The last few months, I have been sharing my seminary studies with the men at our monthly Men’s Breakfast and Bible Study. Studying the “deep things” of God is good for us all. Especially when it comes to the things that we studied this month. As we consider the basis of man’s salvation, we come to understand that it is by His power and authority that we stand. It is His plan, His purpose and His work in us that takes the unworthy and sinful rebel and makes him a son of God and a joint-heir with Christ. As we begin to look closely at things like the Doctrine of Election, The Eternal Covenant and our Union with Christ, we find that these are doctrines that give the Christian strength and comfort.
Audio of the lesson us available by clicking on the link below.
All Whom You Have Given Him – AUDIO
The following is the text from my second paper for my Salvation and Regeneration class.
All Whom You Have Given Him
When it comes to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation it does not take long for the discussion to become a debate or even a heated argument. I hate to sound like a broken record (I haven’t heard the modern metaphor to replace that one yet), but the rejection of the biblical concept of sin is right there at the heart of this discussion as well. Puritan Divine, John Owen tells his readers in his work, Biblical Theology, “The entire structure of saving, evangelical theology is built on the fact of a completely wretched state of all mankind by nature, and that theology cannot be understood or practiced without a clear sense of that natural wretchedness. Why so? Well, what will follow without it? The healthy feel no need of a doctor, do they? The righteous no need of repentance, the pure no need of sanctification, the living no need of a quickening Spirit, the innocent no need to make redress. Good sight has no need of eye-salve, those with resourced of their own to render due obedience feel no need of the intervention of a gracious God to change their hearts by an efficacious power, God’s good friends stand in no need of reconciliation, the blessed are hardly in any need of deliverance!” (p. 625)
From Sin to Further Disobedience
However, in this area there seems to be, just as importantly, the rejection of many, many clear passages of Scripture that pertain to God’s rights and and His will as well. I believe that the rejection of the biblical idea of sin and this view’s consequent corruptions of the concept of man’s will, literally force many people to reject the many clear and simple statements of the Word of God, because they cannot reconcile them with their presuppositions. The very idea of reprobation (i.e. man’s default position as that of deserving of judgment; see Rom 3:10-18, 9:20-23, Eph 2:1-3) is so reprehensible to them as a result, that they cannot view God as good unless He meets their idea of equity with an unqualified, universal proposal for the redemption of every person who ever lived. The impossibility and downright silliness of this idea is demonstrated, not only on the pages of the New Testament, but all the way back into the earliest history of God’s dealings with people in the Book of Genesis.
God calls a people out of the mass of rebellious humanity and makes them His own while wreaking havoc on other nations and leaving them in darkness. As the Creator and the Source of good and justice, His rights are unchallengeable. Apparently, it took seven years of living as an animal for the great king, Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in all human affairs. Daniel tells us of his ordeal and his response to it in Daniel chapter 4 where he quotes him as he says, “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ ” (Dan 4:34-35 ESV) God had certainly demonstrated His power over this great king who thought that he was the sovereign of the world. Thus, we see that there is a major humbling needed to bring us to the place where we can see and submit to this great truth.
The very concept of a powerful Sovereign who does as He pleases is offensive to most of us in the west. To consider that He has the power to kill and make alive with impunity makes us cry “Foul!” as we accuse Him of playing unfairly. We would like to tell God what it is that He should do and therefore we will search the Scriptures for some inkling of our will that can be applied to Him, through our clouded perception. We look at a verse like 1 Timothy 2:4 and demand that it clearly states that God is a God who supports our idea of egalitarian freedom and leaves the final decision of our eternal destiny in our own hands, for He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Yet we are willfully ignorant of the plethora of other verses, passages and even entire chapters (i.e. Joh 6, 17, Rom 9, Eph 1, 1 Thess 1:4, 2Thes 2:13-17, 1 Peter 1:1-6, etc.) that teach us to the contrary. Therefore if we are to see the truth that is given to Timothy by the Apostle Paul, we must think a little harder and understand the context of those few words that might seem to contradict the larger body of the Scriptures which demonstrate the contrary.
John Calvin, in His his sermon on 1 Timothy 2:3-5, says this,
“Therefore, seeing it is the will of God that all men should be partakers of that salvation which He hath sent in the person of His only begotten Son, we must endeavor to draw poor, silly, ignorant creatures to us, that we may all come together to this inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, which hath been promised us. But we must observe that St. Paul speaketh not of every particular man, but of all sorts of men, and of all people. Therefore, when he saith that God will have all men to be saved, we must not think that he speaketh of them individually, but his meaning is this: that whereas in times past He chose a certain people to Himself, He meaneth now to show mercy to all the world: yea, even to them that seemed to be shut out from the hope of salvation.
