get. For this is a labour, and it is a labour which is begotten only by the love of God residing in the heart. God’s love is poured out – ‘shed abroad’, Romans 5:5 – into the heart of a saved soul, and it is this love which generates this labour. So this is not our natural love supposedly sanctified – a love which is only selfish: we only love at best because, or if – as it hasn’t been our faith. No, this is God’s love exercised in the heart and life: and what an altogether different love that is to ours!

From this love springs willing obedience to the Lord Jesus and to the whole of his doctrine; it embraces the way of the cross and self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s – and what a labour it is to be brought to walk in that way! for it is a way abominable to the flesh; but brought to it we must be if we would be his disciples, Luke 14:27. This love causes us to love – give ourselves for – the brethren: those others in whom this work of salvation has been wrought; and it causes us to bear the reproaches, persecutions and hatred of those in whom this work is not being wrought – though they may profess to be ‘the Lord’s’. This labour of love enables us to continue along the narrow way which leadeth unto life even though it is often a solitary and lonely way. But it is a labour of love ultimately for Christ’s glory: ‘that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’

And ‘the patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ is manifest in all our ‘much tribulation’ as a continual looking for his coming; it is a keeping our eyes upon the end of all things; a ‘loving his appearing’. We watch and pray. We wait for the promise of his coming again at the end of the world finally to defeat all our enemies; the last of which is death; and it is a keeping in mind that though our enemies trouble us, and that we would at times be avenged upon them, yet, we are encouraged to remember that ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the LORD’, see Romans 12:18-21.

So, by grace, we wait patiently – in faith and love day by weary day – to be transformed finally into his likeness; to put on immortality; to dwell in the presence of our God and Saviour on the new earth, wherein dwelleth only righteousness: where there will be no more curse, no more sin, no more tears, no more trouble with and in the flesh, no more goats, and no more waiting! Christ is our all; and we wait patiently for him.

But unlike the saint the worker has little trouble with being in the flesh, or with being in this present evil world – religious or secular. They don’t really want it to end – except so that they can be told by their Jesus how good they’ve been. But not so the true children of God – his workmanship: his good and faithful servants. They want to be gone. They are vexed in their righteous souls by everything here; and it causes them to sigh, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’

These are the good works which God hath before ordained for us to walk in; and we will walk in them; and, brothers and sisters in Christ, despite all the temptations to the contrary, we do walk in them, don’t we? (I wish I knew where some of you were so that, as we see the day approaching, we could comfort one another with these things…)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

For a fuller exposition of ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’, please see the article entitled, ‘Righteousness’ on my website, or listen to the recorded message, ‘From faith to faith.’ And for a more detailed consideration of what it means to ‘abide in Christ’ please see ‘Numbering Our Days’, Part 2.

Website: http://www.separating-gospel-truths.co.uk

Recorded message: http://yourlisten.com/andrewdibble/from-faith-to-faith-romans-117

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Christ’s Eternal Sonship

The Contention

Recently in conversation with someone the question of Christ’s eternal Sonship came up: the conversation immediately severing the ‘friendship’ between him and me. Nevertheless it has served to cause me to look again into this fundamental aspect of the doctrine of Christ; and what a blessing it is proving to be as I’ve been searching the scriptures to see whether it be so, that Christ was the Son of God in his divine nature before he came into the world: that is, from all eternity.

In our conversation the man stated his opinion that this was a minor issue. As he said he believed that Jesus was God and that he existed as God from all eternity, as the Word – which declarations of belief would no doubt gain him entrance into any ‘conservative’ Bible-believing Christian church – then, unless pressed on the eternal Sonship issue specifically, he would definitely ‘slip through the net’ and nestle unnoticed in the congregation, around the Lord’s table, and perhaps eventually in the pulpit.

This of course has made me wonder again just how many actual unbelievers and deceivers there might be in those churches which specifically profess to be upholders of ‘the faith once delivered unto the saints’. In the last denomination of which I was a member – a denomination which came into being because of this very issue, and in which this man can be found today – I wonder what the present level of scrutiny or even awareness is among the people in pew, pulpit and hierarchy regarding those in their midst. Is this a lively issue among them now? Are there some, or many even, who either do not believe this part of the doctrine or, like my ex-friend, count it merely a little matter? When I joined the denomination I was asked to ‘sign up’ to their Articles; but I don’t remember being grilled in my beliefs or understanding of what was written in them; there was no determined effort on the part of Pastor or existing church membership to seek to discover if I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing ‘creeping in unawares’ with ‘damnable heresies’; no, it was just, did my ‘call by grace’ sound like theirs and was I prepared to sign the church book.

I must admit that, at the time, it didn’t occur to me, after being called upon to give an account of the work of God in my soul, to then turn and ask them of their testimony and their understanding of the truth of the gospel; I, like them, just presumed that we were all genuine brethren believing the same things which, of course, we would presume to be the truth of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ as revealed in the scriptures. As it was that I finally left over other issues I never really did have a conversation with any of them regarding this question of Christ’s eternal Sonship; surely you would think that they all believed it and knew it to be true, as one of their ‘founding fathers’ had written a book on it. But again, it just makes me wonder what they really do know by searching and revelation themselves, or do they just accept it because it is one of their defining doctrines which have been upheld from the very beginning. I don’t know, only they can answer that. But be sure of this, reader, you can accept, sign up to, and uphold doctrines you’ve been taught from your mother’s knee without ever having received understanding of them by revelation of the Father, and indeed without being regenerate. But then, who today cares? I know of one man sitting happily today under the sound of the ministry of that denomination who holds the belief that Christ was not the Son before he came into the world and, as yet it seems, he has not been found out by either the ministry from the pulpit or by the ministers themselves; let that thought cause them sober reflection.

Since this issue has arisen I have looked briefly again at the book previously mentioned and to the writings of one or two others just to be reminded of what they actually said and how they argued for this fundamental truth; but mostly I have been searching the scriptures to see if they actually do testify to Christ’s eternal Sonship: something which this now departed friend denies. And of course the testimony is overwhelming, especially in John 17, which is one passage I particularly want to focus on. But before I do I will just quote the verses which I used to argue against this man’s unbelief; verses which immediately sprang to mind; and I will also look at one or two verses often used to prove eternal Sonship which, he argued, do not.

The verses I quoted to him were, immediately, Galatians 4:4, ‘But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.’ If words mean anything, and if we are to hope ever to understand the simplest language, then this verse can only read that the Son was Son before he was sent; only an unbelieving darkened imagination can read there that the Son became the Son only at the point of being sent. One can only send someone who exists as such already. This verse more than just infers, it positively reveals to all reasonable minds, and to all with the most basic understanding of the English language, that God had a Son with him, and that God sent that Son into the world.

Our understand that Jesus was the Son of God sent into time from eternity is manifest in that we can look at the virgin’s firstborn and ask, Who is he? What does scripture testify to his Person? He is the Son of God sent from the Father. He is God manifest in the flesh, and revealed as, called, ‘the Son of God’: ‘…that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’, Luke 1:35. Notice, he shall be ‘called’ the Son of God, not, he shall become the Son of God by his being born. What did Isaiah say? ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’, Isa. 9:6. The child, Mary’s child Jesus, was born, he was a real man, the Son of man; but he was also manifest as the Son of God given. Given by whom? Given by the Father; his Son who had been with him in eternity was now being sent into time. ‘God sent forth his Son.’ ‘A child born, a Son given.’

The second verse I used to argue for this wonderful truth was Hebrews 1:2: God ‘hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.’ The obvious point made was that it was by the Son that God is said to have ‘made the worlds’, and as that is a clear reference to creation, i.e. Genesis 1, then the Son must have existed as Son before time was created in order that he could be the creator of time – ‘for by him were all things created’, Colossians 1 – so he must have existed as Son before the Incarnation and therefore in eternity. Again, an indisputable reading of simple language, if words mean anything… etc. And that is basically as far as I was permitted to go; he didn’t see them as proof enough, especially in the light of his already settled belief, or rather, unbelief, regarding Christ’s eternal Sonship; and in context of other verses which he said did not prove it, the conversation and therefore the acquaintance ended shortly thereafter.

So to those verses which he said did not prove the eternal Sonship, and which if taken independently of other scriptures do not in and of themselves declare Christ to be the eternal Son. He argued first that John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…’, could be applying merely to God giving his Son as a sacrifice upon the cross – Behold the Lamb of God – and therefore doesn’t actually say that the Son was Son before the Incarnation. And of course the phrase ‘only begotten’, to him, simply meant begotten of God in Mary’s womb. And yet if it was the Father who sent the Son, as 1 John 4:14 specifically states, and if he was Father before he sent his Son, which he obviously was, then he too was Father in eternity before the Incarnation; therefore he already had a Son before sending him into time: so a Son eternally begotten. Do you want to try and understand the fulness of ‘the mystery of Godliness’? It’s no good imposing the meaning and understanding of an earthly relationship between a father and his son to the deity, explaining that, well obviously, the father must have existed first, then to bring forth his son. We creatures of the dust with finite minds bound by time cannot understand the eternal; saving belief of these truths comes only by revelation of the Father. As it is evident that Jesus was the Son of God before he was sent into the world then we can only understand ‘only begotten’ as begotten from eternity. And if we believe that Jesus is God the Son then we must accept that ‘From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.’ Don’t try and understand it, or argue against it, but rather fall before him and seek of him that revelation of his Person.

Meanwhile consider this. Why did the Jews take up stones to stone Jesus when he said, ‘I and my Father are one’? ‘Because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God’, John 10:30-33. Jesus was speaking as the Son of God, the Son of his Father: ‘I and my Father’; and to the Jews’ ears any man who claimed to be the Son of God and ‘one’ with the Father would be saying that he was equal with, and was, God. The high priest heard the same: ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am’, which caused the high priest to rend his clothes, cry ‘blasphemer’, and put the Son of God upon a cross. Jesus deliberately said these things knowing full well that they would understand what he was saying about himself: that he was the Son of God, and always had been. Remember that it was specifically as Son (referring twice to ‘the Father’) that Jesus declared himself, ‘I AM’, see John 8:49-58.

