God’s Will and Man’s
Every real Christian knows and rejoices in the fact that ‘salvation is of the Lord.’ Yes, Christ is the Saviour of sinners— He alone, and all by Himself. ‘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’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Language could not be plainer. Any number of similar Scriptures teach the same thing in plain, easily understood words, such as: ‘He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). ‘Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). ‘Knowing brethren beloved of God, your election’ (1 Thessalonians 1:4). ‘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’ (2 Timothy 1:9).
There are many, many more verses like these. Yes, praise God, He in sovereign grace chooses precious souls and saves them by His mercy. There is no question about that. But…yes, there are “buts”; you may be sure. It pays to notice that all these great passages which speak of God’s sovereign electing grace in saving men are addressed to believers— to saints (check all the verses quoted, as well as all others dealing with this majestic truth). Such verses are never addressed to sinners because they are none of their business. Dear reader, it is just right here that so much dangerous, erroneous teaching appears.
God alone knows when, where and how the poor sinner whom He has chosen to salvation will actually be saved; this is His business. ‘He giveth not account of any of His matters’ (Job 33:13). ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God (His electing grace is one of those secrets); but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children’ (Deuteronomy 29:29). His elective grace is not one of the revealed secrets. God’s operation by His Spirit in the soul of the sinner, awakening him to a sense of his guilt and turning him in faith to receive Christ as his Saviour, is something the sinner himself knows absolutely nothing about. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth (where it wants to), and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it corneth, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit’ (John 3:8).
Let’s get this straight. Election is God’s sovereign act in saving whom and how He will. The human subject knows nothing about it, does not need to, and is not supposed to know. That is God’s solemn divine prerogative. Such is the divine side; of course, there is another side, the human side— man’s responsibility, which is taught just as clearly in the Word of God.
The following precious text that stresses so forcefully God’s sovereignty also stresses man’s responsibility. It asserts, ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Then it adds, ‘through belief of the truth, whereunto He (God) called you by our gospel.’ Isn’t it the responsibility of the sinner to believe the gospel? Isn’t that what this verse means? Isn’t the gospel message the command to ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’ (Acts 16:31).
When the jailor asked, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Paul did not tell him that he could do anything because salvation is not of works. Nor did he tell him, “Well that depends, I don’t know whether you are one of the elect or not (nobody knows until he is one), so I guess you had better wait until you are sure that you are one of the elect.” No! Paul did not talk such wicked nonsense, but he told him what you and I are to preach to sinners now: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’
Oh, yes, it is true that God is sovereign in saving souls, but it is not all the truth. If in an earthly court you are made to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, how much more must this be done when dealing with eternal things, with the eternal destiny of souls in view.
Praise God for His sovereign electing love; it is a vast truth beyond our limited, finite understanding, for it involves God in His infinite capacity. How can we mortals enter into His thoughts and ways? Thank God for His sovereignty; apart from it, it would be useless to preach the gospel! If God were not the seeker and sovereign Saviour of men, no one ever would be saved. The Bible indicates that the natural heart never seeks after God.
Some will be damned because they believe not the truth (2 Thess. 2:12). Faith or unbelief makes the difference between being saved and lost. So then it’s whether or not the sinner believes the gospel, doesn’t it? It’s of no use to argue that God by His Spirit creates faith in the heart of man so that he can believe. The point is that the sinner knows nothing about that; he has nothing to do with it; his business is to believe the message. In 2 Thessalonians God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are seen side by side, and there is no clash. The gospel is preached to all nations for the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26).
While it is true that all men are not going to be saved, and while it is true that God saves only whom He will, it is also true that no sinner is going to say to God in the day of judgment, “I am lost because you did not make me one of the elect.” No! He is not going to blame God for his eternal doom; he is going to blame himself.
Listen to these Scriptures unsaved reader: ‘How often would I…but ye would not’ (Matthew 23:37). ‘Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life’ (John 5:40). ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16). ‘God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3).
The sinner’s eternal loss in the Bible is never charged to God but to the sinner himself. He is not saved by his will, as it is often argued, but he is certainly lost by his won’t. ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation’ (Hebrews 2:3)?
