Secret Service Theologian



CHRISTIANS with an "ism" are unable to study the Bible with an open mind. And when they meet fellow Christians who are not in sympathy with their particular "ism," they are apt to become aggressive. The following extract from one of Mr. C. H. Spurgeon's Thursday evening lectures expresses this in his own inimitable way :
"I have heard preachers who have seemed to me to bring out a doctrine on purpose to fight over it. I have a dog that has a rug in which he sleeps; and when I go home tonight he will bring it out, and shake it before me - not that he particularly cares for his rug, but because he knows that I shall say, 'I'll have it,' and then he will bark at me and in his language say, 'No you won't.' There are some people who fetch out the doctrines of grace just in that way. I can see them trotting along with the doctrine of election just in order that some Arminian brother may dispute with them about it, and that, then, they may bark at him." Many an error is due to our habit of putting theological labels upon words, and then reading their label-meaings into the Scriptures where they occur. The "work out your own salvation" of Philippians ii. 12 is a notable illustration of this. For the received exegesis of the verse assumes that, in his Roman prison, the Apostle had apostatised from the great truth of grace, which was the special trust of his ministry.

"Salvation" as a theological term has no counterpart in New Testament language. The word is "deliverance; and in every instance the context must guide us as to its application. Here it relates to the errors and dangers by which his beloved Philippians were beset. Being now a prisoner in Rome, his pastoral care of them was at an end; and on this very ground he appeals to them to " work out their own deliverance."

Strictly speaking, indeed, there are no theological terms in the New Testament. Or if this startling statement calls for any modification, it is due to the influence which the Greek version of the Old Testament may have exercised upon the terminology of the New. Possibly, therefore, a reference to the Septuagint may help us to understand the Scriptural meaning of the word eklektos (elect). "In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead." Such is its first occurrence in the Greek Bible. It was the answer given by the Hethites to Abraham's appeal for a sepulchre in which to bury Sarah. The best of their sepulchres they placed at his disposal. This we have in Genesis xxiii. Its next occurrence is in chapter xli., where it is used four times of choice cattle and twice of choice ears of corn. In Exodus it is used of choice chariots and choice myrrh. It is applied to Joshua in Numbers xi. 28 ; and in Deuteronomy xii. 11, to the vows or gifts of the people. These eleven passages contain the only occurrences of the word in the Pentateuch ; and eleven verses in Ezekiel and Daniel give its last appearances in the Greek Bible. In Ezekiel it is used of choice ornaments, choice branches or boughs of trees, choice land, choice cattle, choice spices, choice stores, and choice plants. And in Daniel xi. 15 it is applied to the soldiers of the King of the South. In the Prophets it is used here and there of the covenant people, as for example in half of its twelve occurrences in Isaiah. But in that book it is used also of choice valleys, choice houses, and precious stones, etc. In this regard, however, the most notable passage in all the Old Testament is Isaiah xxviii. 16 (quoted in 1 Peter ii. 6), where the word is applied to Christ Himself. And now let us open the New Testament. Anyone who has felt surprise at the statement that "conversion" is used primarily of the disciples will be still more surprised on discovering that the first passage where "elect" occurs in the New Testament does not relate to salvation at all but to service. For Divine sovereignty in relation to service is an almost forgotten truth. In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, all were engaged, and all received their wages. There was no question of any being rejected, but special favour was accorded to the few who alone were eklektoi.1
1 For the N.T. passages, see App.

This points to a conclusion suggested by the general use of the word eklektos, whether in the Greek Bible or in the New Testament,1 namely, that the essential thought which underlies it is peculiar appreciation and special favour, without any element of "chronology," or any thought of alternative reprobation. And this conclusion is established beyond controversy or doubt by the fact already noticed, that both in the Old Testament and the New the word is used of the Lord Himself. The Christian, therefore, may rejoice in the thought of being one of God's chosen ones, without having the light of that glorious truth bedimmed by the shadow which Augustinian theology has cast upon it. And the peace and joy which the truth begets will be assured and deep, in proportion as we realise that it is in Christ we are thus chosen. Upon this it is that the absolute security of the believer rests.
1 Matt. xx. I venture to assert that no one who has practical experience in dealing with problems of evidence would justify the Revisers' mutilation of verse 16.

