All Things for Good: God’s Care for His People – Pastoral Application of Romans 8:28-39

Recently, a lot of my posts (okay almost all of them) have been specifically about the calvinism vs arminianism and the calvinism vs hyper-calvinism debate. Someone I love very dearly struggles with many things and this post is dedicated to them. It isn’t what I would call high theology en toto, rather it is a pastoral examination of the implications of one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Pastoral implications are the practical side of theology, and should never be understated in any theological study. Today we will be looking at Romans 8, specifically vs 28-39.

Paul,.before all things, was concerned with the pastoral applications of his teachings. The christian walk with God was always something incredibly important to him. He starts off the passage under consideration with an astonishing point. He says:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Wow. Simply wow. All things work together for the good of those who love God! But who could possibly love God? As we read earlier, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)” Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about being the one’s who first must love God. As Paul elsewhere states, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)” It was God who first loved us, enough to send Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to die for us. It is also God, who, according to the second clause of vs 28, called a people according to His divine and holy purpose. What does He do for these people He calls? And how can we be sure all things will work together for our good? Let us continue on with Paul’s argument.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30 ESV)

We should note three main things about this passage oft called the “golden chain of redemption.”

  1. God is the subject
  2. All of the verbs are active, finite, past tense
  3. “those whom” is consistently the direct object of these verbs

You might ask me here why any of this is important. Well, it sets the ground for the entirety of Paul’s argument in the rest of Romans 8 and Romans 9. This, in simple terms, is Paul’s doctrine of divine election. Now we are in a position to answer the question of what God does for the “those whom.” Firstly, God foreknew (in an active sense, denoting a knowledge based upon a free choice of God to create) these people for whom all things will work together for their good. Secondly, God predestines them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Jesus Christ). What does this mean? In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (3:18)” Our being conformed into the image of Christ is our joining in union with Him. Paul’s reference here to the veil of the hand of the Lord upon Moses’ face, for no man may see God and live (Exodus 33), is important. We have seen and have intimate communion with the Son, our mediator, who is the express image of God’s very being (Hebrews 1:3). No longer are we cut off from God because of our sins; rather, through Christ, we have been brought near. Thirdly, God calls them. Fourthly, God justifies them. He makes men, through grace and by faith (Ephesians 2:8-10), holy and righteous before Him through the imputed righteousness of His Son Christ Jesus. Finally, He glorifies them. He brings them to glory. Amen! All of this is one, interwoven argument that cannot be separated. We already have a partial answer to the question of how all things may work out for the good of those that love God; however, let us press forward.

Before we receive the rest of the answer to our question, we must reasonably ask who the “those whom” are. Paul does not hesitate to tell us. He says:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 ESV)

Us! As we shall see, the “those whom” is replaced by the personal pronoun “us.” We, as believers, are the ones for whom all things work to our good. We are the recipients of God’s justificatory work through the imputation of His Son’s righteousness. That is why Paul may boldly proclaim “if God is for us, who can be against us?” If we have the omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, merciful God on our side who purposes all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11) then who could possibly be strong enough to stand against us in this life? Paul goes on:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:32-39 ESV)

Us, us, us, us, God’s elect, us. Can you see the great mercy and love of God towards His people? Christ is interceding, for us. Christ died, for us. God justifies, us. God gives all things, to us. What can separate us from the love of our Heavenly Father? Nothing. If we follow Paul’s argument, the reason we can have a surety that all things will according to our good is that God, the sovereign creator of all things,.is in control. How blessed we are!

 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?: Facing Up to Equal Ultimacy

I recently finished up R.C. Sproul’s Chosen By God and one of his chapters focuses on the question of “double predestination.” Double predestination raises many eyebrows from non-Calvinists and Calvinists alike. Many will say “God definitely elects to salvation but there is no way that He would ever elect to reprobation!” The obvious problem with this is that even a non-selection is a choice. God still chooses to not elect some and to work sanctification in the hearts of some. The real issue is not double predestination, but whether or not God’s predestination is symmetrical or not. Another way to say it is: Is God’s predestining of humans active-active or active-passive (as R.C. Sproul likes to put it)? I am one of those dreaded Hyper-Calvinists who believes that God’s predestination is symmetrical, or, in other words, I believe in equal ultimacy. What is equal ultimacy though? For our purposes, we can define equal ultimacy is:

Equal Ultimacy: the doctrine that God works sanctification in the hearts of His elect and unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate

For the purposes of this discussion, Arminians are to be left to the wayside. This is an intramural discussion among Calvinists.

Dr. Sproul does not base his conclusions on the Bible, rather he bases conclusion on an emotional objection. His objection is one shared by all of the advocates of active-passive predestination. He says something of this kind. “Equal Ultimacy makes God the author of sin and surely that does violence to the character of God! God is all-good and surely He cannot work unbelief, which is a sin, in the heart of the reprobate!” Here we must agree in part. God is surely not the author of sin (as we are told that God cannot sin in Jas. 1:13 and other passages); however, that does not mean that God is not the source of sin. What is the difference? To be a source is to be the dwelling or place from which something springs; however, to be the author is to be the active producer of something. You will then say to me, “Ok fine, but doesn’t your definition assume that God is the author of unbelief? Aren’t you contradicting yourself?” Well, I don’t think so. God is the source of all things. In His decree of election and reprobation, God decides who will and who will not be saved. Part of not being saved is the sin of unbelief, as well as any number of accompanying sins. God, in His creative decree, which proceeded His elective decree (see my article on Supralapsarianism), He decreed that unbelievers would not believe. How can God be sure if the unbeliever will continue in His unbelief if, He in some sense, did not actively decree their unbelief and it’s working out in their life?

 

The Antinomian Controversy: A Statement – Part 1

Okay, it’s confession time. I am an Antinomian. Gasp. That wasn’t so hard was it? For uttering that statement many might consider me a heretic; however, I believe that a thorough and consistent interpretation of Romans 6 and 7 will demonstrate my position. What is my position though? For our purposes, we will define antinomianism as:

Antinomianism: the doctrine that Christians, under the covenant of grace, are not bound to keep God’s moral law

That already should raise some eyebrows. How can I possibly say that we are not bound to keep God’s moral law? I believe that this position is not as radical as it has historically been made out to be. Let us begin with our exegesis of the text. We begin in Romans 6:

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

In these verses, Paul asks a series of questions and then goes on to give a series of rejoinders. There are a few main points to consider; however, the two main dualisms in this passage are:

  1. Dead to Sin/Alive in Christ
  2. Dead to the Law/Alive in Grace

We start in vs 1-4:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The first question in vs 1 is should believers sin so that grace might abound? Consequently, this is often the exact charge made against antinomians by critics. “If you are against the idea that we have a moral obligation to follow God’s law then you believe you can do anything you want.” Paul’s answer to this question is an emphatic no. We are dead to sin, says Paul, so how shall we goon sinning. If you are dead then you cannot perform any actions whatsoever, so if you are a believer then you cannot continue in sin. It is impossible! Paul then goes on in vs 3-4 to give the importance and  meaning of baptism: that we are buried in the water with Christ and raised, metaphorically, from the dead to spiritual life. The scriptural definition of will is to have certain inclinations to preform certain tasks; therefore, the spiritually alive person has new desires and a new heart to obey God, not out of moral obligations placed on the believer, but out of love and faith.