He saith in another place (Ephesians), the heathens were without God, and void of all promise; because they were not as yet brought to the fellowship of the Jews. This was a special privilege that God had given to the descendants of Abraham. Therefore St. Paul’s meaning is not that God will save every man, but that the promises which were given to but one people are now extended to all the world: for as he saith in this same epistle, the wall was broken down at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God had separated the Jews from all other nations; but when Jesus Christ appeared for the salvation of the world, then was this difference, which existed between them and the Gentiles, taken away. ” (Ibid)
It seems to me that this must be the proper understanding of the passage or else we find ourselves in a quagmire as we begin to examine other passages of Scripture that contradict the idea of a universal, potential redemption which is left to the man and his will, to come to and receive. Jonathan Edwards takes this head-on as he preaches from Romans 9:18. The Scripture text reads, “ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” The will of God here is to show mercy to some and to harden some. This flatly contradicts the idea of His “will” to save each individual. Therefore, in an entire chapter that deals with the idea that God is the ultimate Decision Maker when it comes to the salvation of man, we find that making 1 Timothy 2:4 a universal application of God’s desire to save each individual man, is forced. This idea must be considered in the larger context of the Scriptures. As Edwards introduces his sermon, he says, “This leads [Paul] to observe the difference, which God made by election, between some of the Jews and others, and between the majority of the Jews and the Christian Gentiles. In speaking of this he enters into the most detailed discussion found anywhere in the whole Bible concerning the sovereignty of God in electing some to eternal life, and rejecting others. He quotes several passages from the Old Testament, confirming and illustrating this doctrine of Election:” (Ibid)
As Mr. Edwards proceeds, he says, “The basic doctrine of our text is, that God exercises His sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.” (Ibid) This is certainly in agreement with the view of the Reformed Church as it has faithfully exposited the doctrines of the Gospel from its beginning. Again we look to Calvin as he preaches, saying, “When it pleased God to draw us out of the darkness of unbelief, and give us the light of the gospel, He looked not at any service which we might have performed, or at any virtue we might have possessed: but He called us, having chosen us before. This is the order in which St. Paul maketh mention in Romans 8: that knowing God, we must not take the glory to ourselves. Thus, the calling of the faithful resteth upon this counsel of God; and we see how far the Lord maketh known to us that which He had decreed before we were born. He toucheth us with His Holy Spirit, and we are ingrafted, as it were, into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the true earnest of our adoption: this is the pledge given us, to put us out of all doubt that God taketh and holdeth us for His children, when by faith we are made one with Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten Son of God, unto whom belongeth the inheritance of life.” (Ibid)
As Calvin’s interpretation squares the passage with the Letter to the Ephesians and the eighth chapter of Romans, as well as its ninth chapter, and with Nebuchadnezzar’s statements in Daniel 4 (and many others), it also does justice to the passage itself. To force the idea of God’s desire for universal redemption into the Bible anywhere, is to deny much of the Bible as it declares His choice from Genesis to Revelation. Dr. Edwards reaches back to the Book of Genesis through the Apostle Paul and his letter to the Romans in order to establish the right and character of a God who chooses whom He will. Edwards says,
“God also showed His sovereignty in choosing that people, when other nations were rejected, who came of the same ancestors. Thus the children of Isaac were chosen, when the descendants of Ishmael and other sons of Abraham were rejected. Likewise, the children of Jacob were chosen, when the descendants of Esau were rejected: as the apostle observes in the seventh verse, “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned’ [Romans 9:7]: and again in verses 10, 11, 12, 13. “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls-she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” [Romans 9:10-13].” (Ibid)
Paul also uses the example of Pharaoh as a negative example, one who experienced hardening at the hands of the LORD. “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ” ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ ” (Rom 9:15-17 ESV) We should all be familiar with this section of Exodus as the Lord begins by hardening the heart of the monarch, “And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Exo 4:21 ESV) These are the words of Scripture; God breathed, Spirit inspired truth from His own mind! And as we continue on in the Book of Exodus, it appears that not only does God harden the Pharaoh’s heart directly, but the fist few miracles that Moses does are also copied by the magicians of Egypt, and this too hardens his heart (see Exo 7-8). Certainly, the omniscient God is aware that they can do this and even designs the miracles as such to allow them to mimic them to accomplish His purpose. This is just a small sample of God’s choosing in the Old Testament, yet the Apostle thinks it is enough to make the case for his doctrine.
