Saturday, February 5, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part Three of Three

III. Attitudes toward the World

A friend recently submitted the following to me:

Common Grace is normally divided into three points. Let me know if the way I have expressed them is fair.
A) God loves/is gracious towards the reprobate in a non-saving way.
B) God restrains the outward manifestations of the evil of the reprobate by his loving/gracious actions toward/in them.
C) God causes the reprobate to do civil righteousness/good by his loving/gracious actions toward/in them.

The Free Offer of the Gospel is normally divided into two points:
A) God uses the preaching of the Gospel as a way of blessing the reprobate.
B) God desires the salvation of the reprobate.

I reject all five of these points of Common Grace and of the Free Offer of the Gospel.

I would say to the 3 points of Common Grace
A) God only hates the reprobate and works all things for their damnation and cursing. God only loves the elect and works all things for their salvation and blessing.
B) God restrains the outward manifestations of the evil of the reprobate by multiplying their inward manifestations of evil as a curse to them and a blessing to the elect.
C) God causes the reprobate to do things that men might call good for their own evil reasons as a curse to the reprobate but a blessing to the elect.

I would say to the 2 points of the Free Offer of the Gospel
A) God uses the preaching of the Gospel as a way of cursing the reprobate and blessing the elect.
B) God desires the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate. God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate.

I quite agreed with him. He had, as far as I knew, fairly expressed the Reformed view of common grace and the free offer of the gospel. He managed to do it twice, even.

What was lacking, though, was the perspective to condense these points into a unified view of the title of this section, "Attitudes toward the World". Wiser men than I penned the 1948 GA report found here (, but I will endeavor to make a useful reply of my own anyway.

In essay II, I mentioned the importance of a careful view of "the church" including the visible and invisible church (though there is always but one church, and which adjective we use depends on our viewpoint), so we also want to have a careful view of "God's will". Smarter people than I could tell you more of the history (maybe you know it), but in Reformed circles we talk about the secret will and the revealed will of God, and unequivocally affirm that there is but one will of God, worked out through the Trinity in all eternity and history.

So, how does that have bearing on my friend's concern? God's revealed will is the natural law, history, and Scripture. It shows us what He wants done. Natural law instructs the natural man in what God demands: gratitude, justice, &c. I am not a natural law scholar, so I will not go much deeper than this.

Psalm 19:1-4a - The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

Romans 1:19-21 - For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 2:14-16 - For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

History shows us what God wanted done at any particular time in the past. God is sovereign, His purposes are inscrutable, and we affirm that all that has, does, or will happen is by His eternal decree. But we never know that decree until we see it. Will it be God's will that I be hit by a bus tomorrow? We'll find out tomorrow, and not before.

Isaiah 25:1-2 - O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the foreigners' palace is a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.

Isaiah 45:1-7 (c. 8th century B.C.) - Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

2 Chronicles 36:22-23 (c. 5th century B.C.) - Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’”

Acts 4:23-30 - When they [Peter & John] were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Scripture, however, tells us what God wants done by all men everywhere. It reveals His commands explicitly, and more than that, it reveals His way of salvation in Christ, which is nowhere apparent in the natural or historical decrees.

Acts 17:30-31 - The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Luke 3:10-18 - And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

Isaiah 55 (v1 of which is the source text for John's republication below), esp. vv 1-4 - “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Revelation 22:17 - The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Micah 6:8 - He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 11:25-30 - At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

God's revealed will is plain: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved! However, Jesus Himself provides a nice transition into the next discussion in the Matthew passage. The revealed will cries "Come!", but who will come? Only those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father.

Thus, we see the secret will of God. His divine councils, hidden from us, planned for all eternity, are what shall ultimately come to pass.

Isaiah 46:8-11 - “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it."

Psalm 139:15-16 - My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

And you probably know lots of these sort of passages, so I will not go on at length. I hope you see the point I am making. God is united in His plan. We are not invited to his privy councils, but we receive His decrees. It is not for me to say how any particular event aims towards God's glory, but it does (Rom. 8:28). I do know that keeping His revealed will leads to His glory, and I know that part of His revealed will is to preach the Gospel to all men everywhere. Therefore, it is a good thing to preach the Gospel freely, and it is a good thing offered to the hearers. God is speaking His revealed will through His ministers, calling men to repentance. All who come to Him will by no means be cast out, and His sheep hear His voice. We are never told who those sheep are. We must beware of the error of presuming that God will get His man with or without us preaching. We are harming ourselves and others by that silence.

Psalm 78:37-40 - Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!

Matthew 23:37-39 - “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jonah 4 esp. vv 1-4 - But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Malachi 1 esp. v2 - “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob's brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob..."

John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 10 esp. v21 - But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Our attitude toward the world is to reflect the published attitude of God (Mat. 5:43-48). We are to despise sin, but entreat sinners to come. We are to lament over wickedness, and beg God to have mercy on the wicked. We are to be salt & light, loving our neighbor (note that the theocratic B-side of this verse 'and hate your enemy' is elided by Jesus Christ himself), and reflecting the attitude of God towards them. We know that God knows His own, and that is the great driver of Reformed evangelism - God brings the growth - not by him who wills or him who runs - not by might nor by power but by His Spirit. This understanding allows us to love our neighbor without betraying God. We can spread the Gospel without disseminating classified documents. Common grace and the free offer of the Gospel are tightly related, and both are appropriate ways to talk about the work God is doing in the world as we see it.

I hope that elucidates my earlier agreement with my friend's position. It is emphatically NOT equivocal to talk about the secret and the revealed will of God, and consequently, all ten of the propositions he made have their place within Reformed theology because they are plainly presented by the Bible! We are supposed to use the light of nature, logic, good and necessary consequence, &c. to take the plain things of Scripture and use them to interpret the harder things, never the other way round.

Thank you for your attention, and I urge you to be able to glory in what God has done and revealed while still earnestly desiring to know Him better. We are never to be satisfied merely knowing about the Lord of Lords. Salvation is found in knowing HIM.

In closing, and I hope you never tire of this passage:

Philippians 3:12-16

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

And in Christ we have attained the victory. Not by might, nor by power, but by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah! Amen.

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