Vs. 5-14 reads:

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

In this passage Paul makes two main points:

  1. Anyone who is dead to sin is free from sin
  2. Anyone who is no longer a slave to sin is not under the law

These points are of key importance to the antinomian case. For the antinomian, being out from under the law means  being in the covenant of grace, or the system in which man is justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1) and not moral obligations or law keeping. The death of Christ, Paul says, was death to sin once and for all. As participants in Christ’s death, we too are no longer alive to sin but dead to it. Not only are we dead to sin, but we are alive to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord! You may object to me here on the basis of vs 12-13; however, if one only remembers that in vs 1-2 Paul says that we are dead to sin, and consequently, dead to the law, then we no longer need to interpret vs 12-13 as being a moral obligation; rather, we should interpret them as being natural inclinations flowing from a changed nature (Ezekial 36:26).

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

We reach now our final passage of Scripture for this part. Again Paul emphasizes our freedom apart from the law and from sin through Jesus Christ; however, that does not mean that we can willingly sin. The crux of Paul’s argument is that we should present ourselves as instruments of righteousness; however, does that not mean we are bound to some moral obligation? Not at all. In fact, Paul even says “you have come to obey from your heart.” Again, obedience is not a moral obligation. It is something done out of love and even that which is done out of love is ultimately done through the sovereign will of God.

Does God Have Free Will?: A Brief Consideration from a Hyper-Calvinist

Disclaimer: This is not my official answer to this question, nor do I affirm that it is something derived from the text of Scripture in totality. Its just something I’ve been kicking around.

I was recently asked the question of whether God has free will. This question took me aback as I had never really thought about it before. Since I believe God has directly spoken on the character of His nature and the nature of His decrees, I turned to the Scriptures. While the Scriptures speak plentifully and fully as to the nature of the ability of man (something codified in the doctrines of grace as “T”), the Bible says much less about the nature of God’s ability. Let us examine some Scriptures that do speak to what God can and cannot do.

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,’ (Isaiah 46:10 ESV)

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3 ESV)

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; (Titus 1:2-3 ESV)

There seems to be two statements that affirmed in the Scriptures:

  1. God can do whatever He pleases
  2. God cannot sin

Unlike man, who is bound in trespasses and sins and is within a series of temporal and causal relations, God is outside of time and has no constraining factors (or antecedent determinants) acting on Him. The only conceivable constraint on God’s freedom is His omniscience. I believe that God knows all that is logically possible to know, which would include His own actions. Whereas man has no free will whatsoever (because of total nature of man’s depravity, his contextual situation, and God’s omniscience [this view is called Theological Determinism]), God, it seems, must have some form of free will. Here I will appeal to God’s creative decree to solve this issue. Prior to God’s creation of the world, His knowledge of His free actions (actions which have no antecedent determinants) is not contained within His total omniscience as an actuality but only as a potentiality. Since it is God’s divine fiat that determines which potentiality is actualized, there is no determining antecedent that forces God to decree one set of actions over another.

“From the Same Lump”: A Brief Defense of Supralapsarianism

The issue of the order of the decrees of God has been an issue for Reformed folks since the very first generation of reformers. Throughout the Reformed tradition, infralapsarianism has been the dominant position with supralapsarianism being in the minority. While a seemingly unimportant debate, I believe that the logical order of the decrees of God raise serious soteriological issues and bear on how we, as Christians, are to respond to the problem of evil. For the Reformed person, it is obvious that God elects some people to be saved. That point is not in contention. What is in contention is the order in which the elective decree comes and the extent of divine election. These issues are discussed at length in Romans 9, but we will content ourselves to look at the chapter briefly in order to offer an initial defense. Let us begin:

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13 ESV)

Here we should take note of some important points.

  • Jacob and Esau had not yet done good or bad
  • God decreed this in this manner so that “His purpose in election might continue”
  • This was done to take away the ground of works as being the basis for obtaining God’s mercy

The first bullet is the most important. God, before the twins had done good or evil (surely Paul would also exclude them here from having the fallen nature inherited from Adam as we have all fallen through and participated in the sin of Adam [Romans 5:12]), selected the one who would serve and the one who would be served, or the one He loved and the one He hated. This was done on the basis of God’s elective decree. We can be sure that those God loves (His elect) will be saved and those God hates (reprobates) will be punished. Paul then goes on to respond to his potential objector.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18 ESV)

The answer here is simple: God will have mercy on whomever He chooses and He will harden whomever He chooses. How could God freely show mercy and freely harden if God’s decree of election logically proceeds His decree of the Fall, where all men are already rebel sinners who have hardened their hearts against God? God may decide to show mercy to some, but this is simply a theology of divine acceptance, not one of divine election as laid out in the previous passages of Scripture. Paul goes on to say:

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? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:21-23 ESV)

Here we have a rhetorical question on the part of the Apostle. Doesn’t God have the right to make, from the same lump, vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy? The question for the infralapsarian becomes this: How could God make vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy from the same lump if election proceeds the fall, where all are vessels of wrath? Infralapsarians must answer with a consistent interpretation of Romans 9 in order to even begin to get their case off the ground.