I often wonder, how it is that some can take an entire chapter like Romans 9, devoted to a rhetorical argument designed to demonstrate the mind of God on the matter of His election, and ignore it or explain it away as they try to contradict it with a verse (or half of a verse) here and a verse there which were given in the context of Christian living in a non-Christian world? (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9) It seems that Pelagius is alive and well and living in the heart of the Evangelical church in America. Many who have made a commitment to biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation are able to reject the plain reading of this lengthy text that says exactly what it means and is given, expecting objections to the very truths it sets forth. After presenting the gist of his argument for God’s sovereign choice of sinners to salvation, Paul says, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Rom 9:18 ESV) Then he anticipates the objection and says, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ ” (Rom 9:19 ESV) Setting forth the very mind of those who oppose his teaching, the cry of “Foul!” does not make it far in The Apostle’s mind. His reply to his own rhetorical question is this, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom 9:20-21 ESV) Then, he goes on further to give more teaching and examples from the Old Testament Prophets, Hosea and Isaiah, and their description of the doctrine..
This is a difficult doctrine for men to accept, yet it is so clear in the Scriptures that men must willfully reject the Word of God in order to deny this truth. In order to do that, they must rob God of His power and wisdom, and really, of His right to be God. This is certainly what the Apostle indicates in the previous quote. It seems that even Jews who had been fine with the idea of being God’s Chosen People, were struggling with the idea of God’s election of individuals. Suddenly it was not a matter of nationality, but of His choice of individuals. Now, many who had thought that they were in, were out. Paul argues this as well in the ninth chapter of Romans; “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ ” (Rom 9:6-7 ESV) and also in chapter eleven, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ ” (Rom 11:5-8 ESV) This is indeed a hard truth, but a biblical truth, nonetheless. Because of this, John Calvin reminds us, “We must remember that it is not enough for us to receive the Word that is preached to us by the mouth of man, but after we have heard it, God must speak to us inwardly by His Holy Spirit; for this is the only means to bring us to the knowledge of the truth.” (Ibid)
It is God’s right as Sovereign that is in question as men oppose His choice and defer the onus salvation, ultimately to human will. Edwards does not miss this point. It is a part of his groundwork as he lays out the basis of God’s sovereign choice.
“There is no person in their natural sinful state, whom God has determined to refuse to bestow salvation, that can ever cause any dishonor to any part of God’s glory. Let a natural person be wise or unwise, of a good or ill-natured temper, whether born of wicked or godly parents; let him be a moral or immoral person, whatever good he may have done, however religious he has been, how many prayers whatsoever he has made, and whatever pains he has taken that he may be saved; whatever concern and distress he may have for fear he shall be damned; or whatever circumstances he may be in; God can deny him salvation without the least criticism to any of His perfections. His glory will not in any instance be the least obscured by it.” (Ibid)
I honestly believe that if the whole of the Evangelical Church was forced to read this sermon, that the larger part of them would reject Edwards as a heretic; Jonathan Edwards, the stalwart of the Christian Faith and one of the great minds of all time! Most of the Church has made such an idol of free will that his teaching here is 180° out from the mainstream of our day. The ideas of man’s freedom of will and God’s obligation to meet man on man’s terms removes the glory, honor and worship from God and makes man’s will into his god. Certainly, men are free to choose many things, but a sinner will choose to walk away from sin and serve the Lord as often as a turtle will choose to fly. It is a matter of the limitations of his nature. The Lord says through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer 13:23 ESV) Men cannot change their nature.
Whose Will is Actually Free?
True freedom of will is only with God. He alone is not restricted by His nature and He alone is able to exercise His will to do whatever He pleases. A man whom Edwards commended as one of the greatest defenders of the Doctrine of Election, Elisha Coles said “If [God] be the Author of all, He needs must have a sovereign right and power to determine all; both as to their being, order, efficacy, and end.” (A Practical Discourse on God’s Sovereignty,) If God is God, He is in charge and does as He pleases, just as the great king, Nebuchadnezzar concluded. after he was subjected to the visible manifestation of His power.
And on this subject, Dr. Edwards goes into some detail to help us toward correct thinking on the matter as he distinguishes the meaning of God’s “good pleasure.”
1. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to any constraint.
Men may do things voluntarily, and yet there may be a degree of constraint. A man may be said to do something voluntarily, that is, he does it by himself; and, all things considered, he may choose to do it; yet he may do it out of fear, and the very thing in itself is irritating to him, and truly against his own desires. When men do these things, it cannot be said that they did them according to their good pleasure.
2. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to its being under the will of another.
A servant may carry out his master’s commands, and may do it willingly, and cheerfully, and may delight to do his master’s will; yet when he does it, he does not do it of his own good pleasure. The saints freely do the will of God. They choose to do it; it is what satisfies their soul. Yet they do not do it of their own good pleasure and arbitrary will; because their will is under the direction of a superior will.
3. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to any personal obligation.
A man may freely do something which he is obliged to do; but it cannot be said that he acted from his own sheer will and pleasure. He who acts according to his own good pleasure, is at full liberty; but he who is under any personal obligation, is not at liberty, but is bound. (Ibid)
It is God’s free choice that we should be concerned with, and not our own. Our choices are constrained, weak and limited. Our will is not enough to give us any real success in the matter of our own salvation. When God, in His power and faithfulness is the Source of our salvation He is the Source of our comfort and joy, He is a Source that cannot be weakened or removed. I believe that one place this truth and its result is well demonstrated to us is in Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer,” in John’s Gospel, chapter seventeen. Here, as He is about to go to the cross, Jesus prays for the glory of God through His own life and ministry. “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,” (Joh 17:1 ESV) And what is the source of this glory? “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (Joh 17:2-4 ESV)
Jesus and the Father are glorified in the work that is accomplished; the giving of eternal life to all that the Father has given to the Son. Accomplishment is the source of glory. No one gets glory for a plan that, when executed, does not bear the intended fruit. This is certainly what Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano inferred as he said, “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan,” (unknown source) i.e., losers don’t get glory (I guess he should know!). The laying of the eternal plan of mans’ redemption and the completion of that plan in the actual saving of the men it intended to save, is the reason for glorifying the Father and the Son. John’s Gospel is filled with this language, as R. L. Shelton, Jr points out in his messages on the subject, “The purpose of God in Christ to save poor sinners was given us in Christ before the world began; therefore God’s eternal purpose cannot be brought to naught and consequently our blessed Lord can say in John 6:37: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” And again in His High Priestly prayer to the Father in John 17 He can say, “those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost;” for “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I gave unto them eternal life: and they shall NEVER PERISH” (Jn. 10:27). ” (Transcript of The Work of The Lord Jesus Christ in Our Salvation)
Shelton also points out that this eternal plan has a name. It is more than a mere plan, but a covenant between the Members of the Godhead who have also purposed (or willed) to accomplish it through the Almighty power and wisdom of God. He says, “To further set forth this great truth of the eternal purpose of God in Christ in making Him our Substitute, we read in Heb. 13:20 these words: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” We see here that God has a covenant, which is an everlasting covenant, signed and sealed with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; and those for whom this covenant was made are all His blood-bought ones. This is made known by these words in I Pet. 1:18-19: ‘Ye know that ye were…redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.’ ” (Ibid)
This is a really important part of man’s salvation that seems to be largely lost in the modern church. I guess that is why I have become such a fan of so many dead guys. I marvel as I consider the Puritan Divine, Thomas Brooks, as he describes the Eternal Covenant. I find, as he describes the accomplishment of God’s will to save whom He wanted to save, the source of complete security, hope and solace.
“There was a special law laid upon Christ as he was our mediator, which law he was willing and ready to obey, in order to effect our redemption. That Christ should die was no part of the moral law, but it was a positive special law laid upon Christ. Well, this law he obeys, he complies with: “I lay down my life for my sheep; this commandment have I received of my Father,” John 10:11, 15, 17-18. Christ, as mediator, had a command from his Father to die, and he observes it; hence God calls him his servant: “Behold my servant whom I uphold,” Isaiah 42:1. And in pursuance of God’s royal law, will, and pleasure—he takes upon him the form of a servant; and frequently proclaims before all the world, that he “came to do the will of him who sent him,” Phil. 2:6, 7.