Another verse, John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Upon quoting this my adversary said, Yes, Jesus existed as the Word before the Incarnation, but not as the Son. The fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and that he was also known and revealed as the Son of God, he argued, still in itself doesn’t make John 1:1 say that Jesus was Son before he came into the world. Does John 1:1 actually say, ‘In the beginning was the Son’, with subsequent verses referring to him as Son? No, not actually; so, as he said, John 1:1 cannot be used to prove Christ’s eternal Sonship. (No doubt Hebrews 1:2 referenced above would have been dismissed for the same reason if it read, ‘…hath in these last days spoken unto us by the Word.’) Annoying as this may seem this argumentative, picky, style of his does highlight the fact that we should take more care over which verses we use to prove what we believe, for in many instances certain verses, which we know in the greater context do establish the doctrine, don’t actually in themselves, in isolation, prove our point.

Just one more verse which is used to argue for Christ’s eternal Sonship but which, again, technically speaking doesn’t, is Romans 8:32, ‘[God] that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all…’ Again this could just be referring to the delivering up of the Son upon the cross; the question of his eternal Sonship not being addressed. Well, I mention these things as more or less the sum and substance of the conversation I had, and with the hope that the relating of them might sharpen our resolve to understand what we believe, why we believe what we do, and whether the verses we use to justify what we believe actually do.

But again I must stress that we can actually believe the truth, proving it absolutely from scripture while doing no injustice to scripture by taking verses out of context or making them say something they don’t; we can live and die in our beliefs, and yet go to our graves unregenerate and lost because we have not received a knowledge of the truth, and especially of the Person of the Son of God, by revelation of the Father, but by revelation of ‘flesh and blood’ – natural learning – only. You don’t believe it? Well just read what the Lord Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16 when he, Peter, declared Jesus to be ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon, Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’, verse 17. Here Jesus is clearly saying that there are two possible ways by which this truth that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God can be revealed to us: one is by revelation of flesh and blood, the other by revelation of the Father, and Peter’s ‘blessedness’ was only because the Father had revealed it unto him and not flesh and blood. The inference obviously being that we can believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God by natural revelation only and therefore not be ‘blessed’. How? Well from being taught it by parents, Sunday school teachers and preachers from childhood; by absorbing and giving intellectual assent to the doctrine as taught in theological statements, confessions of faith, or denominational tradition; or even just by seeing it revealed on the pages of holy scripture, where it is evident to all who have eyes to see that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that from all eternity! But none of that natural revelation is saving; we must have it by revelation of the Father. We must have that revelation which Paul had: ‘When it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me’, Galatians 1:15,16; a revelation he evidently had from the very beginning, see Acts 9:17-20.

John 17

But let us come to John 17, to this intimate communication of the Son with his Father, and see just how full and radiant is its testimony as to the eternal Sonship of Christ! In fact, it is breathtaking!

The Lord Jesus had been speaking with his disciples of, among other things, the coming of the Spirit, the promise of the Father, and had concluded, ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee’, John 16:33-17:1.

Immediately we have the Son speaking with the Father; very important to the question at hand. If verse one had read, ‘And Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thou me, that I also may glorify thee’, then none of the following could be related to eternal Sonship for, apart from verse one, Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as Son again in this prayer, though he still addresses the Father. Therefore the likes of my former friend could easily dismiss John 17 as relating at all to eternal Sonship, as he believes that Jesus called God ‘Father’ merely by becoming Son in the Incarnation. But, sorry unbeliever, Jesus does say, ‘Glorify thy Son’ in verse one, and so all references to himself during the remainder of the prayer: ‘I… me… mine…’, refer to him as Son, and as we shall see, Son from ‘before the world was.’ There is glory here!

In verses two and three Jesus continues to speak of himself, as Son, in the third person, ‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him’, verse 2. As many as thou hast given him? The Father has given certain ones to the Son? But when? Before he was sent! Jesus had already stated in John 6:37-39, ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven [as Son, as he is speaking of himself in relation to the Father], not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’ And what is that will? ‘And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.’ Jesus came because he already had a people given to him of the Father, before he came. If not, these verses make no sense and the actual reason for his coming becomes indefinite. Nowhere in the gospel are we led to understand that the Father sent the Son into the world and thereafter, during some point in his ministry, Jesus started to become aware of the fact that the Father was in the process of giving one and another to him, so that by the time he came to the cross it was fully decided and revealed who they were for whom he was to die. No, the thought is repulsive to all who know and love the truth of God’s ‘eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord’, Ephesians 3:11.

Those for whom the Son came were given him of the Father before the Incarnation, therefore in eternity; therefore he was Son in and from eternity. Later in John 10 Jesus is found speaking of his sheep, and that they were given to him of the Father, verse 29. And as he came into the world specifically to ‘give his life for the sheep’, verse 11, then, again, he must have known his sheep before he came. Notice that in this passage Jesus constantly refers to ‘the Father’; then in relation to him as Son.

Keeping in mind that the Father gave a people to his Son before he was sent, consider the following verses relating to eternal life and see if they confirm or deny this fact: 1 John 5:11, ‘And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’ John could have said, ‘…and this life is in Christ Jesus our Lord’, which here would have revealed no relation between ‘eternal life’ and ‘the Son’; but no. Jesus has already said in this prayer of John 17 that eternal life is to know Jesus Christ, as the Son, and in John 14:6 he has told us that he himself is ‘the life’. John again wrote at the beginning of his First Epistle that ‘the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifest unto us’, 1 John 1:2. Yes, John is immediately speaking of ‘the Word’ in verse one, but then equally immediately names him as the ‘Son Jesus Christ’ in verse three. The Son himself is ‘that eternal life, which was with the Father’! ‘In him was life’, John 1:4. ‘I am the life.’ There is no doubt from the testimony of scripture that the possession of eternal life is absolutely bound up with knowing Jesus Christ as Son, and as Son from all eternity. The Son is giving his people the life of eternity, he being that life; but he was not Son from eternity?! Listen to him, ‘For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself’, John 5:26. ‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him’, John 17:2. Bow and worship the eternal Son, the life.

One more. 2 Timothy 1:9, God, ‘who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’ Read these verses in the context of the whole and it is evident from scripture that the Father had a Son in eternity, that we know him as Jesus Christ the Son of God; that he gave him a people according to his eternal purpose in Christ Jesus, and that the Son came specifically for that people, to give his life for them, thereby saving them and presently to call them. And the whole was purposed and settled by grace before the Son came into the world.

John 17:5. ‘And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’ Read it, all you who deny the eternal Sonship of Christ, and tremble. If this is not the language of the unity of Father and Son from all eternity I know not what is. The Son is speaking of the glory which he had with the Father before the world was! What else can this be testifying but that the Son was with the Father equal in glory before time was created? ETERNAL SONSHIP.

John 17:6. Jesus says that he has ‘manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.’ This truth of the Father having given to the Son certain ones is repeated often in this prayer. The words ‘thine they were’ speak of their election and predestination in and by Christ, as Ephesians 1:4,5 states, ‘According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.’ And so, John 17:7, ‘they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.’ ‘For’, verse eight, ‘I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.’

What are these ‘words’ of which Jesus speaks? They are his doctrine, the doctrine of Christ, the gospel. ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me’, John 7:16. ‘For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak’, John 12:49,50. ‘He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me’, John 14:24. And those words which the Father hath given the Son to declare to his people are that the Son ‘came out from’ the Father, John 17:8: that God sent forth his Son into the world. And those who do not ‘keep’ these sayings, as treasure in the heart to meditate and feed upon, and by them grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, do not love him at all, neither do they love his gospel: ‘He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…’ For you unbelievers do realise, don’t you? that the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, the words that the Father gave the Son to speak, are a declaration of the eternal Sonship of Christ. Throw this doctrine aside as unimportant, as a little matter, and you have no gospel left. You might hold ‘other doctrines’ dear – as if there are many – like election, the virgin birth, imputed righteousness, etc, all thoroughly biblical and reformed, but so what? The gospel isn’t many doctrines but one body of doctrine, the doctrine of Christ, the whole stands or falls together; and if you do not believe and abide in the whole of the doctrine of Christ then, says John, you ‘have not God.’ But ‘he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son’, 2 John 9. You see, you just cannot separate Father and Son. You cannot ‘have God’ without having both Father and Son. You cannot have just the Father without the Son. Why? ‘Because I and my Father are one’, John 10:30, and they are and have been one from all eternity.

But Jesus back in verse six of John 17 tells us that he has manifested the Father’s name to those given unto him out of the world. This is the revelation of the Father by the Son: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’, John 1:18. The Father was not revealed before the Son came, but when he came from the Father he began to reveal him to his people. ‘In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him’, Luke 10:21,22. And what is this revelation but eternal life? ‘…that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’, John 17:3. Who is ‘thee, the only true God’ whom Jesus is addressing? The Father, verse 1. To know God as Father, and Jesus as Son sent from the Father is eternal life, nothing less and nothing other. Therefore revelation of the Father by the Son is vitally important, as is revelation of the Son by the Father: remember Paul’s, ‘When it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me.’ This is the only antidote to unbelief regarding any part of the doctrine of Christ, and this will silence the ‘wise and prudent’ in their own eyes and natural reasoning. When God commands the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ to shine into our hearts, then the truth of God in Father, Son and Holy Ghost is revealed and we know and worship the great I AM: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’, Revelation 4:8. ‘Which was’? What, only from the Incarnation? Hardly. This is the everlasting God revealed in three Persons, in eternal relationship; hitherto unknown but now made manifest to the people of God, to all those of the faith, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Hence, Holy, Holy, Holy.

And notice how this revelation is all attended with glory: ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, 2 Corinthians 4:6. ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father [then Son]), full of grace and truth’, John 1:14. ‘And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them…’ John 17:22. What happened when Jesus changed the water into wine? ‘This beginning of miracles [lit. signs] did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him’, John 2:11. This was a revelation of the glory of Christ in their hearts: ‘hath shined in our hearts’, interior illumination begetting faith. But Peter, James and John were also given to see something of the glory of his Person with their eyes as well, on the mount of transfiguration: Luke 9:32, ‘they saw his glory.’ And they never forgot it: ‘And [Christ] received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount’, 2 Peter 1:17,18. Even the announcement of the birth of the Saviour to the shepherds was attended with glory: ‘The glory of the Lord shone round about them’! Moments before Stephen died what did he see? ‘But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’, Acts 7:55,56. Yes, Stephen was so filled with a sense of the glory of God at his answer that he had begun by saying, ‘The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham’, verse 2. This all testifies to the answer of the Father to Jesus’ prayer for his people in John 17; ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory…’, verse 24. Only as this prayer of the Son is answered is faith poured into our hearts to believe in him. ‘Faith’ in Jesus without this revelation of his glory in the heart, is but false faith and presumption, and is really nothing but unbelief. And you have to be brought to felt unbelief before you will seek that revelation which only will gender true faith. Until then you only possess ‘flesh and blood’ revelation, and what good will that do you on that Day? Well, the Son prays for his people to behold his glory and so all of them assuredly will; and when they do there will be no unbelief found in them, especially regarding his glorious Person.