A Confession: Unpopular Theological Opinions

I am what some would call a theological enigma. I am generally not accepted in Reformed circles and definitely not in Arminian circles. Some may even doubt my salvation because of the views that I hold. So what exactly am I? I am a Hyper-Calvinist. *Gasp* Now that we have gotten that out of the way we can examine what exactly it means to be a Hyper-Calvinist over and above a traditional Calvinist. The main marks of Hyper-Calvinism are:

  • Supralapsarianism: the view that God’s decree of election logically precedes His decree of creation, the Fall, and redemption through the Cross
  • Equal Ultimacy: God elects human beings to glory and reprobation equally
  • Denial of duty-faith and duty-repentance: “We deny duty faith and duty repentance – these terms signifying that it is every man’s duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe . We deny also that there is any 1 capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God” (Articles of Faith and Rules Article 26)
  • Gospel invitations: I believe that Gospel invitations should be avoided as they imply creaturely power and are an attack on the doctrines of grace (TULIP)
    • While we believe that the Gospel is to be preached in or proclaimed to all the world, as in Mark 16. 15, we deny offers of grace; that is to say, that the gospel is to be offered indiscriminately to all (Article 29)
    • Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and, on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption.(Article 33)
    • We believe that any such expressions as convey to the hearers the belief that they possess a certain power to flee to the Saviour, to close in with Christ, to receive Christ, while in an unregenerate state, so that unless they do thus close with Christ, etc., they shall perish, are untrue, and must, therefore, be rejected. And we further believe that we have no Scripture warrant to take the exhortations in the Old Testament intended for the Jews in national covenant with God, and apply them in a spiritual and saving sense to unregenerated men. (Article 34)

One of the more contentious views ascribed to Hyper-Calvinism is that Arminians are unsaved. While I believe Arminianism is false and has many unsavory theological implications I do believe that my Arminian brothers are saved. That’s it for this short blog post. I just wanted everyone to be aware of where I stood theologically going forward and I will be putting out defenses of each of these points listed above.

The Meticulous Providence Theodicy and the Problem of the Unsaved: A Brief Consideration

The problem of the unsaved, or the PoU as I will refer to it, is a problem that every Bible believing Christian has to answer. The PoU is similar in type to the logical/inductive arguments from evil in that it assumes that some evil exists, which in this case would be the suffering of the lost in Hell forever, and therefore it seems unlikely or is logically impossible for a good, omnipotent, omniscient being to exist. I believe that the Meticulous Providence Theodicy solves this issue. The argument goes something like this:

P1. Some people have never heard about Christ (evidentially true)

P2. Those people will end up in hell due to their sins (Scripturally true)

P3. Having never heard the gospel, they did not have a chance to repent (P1)

P4. There was a way for sins to be forgiven and it was not offered to the unsaved (P1,P3)

P5. This is unjust

P6. God is necessarily just

C. God does not exist

P5*. God exercises MP

P6. God is necessarily just

P7. God’s MP and justice leads Him to sovereignly place all humans, who are sinners and under God’s wrath, in a position in which they receive justice or mercy

P8. If everyone receives justice or mercy then no one receives injustice

C*. PoU does not imply the nonexistence of God

Arminians have a problem here as God desires to save everyone but He will ultimately fail as He “sovereignly” decides to let people have free will. The Arminian could say that God decides, based on His foreknowledge, to place people who would not believe in contexts where they will not receive the Gospel; however, this conflicts with the Arminian’s other commitment to the loving and good nature of God that desires all people to be saved.

An Objection to the LDS Doctrine of Priesthood: A Discussion of Hebrews 4-10 Part 1

In this post, we will be walking through Hebrews 4-10 in an effort to understand one of the most important matters of Christology: the mediatorial work of Christ. We will answer the following questions along the way:

  • What is the nature of the old covenant and its priesthood?
  • What is the nature of the new covenant and its priesthood?
  • What is the intent of the atonement?
  • What is the effect of the atonement?

The goal of exegeting these passages of Scripture is to present a strong and consistent objection to the LDS doctrine of priesthood and atonement. In order to place myself prior to exegesis, I am approaching these texts as a Reformed Baptist and so I accept the doctrine of sola scriptura, tota scriptura, penal substitutionary atonement, and the inerrancy of God’s Word in the Bible; however, I plan on letting the Scriptures speak for themselves. The debate over priesthood and atonement is a dividing line between orthodox Christian belief and religions of men like Mormonism. Let us begin right away in Hebrews 4. We read:

            Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Here we begin with the discussion of the priesthood of Christ. The first two things to note are the two adjectives used to describe the priesthood of Jesus are “great” and “high.” As was seen in chap. 1-3, Christ is greater than all other beings in creation, including angels, Moses, Abraham, and so on. Two of whom covenants where made too in the form of a promise and in the form of the Law. The adjective “high” refers to the type of priesthood that Christ holds. There are two priesthoods according to the Mosaic Law. There is the general priesthood, which is a foreshadowing of the priesthood of all believers in the New Covenant, and then there is the high priesthood. In the Old Covenant there were many priests and only one high priest. We will see that in the following passages of Scriptures as the Apostle to the Hebrews continues with his Christological discussion. The second important point to notice is that our high priest is one who is able to empathize with our weaknesses. The importance of this point will be brought out later as the high priest of old and our (that is, the believer’s high priest) high priest share a similarity. Because we have a high priest, the author says, who has been tempted just as we were we may come to the throne of God and ask for grace and mercy in our time of need.

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Hebrews 5:1-4)

                Here the author reminds the Hebrews about the duties of the high priest. The important things to note are:

  • There is only one high priest
  • He is selected from among the people
  • He is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God
  • To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins

This high priest, we are told, is able to treat those who have gone astray as he himself is subject to sin as well. Because he is subject to sin, during the Day of Atonement, the high priest is to offer up sins for the people and for himself since he himself is a sinner. However, the author makes note that this is not an honor that may be taken by any man. The office of the high priest is one of divine institution. In the Torah, we read of Aaron’s calling. The Scriptures say:

                Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. (Exodus 28:1)

And

But only you [Aaron] and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.” (Numbers 18:7)

In both of these passages we have YHWH instituting the Levitical, or as Mormons would say, the Aaronic priesthood (however, it should be noted that Mormons believe that the Melchizedek priesthood and Aaronic priesthood preceded their divine institution in the establishment of the Old and New Covenants). Throughout the rest of these latter Scripture passages the author of Hebrews will parallel the priesthood and covenant of the Law with the priesthood and covenant of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;

 today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

                In the order of Melchizedek.”

 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

The author points out that Christ did not take up the honor of priesthood of His own accord. Rather, the Father said to the Son, “You are my Son (see John 1:18); today I have become your Father,” a quote from Psalm 2:7. The application of this passage, established by earlier usage in the book of Hebrews declares Christ to be the only begotten, unique Son of God. The Father has proclaimed this to the Son. The author then uses Psalm 110:4 to parallel the Old Testament passages recalling the calling of Aaron to the high priesthood. Just as Aaron was called, it was said to the Son, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” In both passages, the speaker was YHWH. The author then makes a statement on the effect of the atonement in vs 9 which also contrasts the effects of atonement in the Old Covenant. In vs 1-4, the high priest must offer sacrifices for sins for himself and the people every year (see Leviticus 16:34); however, the sacrifice of the Son becomes “the source of eternal salvation.”