Please note how often man’s will is introduced in connection with his responsibility to believe the gospel: Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish’ (John 3:16). ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour’ (Matthew 11:28). ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’ (Revelation 22:17). These Scriptures show that man is saved by exercising his will. The fifteenth chapter of Luke clearly illustrates this. The shepherd sought the sheep; the woman (a picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church) sought the silver coin. The sheep represents the wandering sinner; the coin represents the dead sinner unable to return. The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit both came into the world to seek lost souls. In the last part of this parable, it is not a lost sheep or piece of silver that becomes the center, but a grown man. He could return or perish far from home. The father did not go to seek him:
No! The sinner similarly must exercise his will. The prodigal certainly did. He said, “I will arise.” He did arise and got the blessing. The first two parts of Luke 15 present God’s sovereignty; the last, that of the prodigal, man’s responsibility. There is no clash between them. The prodigal had to make a move, and unless the sinner comes in faith to Christ, he will perish in his sins. That is the sinner’s responsibility.
One dear old saint put this truth well when he said, “When I was a sinner God wanted me to be saved and the devil wanted me to be lost. God voted for me, and the devil voted against me; there matters stood a tie. The time came when I became concerned about my sins, and I accepted Christ as my Saviour. I voted for myself, so I was elected by a vote of two to one. There, dear friend, is the truth. What God knows and does is His work. With this you have nothing to do; you are only told to repent and believe the gospel.
To argue, as some extremists do, that if the sinner is saved by what he does, by exercising faith in Christ, then salvation is partly of works, is pointless and untrue. Faith is the hand that receives God’s gift of infinite love. Did you ever hear the recipient of a valuable gift boast and say, “I really deserve some credit for accepting this gift; the owner did not do it all; I did my part.” Of course, you never did. Nor does any Christian talk such nonsense. He agrees with deepest joy and holy adoration that he is saved by grace apart from works. He gives all the glory to God both now and forever. To be sure, he only received Christ by faith, apart from which, he would still be a lost hell-bound sinner.
If you read this, dear sinner, oh believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! Come to Him by faith. Then you will rejoice in the fact that you belong to ‘the elect,’ the aristocracy of heaven.
In my boyhood I went to a Christian school where a great deal of emphasis was placed on the sovereignty of God. One day my mother spoke to me about my need to be saved. Flippantly I answered, “Oh, I don’t need to worry, if I am going to be saved, I will be saved. I’ll be saved if I am one of the elect; I don’t have anything to do with it.” I will never forget my dear Christian mother’s reply. Looking at me gently, she said, “If you believe that, then you will be damned.” How right my mother was!
The idea that the sovereign love of God saves is distorted by many. They ignore the other side of truth which is just as clearly taught in Scriptures. If it is true that God saves the elect, it is also true that He wants all men to be saved. The door of salvation is open to every sinner under heaven. The Lord said, ‘Whosoever believeth in Him’ (John 3:16). The Bible also says that by Him ‘all that believe are justified’ (Acts 13:39). Romans 3:22 says, ‘The righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ is unto all.’ We also read, ‘This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:3-4). The Apostle Peter writes, ‘God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Moreover, ‘this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Salvation, according to these verses, is open to all, and that is all the sinner needs to know.
The passages of Scripture which say that God wills all men to be saved must be as true as those that speak of His grace in saving the elect. Both are equally true! Some of these are addressed to and concerning believers; others are God’s message to sinners. The following simple illustration makes this fact clear. One approaches a building and sees a notice on the outside: ‘Welcome, whosoever may enter here.’ He enters, and rightly so. Promptly, on entering he sees another notice which says, ‘Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.’ There is no difficulty whatsoever, for you are not one of the elect until by faith you enter. What God knows in His sovereign grace, you do not know until you are saved. You are not supposed to know it. Don’t waste time in idle speculations as to whether or not you are one of God’s elect. If you have not come to Christ as a poor lost sinner, you are not of that select number of God’s chosen ones.