Sent, Love, Unity

In John 17:9-12 the Lord Jesus repeats that there are those whom the Father has given him, and that, verse 9, ‘they are thine’; praying, ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth’, verse 17. Again, do you believe the Father answers the prayers of his Son? Actually it’s not a question of ‘do you believe it’, but, does the Father answer the prayers of his Son? If so then they will be sanctified through the truth of the gospel; and if they remain unbelieving regarding the doctrine then it is evident that the Son is not praying for them.

But I want to mention three more aspects which flow from the truth of Christ’s eternal Sonship as found in the Lord’s prayer to his Father; and they are the meaning of the word ‘sent’ in verse 18; what Christ is saying regarding the love of his Father towards the end of his prayer; and to try and see something of the wonderful unity which exists between Father, Son, and those for whom he is praying.

In verse eighteen Jesus says, ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.’ ‘As… so.’ Here again we have the phrase ‘being sent’: ‘As thou hast sent me into the world…’; ‘God sent forth his Son’, Galatians 4:4; ‘…he sent unto them his son…’, Matthew 21:37, see context of that parable. As we have already argued, the Son must have existed as Son before he was sent, a truth in itself enough to prove Christ’s eternal Sonship. But here in John 17:18 Jesus says that as the Father has sent him into the world, so now he is sending the apostles into the world. And there is no difference in the sending: ‘As… so.’ The word translated ‘sent’ is apostello, which is why I’ve just called the disciples apostles. This word means ‘sent forth’, or ‘sent away from’, as one that is with a certain person, and that person then sends the other away from him with, in this case, a message. The disciples were with Christ first, he ordained them as apostles, taught and prepared them for the work he was preparing them to do, and then sent them forth from himself to do that work, to preach that message. This is clearly seen in Mark 3:13,14, ‘And [Jesus] 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.’ This is being sent.

The point is that ‘as…so’ is seen in that the apostles were with Christ and ordained of him before they were sent: they existed as apostles before their being sent. So, likewise, the Son was with the Father and was ordained to come to be the Saviour of sinners before he was sent. They existed as apostles, he existed as Son before being sent. Clear enough? This is proved again in Hebrews 3:1 where Christ Jesus is called ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our profession’; it’s the same word: ‘sent forth.’ The Son was sent forth by the Father out of eternity into time; therefore he was Son in and from eternity. Eternal Sonship.

In the latter part of John 17:24 the Son says to his Father, ‘…for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’ Yea, ‘The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand’, John 3:35. Who loved whom? The Father loved the Son! When? From the Incarnation only? ‘Before the foundation of the world’; then from all eternity. And as his people were given to the Son before the Incarnation then the Father loved them in him ‘before the foundation of the world’ also, ‘…that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me’, verse 23 – notice again that word ‘as’. Look at 1 John 4:10, and see the order, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ Before the Son was sent the Father loved both him and those for whom he was sent. In fact, God sent the Son because he loved those given to his Son, and because as sinners they needed a Saviour to be the propitiation for their sins: to bare their sins in his own body on the tree; to be made sin for them who knew no sin; to divert the wrath of God upon sin away from them onto himself their substitute, for them, in place of them: Propitiation. And it was all purposed in eternity! The Person to carry it out, the people for whom it was to be done, all out of that everlasting love which emanated from God himself. ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen’, Revelation 1:5,6. And it all springs out of eternal Sonship!

And what of the unity of which the Lord Jesus speaks in John 17? This I admit is a deep which I can perceive more than explain. The Lord Jesus speaks of the unity which exists between himself and his Father, and that his people are to be brought into that same unity. Verses 21-23: ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.’

The immediate context of these words is, of course, verse 20: ‘Neither pray I for these [the apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ The apostles by their preaching the doctrine of the gospel of Christ would lay the foundation of the church, the ecclesia, upon which it would be built, and many would believe on Christ through their word: ‘And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone’, Ephesians 2:20; ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…’, Acts 2:42; ‘According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’, 1 Corinthians 3:10,11. And there would be a wonderful unity amongst the members of this ecclesia of Christ. What character their unity? Only the same as exists between Father and Son! ‘That they may be one, even as we are.’ But surely the church today in its denominated form is not unified! No, well, it doesn’t reflect an answer to Christ’s prayer to his Father then, does it. And as we know that the Father will always answer the prayers of his Son, then he must and will call his people out from this corruption.

So what is the nature of the unity of which Christ speaks? It is a unity of the state they abide ‘in’: ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.’ Let the words just speak for themselves: ‘I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.’ We read that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’, 2 Corinthians 5:19. We read that there is one God, not three gods, manifest in three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They have a unity in nature which is unfathomable to the natural mind; and yet we read that the church is ‘in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, it is actually ‘in’ them. ‘And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life’, 1 John 5:20.

The apostles’ doctrine constantly refers to the members of the body of Christ as being ‘in Christ’; it is the state they dwell in. Previously they dwelt ‘in sin’, but through a mighty miraculous work of God in regeneration they are now ‘in’ his Son, see Romans 6:1-3; in fact they have been made partakers of the divine nature, having been born of God: God himself in Father, Son and Holy Spirit has come and dwells in them! ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ 1 Corinthians 3:16. ‘For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. ‘In [Christ] all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye are also builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit’, Ephesians 2:21,22. ‘For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell: for I have desired it’, Psalm 132:13,14. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you… If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’, John 14:15-20,23. The Lord then goes on to exhort his disciples to ‘abide in him’ and in his love; to love one another as he has loved them; and to keep his commandments: in other words, to dwell and abide in the new state in which they find themselves: ‘in Christ’, and in his doctrine.

It is all the language of unity; of such a close intimate unity between one another that it is the same in essence as that which exists, and has always existed, between the Father and his Son. This is what the Son prays for, and what is manifested among the members of his body to this day. He said, ‘I will build my church’, a determination which cannot be overthrown by ‘the gates of hell’, nor the traditions of men; it is what Jesus came to do, is what he is doing among those members of his building, and is why they are indeed manifest as one, even as the Father and the Son are one. Now is this the ‘church’ you desire to be part of? Then come out from that corruption which evidently does not answer to this prayer or work of the Son, and wait upon him to be gathered in that unity: ‘that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.’

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Personal Testimony

But I must relate something of my own experience of coming into a realisation that Christ was the Son of God as presented in the above article. When I read Peter’s confession in Matthew 16, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’; it can only read, The Son of God from all eternity. If you’ve had the same revelation of the Father you know that is what Peter is confessing. It is not presumption but a blessed realisation that the Person who is Jesus Christ is the Son of God manifest in the flesh. The thought that he became the Son when he was born into the world is nowhere to be found or suggested in that revelation; you know and worship him as God: God manifest in the flesh.

I was brought up a ‘Christian’, a Bible-believer with no hint of unbelief, nor rebellious questioning of anything I was told was true about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything regarding the history recorded in the Book. All this ‘flesh and blood’ revelation was very straightforward and easily received as a child. But I remained dead to God, in actual enmity and rebellion towards Christ and his gospel, yea, dead in trespasses and sins, although of course I didn’t know it. And how far did I go in this state? I went till into my early thirties, by which time I had been baptised, was beginning to ‘take services’ in village chapels, and was helping at a children’s club at church. Of course I was happy and settled in my beliefs and was quite willing to argue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the Person of Christ, always leaving them with the sure prospect that they were going to hell when they died.

Although in ‘real life’ I still had the world’s mentality, there was still some ‘comfort’ to be found in reading the Bible, reading good books and pondering the issues of eternity; mostly of course to confirm my presumption that it was well with my soul. Yes, good ministry from Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones: powerful preaching, gruff delivery, inspirational presentation. And as late as my thirty first year I distinctly remember saying to someone who was arguing for ‘election’ that, ‘Salvation is 99% free will! I’ve made my decision, and that’s that.’

Ninety nine percent? Whatever does that mean?! A few years later after I’d read A.W. Pink’s ‘The Sovereignty of God’ and come into an understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation, ‘election’, I remember arguing with someone who said that salvation was 95% free will; he allowed God five percent when I had only given Him one! And I would have continued in this arrogant unbelieving state to this day unless the God whom I knew not had intervened. For you must realise that regeneration, revelation, salvation, is indeed all of God and is an absolute miracle of grace: it is God doing something to you and in you in living experience: it is the heavenly Potter sovereignly and independently coming to a dead lump of clay and bringing it to life, without any consent or co-operation sought or needed from that lump. Well, did Jesus ask Lazarus if he’d like to come back to life? Of if he would mind awfully coming out of the tomb? And so it was with me. A dead person cannot choose, desire, or be consulted on anything spiritual; it must all come from God according to his own eternal purpose of grace in Christ Jesus before the world was. And where were we then? Ninety nine percent?!

So the time came for the Lord to begin to work, and he did it by speaking his word into my heart. And what word was that? A nice promise? An affectionate ‘sweet nothing’? ‘Oh, the first word of the gospel is Love!’ they all coo: ‘For God so loved…’ But is it? It certainly is not. The word that Almighty God, the Lord Jesus, spoke to me was one which exposed all my presumption and unbelief: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’, Matthew 7:21. It was a word which came unexpectedly, and which wrought in me over a few days a complete and utter destruction of all that I thought I believed, leaving me with absolutely nothing: no salvation, no faith, no assurance, and no understanding of anything pertaining to God and ‘Christianity’. How did this word work? Simply by causing me to reason that, just because I called Jesus ‘Lord’, didn’t in and of itself mean that I was going to heaven when I died. And just that.

How do I know it was revelation of God and not just my own imagination or a severe prick of conscience? Because it didn’t wear off; neither did it cause me to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and try all the more to be a good sincere Christian; and because it wrought so deeply and profoundly within my soul that I never thought this could apply to anyone else but me, for it did apply to me. This was no new wonderful realisation that I couldn’t wait to use when I preached again, telling the congregation that ‘out there somewhere’ were people who called Jesus Lord but who weren’t saved, which at length I discovered is how most serious preachers do present it. No. This wasn’t someone else, this was me. And I was undone. What did I have left? Nothing. But couldn’t I shake myself down and begin to reason that, because of all the things I did believe then probably on balance these words didn’t apply to me? Phew! Near miss? No. I was that man and I was lost.