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:16-20)

Here we are presented with the great hope of our soul. The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek, has entered behind the veil into the Holy of holies (which was limited to the high priest on the Day of Atonement and was the place of God’s dwelling) on our behalf. He has made atonement on our behalf. He has gone before us into the presence of God and is the reason for why we may go boldly to the throne of God to ask for grace and mercy for us who believe. It is also important to note the word forever. The high priests of old were mortal and died. Therefore, their priesthood was passed on (as we will see later); however, the priesthood of Christ remains with Christ as He is eternal.

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:1-10)

In this section, the author lays out just exactly who Melchizedek the priest was and what the parallel between him and Christ. First of all, note the similarities between the name of Melchizedek and names ascribed to Christ. Melchizedek means “King of righteousness” and “King of Salem” means “King of peace.” Christ is called the “prince of peace” (see Isaiah 9:6) and “the Righteous One” (see Acts 7:52 and 1 John 2:1). The second thing of note about Melchizedek is that in the book of Genesis he has no genealogy, record of birth, or record of death. Just like Melchizedek, the Son of God never came into being at any time, nor did He ever cease to be. The third thing of note is that even Abraham, the great Patriarch who was given the very promises and covenants of God Almighty, paid a tithe to Melchizedek the priest. What a mystery! As the author states, the law requires that the people of Israel pay a tithe to those who are children of Levi; however, Melchizedek was not a child of Levi or a descendent of Abraham. In fact, the author of the Hebrews goes so far as to say that those who die paid a tithe to him who is “declared to be living,” because Levi was in the loins of Abraham when he paid his tithe to Melchizedek.

God’s Kingly Freedom: A Response to Dr. Braxton Hunter

Before beginning, I would like to affirm that I believe Dr. Braxton Hunter is my brother in Christ. We share foundational beliefs such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of God’s Word the Bible, and so on. However, with that being stated, we share a foundational disagreement over our exegesis of the texts of Scripture and in our philosophizing in regards to the issue of free will, or libertarian free will as opposed to compatibilist free will. As a Calvinist, I am bound to first do systematic theology (using the guardrails of sola scriptura and tota scriptura) and then philosophy, rather than philosophy and then systematic theology. I assume that Dr. Hunter would agree with me in my citation of Dr. James White’s statement that “theology matters.” My argumentation will be twofold: first there will be an examination of creaturely will from a Biblical perspective and secondly there will be a philosophical analysis of Dr. Hunter’s position.

  • Theological Critique: Doctrine of God

To begin our theological critique of Dr. Hunter, it will be necessary to substantiate the Calvinist’s claims about the nature of God. Certain attributes are not in question. Those would include:

  • Holiness
  • Wrathfulness/Justice
  • Goodness
  • Lovingkindness
  • Omnipotence
  • Omniscience
  • Omnipresence

However, the point of contention lies in the nature of God’s sovereignty and kingly freedom. For the Calvinist, God’s will reigns supreme. God, in creation, decrees all events in time, including the means and the ends to establishing His purpose. On the Calvinist’s view, God frustrates and directs the will of man to act in the way that God desires. For the Arminian, God does no such thing. He will guide, direct, or put people in certain circumstances to attempt to influence man’s will; however, theoretically, there is no guarantee that man will cooperate (here Arminians will appeal to God’s foreknowledge and make God out to be like a master chess player, able to outsmart His “opponents”). Let us look at the Biblical data concerning God’s sovereign will.

To begin with, we must note the strength of Isaiah 46:10. Here, the prophet states [1]:

 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Here YHWH makes direct reference to what Calvinists would call the doctrine of the decrees of God. In creation, God decrees all events in time that will eventually come to pass. For what purpose? To accomplish “all My good pleasure.” In vs 11, God demonstrates what elsewhere I have called “meticulous providence,” or:

MP: a being x exercises MP iff that being freely and sovereignly chooses to ordain and primarily cause all events in time through a creative decree

In vs 11, YHWH states:

Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.

Here we have a word of prophecy. The broader context for these verses is Isaiah 40-8 termed “the trial of the false gods.” YHWH’s challenge, among the many others issued, is for the idols to tell the future or state the events of the past. The idols cannot do these things; however, YHWH can, and the reason for this is that God has decreed, from the beginning, all things that are to take place. Let us examine our next text.

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

To quote from the Pulpit Commentary:

The word rendered “deviseth” implies, by its spectra, intensity of thought and care. Man meditates and prepares his plans with the utmost solicitude, but it rests with God whether he shall carry them to completion or not, and whether, if they are to be accomplished, it be done with ease or with painful labour (comp. Genesis 24:12, etc.).

Here we see a duality. There is the creaturely will of man and the sovereign direction of God. Compatibilists have an advantage here as the compatibilist claim is not that man does not have a will, but that his willing flows from his desires and from the decree of God. Arminians are left wondering how God can decide whether “[man] shall carry them to completion or not” if man possesses libertarian free will. Our next text is Daniel 4:35

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

After the recovery of his sanity, Nebuchadnezzar recognized this fundamental truth about the sovereign will of God. He does all things according to His will and no man may frustrate the desire of God. Let us look at one final text, this time from the New Testament. Paul states:

also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (Ephesians 1:11)

Here we see the appearance of two key phrases: “works all things” and “predestined according.” Predestined according to what? According to His purpose. Works all things after what? After the counsel of His will. God works all things, which is fairly inclusive if you ask me, according to His divine and kingly freedom to do whatever He pleases. As the psalmist says, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)” Let us now turn to our doctrine of man.

  • Theological Critique: Doctrine of Man

 

Here the Reformed, or Calvinist, person appeals to the doctrine of Total Depravity. As Calvin stated:

 

For this reason, I have said that all parts of the soul were possessed by sin after Adam deserted the fountain of righteousness. For not only did a lower appetite seduce him, but unspeakable impiety occupied the very citadel of his mind, and pride penetrated to the depths of his heart…Paul removes all doubt when he teaches that corruption subsists not in one part only, but that none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease. For in his discussion of a corrupt nature Paul not only condemns the inordinate impulses of the appetites that are seen, but especially contends the mind is given over to blindness and the heart to depravity. (Institutes 2.1.9)

Here then is where my main contention with Dr. Hunter lies. Does the Bible teach that man has sufficient ability to make libertarian free choices when it comes, to say, doing something pleasing to God? Let us examine the Scriptural evidence. Our first series of texts is from John 6.

