Secret Service Theologian



THE relation which theology bears to Scripture may be exemplified by that of art to nature. And the parallel would be still closer if the principles and standards of the art of a bygone age were stereotyped, and some accredited tribunal existed to denounce departure from them. For in these strange days, while a readiness to hear anything that disparages the authority of Scripture is deemed proof of mental independence and enlightenment, we are in danger of being cast out of the synagogue if we question the authority of the great teachers of the past, albeit they themselves would have repudiated not a few of the tenets now attributed to them by their disciples.1
1 See ex. gr. Calvin's Commentary upon John iii. 16: " Christ employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite indiscriminately all to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is the import of the term world." And again, on Rom. v. 18 : " Therefore Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and through God's benignity is offered indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive Him."

Back to nature is our aspiration in the sphere of art, and back to the Bible should be our watchword here. And if we study the Bible with an open mind, we shall find perhaps that some of our difficulties will disappear, and others will prove less perplexing than we supposed. But we must not follow the ways of certain schools of controversy, who tamper with any statements of Scripture that seem to clash with their special beliefs and dogmas. To question the Divine sovereignty is to take a first step on the downward path that logically leads to atheism. And any refusal to accept at their face value the plain words in which the gospel of grace is proclaimed on many a page of the New Testament, is to charge the God of truth with a kind of untruthfulness that would not be tolerated among honourable men.

When dealing with truths in respect of which we are dependent absolutely upon a Divine revelation, it behoves us to adhere strictly to the very words of Scripture. And many of our difficulties are due to violations of this important rule. For instance, the theological doctrine of predestination to life, with its terrible alternative, is not based on Scripture, but on inferences from Scripture. The word proorizo, on which such a tremendous superstructure has been reared, occurs in but four passages of the New Testament, and never once in relation to life. Indeed it is only in Romans viii. and Ephesians i. that it is used with reference to the destiny of men ; and in both these Scriptures it points to special positions of blessing to which the redeemed are predestinated. The predestination of Romans viii. 29 is to "be conformed to the image of His Son." And in keeping with this are the words of Ephesians i. 5, "foreordained unto adoption as sons." 1 And in verse 11 it is " to an inheritance," or (as the Revised Version gives it) " to be His heritage."
1 This may be true of all the redeemed, or it may not. As to this we may not dogmatise : here it is written of the elect of this Christian dispensation.

And let us not overlook the statement that it was those whom He foreknew that He thus predestinated. What inference shall we draw from this ? Is our future destiny dependent upon the Divine Sovereignty, in the sense that it is in no way influenced by the action of our human will -that proud but perilous prerogative of human nature ? I refuse to enter on this well-worn controversy. My purpose is to lodge a protest against drawing any inferences whatever from truths that cannot be reached by natural reason.1
1 The two other passages where proorizo occurs (Acts iv. 28, and 1 Cor. ii. 7) have no bearing on the present question. The word used in Acts xiii. 48 is tasso, to arrange, put in order or rank, especially in a military sense. The thought of reprobation cannot be imported into it. And mark the words that follow immediately. In Iconium " they so spake that a great multitude believed " (xiv. 1). And ch. xvii. 11 tells us why their preaching in Berea was more successful than in Thessalonica. What concerns the preacher of the Gospel is to obey his Master's orders, not to follow his own apprehension (or misapprehension) of the counsels of God.

If we are predestinated to the adoption of children, let us take the place of children ; and instead of becoming ensnared by the learned ignorance of the Latin Fathers, let us accept the Divine words with childlike simplicity, content to be ignorant when the teaching reaches depths we cannot fathom. And in this spirit let us accept the teaching of the ninth chapter of Romans. The Apostle's words, both about Isaac and Ishmael, and also about Jacob and Esau, clearly relate to racial and dispensational position and blessing in this world, and not to the eternal destiny of these men or their descendants. The eighth verse is important as refuting the popular doctrine that men are by nature children of God. But to infer from it that Isaac's descendants are all children of God is flatly opposed to the Apostle's main argument: and yet this must be accepted if we are to infer that the descendants of Ishmael are all children of wrath.

A reference to Malachi, moreover, makes it clear that the Esau of the thirteenth verse is the Edom family or race, rather than the individual who died fourteen centuries before the prophecy was given. And yet the story of Esau contains that which ought to have restrained the dogmatism of the predestination controversy. " The purpose of God according to election " was not that Jacob should be eternally saved, and Esau lost, but that the elder should serve the younger.1 And how did this result come about ? The twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis ends with the words, "Esau despised his birthright." And as this position of influence and blessing was divinely given, his sin in bartering it for a mess of pottage is branded as "profanity," and a place of repentance was denied him. It was not a question of his eternal destiny, but of the birthright he had forfeited. And it is our part to take heed to the warning which his case is used to enforce in Hebrews. Let us then shun the profanity of setting ourselves to discuss whether his sin was not really due to " the purpose of God according to election"!

But what of Pharaoh's case ? Does not this Scripture teach us that God called that evil man into existence for the express purpose of manifesting His wrath, and making known His Divine power in his destruction ? Such an interpretation of the seventeenth verse is quite unwarranted. And moreover it robs us of much deeply solemn teaching. The word here used does not mean to " call into being," but to " rouse," or " wake up." The Hebrew of Exodus ix. 16 reads, " For this purpose I have made thee stand." And this is rendered in the Greek Bible, " For this purpose hast thou been preserved until now."
1 Our English word hate in Rom. ix. 13 conveys a false impression. Note the Lord's use of the Greek word in Luke xiv. 26.

The Divine command by the mouth of Moses he treated with contempt. "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? "was his impious rejoinder. And when the spoken word was accredited by miraculous power, he called upon his demon-possessed magicians to parody the miracles. It would have been entirely in the spirit of that dispensation if God had struck him down in his sin. But he was preserved - he was made to stand - as a foil for the display of the power of God, and that the name of God "might be declared throughout all the earth." And yet, if this be separated from the context, it gives a faulty presentation of the character and ways of God. Mark the twenty-second verse: "What if God, purposing to shew forth His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction ? " In view of these words we may not dare to assert that Pharaoh might not have obtained mercy had he cast himself upon God in repentance and confession.

What a contrast his case presents to that of Nebuchadnezzar ! " Of a truth your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings"- such was the king of Babylon's confession when he first received proof of the power and presence of Daniel's God. And when the deliverance of the Jewish Provincial Governors from the burning fiery furnace brought him full conviction, he made proclamation that Israel's Jehovah was the only God, and He alone was to be worshipped throughout all his empire. Pharaoh's destiny is certain, but who would dare to say that Nebuchadnezzar may not be reckoned among the redeemed ! Pharaoh's case was akin to that of the Christ-rejecting Jews in the days of the Ministry. Because they turned from the light, God blinded their eyes; and if God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it was because he himself had closed it against abundant proofs of the Divine presence and power. Both cases alike exemplify a great principle that governs "the ways of God to men." It is a principle of universal application, and it explains the failure of many a Christian life. For if a Christian refuses new light by which God would lead him on, he is in danger of losing even the light he already enjoys.
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