I say I had nothing. Well I did have one thing: a cry. I knew this word had found me out, that it was true; I felt it! This was no academic realisation but a sharp sword which had come and pierced me to the depths of my being; this of course being that ‘word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword…’ of Hebrews 4:12. No, this was not me being lightly wounded by having read a word written on the page of the Bible – my beloved Bible! – this was a living spoken word from the mouth of God himself. Scripture alone can’t convict you of what you are outside of Christ, and scripture can’t rescue you from that wrath to come; scripture can’t impart faith to you, and scripture cannot give you assurance that your sins are forgiven; only God can do that, something which I knew nothing of then but which he would prove at length.

And here is another reason why this experience wasn’t born out of my own imagination. Because God was starting to do something that I didn’t know he even did! I didn’t know that he actually ‘spoke’ to people, or that he actually came and intervened in a person’s life and wrought his salvation in them. I didn’t know God was an active God who did anything this dramatic today – apart from answer prayers, whatever prayers were, and whatever answers were. No. I just thought that God had done all he was to do two thousand years ago in ‘sending Jesus to die for our sins’, and that the rest was up to us: to believe it, accept it, testify to it, and say ‘thank you Jesus’ for saving us. But no. That false gospel has indeed sent many millions to hell in a false presumption that because they call Jesus ‘Lord’ then everything is all right. I was being taught that salvation is indeed all of God and all of grace – those reformed preachers love to talk about grace! – and that God had started a work in a poor lost soul to bring it in time to a knowledge of salvation in Christ, way above and beyond what I’d known and understood until then.

So, all I had was a cry. But surprisingly the cry wasn’t as yet for salvation but for something much more fundamental: to know the truth, whatever it was, and whatever it would cost to receive it. I cried that the Lord would teach me the truth because it was evident to me that all I had believed up till then was either a lie, false or at least unsaving. What a place to be brought to! Where everything you’ve ever presumed to be true turns out to be a deception. What was salvation? I didn’t know. Quoting Bible verses which spoke of salvation meant nothing now. What was faith? I didn’t know; how could I? I was full of unbelief, or, at least, darkness and ignorance. And this was the point. I was in total ignorance about anything and everything pertaining to God. I didn’t know him and presently I was shown that I didn’t know or believe in his Son. Whichever way I looked all I saw was confusion, loss, and despair. I’ve tried not to use over dramatic language in describing this state that I found myself in, but the scriptural language is sufficient, except that now I started to experience what those words meant: being lost, undone, out of the way, dead, ignorant. I can’t honestly say that the word ‘sinner’ was opened up to me in those very early days of awakening; that came a bit later; all I had was ignorance and a cry.

But this wasn’t the end of the matter. For the Lord came again and revealed an even more horrendous part of my state; and that was disbelief regarding his Son. With the cry that I had, to know the truth, I started reading the Bible more concentratedly, thinking, I suppose, to find some comfort or salvation therein; I don’t know; I didn’t know what I was looking for. You see, I still didn’t realise that God was working and that he actually would answer my cries! Strange as that might sound, but I wasn’t used to having prayers answered as such, I just presumed up till then that when you prayed God must have heard and answered; which answer you looked for in a change of circumstance or a feeling of relief or assurance: especially when a nice verse of scripture popped into your mind. No. I didn’t know that God was ever involved in the prayer process as if he actually heard and answered! (Though I’ve learnt since that all true prayer is actually indited of him.) And now, although I was crying to God I didn’t expect that he would actually answer or do anything really, I just had this helpless cry.

But he did come again, to reveal more unbelief: there’s a lovely answer to prayer, eh? I was searching the scriptures looking for I knew not what and came across the conversation the Lord Jesus was having with the woman at the well in John 4. She said, ‘I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.’ Now I was reading these verses out loud and when I got to those words of his and read them, I was so immediately struck by them that without thinking, out of my mouth, from my heart, came these words: I actually spoke them: ‘Well, what an arrogant thing to say! Who does he think he is to say such a thing?!’ They poured out in all their unbelief before I could put my hand over my mouth to stop them. What did Jesus say? I am the Messiah, that’s all. But to me, what he was saying was: I am the Son of God. I am God. I am he. I AM. I am the only begotten of the Father from all eternity. I am everything scripture testifies me to be. My unbelief was regarding the Person of Christ in all its attributes. It was a complete and total unbelief of heart which was revealed in my words. This is why I indicated before that Peter’s confession of Christ was more than just the words of his confession: it was a revelation and belief of His whole Person; the thought that Jesus only became the Son of God at the Incarnation was unthinkable. No, Jesus is all that scripture declares him to be and when the revelation of the Father comes to us we know who he is with a fulness of revelation; likewise, when a revelation of our unbelief comes, as is what happened to me, then it is a total unbelief: nothing I had previously believed regarding Jesus stood any more. I just didn’t believe in him at all. Well, I might still have had some vague notion that he was God, or the Saviour, or whatever; but so what if I had? it meant nothing. In fact none of those thoughts or reasons came into play; I just no longer believed he was who he said he was: it was total unbelief.

So I knew nothing and didn’t know what else to do but to cry. At length I was reminded of another verse in John which gave me a little encouragement: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ Those were the words on the page, and so I attached myself to them particularly and prayed more earnestly in the light of them. And then one morning while I was lying in bed and looking out the window, in pretty much a state of despair – remember, I didn’t know what was meant to happen next, that God ever spoke – these words were literally spoken as it were through the window, not audibly but into my heart: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ I can remember the moment well. Those words immediately produced in me such excitement and joy that I flung myself around the bed as one who was having some sort of delirious fit! But I wasn’t delirious, neither was I having a fit; I was in a state of momentary liberty; for it was a promise that my cry would be answered. The word itself wasn’t an answer but the promise of an answer. I would know the truth. No truth as such was revealed then, just the promise.

This encouraged me greatly to continue my search for the truth for God himself had promised that I would find it. If you’d come to me then and asked, What truth is it you’re looking for, Andrew? I would have replied that I didn’t know, just that I wanted to know the truth. Remember that I could have gone to John 14:6 and read Jesus saying that he was the truth, but that wouldn’t have made any difference to me then because I didn’t know him or believe in him; what comfort could I possibly have gained from that verse? No, still unbeknown to my understanding the Lord himself was teaching me, was actually communicating into my heart by his voice, by revelation.

And at length he started to reveal my sin to me; it was not, as I remember, an all encompassing, depth plummeting, hand wringing revelation of my state as one ‘in sin’ as distinct from being a person who ‘committed sins’; the knowledge of these things has grown to greater degrees over the years; but the one thing I did know was that I was a sinner because I was in such a terrible state of unbelief. That was the thing that shocked me so much about the initial revelations: I was an unbeliever. Nevertheless the Lord had obviously started to impart faith to me for the cry was itself a cry of faith, although I didn’t feel it to be so at the time. Absolute unbelief I suppose would have issued in rebellion and denial: in a headlong determination to prove God wrong by showing that I did believe, I was a good Christian, Matthew 7:21 didn’t apply to me, free will was right, we did have the power in and of ourselves to please God, and indeed, he expected us to! But no. That wasn’t my state now. So faith must have been there, but it certainly wasn’t my faith in exercise.

At length I was brought down low enough in my sinfulness to a point where all I had left was my sin to bring to the Lord. I’d had the promise from John 8:32 but could get no further than that. I wasn’t ‘advancing’ in my knowledge of the truth by my Bible reading; I dared not say that I actually believed anything as such yet: questions about election or free will, etc. were not an issue at this point because I had and knew nothing. All I had was a growing – if ‘nothing’ can grow – realisation of my sinfulness before God as a hindrance or barrier or, I knew not what, to knowing the truth or being saved, or having peace or anything else; that all I could do was confess my state to him.

I remember I was on my knees just confessing my sin. I don’t think I was confessing particular sins as such, just that I was a sinner. There wasn’t even a conscious cry to be forgiven or saved, these words held no comprehension to me then; it was just that I was a sinner and that was that. Looking back this was all so basic: a knowledge of my sinnership and utter hopelessness before God. Why did I cry to him in this state? I don’t know. Did I expect him to do anything for or to me while in this state? Probably not. When a man is drowning in a river he just cries. He doesn’t wait to see if there is anyone there who might hear him, he just cries as a natural response to the state he finds himself in. Who can tell! Perhaps someone will hear and come and rescue him. Does he need to know who his potential rescuer might be so that he can judge whether or not it is worthwhile calling out? No, he just cries. As I said, I didn’t know that God actually saves people, I thought we did that by our faith in Jesus; and as that had so evidently not worked in the past I wasn’t actually expecting anything from him. It was such a desperate state that I was in, in my sin, that I just had to confess, regardless of what I thought might happen next.

But what did happen next was that the Lord came and met me in that helpless state and literally washed me from head to foot. I felt it as I was confessing before him. It started in my head and worked its way down through my body to my feet. That is all I can describe it as: a washing, a cleansing. In a way it didn’t seem dramatic at the time. I don’t remember any words spoken in that moment. I didn’t feel elated or ecstatic. There was no throwing myself around the room, just a quiet realisation that God had met me and done something in me. It wasn’t till a few days later, when I was reading John chapter 8 and the woman taken in adultery that I came to these words of the Saviour, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’, that I believe the Lord actually whispered those words into my heart and gave me an understanding that I was not condemned in his sight.

I didn’t fully understand all that had happened at the time, for at church I wasn’t coming under the sound of a true gospel ministry. Because that is what the preaching of the gospel of Christ is designed for: to teach the saints what their salvation is in Christ: who he is, what he wrought upon the cross, what he works in his people in their experience: what true faith is, and how he brings them into it, etc., etc. I knew none of those things then, except in the experience of them at the Lord’s hand! No. This salvation of the Lord is no academic exercise; it is a living experience which I have grown to realise is alien to the vast majority – well, to ‘many’ – of those who call him Lord, whether they be in pew or pulpit; the proof of which is their response when I merely quote Matthew 7:21-23 and ask if they could ever imagine that it applies to them. Not that the Lord has to use that word specifically to all his people in awakening them, but that those who have been so wrought upon will recognise the truth of this testimony and the Person who brought it to pass. But this verse of the Sermon on the Mount – and all Christians love the Sermon on the Mount – has caused more rage towards me from them than any other; and just in the quoting it.

‘We beheld his glory’

Well. To the Person of Christ and a revelation of his glory in me. This is why I’ve written this testimony to tell how the Lord was glorified in me.