            All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (vs 37)

In this sermon to the multitude, Christ makes a stunning statement. He says that only those whom the Father gives to the Son will come to the Son. This is the only possible reading as the giving to the Son logically and causally precedes the coming to the Son in the text. Jesus goes on to say:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (vs 44)

This is consistent with what has just been previously stated, except now we have the direct mention of ability. “No one,” Christ says, “can come to me.” That means no unregenerate person can come unto the Son to receive salvation prior to the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life and the drawing of the sinner to the Son. Later on, we see the same theme repeated. Jesus says:

            And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (vs 65)

What has been said of vs 44 also applies to vs 65. No one can come to Christ through a libertarian free decision. It must first be granted by the Father, and then the sinner will come. There is no libertarian choice in these texts. Let us continue on though so that we may get the full Biblical testimony concerning the doctrine of man in sin. Now we move to Paul. Paul states in Romans 8:7-8:

because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Here we have four assertions on the part of the apostle.

  1. The carnal mind is hostile toward God
  2. The carnal mind does not subject itself to the law of God
  3. The carnal mind is not able to subject itself to the law of God
  4. The carnal mind cannot please God

Each of these statements shows the depth of man’s corruption in sin. Not only is man God’s enemy, but he is even unable to please God and submit himself to His holy law. Paul commonly uses the imagery of a corpse to demonstrate man’s nature and his bondage to sin. In Ephesians 2 he states:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, (vs 1)

And

made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved (vs 5)

And

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. (4:18)

The imagery of the corpse should make the issue of ability clear. Dead people cannot do anything, or, in other words, they can only do what their nature permits them to do. If someone is dead in trespasses and sins then they can do nothing else but sin. Even our supposedly righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God says the prophet Isaiah. And as Christ says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)”

  • Theological Critique: Choice of Man or the Sovereignty of God?

 

In his first footnote, Dr. Hunter states:

 

Just to name a few – Genesis 6:5,6; Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 36:3; Acts 17:30; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; – determinists would certainly argue that these passages can be explained via compatibilism, but these are not listed as a “slam dunk” in favor of biblical libertarianism, but merely to establish the reasons that libertarians think that their view arises from Scripture itself. The story of the Bible seems to be one of choice.

Is this really the case? Let us go through each of these passages of Scripture and examine them to see whether or not they teach what Dr. Hunter says they teach, namely the idea of libertarian choice.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Genesis 6:5-6)

It is not clear how this passage teaches libertarian choice. If anything this is generally taken to be a proof text for either Total Depravity (every intent was evil continually) or Open Theism (God was sorry/was grieved in His heart). I will leave it up to Dr. Hunter to explain this one.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The key phrase for Dr. Hunter in this passage is “so choose life;” however, does this teach libertarian free choice? Hardly. As Calvin explains:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you. Though the verb is in the past tense, it indicates a present act. It is in order to deal with them with greater urgency that he calls heaven and earth to witness the vengeance of God. In these words he does not address men and angels, as some tamely expound it, but in amplification attributes sense to things inanimate. I pass this over briefly, because I have [288] treated it more fully before; as also what soon afterwards follows about life and death. For the Law, as respects its doctrine, contains in it life and death; for the reward of eternal life is not promised in it in vain; but since no one is found worthy of the promised reward, Paul justly teaches that the Law ministers death. Still this is accidental, and proceeds not from any fault in the doctrine, but from the corruption of men. Nevertheless, it is asked how, if the corruption of our nature causes that the Law should engender nothing but death, Moses commands us to “choose life,” which the sinner cannot attain to by it? Thence the Papists uplift their crests, both to extol free-will and to boast of merits; as if Moses did not also testify and proclaim the gratuitous mercy of God, and direct his disciples to Christ in order to seek salvation from Him. When, therefore, he speaks of keeping the Commandments, he does not exclude the two-fold grace of Christ, that believers, being regenerated by the Spirit, [289] should aspire to the obedience of righteousness, and at the same time should be reconciled freely to God through the forgiveness of their sins. And assuredly, since the same covenant is common to us and to the ancient people, it is not to be doubted but that they “chose life” who of old embraced the doctrine of Moses. At the same time, in so far as his legation was different from the Gospel, he rather insists on the office peculiarly entrusted to him, so that the distinction between Christ and himself might more clearly appear. This is the reason why he more sparingly touches upon justification by faith, whilst he enlarges fully on loving and serving God and fulfilling His Commandments.

 

“They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. (Jeremiah 7:31)

It is unclear what relevance this has to the debate over libertarian free will. I will leave it to Dr. Hunter to explain why he thinks it is relevant.

“Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way; then I will forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3)

Here again I defer to Calvin to make my point. He states in his commentary on this particular Scripture:

Here God explains the object he had in view, even to make another trial whether the Jews were healable, so that the teaching of the Prophet might be conducive to their salvation. But he uses the particle ‘vly auli, “it may be,” which implies a doubt; because they had so often, and for so long a time, and in such various ways, shewed themselves to be so obstinate that hardly a hope could be entertained of their repentance. God, however, shews that he was not wearied, provided there remained in them still the smallest particle of religion. It may be then, he says, that the house of Judah will hear all the evil, etc.

We have seen how the Prophet labored, not only to terrify his own nation by threatenings, but also sweetly to allure them to the service of God; but God speaks here of them as of perverse men, who were almost intractable, according to what is said in Psalm 18:26, that God would be severe towards the perverse; for God deals with men according to their disposition. As the Jews then were unworthy that God should, according to his gentleness, teach them as children, this only remained for them, to repent under the influence of fear. It may be, he says, that they will bear all the evil, etc. We now see why God touches only on threatenings, for this alone remained for men so obstinate.

He says, The evil which I think to do, etc. God here transfers to himself what belongs to men; for he does not think or deliberate with himself; but as we cannot comprehend his incomprehensible counsel, he sometimes assumes the person of man; and this is what is common in Scripture. But he says, that he thinks of what he pronounces in his word; for as long as God exhorts men to repent, he holds, as it were, his hand suspended, and allows an opportunity to repent. He then says, that he is, as it were, in the midst of his deliberations: as when one wants to know whether an offender will submit, so God transforms himself, in a manner, into what man is, when he says, I think; that is, let them know that vengeance is not in vain denounced in my word; for I will perform whatever I now threaten, except they repent.

He says, That they may turn every one from his evil way This is to hear, previously mentioned, even when men become seriously touched, so as to be displeased with their vices, and to desire from the heart to surrender themselves to God. He joins a promise, for without the hope of pardon it cannot be, that men will repent, as it has been often said; but it must be repeated, because few understand that faith cannot be separated from repentance; and a sinner can never be induced to return truly to God, unless he entertains a hope of pardon, for this is a main truth, according to what is said in Psalm 130:4,

“With thee is mercy, that thou mayest be feared.”