Again, God the Father lays a special command upon Jesus Christ, to preserve and bring to glory all those that come unto him. Jesus Christ has not only permission to save the elect, but a charge to save the elect: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:37-40. Here you have Christ’s commission to save the elect, etc. Christ is to be answerable for all those that are given to him, at the last day, and therefore we need not doubt but that he will certainly employ all the power of his Godhead to secure and save all those whom he must be accountable for…
… that it is the great dignity and happiness of the elect, that they are, from eternity, given to Christ in the covenant of redemption, as the reward of his sufferings, to come to him in due time; and that they are given to him in trust, and that he must be accountable for them, as being given by the Father to him, Psalm 24:1. They were the Father’s first, not only by the right of creation, but by particular election also; and being thus the Father’s, they are given to Christ from eternity—to be redeemed by him, and as the reward of his sufferings.” (from Paradise Opened)
What Happens When We Understand and Embrace This Truth
As I consider the ramifications of such a truth, rather than making me look at God as an ogre or a tyrant, it makes me look at Him as a Father who guards, guides and cares form me; who went out of His way to rescue the rebel who would never have returned on his own; the one who has earned His fury! Further, it makes the basis of my relationship to Him, His eternal plan, purpose, power and preservation of me, as His elect. I know that I could never save myself nor keep myself by the mere presentation of a plan that I could use to that end. It is worth hearing again what Thomas Brooks said about this. This absolutely solid foundation of my eternal destiny and proper relationship to the Sovereign God and Judge of the Universe; “Christ is to be answerable for all those that are given to him, at the last day, and therefore we need not doubt but that he will certainly employ all the power of his Godhead to secure and save all those whom he must be accountable for.” All I can say is, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
As I preached through the First Epistle to the Thessalonians a couple of years ago, I was preaching to a congregation who, for the most part, had acknowledged an assent to the basic principles of Reformed Theology. They understood God’s sovereignty and man’s reprobation, though some struggled with the Doctrine of Election. As I arrived early in the series (the second message) at the text, “knowing His election of you..” (1 Thes 1:4) I preached on the Doctrine of Election and I called the message, The Doctrine of Confidence and Consolation. This is not a doctrine to be stuffed away in a theologians chamber or in any way, hidden from public view. It is the basis of true Confidence in the Christian Faith. Knowing that the foundation of my redemption, justification and salvation lie in the plan and power of Almighty God. His will to save sinners is the basis of our true consolation or comfort. Casting aside all fear, it compels our hearts to the Loving Father and His Faithful Son who would take it upon themselves to covenant among Themselves for the salvation of one as wicked as I am; not only for the Father to make the choice to save, but to grant to the Son each one He had chosen. This is what the Apostle Paul gave the Thessalonians as the reason for us to acknowledge this great doctrine.
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2Th 2:13-17 ESV) What a glorious truth! What a strong consolation! What a motivation to love and serve the Lord! What a blessed doctrine! Paul tells those believers in Thessalonica, that this doctrine of God’s choosing and saving is a reason to “give thanks,” to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that they were taught,” to find, “comfort [their] hearts” and “establish them in every good work.” Why is that so? Because we are given the guarantee of His love for us, of our success by His will and His power and He cannot fail. This is the root of a life of true Christian service and devotion.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
The final aspect of this work of God in man’s salvation is the logical conclusion of all that has gone before, but it is also stated in the Scriptures (and largely ignored by the Church). If we indeed are hopeless rebels who, being dead, have no power to change ourselves, and God has indeed, covenanted within the Godhead, the Father has given His elect to the Son who saves them and keeps them, what is the actual power that converts that man to faith in Christ and gives him the new, spiritual life that is required? Charlie Martin, in his article Salvation: Synergism or Sola Gratia?, piles Scripture upon Scripture to show that this work is a work of God upon dead sinners and not a work of sinners to bring themselves to God.