Some time later, perhaps a year or more, I was asked to go and take a service at a village chapel I’d been to once before, and as they only had a morning service I asked if I could have two Sundays in a row so I could get into a text more fully. These services were usually only an hour long with, in this case, five hymns as well as the reading and prayer to be fitted in. I had as my text part of the last verse of John 16: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ I spoke on the former clause the first week and announced I would be speaking on ‘overcoming’ the next.

You must understand that in those early days, despite my experience with Matthew 7:21, it still hadn’t really dawned on me that there might be people in the chapels who weren’t saved; I, like most other preachers in these places, just presumed that we were preaching to God’s people; the thought that the words of my text might not apply to them didn’t occur to me. The Lord Jesus speaks in intimate conversation to his disciples and we preachers just rend them out of context and apply them to anyone who walks into a church on a Sunday morning! Anyway, I spoke for twenty five minutes on ‘tribulation’ the first week, and there was an old lady in the congregation who apparently went home and said to her husband, ‘I think you should come next week, the young man is going to speak on ‘overcoming’, I think he might have something.’ But her husband was reluctant to come as he’d given up going as nothing preached in the place ever did him any good: ‘They know nothing’, he’d say. It turns out this man had preached the gospel in many places himself but had been rejected because he liked to preach, among other things, ‘the way of the cross’, the only way to overcoming in this world, something I knew nothing about then.

But the lady must have prevailed over her husband for the next week there he was sitting once again in the pew to hear what this young man had to say on the matter. After I’d rambled incoherently on the subject (my present judgment, looking back), I was asked if I would give them a lift home as it was on my way. And as I was driving them up the road Mr Snowball, for that was his name, who was sitting in the back, said to me, ‘Andrew, you know nothing about the cross, do you?’ And I remember looking at him in the mirror and saying, ‘What do you mean?’ And that started a two year friendship between us, until he died, during which time I would go to his house and sit with him and his wife in their kitchen/parlour, where he would minister the work of the cross to me, and especially as it related to the children of God overcoming in this world. One of his favourite verses was Revelation 12:11, ‘And 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.’ And again, Luke 9:23,24, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.’

Mr Snowball preached to me that the work of Christ on the cross meant not only that our sins were put away, but that it was also the death of ‘self’, Paul saying, ‘I am [have been] crucified with Christ…’, Galatians 2:20. It was this doctrine of union with Christ in his death, as well as in his resurrection, which was so liberating because it enabled us to see the total victory of the work of the cross over the old man as well as over sin. And the reason that it was so liberating, or potentially so, was that it was eminently so practical; it touched and affected our daily walk: real life! If we could see and enter into this wonderful truth that we had actually been crucified with Christ, then we could see ourselves as dead, and alive from the dead with Christ ‘the other side of death’. Ephesians 2:5,6 says that God has quickened his people together with Christ, ‘and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ In other words: When Christ died, we died; when Christ rose from the dead, we rose in him and with him and are now, in effect, already raised and seated with him in heavenly places. When God looked at the work of his Son upon the cross he not only saw him die, but he saw all his people die in and with him also; when he rose, they all rose with him; and when he ascended into heaven, they all ascended with him; so as far as God is concerned we are there already! In Christ and by our union with him in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension, we are counted as already to have died, risen and ascended. The victory is already won in and with our Substitute! No wonder Paul could preach that the saints were ‘accepted in the beloved’, and that salvation is ‘not of works.’

Now this was revelatory to me, especially as I wanted to know the truth and be set free by it. If we can see it and begin to count ourselves as actually dead, then the way is opened to deny self – which is dead – and to follow Christ, which is what we surely want to do. Easier said than done of course as I have found out; but if we know the doctrine then we can pray to the Lord to lead us in that way; in the way of the cross; in a way of overcoming our enemies in this world, the devil, the flesh and our natural propensity to sin. If God himself sees us as already overcomers in his Son then that should liberate us to live as overcomers.

But there was more to this revelation which I received under Mr Snowball’s simple but profound ministry (no wonder he was banned from the churches!); and that was the glory of Christ. I point to this as the time when the Son was revealed in me and I beheld his glory. What a Saviour! How much greater was his work, his sacrifice, than what I’d been brought up to believe. I had been taught that Jesus died for our sins upon the cross and if we will believe in him and ask him to forgive us then we will be saved. The cross being merely a place to go to ‘get your sins forgiven’, before you leave it behind and go off into your new Christian life ‘happy all the day’; reading the Bible and trying to obey what you think you saw there, ‘following Jesus’, thereby living a good life pleasing to God; as if the cross were some sort of starting point in your journey to heaven, one which once you’d been there you didn’t have to think about too much again; well it was the place always mentioned in those ‘gospel services’ where you hoped there might be an unsaved person in church who hadn’t yet had their sins forgiven, so the cross was relevant for the unbeliever but not really for those of us who were now ‘saved’.

But no. The doctrine of the gospel of Christ places the work of the cross at the centre: it’s relevance to the walk of the child of God being just as important throughout life as at the beginning. Jesus himself walked in the way of the cross before he came to Calvary, and he expects his people to follow him in that way. His whole walk had been one of self sacrifice to the will of the Father. Read the gospels and see how he suffered the contradiction of sinners against himself; how he oftentimes opened not his mouth when being falsely accused; how he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; how he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; how that when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. This is self sacrifice in daily life in the midst of, and often at the hands of sinners. This was the Son of God coming to earth from the glory and purity of heaven into this fallen sinful corrupt cursed world to sacrifice himself for his people: and before he came to the cross he suffered as one holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners in his own nature; suffered at the hands of sinful men: even his own received him not; even his disciples often failed to understand him or believe him: How is it that ye have no faith? O ye of little faith. O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?

Moreover the people, along with their leaders, tried on more than one occasion to take him, to kill him, to stone him, to trap him in his words, to tempt him; they accused him of working by the power of the devil, called him a Samaritan, a blasphemer, and were often in a rage against him. But he suffered it all, not counting the cost to himself, out of obedience to the will of his Father and love towards his people. And that was all before he even came to the cross. And the point that Mr Snowball brought out to me was that this is how the Lord Jesus leads all his people to walk in this world: Follow me, he said; Come after me. I am walking a certain way and my people walk in the same path: ‘they follow me.’ If any man will come after me he will deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. And those who call themselves my disciples, but who do not walk in this way, are false. We must die to self if we are to live unto God and experience that liberty in this world which the Saviour promises to all who follow him. There is no room for fulfilling the desires or lusts of the flesh in this narrow way, it is ‘daily’. There is no place for ‘self’ at all! What I want, what I think, what I will, has all been crucified with Christ! No, it’s all ‘Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.’ And it is all born out of the substitutionary work of Christ upon the cross for and as his people, as we are brought to see ourselves as dead with him and risen the other side of death to walk in newness of life. After all, in Christ we are now strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, and are citizens of another country; one not seen as yet, but one which we are already dwelling in, in spirit, in Christ, as far as God is concerned anyway.

No. I knew nothing about the cross then; Mr Snowball was right. And before then I had never beheld the glory of Christ in his Person and work; but I began to now. And as I would drive the dozen or so miles home after sitting at his feet for two hours, I remember feeling as though I was driving ten feet above the road: ‘full of glory’!

Well, it wasn’t Mr Snowball himself who revealed the glory of Christ to me; it was God himself who, by his Spirit, revealed his Son in me; and from that time on all my unbelief regarding his Person was gone. And no one now can tell me that Christ is not the Son of God from all eternity, because I have ‘seen’ him, and know him as such. And I can now also understand something of what John meant when he wrote: ‘And we beheld his glory; glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

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Ecclesiastes: An Introduction

The book of Ecclesiastes is the last will and testament of King Solomon: ‘the son of David, king in Jerusalem’, verse 1. He is ‘the Preacher’, meaning ‘one who convenes, or gathers’: one who calls the people around him to hear his words; and here Solomon, at the end of his life, calls the people to hear his final statement on life and its meaning. And what is the great message of the world’s wisest man? ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity’, verse 2.

And after he expounds his reasons for saying this, he concludes the whole matter with the vital exhortation: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil’, Eccl. 12:13,14. And the preaching was ended.

And no doubt there were those who took these words to heart and obeyed them, for the people had been happy to hear his wisdom in the past. And after he died his wisdom remained with them and became part of the fabric of their consciousness and national identity, for their scriptures contained much of his writings and sayings: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon. So at the time of Jesus the people were fully aware of not only ‘the patience of Job’, but also of ‘the wisdom of Solomon’, Matthew 12:42.

After Solomon had ascended the throne of David his father and had asked the LORD for ‘understanding, judgment, and discernment’, 1 Kings 3:9, in other words ‘wisdom’, the LORD gave him his request to the full, for we read, ‘And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt… and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five… and there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom’, 1 Kings 4:29-34, cp. also 1 Kings 10:1-13.

And this he confirmed in Ecclesiastes 1:16, not out of pride but just as a matter of fact: ‘I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come into great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem [more even than David, then – the man after God’s own heart]: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ No, there was no pride here because in his wisdom he had also been brought to experience the sobering fact that, ‘In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow’, verse 18: the reasons for which we will come to.

It is evident, then, that the book of Ecclesiastes is an essential book to read, meditate upon, and fall under; for here is ‘the meaning of life’ in this world, what it is all about: the beginning, the end, the purpose, the sum and substance of it all; and in the light of that, the only thing needful for the individual really to be occupied with: the seeking of the salvation of the soul in the light of the fact that the day of judgment is coming. In fact Solomon’s closing words of this book, Eccl. 12:13,14, are the same in essence to those spoken by the apostle Paul in Athens a thousand years later, Acts 17: ‘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…’ verses 24-31, such is the unity of the message of the Book.

But what is the immediate background to Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes? Why do we say that it was his last will and testament? Because he constantly speaks in language which indicates he is at his end, that he has seen and done ‘all things’: ‘I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven… I have seen all the works that are done under the sun… So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me… [but] what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.’ Indeed didn’t he voice ‘the conclusion of the whole matter’ at the end? Therefore we can say that, because of the language – the absolute language – Solomon uses in these sayings, that he was near his end: one cannot speak of ‘all things’ if there is an expectation of more to come.

Moreover Solomon is speaking after having gone astray after ‘strange women’ and their gods, see 1 Kings 11. ‘And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice’. I believe the book of Ecclesiastes is born of Solomon’s falling under the rebuke and judgment of the LORD concerning his turning away: ‘Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant’, verse 11. And didn’t Solomon say, possibly with this in mind, ‘Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?’, Eccl. 2:19.

So Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s confession, his repentance, and he is eager to tell the people how that wisdom, lasting wisdom, is only found by continuing in ‘the fear of the LORD’, which is what he had fallen from in his latter years. Perhaps he was now thinking back to other words he’d once spoken: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding’, Proverbs 9:10, and to the words of his father who had sung: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever’, Psalm 111:10. But Solomon had not ‘done his commandments’ into old age and had therefore fallen into a grievous way. Nevertheless the LORD still loved Solomon, cp. 2 Samuel 12:24, and therefore restored him in his old age, though without removing the judgment upon his kingdom after him. Thus the old man wrote out of his wisdom of all things for his people’s good and for our admonition.

‘Vanity of vanities’

It is surprising to realise that the words ‘vanity of vanities’, so immediately associated with Ecclesiastes, appear in only two verses in the book: in chapters 1:2 and 12:8; in other words, at the beginning and at the end of Solomon’s testimony. Therefore they could be seen as the “speech marks” around everything he says: that which encapsulates or sums up his message.

But what a conclusion to come to at the end of a long and singular life! Surely there is more to it than that? Life in this world issues in more purposefulness, surely! Well, no. Solomon was the wisest of men, remember. There has never been another king like Solomon. Today’s monarchs and rulers fall infinitely short of Solomon in wisdom and understanding of those things which pertain to life and the ruling of the nations. Listen to what he said to the LORD, right at the beginning of his reign, when He said unto him, ‘Ask what I shall give thee’. The expected answer would have been what the LORD said in reply to his request: ‘long life and riches for thyself, and the life of thine enemies’, verse 11. But no, Solomon asked the following instead:

‘Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?’ 1 Kings 3:6-9.

And the LORD answered his request: ‘Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days’, verses 12,13. And the words of the LORD have stood to this day: there never has been such a king like unto Solomon.

So Solomon lived and walked in his wisdom, and according to the understanding – discernment – which the LORD had given him, until he went astray. But for all that, when he came to die and to look back over all the things his hands had wrought, his mind had pondered, and his position had afforded him, still the conclusion was this: ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

Now this should be a salutary lesson to us ‘mere mortals’: the dust of the earth, as we sit and ponder our lives, the desires, lusts and ambitions of our hearts; as we work out how ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilled’ we are going to be in months or years to come if we can just get this, or achieve that, or gain the other. But if he who’d had it all, who’d done it all, and who’d had the power to command whatever his heart desired, concluded that – having attained to supreme fulfilment of all his desires way above and beyond what we will ever achieve – it was all vanity, what can we expect to conclude at the end of our few, poor, quickly passing days upon earth?

‘Vanity of vanities,’ saith the wise man by experience, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ Save yourself, then, the trouble of immersing yourself in the things of this world at the expense of your soul’s good, and go again straight to the end of the book and obey Solomon’s wise counsel: ‘Fear God and keep his commandments’, for judgment is coming. Solomon knew that every work, literally, ‘is brought into judgment with every secret thing.’ All that he had done and achieved was brought to judgment: that is, the state of his heart in all these things had been brought into judgment; and although many of the things he did do, in and of themselves, had not been ‘evil’ as such, many others had turned his heart away from his God, His commandments, statutes, and testimonies.

But today, in the light of the full revelation of the gospel, we have the teaching of ‘a greater than Solomon’ to hear and fall under: the Lord Jesus: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’; ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ This is the way of wisdom: obeying and following him who is Wisdom personified, Proverbs 8. And we know that all else, every other path, is vanity. All out of Christ just walk ‘in the vanity of their minds’, Ephesians 4:17, while the supposed worship of some, even of the true and living God, can be nothing other than ‘in vain’, Mark 7:6-8. So the wise king called it all vanity, and so it is.

And to illustrate his point he asks a question, as if to counter immediate argument against what he has said: Well, all right then, if you don’t believe that all is vanity, let me ask you this: ‘What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?’ Ultimately. Don’t you realise that ‘one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever’? Look at your life in the context of the passing years, decades and centuries. In our lifetimes some of us think we can be ‘someone’, and the more ambitious – or puffed up – think that the world is going to be different because of them, because of something they will do. But go back one hundred years: how many who were alive then in positions of power or authority still hold influence upon this generation? Very few, if any. Go back two or three hundred years and ask the same question. For all their fame then, and for all the fame some of them still have now, as kept alive by those who admire their work, art, or ideas, there are very few whose names, memories and influence have survived to this day. And anyway, if you could contact these great ones of years gone by and ask what they now think of all their achievements, and that their names are still revered, most likely you’d hear them crying out in torments: ‘It was all vanity!’

Which reminds us of another question beginning with the words ‘What profit…?’ Mark 8:36: ‘What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ So asked ‘the greater than Solomon’ in his wisdom. But Solomon has told us that he had gained the whole world, ‘all things’, but that it had been indeed no profit to his soul: it was all vanity outside of the fear of God.

Yes, men come and men go, ‘but the earth abideth for ever.’ Each generation has its own time, its own ideas, its own ‘wisdom’. Each generation thinks itself more ‘advanced’ than the previous one (cp. Prov. 30:12); but each generation dies away and at length is generally dismissed by succeeding generations as old-fashioned, out of date, primitive even, compared to us. Therefore if one generation is relatively ‘wise’, what good is it if the next is ‘foolish’ and lets go to waste all the understanding of the previous one? It is just vanity. Meanwhile the earth abideth for ever.

The Testimony of Nature

So Solomon does not go from chapter 1:2: ‘vanity of vanities’, straight to 12:13: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments’, without expounding his conclusion. As he begins to counter objections he next calls nature to testify to the fact that there is never any fulfilment in this world. He speaks of the sun, the wind, and the watercourses to prove that things just keep going round and round in the world regardless of what man might achieve in any given generation.

I witnessed this to a very small degree a few years ago when we went to Scotland. It had been twenty-eight years since I’d seen the mountains of Assynt (the most beautiful spot on earth!), but despite all the changes that had occurred in my life and in the world at large during that period – 1977-2005 – there they were, Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mòr, Cul Beag, and Stac Pollaidh still standing there, unchanged. It was quite moving really, humbling: a wonderful picture of the immutability of God who formed them. The same, of course, can be said when you lift up your eyes at night, where you will see the same Orion in the heavens as Job and Amos saw, the same Arcturus and Pleiades. When David looked up and considered the heavens, the work of the LORD’s fingers, the moon and the stars, he mused, ‘What is man?’ in comparison to them, Psalm 8. How transient are our lives. How quickly the world is deteriorating with all its ‘advancement’, and getting daily riper for the final fiery judgment; but how breathtaking to see these parts of God’s creation, untouched by man, bearing mute testimony to our Creator’s immutability.

So Solomon points us to the sun in the heavens: just as one generation follows another so ‘the sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose’, Eccl. 1:5. And this is what we and our generations do: we ‘arise’ in birth and we ‘go down’ back to the dust in death. The sun is constantly circling above the earth regardless of what man is doing upon it. In this sense man is so small in the course of things. Nothing he can do can change the course of the sun in its circuit in the heavens. After all, this sun that Solomon is writing about and saw in his sky is the same sun we see today. It is that sun which was created on the fourth day of creation six thousand years ago. Everyone you read of in scripture from Adam in the Garden of Eden to John on the isle of Patmos saw this same sun in the sky, felt its warmth, lived by its light, and they are all gone; yet here we are, enjoying the benefits of the same sun today. But does it know any of these things? How can it, it is just a light in the firmament; but it is an object which has endured, and will endure, for the whole history of time, while fleeting man in his successive generations thinks that he is something important on the earth, and that what he does, makes and achieves is going to last for ever and change the world!

And then there is the wind: ‘The wind goeth about toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits’, verse 6. Of course modern man with all his ability to map the circuits of the winds over the face of the earth has only recently discovered what Solomon told us three thousand years ago. But then, true science will always prove the scriptural record. Again it is the unchanging nature of the wind, as with the sun, which serves to emphasise the transience of man upon the earth. The wonder of the natural order, sustained over millennia, remains constant while generations of proud men come, go, and are forgotten.

Observe the sun rising and setting, says Solomon; consider the wind whirling about the earth continually; what is new about it? Nothing. These things have always been, and they are a reflection of what goes on upon the earth. Nothing new appears, not in principle. He is soon to ask, ‘Is there any thing – just one thing – whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time which was before us’, verse 10. What is he actually saying? Man has been in sin from the fall in the Garden, and regardless of how that sin is manifested, and to what degree of rebellion in any given generation: no matter what ‘inventions’ he seeks out to compound and confirm the destruction of his original ‘uprightness’, Eccl. 7:29 – called elsewhere by Solomon ‘ways of death’, Proverbs 14:12 – and no matter how advanced man gets in hiding, excusing and justifying himself in his sin, nothing has really changed from the time that Adam was cast out of Eden.

O man! What is man! Can’t you see in all your rebellion that the heavens testify to the fact that there is no new thing under the sun? When will you cease from your pride and arrogance in thinking that you are becoming gods on the earth, that you will not surely die, that there is no God and no judgment to come? Don’t you realise that all your attempts to ‘make the world a better place for yourselves and for generations to come’ is not one of the commandments of your Creator? Don’t you know that whatever you might achieve on the earth will probably be lost on, or wasted, or perverted by the very next generation? and that when you die you will take nothing with you, no, not even that flesh which you have indulged so constantly? Let the wind and the sun instruct you: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man’; this is what man is for, to walk with God uprightly, to seek the salvation of his soul, and to keep in mind the day of judgment.

But there is yet another testimony from the earth which teaches the vanity of all things: and that is the rivers. Verse seven reads, ‘All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.’ Round and round continually. The rivers run into the sea, the sun evaporates the water from the oceans and forms clouds, the clouds are blown back over the land by the winds, they fall as rain on the hills, which makes its way into the streams and rivers, which then make their way back out to the sea. A never-ending cycle.

And what is your life? What is the end of all your desire? Each lust, each ambition, each achievement, is like a river running down into the sea of promised satisfaction which will never be filled. You will never find ‘it’, that ‘something’ you are ultimately looking for, in this life. All is vanity, all is empty, all is futile, all is waste. Look at the modern inventions which man has designed for his ‘betterment’ and satisfaction. Have they succeeded? Is man generally more satisfied now? How many times have you heard someone say, ‘Oh, I’m fed up. I know, I’ll watch my favourite programme and then I’ll be happy.’ So they watch it and then say, ‘That’s it, I’m content at last. I can throw my TV away now because it has fulfilled me.’ You never have heard it said. Why? Because they’ll be empty again tomorrow, and they’ll be fed up again tomorrow, and they’ll have to watch another programme tomorrow (or in ten minutes).