Then, according to what is commonly done, the Prophet says, that if the Jews turned to God, he would be propitious to them, as though he had said, that men would not be disappointed, if they repent, because God would readily meet them, and be reconciled to them: for this one thing alone, as I have said, is what can encourage us to repent, that is, when we are convinced that God is ready to give us pardon. He mentions iniquity and sin. The Prophet, no doubt, referred to these two words, in order to shew that we ought by no means to despair, though sins be heaped on sins.

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, (Acts 17:30)

Calvinists here make a distinction between the general and the specific call of the Gospel. The Lord declares to all people that they should repent; however, the call is only effacious for the elect of God (see Romans 8:28-30).

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

It is unclear what relevance this has to the debate over libertarian free will. I will leave it to Dr. Hunter to explain why he thinks it is relevant.

who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

“Wants all people to be saved” seems to be the key phrase here that Dr. Hunter is appealing too. What does the word all refer to? People. But what defines all people? Contextually speaking all people, Calvinists say, refers to all kinds of people. To demonstrate this, let us look at the syntactic parallel to 1 Timothy 2:4 in 1 Timothy 2:1. It states, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,” and the Scriptures, in verse 2, defines all men as kinds of men when the apostle continues, “for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” As Calvin states:

Here follows a confirmation of the second argument; and what is more reasonable than that all our prayers should be in conformity with this decree of God?

And may come to the acknowledgment of the truth. Lastly, he demonstrates that God has at heart the salvation of all, because he invites all to the acknowledgment of his truth. This belongs to that kind of argument in which the cause is proved from the effect; for, if

“the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth,” (Romans 1:16,)

it is certain that all those to whom the gospel is addressed are invited to the hope of eternal life. In short, as the calling is a proof of the secret election, so they whom God makes partakers of his gospel are admitted by him to possess salvation; because the gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, which is a sure entrance into life.

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations. That God wishes the doctrine of salvation to be enjoyed by them as well as others, is evident from the passages already quoted, and from other passages of a similar nature. Not without good reason was it said, “Now, kings, understand,” and again, in the same Psalm,

“I will give thee the Gentiles for an inheritance, and the ends of the earth for a possession.” (Psalm 2:8-10.)

In a word, Paul intended to shew that it is our duty to consider, not what kind of persons the princes at that time were, but what God wished them to be. Now the duty arising out of that love which we owe to our neighbor is, to be solicitous and to do our endeavor for the salvation of all whom God includes in his calling, and to testify this by godly prayers.

With the same view does he call God our Savior; for whence do we obtain salvation but from the undeserved kindness of God? Now the same God who has already made us partakers of salvation may sometime extend his grace to them also. He who hath already drawn us to him may draw them along with us. The Apostle takes for granted that God will do so, because it had been thus foretold by the predictions of the prophets, concerning all ranks and all nations.

Another objection can be made here based on verse 5, which says, “for there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” If God desires the salvation of all men, then that means that Christ Jesus is the mediator for all men. This means that universalism is true as it is the mediatorial work of Christ that allows Him to save to the uttermost those for whom he mediates (see Hebrews 7:26). However, Dr. Hunter would affirm that Universalism is false, and he would do so with good reason. Therefore, the Calvinistic interpretation of this passage is the correct one.

 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11)

Here I will appeal to the Go Share Your Faith blog as I find the response there to be quite good at establishing why the Reformed, or Calvinistic, interpretation of this text is the most plausible [2].

Preceding Context

First notice the presence of the word “for” (γaρ) at the beginning of the verse. Why is it there? Clearly it is pointing us back to the immediately preceding context. This isn’t some systematic theological proof text thrown into the letter in isolation. It’s a supporting statement for the argument developed in the preceding paragraph and continuing at least to the end of the chapter. Let’s take a look at it.

In 2:1 Paul establishes a contrast (Σv δe)3 between the “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (1:10), who are “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (1:11), and Titus, who is to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). He is to teach

older men “to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (2:2);

 

older women “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine,” but “to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (2:3-4);

 

younger women4 “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (2:4-5);

 

younger men “to be self-controlled” (2:6);

 

slaves “to be submissive to their own masters in everything,” and “to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:9-10).

 

Elders (Perhaps we could even include here a sixth category of instruction to leaders in the church to “teach what accords with sound doctrine ” (2:1), and to “show [themselves] in all respects to be a model of good works, and in [their] teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”)

 

 

Notice now the connection with 2:11ff. Paul commands Titus to instruct all these different groups of people to live this way, for the saving grace of God has appeared to all of them, and it teaches them to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives, as they wait for Jesus to come from heaven, who died to make them His own pure and fruitful people. Then verse 15 recaps verse 1: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” So the whole chapter has a single message: instructing all groups of believing people on how they are to live and how they can live as they ought (i.e., God’s saving grace that has appeared to all groups of people of which the church is composed).

It’s also worth highlighting at this point that the function of “saving” or “salvation” in 2:11 seems to have more than conversion in view. Rather, it targets progressive sanctification, or perhaps it is being used to focus on God’s saving work from conversion to glorification. In either case, the emphasis on the progressive, life-transforming aspect of salvation is in the fore, which 2:12ff make clear, as does chapter 3.

Following Context

Another indication that this is the proper interpretation comes from a couple points at the beginning of chapter 3.

Paul recaps chapter 2 with a statement to remind them to be submissive and obedient, etc. The “them” no doubt refers to all the groups that he has previously mentioned, the people to whom the grace of God has appeared. Part of that instruction includes this statement: “to show perfect courtesy toward all people (πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους).” It is doubtful that Paul intends this instruction to lay an obligation on everyone in the church to search out and show courtesy to every single individual alive on the planet.

The idea is clearly not “all people without exception,”but

“all people without distinction,”

all those with whom you come in contact, which roughly equates all kinds or groups of people regardless of class, race, gender, etc. This supports the reading of “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις) offered above.

A second consideration comes in 3:4ff, where Paul further explicates the meaning of “appeared” (ἐπεφάνη), the exact word used in 2:11. Paul says that God saved them when the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, so that the appearing is necessarily accompanied by or entails the saving. The implications that this has for understanding 2:11 are clear. The “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις) must necessarily refer to the saved, so that the meaning is “all groups or categories of people within the church.”

Conclusion

So rather than being some statement about God’s desire or intent to save all people without exception or an affirmation of an Arminian prevenient grace, Paul’s argument, then, is that all people within the church regardless of age, gender, status, etc. are to pursue their sanctification with diligence because God’s saving grace has come to all of us, and it teaches us to deny ungodliness and pursue to live godly lives as we wait for Jesus, who died to make us His own holy and fruit-bearing people.