He says, “The crux of the argument is this: Does man’s faith depend upon regeneration by the Holy Spirit alone, or does regeneration depend upon man’s faith? To ask the question another way, can a dead man believe? Scripture emphatically states that we are “dead in trespasses and sins”(Eph. 2:1). A person is spiritually dead according to many texts such as Jer. 13:23, 17:9, Mk. 7:21-23, Rom. 3:10-19, and (see especially John 3:19-21) to quote a few. Eph. 2:12 states that in the unregenerate state, every person is described as “without Christ–having no hope–and without God in the world.” The key, is that, in the unregenerate state, the person has [No Hope] because he is dead!….(solemn thought…..Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” Matthew 8:22)” (Transcript of The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation)
As we saw in the second letter to the Thessalonians, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved,” How? “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Th 2:13-14 ESV) Paul tells Titus virtually the same thing, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Tit 3:4-5) Here we see that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity is also active in the saving of men from their sin. It is the act of His regeneration that gives man the ability to respond to the Gospel. The Spirit sets us apart and we believe, or as John Calvin taught us earlier, “Thus, the calling of the faithful resteth upon this counsel of God; and we see how far the Lord maketh known to us that which He had decreed before we were born. He toucheth us with His Holy Spirit, and we are ingrafted, as it were, into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ibid) This is what it means to be “born again” or “born from above.” (John 3:5-8)
Again, we see in the transcripts of R.L. Shelton’s broadcast this subject, that he instructs us,
“In the matter of the New Birth it is imperative that the Holy Spirit, for the Scriptures plainly declare in John 3:3: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus on this occasion asked our Lord how this could be accomplished, he was told it was by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. [John 3:5-6] In describing this same thing, we read in I Pet. 1:23 these words: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”
Yes, the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God, the Word of Truth, and plants it in the heart of the sinner whom He will save; and that seed, that Word, watered and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, springs up into eternal life. The New Birth is not a decision you make; it is a feeling you get, nor is it something that you can produce by any work that you might perform. No! It is the operation of the Spirit of the living God in your heart and affections that produces this New Birth by using the Word of God, the Word of Truth. Our Lord in John 3:8 declared unto Nicodemus that the operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of man is like the wind: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit [of God].” The work in the heart of man is performed by the Holy Spirit in His own way and in His own time, for He is sovereign. ” (Ibid)
So, in all of this we find yet again, more solace as we see that the Lord is active in the saving of His people in more ways than a plan and the willing obedience of the son to provide for our salvation. He is also active through the Spirit in this work as it is ultimately accomplished in the case of each one of God’s elect.
It may be objected that those who do not know of their eternal state are not comforted, but tormented by the idea that they may not be one of the elect. This certainly must be a large part of the reason for the general odiousness of this doctrine to many. There is reason for fear in their unknowing. Yet, for those who are the called by the Lord, it will drive them on until the peace that passes understanding will come t them. For those who are not the called, there will be a time that they abandon what little of the truth of the Gospel they have grasped, and they will seek their peace in other ways. For their wills to submit to the One True God is not a part of them. As the Apostle Paul tells the Romans, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Rom 8:7 ESV) But for those whose spirits have been born witness to by the Spirit of God, we can say, “Blessed doctrine!” We can submit to the Sovereign will of the God who created all things. We can see the beauty in His plan to save whom He has chosen, and to acknowledge that His goodness and justice are not impugned by allowing other rebels to perish in their own rebellion. While within the heart of the believing, we still may struggle to find that place of submission, it is the place that the Scriptures direct us to.
Therefore, let us examine our own hearts and lives for the evidence of the Spirit’s power. Let us see that we enjoy His fruits of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Let us hear Him as He speaks to our hearts in prayer and convicts us sin in our lives and as He convinces us of the Truth of the Word of God. Let us rejoice in the presence of the unmatched love of God our Father who would desire to save the rebel; in the unrestrained love of God the Son who would willfully undertake the mission of mercy through His own infinite suffering, to get us and to keep us, and in the unquestionable love of the Spirit who comes to us and quickens us to life and faith that we may be partakers of all that our God has ACCOMPLISHED.
Brooks, Thomas. Paradise Opened. Danielson CT: GraceGems.org, 2011. N. pag. Web. 3 Sept. 2011
Calvin, John. Sermons of John Calvin. Bellevue, WA: ReformationFiles.com, 2011. N. pag. Web. 3 Sept. 2011.
Elisha Coles, A Practical Discourse on God’s Sovereignty. Pittsburgh, PA: 1831 Edition of a work published in 1673. Published by D. & M. Maclean, (p.12)
Edwards, Jonathan. The Sovereignty of God in Salvation. Middletown, DE: BibleBB.com 2011. N. pag. Web. 3 Sept. 2011
Martin, Charlie. Salvation: Synergism of Sola Gratia?. Portland, OR. Monergism.com, 2011 pag. Web. 12 Sept. 2011
Shelton, R. L. The Work of the Lord Jesus Christ in Our Salvation. Fayetteville, AR: EternalLifeMinsitries.org. 2011. N. pag. Web. 9. Sept, 2011.
Shelton, R. L. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation. Fayetteville, AR: EternalLifeMinsitries.org. 2011. N. pag. Web. 10. Sept, 2011.