Then there are others who go shopping for that one item which will give them such joy that they’ll never need to go shopping again. And there are yet others who, having watched such a good game of football, are so satisfied that they will never need to watch another football match again. […add your own entertainment, pastime, or indulgence here…] Yes, and when you’ve come across these people – or millions of others like them – no doubt you will then hear them say, ‘This world has given me so much satisfaction, and my flesh is now so fulfilled and content, that I will now turn and spend the rest of my days in quiet contemplation of eternity and the state of my soul before the great God, my Creator.’ Will you hear it? But the world in its fallen state is not meant to satisfy you and cause you effortlessly to seek the LORD. It is in the world – which is in the hands of the god of this world, Satan, your sworn enemy – where you are to be kept from even thinking about God and your soul’s eternal safety, and kept ever yearning for more of those things it promises but never quite delivers.

Look at the rivers. They all run into the sea, but the sea never fills up! What a profound statement. What a hard lesson to learn. What a hard truth to experience. But experience it you must if ever you are to find yourself in the way of ‘fearing God, and keeping his commandments’, which is the whole of man.

Dissatisfaction Compounded

So the wise man continues: the man who has seen, done, and experienced life to the full: ‘All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it’, Eccl. 1:8. These things hadn’t come to Solomon easily, he had worked hard to achieve what he had gained: but how laborious it all was, and for what end? To discover that it was all vanity! Look again at the world around you. See people scheming, striving, labouring, ladder-climbing, achieving, arriving: and yet when they come to the end, to retirement or especially to death, what will they realise? If they’re honest they will conclude, ‘All was vanity.’ What do they gain for all their labour? Passing fulfilment. Temporary satisfaction. Fleeting contentment. Momentary security. And then what? What is the end? ‘We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out’, 1 Timothy 6:7. ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither’, Job 1:21. And this is the thing that has so struck me recently: that we don’t even take our bodies with us when we die. The dead body stays behind. All this achievement, all this ‘happiness’ we attained in this flesh: and even that flesh is left behind at the end. I remember reading once of some highly admired woman whose last words on her death-bed were to the effect, ‘Brush my hair, I cannot die looking so unkempt!’, and she was gone. But the spirit left the tidy body behind! Vanity!

It is no wonder that the constant exhortation to the people of God is to flee the indulgence of the flesh, to mortify your members which are upon the earth, to redeem the time, to cleanse our hands, to touch not – let alone embrace – the unclean thing, to keep in mind that this body of sin and death is decaying, and that it will soon return to the dust: so why continue to pamper it with ‘vanity’? Don’t you know that if we die out of Christ the very flesh in which we have lived our lives will be resurrected on the day of judgment, and that we will be judged for all those things committed in that body? We will be standing there incarcerated in that very flesh in which we have lived and walked in all our vanity. Does this cause us to fear? Are we happy with the thought that we won’t be able to hide from our vain flesh in that day?

Solomon goes on to confess that despite all his labouring, succeeding, and attaining, in fact, to be honest, ‘the eye was never really satisfied in seeing, neither was the ear ever filled with hearing’, verse 8. Not filled. As the sea is never filled as a result of all the rivers flowing into it, so are the ears never filled for all that enters them. How we love to hear ‘some new thing’ – some juicy bit of gossip! but after the momentary sensation – ‘never filled’. Those who like listening to the radio, to ‘interesting programmes’, find that their ears are ‘never filled’. Music? ‘Never filled’. Never contented. More, more, more. The eye likewise can never get enough. New sights, new places, new concepts to see: ‘never satisfied’. All vanity, ultimately. All that the world can produce for the ‘benefit’ of man – for his benefit only in time – is vanity. Yes, even those things thought to be the most ‘profound’ are all vanity in the end. Well, can Shakespeare save your soul? Or Beethoven? Can Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Einstein, or (hardly!) John Lennon? They are all dead men!

It is a fact that the world cannot actually produce anything which is new, not in the proper sense: although some things may come as being new to us. For, says Solomon, ‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun’, verse 9. Even the world has taken up that last phrase: ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’

Again, you argue it? Well, Solomon has once more anticipated your contention. Just think about it: ‘Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new?’ Is there, really? No. ‘It hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after’, verses 10,11. Nothing new, ever. And in this latter verse Solomon actually transports himself and his wise judgment ahead into a time yet to come wherein they shall realise that anything they experience or achieve will not be remembered by those who come still later. So these words are valid for our day. Solomon is speaking of today.

It will perhaps benefit us here to remember what was written of man’s achievements even before the Flood. These were not ‘cave men’, grunting to each other with primitive sounds; these were highly intelligent men who invented things we are familiar with today – nothing new. To start with, Adam was created with fully formed intelligence in that he could not only understand language and the meaning of words but had the ability to name all animals according to their characters, Genesis 2:19,20. His immediate descendants built cities – with all the engineering skills that involves; they farmed, made and played instruments of music, and wrought in brass and iron: and Noah built an ark! Every imagination of the thoughts of men’s heart was only evil continually – nothing new, see up to Genesis 6.

So we have begun to hear the wisdom of Solomon. What grace we need to fall under it. And yet, how depressed – oppressed – this can make us. Let us for once be honest. As human beings we have been born in the flesh – we are flesh – and the only existence – life – we’ve ever known is life according to the flesh. And these truths of Solomon depress us because naturally we love to live in the flesh, we just cannot help it. But, then, when we are born again of the Spirit of God, we receive a new nature which at length is brought to hate the workings of the flesh, the things of the world, the mentality of the world, the very way of the world, because we see, and know, and feel it all to be vanity. But we remain in the flesh, and at times the flesh rises up and craves its natural pleasures, and so a war wages within: ‘the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are contrary the one to the other…’, Galatians 5:17. Oh, the oppression of ‘war in your members’. ‘Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?’ Thanks be unto God, he will deliver us ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, Romans 7.

Vexation Of Spirit

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 Solomon tells us again that he was king in Jerusalem, but adds the detail, king ‘over Israel’ in Jerusalem. Thus he was king over all the people of God. Here was not just a king over the heathen, over a benighted people, but one over the people who were known of the true and living God. Whereas the kings of the nations round about must have had their own level of power, authority and perhaps wisdom to reign, Solomon was the king with exceeding power, rule and wisdom as God’s anointed over His people. We must not forget this as we read what Solomon gave himself to next, for none could rightly exercise himself in these things and come to so correct and righteous a judgment of them, which judgment would be shown and taught to the people of God who would at least appreciate it and hopefully fall under it for their own soul’s good.

This then is no pygmy king, no self-indulgent fool, who had nothing better to do than to take advantage of his position just for the sake of it, and then to indulge the carnal musings of a heathen people in ‘the wisdom of this world.’ No. This was a man who had been given something by God to bring to light the meaning of life in this world, which he calls a ‘sore travail to afflict him’, [marg.]. So, thus stirred by God, he ‘gave his heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven’, verse 13. Again notice that this was no arbitrary exercise, no bored meander into searching these things out; this was ‘by wisdom’: serious, concentrated, thorough, it being of God.

And immediately, before he gives us any detail of his search, he gives the conclusion: ‘I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity’, the same conclusion then. But now he goes further: not just vanity but ‘vexation of spirit’ also, verse 14. This is a word which Solomon is to use ten times in this book as a repeated conclusion to each new search for meaning or fulfilment in life: his testimony constantly echoes with the sigh, ‘All is vanity, and vexation of spirit.’

Vexation here means, at least, a sadness to his spirit: something that is contrary to the good or well being of his spirit. He constantly realises that the things this world has to offer in the way of enjoyment, happiness, fulfilment and contentment, cause his spirit to cry, ‘No! It’s no good, it isn’t the answer to my deepest need and desire.’ To be vexed is to be troubled, disquieted, upset, galled, assaulted, discomfited, or to use the Lord’s words in Matthew 25:31-46, ‘an hungered, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison’; put mildly it is not a nice place to be nor a nice feeling to have. Vexation is the opposite to being in a restful state, having peace of mind. And to the child of God, as they are taught of God and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; as they learn by experience the vanity of all things outside of knowing Christ and walking in the will of the Father, they find that the sense of the vanity of all things doesn’t come alone: being in this world is also an increasing vexation of their spirits, for they are a people alive unto God and dead to the world; surrounded by those who are the opposite. They are strangers and pilgrims on the earth: foreigners in an alien land, and therefore passers through, not settlers.

Do you think that being a saint in this world is a ‘nice’ or relatively easy thing to be? Consider righteous Lot in Sodom, ‘vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds’, 2 Peter 2:7,8; nothing new! Read Solomon’s father David’s cries throughout the psalms, many if not all of them in the spirit of Christ: of his trouble and vexation in the presence of his enemies; in the narrowness of the way; in walking in accordance with the will of God which so often is contrary to the desires of the natural man; in times when the LORD seemed distant and was silent; when the wicked seemed to have the upper hand and were O so happy, prosperous and content in this world. No, so often the worldly didn’t seem to be vexed as the man after God’s own heart was; even in their death their strength seemed to remain firm, they were not in trouble as other men are. And whereas there are many godless people in this life who do suffer vexation because of ‘misfortune’, and sin, and pride, arrogance and rebellion, the child of God suffers vexation in his spirit, as a spiritual man, because he is born of God, is not of this world, and has a strong enemy in the god of this world: that adversary of him and his Lord who is always seeking to devour, swallow up and destroy him. If you live your life seeking to follow Christ, and fall under the will of the Father, in the heat of the battle against the enemy, not to mention against the power of your own flesh, then you will know vexation in your spirit like the world never knows. You see then that all this world has to offer you with ‘the promise of life’ without Christ will not only issue in what could be called the passive feeling of ‘vanity’, but also the active disturbing experience of being a vexation to your spirit.

You are at liberty to live how you like in this world; you can seek to ‘live life to the full’; to pursue a course like Solomon who gave his heart ‘to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly…’ Eccl. 1:17; indeed he goes on at the beginning of Chapter 2 to tell of his pursuit of mirth, pleasure and laughter; but if you are a child of God you will be brought to perceive and realise sooner or later that ‘…this also is vexation of spirit’; as he likewise concluded elsewhere: ‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness’, Proverbs 14:13. Do you know it to be true? Have you been there and felt the emptiness? In all your pursuits in life can you conclude with wise Solomon, ‘Yes, all is vanity and vexation of spirit’? Then you will likely have been brought to know the one thing which is not vanity, and which is the direct opposite to vexation of spirit.