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

“For everyone” is the operative phrase here; however, does “for everyone” literally mean “for every single person.” Unless you are a universalist, the answer has to be no. Why? Look at what Hebrews 2 says the atonement accomplishes.

  1. It brings many sons to glory (vs 10)
  2. Free those whom were afraid of death and under slavery to death (vs 15)
  3. Gives help (vs 16)
  4. Come to the aid of (vs 18)

All of this can be done because the death of Christ was a “propitiation  (vs 17).” A propitiatory death means that the wrath of God and the reason for the wrath of God against the sinner has been removed. Here we may cite John Owen’s double jeopardy argument. The argument goes as follows:

P1. Christ’s death is a propitiatory sacrifice (Scripturally true)

P2. A propitiatory sacrifice removes wrath and the reason for wrath (definitionally true)

P3. Christ died for all people (Arminian assertion)

C1. All people receive the benefits of Christ’s death which include the removal of God’s wrath (P1,P2, P3)

P4. Some people will be in Hell (Scripturally true)

C2. There will be people in Hell for whom the reason for God’s wrath has been removed (C1,P4)

P5. This is a case of double jeopardy and is morally unjust

C3. God is morally unjust

P3*. Christ died only for the elect, or everyone whom the Father grants saving faith (Calvinist assertion)

C1*. All the elect receive the benefits of Christ’s death (P1, P2, P3*)

P4. Some people will be in Hell (Scripturally true)

C2*. Those for whom Christ’s death is not effacious will be in Hell (C1, P4)

P5*. Those for whom Christ’s death is not effacious are not recipients of propitiation (C2)

P6. This is not a case of double jeopardy

C3*. God is not morally unjust

This should be sufficient to demonstrate that “for every man” does not mean for every single individual.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)

“Bought them” is the distinctive phrase here that Dr. Hunter would be pointing us to. What does this mean? To quote from an article from Alpha and Omega Ministries:

It has been demonstrated that the term “Master” (despotes) refers to an owner in a master- slave relationship. The meaning here is not of Christ as Savior or Mediator (despotes is never used as a redemptive title), but to Christ (or the Father) as Sovereign. It has also been demonstrated that the term “bought” (agorazo) in the New Testament is most frequently used in non-redemptive contexts. When used redemptively there are specific pointers that are conspicuously absent in 2 Peter 2:1 (such as the purchase price, believers as the lone object, or the presence of other mediatorial or redemptive features). Since this is so, it of necessity eliminates the assumed non-Reformed interpretation, at the very least, as the only viable interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1. In point of fact, not only is the non-redemptive sense equally viable, but there is far more to commend this sense than the redemptive sense, for which the general redemptionist argues. This does not mean, of course, that the Reformed view becomes the view by default; rather, that the Reformed view cannot be simply dismissed as a viable and exegetically sound interpretation. [3]

  • Theological Critique: Conclusion

 

What have we seen? Does the story of the Bible seem “to be one of [libertarian] choice,” or, as I believe has been thoroughly demonstrated, does the story of the Bible focus on the libertarian freedom of God over and against the bound, creaturely will of man? I believe firmly that the latter is the case. Now that we have gone through the theological objections, let us move on to our philosophical objections.

 

2.1 Philosophical Considerations: The Zero Balance Argument

Dr. Hunter uses this argument for libertarian free will. He states it as follows:

  1. If man has a zero-balance of influences he is free to choose
  2. Man does have a zero-balance of influences, therefore
  3. Man is free to choose.

He defines a zero-balance of influences using the following thought experiment:

Imagine that Todd has a desire to eat a piece of pie for obvious reasons. Yet, Todd also has a desire to lose weight. The way determinists typically frame this state of affairs, Todd will choose either the pie, because though he desires to lose weight he demonstrates a greater desire to eat pie, or he will choose not to eat pie, because though he desires the pie he has a greater desire to lose weight. However, imagine that Todd’s desire to eat pie is equally matched by his desire to lose weight. What will Todd do in such a case? It would seem that in this one instance Todd is free of causal influences and the choice is left completely to the agent himself.

In other words:

If this were the case then Todd would stand in a situation in which his desire to do x was equally matched by his desire to do y in life – in general. This zero-balance-altogetherness would amount to Todd’s awareness of all of the influences at work on him, and he could be said to truly be influenced by them. Yet, he would not be bound by determinism to give in to any one of them.[6]

What results from this is a situation in which the only causal force that is at work is the agent himself. He is free to determine his own wants and actions. Thus, soft-libertarianism emerges.

2.1.1 Philosophical Considerations: A Criticism

Dr. Hunter lists a number of objections to the two main premises of his argument. For the purposes of this essay, I reject premise 1 for the reason behind his first objection. The first objection to premise 1 that Dr. Hunter recognizes is that in a zero balance of influences indeterminism would emerge. Indeterminism is the view that at least one event is not determined by antecedent causes. To defend against this objection, Dr. Hunter states:

This would not be true of an existent agent who comes prepackaged with a mind. A mind does have causal powers. Thus, there is no reason to reject the idea that in a world with a zero-balance of influence the agent himself could will to, or cause something that he determines to happen. Thus, this is not a situation wherein cause and effect does not exist, yet man can be said to have transcended cause and effect in that his decision is the cause of the following effect. Only, his cause did not arise coercively because of the cause and effect inherent to the influences he perceives since there is a zero-balance of influence. [4]

This response, however, presents an issue. In situation x, agent y may be a subject with a mind that possesses causal powers; however, on a zero sum of influences, y in x has no motivating reason to cause him to preform actions a or b. Y must, by fiat, determine whether to preform a or b, in which case you have what Dr. Hunter describes when he says:

The individual himself would not even be able to predict what he would do, because there is no “reason” why he chose to do precisely what he did. His “choice” would be random and arbitrary in the strictest sense of the terms. As mentioned above, this may resolve the problem of determinism, but would not deliver free will to the agent.

I agree with this summation and would suggest to Dr. Hunter that he work through this objection with more care as he develops this argument.

2.2 Philosophical Considerations: Compatibilist Mysteries and Submitting Philosophy to Biblical Revelation

Here we come to the most interesting section of Dr. Hunter’s arguments for free will. He states:

How is it that God can be the determiner of all things, and yet a man be responsible for doing the very things that God determined he would do? Moreover, how is it that God is not responsible for all evil, sin and suffering in a deterministic world?