To trust to our election as an objective fact is not only unscriptural but perilous. " Give diligence to make your calling and election sure"l is the exhortation which Scripture bases on this truth. And this exhortation exposes the falseness of any teaching that would fritter it away by referring it to "mere membership in the visible Church," or that would turn our thoughts from present blessing and the solemnities of the Christian life, and fix them upon a cast-iron decree of fate in a past eternity. "The elect of God, holy and beloved" 2 are none but those who are "in Christ"; and neither mere professors, nor any class whatever of unregenerate sinners, can have part or lot in such a position. Until the Ephesian saints received the Gospel, they were, as the Apostle reminds them, " without Christ, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." How can anyone suppose that sinners in this condition are "the elect of God, holy and beloved"!3
1 2 Pet. i. 10.
2 Col. Hi. 12.
3 The story is told of a governor of Virginia long ago, who had among his slaves a Christian with whom he sometimes "talked religion." One day when the subject of Election came up, and the man declared his happy confidence that he had been thus elected of God, his master asked, "But am I not elected, too?" "No, Massa" (was the reply), " no one is elected who isn't a candidate!"

This same Scripture, moreover, which reveals this heavenly election in a bygone eternity, reveals also God's purpose respecting it in an eternity to come, namely, "that we should be to the praise of the glory of His grace." The glory of the saved is only a means to an end, and that great end is the glory of the Saviour. It has a temporary purpose also, to be realised here and now, namely, "that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." And if all this be forgotten, "the doctrine of Election" may have a harmful influence upon heart and life.1 The controversy on this subject has been much embarrassed by the use of unscriptural phraseology. For the Patristic theologians neglected the study of the language in which evangelical truths are revealed in the New Testament - I refer, of course, to the typology of the Pentateuch.
1 If it were remembered, the sort of people aimed at by Mr. Spurgeon's dog story would perhaps be less demonstrative in boasting of their election !

And this reproach still rests upon our theology; for, as Bengel says, "The elucidation of the doctrine of the types is a problem for future theologians." The result of this, I repeat, is embarrassing. In our theology, for instance, the death of Christ is called "the atonement," whereas in Scripture atonement is priestly work for the redeemed people. The doctrine of substitution affords a still apter example. "If my sins were laid on Christ, and He died as my substitute, my salvation is assured irrespective of repentance or faith on my part. And if He did not thus die for me, salvation is for me impossible, and to preach the gospel to me is a mockery and a fraud." This is only one of the tangled knots that abound in the election controversy ; but the sword of the Word of God avails to cut them all.

This particular knot is caused by stating the gospel for the unsaved in the language of the sin-offering, which Scripture never does. For the sin-offering was only for the redeemed people ; and as the element of substitution was essential to it, its merits could neither be extended nor transferred. But in the Passover in Egypt the blood of the paschal lamb was sprinkled on the door of every Hebrew dwelling, and all who came within its shelter escaped the doom pronounced upon Egypt. There was no prior identification of the sinner with the sacrificial victim, and therefore its death was not substitutionary. For the theological doctrine of substitution is merely one aspect of the Scriptural truth of the believer's identification with Christ in His death for sin; and therefore it is not until the sinner becomes one with Him on believing the gospel, that he can have any share in the sin-offering aspect of the Cross. Israel was redeemed in Egypt by the blood of the Passover. Then came deliverance from the house of bondage. And their redemption was completed by the Sinai sacrifice of Exodus xxiv., which established them as a holy people in covenant with God. Then followed the ordering of the sanctuary, and the appointment of the priest.1 And the sin-offering was a part of the provision made by the Levitical code to maintain them in the place of favour and blessing won for them by the redemption sacrifices of Exodus.
1 Ex. xxv.-xxviii.

"Secret things belong unto the Lord," and it is not ours to attempt to fathom the deep mysteries of the Saviour's death on Calvary ; but this much, at least, is plain as the noonday sun, that that death has in such sense settled the question of sin, that sin is no longer a barrier between the sinner and his God.1 The sin is still upon his head and judgment will overwhelm him if he die unsaved ; but it is none the less true that the death of Christ has made it a righteous thing for God to proclaim Himself a Saviour, and to preach pardon and peace to every creature. There is no shuffling of the cards ; there is no deception in it. If forgiveness is preached to all, it is because all may share it. If God beseeches men to be reconciled, it is because He has provided a reconciliation ; if He appeals to them to come to Him, it is because the way is open right up to His throne and to His heart. It is impossible that election can ever limit the value of the death of Christ,or the power of that mighty name to save and bless. Sovereignty ! Why, the universe will have no such proof of the depth of His counsels and the almightiness of His power, as that of heaven filled with sinners saved from hell. With some the difficulty springs from treating the gospel as though it were a problem as to the amount of suffering endured by Christ, and the numerical quantity of the sins atoned for. But God points us to the cross with a far different object; and the power of the gospel is to know what it is to Him. It is Himself that God would present before £he sinner, and He points to that cross in proof of the vastness of the sacrifice, and the boundlessness of the love that made it. He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son—and He adds, not as a cold formula which the initiated know to be overshadowed by the doctrine of election, but as the expression of the longing of that mighty love—" that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." 2
1 Judicially I mean. Morally, sin must always separate from God,
2 These last two paragraphs are taken from The Gospel and its Ministry, chap. vi.
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