The One Exception

So as this article has only been written as an introduction to this book of Solomon and not as a verse by verse commentary throughout the whole, we must come to the one exception to ‘all is vanity’: Fearing God, and keeping his commandments, which, in New Testament language, is nothing other than finding the salvation of your soul in and by Christ, and abiding in the doctrine of Christ, the gospel.

When Solomon said ‘all is vanity’, he meant ‘all that is in the world’, all those things which emanate from time and which apply only to time; which are designed to stimulate and feed the flesh, the natural carnal man; all of that is vanity. But the gospel of Christ is not vain, as his final exhortation hints: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man’ – the word ‘duty’, being in italics, is not in the original. Fear God and keep his commandments: this is what man is all about. Contrary to the message of the world man wasn’t created to ‘live his own life’ and pursue his own pleasures, but to know God: to serve and worship him, to know and fall under his will, to love, submit to, and obey him. And as God can only be known in his Son then he can only be approached through and by this Man whom he hath ordained, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. For the truth is that man is dead in trespasses and in sins, and therefore does not ‘fear God’, neither does he ‘keep his commandments’. Subsequently the wrath of God is upon him because he has not glorified God for who He is, neither been thankful to God for giving him life, breath, and all things. And as man has not determined to retain God in his knowledge, so he has proved and confirmed himself to be fallen and lost. Because of this he has forgotten that there is a day of judgment, the thought is too uncomfortable to him; and although he has grown to deny that such a day will even actually come, and so has lost completely a reason for his very existence on this earth, then he has been given over by God to a reprobate mind – a mentality devoid of judgment, reason, understanding and wisdom – and has turned to pursue nothing but vanity and lies in this world, contrary to the judgment of wisdom and the commandment of God. Therefore being totally sold out to sin he has come to deny his desperate need for salvation and to find out if there might indeed be a saviour. ‘O vain man’ indeed.

So the gospel is not according to vanity because it is the only message which describes his dreadful state in sin and rebellion, and which goes on to reveal the Saviour, the only one who can deliver him from all this vanity and foolishness. Every one dies, the life of each in this world comes to an end. Our bodies all return to the dust. But the spirit of man does not cease to exist, it leaves the body and returns ‘unto God who gave it’, Eccl. 12:7. And then what will He do with it? He certainly will judge it. The conclusion of Solomon is echoed again in Hebrews 9:27: ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.’ After death there is something else: ‘the judgment’. This is why ultimately ‘all is vanity’ in this world, which pertains only to this world.

It doesn’t matter how much you succeed and gain in this life if you forget ‘after death’. Why is it all vanity? Because it blinds the mind, the heart, the eyes – which are too busy seeking after new things in this world – from seeing and remembering the judgment to come. So it becomes more than just vanity, it becomes ‘vanity and lies’, Proverbs 30:8. It is a big lie to believe that all one has to do is immerse oneself in the here and now for satisfaction, because the moment after death it will all be taken away as the reality of the judgment appears. Therefore the message of the gospel, salvation only in Christ: that he by his death upon the cross has delivered his people from sin and from the wrath surely to come on that day of judgment, is so necessary to hear and fall under, it being the only thing in this world which is not vanity.

A Conclusion for Daily Life

But there is another conclusion that Solomon voices which answers the question, the cry even, of the Lord’s people: So how are we to live then? Practically day by day in this fallen world, where ‘all is vanity’, how are we actually supposed to spend our time outside of what we perceive to be ‘lawful employment’? This is a question which some of us have been sorely exercised with recently and which Solomon does answer.

From Chapter 11:9 he addresses specifically a ‘young man’ in the days of his youth. This is the wise old man seeking to counsel the young at the beginning of his days as to what life really is and how the young should best approach it: ultimately concluding, ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments.’ But before he arrives there he addresses the young man in the living reality of his daily life. Though he reminds him that ‘All that cometh is vanity’, Eccl. 11:8, he does not counsel that the whole life be spent in miserable employment of the wringing of hands, depression-filled days of hopeless pointlessness – which would lead quickly to despair and even suicide, the ultimate folly. No, to the young man he says rather, ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes’, Eccl. 11:9.

Amazing as this might seem, in the context of the whole of his conclusions, this is not a contradiction, nor something that Solomon has not been slow in saying already. For all the way through the book as a sort of punctuation to each elucidation of vanity, he has constantly exhorted: ‘There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God’, 2:24; ‘I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God’, 3:12,13. ‘Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God’, 5:18,19 (Cp. also 1 Timothy 6:17-19). ‘Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun’, 8:15. ‘Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun’, 9:7-9. ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth…’

So what is Solomon saying? Surely he is contradicting himself? for in one place he is saying that ‘all is vanity’ and in another, ‘enjoy it all anyway’. But, no, he is not saying that. He is exhorting the young man, and us who would know the answer, to reap the benefit of our own labour; that what we work for in this life, i.e. our daily bread, should be enjoyed, for we have earned it, can rest satisfied day by day that what we have, our daily needs, have been gained by our working for them. This is no exhortation to slothfulness, living off the state, or indulgence born out of having an abundance above and beyond what we need to sustain life.

Now this of course was written in a day when man did literally have to labour for his daily bread, not labour for, be enslaved by, others to earn ‘money’ to pay someone else to provide him with food, raiment and housing: not to mention possessions, ‘stuff’, holidays, luxuries, etc. No. The relationship of man to his daily provision was much more immediate and concentrated, he literally did work at producing the things he needed to sustain the life of himself and his family.

In pondering over these things, what life really is all about as it pertains to daily life, it struck me that when God created Adam He put him in a garden, not a city; and that has turned out to be quite a profound thought which has at length led me to Ecclesiastes. The world today is designed to oppose God’s original design for man’s habitation; most of us have to live, and can only afford to live, in boxes in towns and cities instead of in the more natural surroundings of a ‘garden’. Even before Adam fell into sin, and in fact even before Eve was created, the commandment of God to him in the Garden was ‘to dress it and to keep it’, Genesis 2:15. So even before the ground was cursed and began to bring forth thorns and thistles, there was still some work to be done ‘on the land’, even though it wasn’t laborious. Gardening is indeed the oldest occupation of man and the one most natural to him; and the countryside, not the city, is man’s natural habitat and the one which brings most temporal peace and ‘reality’ into his daily existence. But as I said, the modern ‘way of the world’ doesn’t encourage us to live in and fulfil that natural way of life at all.

But Solomon’s repeated exhortation through this book to labour for our daily bread and to ‘rejoice in our labour’ and, in effect, find satisfaction in this concentrated lifestyle, is not unique to Ecclesiastes. In fact this wretched ‘consumer society’ in which we now live, with most of us being debt slaves and/or tax slaves; where in effect we have to ‘trust in the state with all our hearts, and lean not upon our own natural inclination, but in all our ways acknowledge the state and it shall direct our paths’, and look after us with benefits, compensation, and ‘security’, actually makes many of the Lord’s exhortations and certain aspects of the doctrine of the gospel practically null and void. ‘Take no thought for the morrow…’? ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’? ‘With food and raiment let us be therewith content’? It doesn’t say, ‘With food, raiment, housing, health insurance and pension plan’, does it? Who do we really trust day by day?

With this thought in mind consider the following verses which, although they can apply to ‘employment’ in the modern sense, do still hint at something more basic: ‘Let your conversation [manner of life] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have…’, Hebrews 13:5. ‘…if any should not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread’, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12. ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap… In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good’, Eccl. 11:4,6. ‘The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing’, Proverbs 20:4. ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man’, Proverbs 6:6-11. After all, it is the lot of fallen man to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, Genesis 3:19.

I believe that when we begin to see the message of scripture in these things that the children of God will desire to separate as much as they can from the ‘way of life’ which the world has become, and seek to live simpler, though it would be by no means easier, and closer to how man was meant to live. Of course the system in which we have been born and brought up in is so ingrained in us that any degree of shift would be hard to adjust to; nevertheless where the Lord shows his people the right way, or a better way, even in temporal things, he will lead his people in it, I firmly believe that.

So labouring is good, and in the day, and for the day, it will not be vanity, for we must sustain our bodies; this, says the wise king, is our portion and it is the gift of God.

But to return to the young man. Solomon encourages him, or rather, does not discourage him, from rejoicing in his youth – in the flush of youthful vitality – when everything is ‘new’ and exciting and full of possibilities: what a big wide world there is to discover! Yes, ‘let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes…’ BUT… remember this one thing: ‘know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment’, Eccl. 11:9. How about that for a check upon the abandonment of indulging youthful lusts: you won’t escape accountability, sooner or later. And Solomon’s counsel is a sober consideration even in the days of youth that ‘life’ is not all that the world promises: in fact, the young man will soon find that the headlong pursuit of ‘happiness’ or ‘fun’ as they now call it, and of attainment, will be accompanied by ‘sorrow in heart’ and ‘evil in flesh’: why? ‘For childhood and youth is VANITY’, 11:10.

Yes, all is vanity, from the beginning of ones life to the end of it. Therefore, O young man, exercise thy mind God-ward early, instead of world-ward: ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’, 12:1; not when you reach middle age, or old age – ‘the evil days’: ‘in the days of thy youth – now.’ Paul to Titus: ‘Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded’, Titus 2:6. It is so important for the young to grasp early the truth of the vanity of all things; they need to seek the LORD early before the world weighs them down – which it surely will – and before the regrets, remorse and bitterness which so often arise in middle and old age comes upon them: ‘when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them’, 12:1. Let them walk with God from their earliest years, find contentment in his will early, trusting in the LORD with all their hearts, leaning not unto their own [darkened] understanding, and learning quickly to value the necessities of life.

Read through the book of Ecclesiastes. See all that Solomon had: it covers everything in life; and take to heart, credit, believe and fall under his conclusion: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. And for the child of God caught up in all this vanity, who has proved it all to be ‘vexation of spirit’; a hindrance to his walk, a weighing down of his spirit, a cause of the loss of one of his most prized possessions: peace of mind, and the peace of God; the exhortation of the gospel is to turn away from it all and seek the Lord’s grace to hear his voice and walk in his ways; to abide in him and his doctrine, and to keep our eyes looking for his appearing; that great day, the day of our ultimate salvation, when he shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

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.