While it would be easy to appeal to something like the semi-compatibilism of Fischer and its reasons responsive mechanism, Strawson’s moral community, or some other compatibilist response I would rather go to the texts of Scripture to answer these questions. Genesis 45, 50:20, Isaiah 10, Acts 2, and Acts 4 all include references to God holding men morally accountable for sins that He ordained. Let us walk through each of these texts.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:5-8)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Here, in the story of Joseph, there is a duality. There is personal, moral responsibility on the part of Joseph’s brothers and the sovereign will of God in ordaining the selling of Joseph into slavery to “keep you alive by a great deliverance” and “to preserve many people alive.”

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
 I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.
Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.
 For it says, “Are not my princes all kings?
 “Is not Calno like Carchemish,
Or Hamath like Arpad,
Or Samaria like Damascus?
 “As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
 Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images
Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”

 So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” (Isaiah 10:5-12)

Here we have the prophet Isaiah prophesying judgement against Israel and Assyria. Though it was not in Assyria’s heart to go against Israel, God had purposed it so that Assyria might bring judgement against Israel. Then we read that God will judge the king of Assyria for his pride and for his attack on Israel! Let us examine our final texts in Acts.

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:22-23)

            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 purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28)

Truly there was no greater sin than the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God Jesus Christ; however, it was ordained by God by “[his] predetermined plan and foreknowledge.”

Calvinists are willing to admit that God is the primary cause of all things, including sin and natural evil, as otherwise there would be evil that would be unpurposed (see my essay on the Meticulous Providence Theodicy) and hence gratuitous. There is a difference between God’s decretive will and His prescriptive will. In His prescriptive will He gives the Law and judges men accordingly and in His decretive will He declares all things from beginning to end as Isaiah 46:10 declares. Therefore, even if the Calvinist admits to mystery, it is at least a Biblically supported mystery.

2.3 Philosophical Considerations: An Argument for Divine Determinism

Here I will present a basic argument for divine determinism, or the belief that God determines all events in time.

P1. Classical Theism affirms that God is omniscient (definitionally true)

P2. A being x is omniscient iff x knows all possible truths y and believes nothing false (definition)

P3. Subject a’s action b is a possible truth to be known (assertion)

C1. For x to be omniscient x must know y which includes whether a will do b (P1,P2,P3)

P4. If x knows y then x’s knowledge of a’s action b is infallible (P2,P3,C1)

P5. If x knows y then x knows that a will do b (P4)

P6. If x knows y then b will take place (repetition of P5)

P7. If x knows y then ~b cannot take place (P4,P5,P6)

P8. If ~b cannot take place then the principle of alternative possibilities is false

P9. The principle of alternative possibilities is false (P7,P8)

P10. If the principle of alternative possibilities is false then libertarian free will is false

C2. Libertarian Free Will is false

  1. Conclusion

We have gone over Dr. Hunter’s essay and I believe that we have seen that of the two sides (Calvinism and Arminism/Compatibilism and Libertarian Free Will) Calvinism has come out to be the Biblically and philosophically desirable position.

 

Notes

  1. All Scriptures quoted are from the NASB.
  2. https://goshareyourfaith.wordpress.com/resources/reformed-doctrine/the-arminian-understanding-of-titus-211-refuted/
  3. http://vintage.aomin.org/2PE21.html
  4. All quotes are taken from: http://www.braxtonhunter.com/blog/2015/6/10/a-case-for-soft-libertarian-freedom-in-human-beings-after-the-fall

God’s Meticulous Providence: A Theodicy of Divine Sovereignty

My investigation into the issue of divine providence and the issue of theodicy began, like many others, with personal tragedy. My parents were going through a divorce, and I felt like I was stuck in the middle. I was raised in a free will Southern Baptist Church (or FWT [Free Will Theist] Church as I will later label the position of such churches). I thought that surely it was I who was at fault, or maybe it was my mother or father. I didn’t know. All I knew was that God was good and loving and surely He wouldn’t have declared such a terrible thing to happen. At this point in time I began to flirt with what I would later learn was called Open Theism, the position that God has exhaustive knowledge of the present and past but not of the future contingencies of human actions. However, such a God seemed less like a true theistic God, in the classical sense, and more like a concession to the process theologians and finite godist theology of Mormonism. I couldn’t reconcile God’s exhaustive foreknowledge with libertarian free will and the problem of evil; however, I believe, due to God’s divine revelation, that there is a direct answer to the issue of the existence of natural and moral evils in the world. This answer has found its fullest expression in Reformed theology’s doctrine of Meticulous Providence through the varying decrees of God.

  • Defining Meticulous Providence: Answering the How Question

It seems that our first task before engaging in any Biblical exegesis or before engaging the variety of versions of the problem of evil, one has to offer a plausible definition of Meticulous Providence (henceforth known as MP); however, we immediately run into the issue of disputation. By this I mean that we have no clear standard for understanding the providence of God in creation as creatures. Without direct revelation from God it seems that we are left to our own reason; however, if we presuppose that God has indeed spoken through the Bible then we have an absolute standard for understanding MP as our standard is the Absolute Himself. Many things are said of the Scriptures. Let us examine these texts in closer detail.

And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:8)

He [YHWH] has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. (Psalm 147:19)

But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, (Matthew 22:31)

Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:2)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, there is a consistent insistence on the inspiration of the Scriptures. They are described as being the very words of God Himself, infallibly transmitted to the people to whom God has chosen to speak. Therefore, if we seek to have some form of standard by which to create a foundation for MP, we must rely on the authority on the Word of God.

  • Defining Meticulous Providence: Biblical Examples

 

Now that we have an absolute standard, the Scriptures, by which to define MP, it will be profitable to examine various Scriptural accounts of three important theological elements.

  1. God’s Freedom
  2. God’s Sovereignty
  3. God’s Purpose

We shall examine, in detail, passages that deal directly with each of the aforementioned elements.

  • Defining Meticulous Providence: God’s Freedom, Sovereignty and Purpose

 

One of the foundational pieces of the doctrine of God is God’s kingly freedom. He is free in:

  1. Creation – God is free to create as He wills
  2. Direction of History – God is free to direct history and determine its outcome
  3. Election – God is free to elect to salvation those whom He wills

 

God’s kingly freedom is intimately tied to the three main elements of MP. Let us exegete some passages of Scripture that will aid us in understanding. The first text that we will be examining is Isaiah 46:10.

 I make known the end from the beginning,

 from ancient times, what is still to come.

I say, ‘My purpose will stand,

 and I will do all that I please.’

 

Before we begin, it will be important to understand the immediate context of this verse. Its broad context is in Isaiah 40-8 which is called the “trial of the false gods.” Its narrow context is Isaiah 46:1-9. Here the Lord challenges the gods of Babylon. Verses 1-8 say:

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden,                                                                           The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
 Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles.

 “Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.

Here God defines Himself in opposition to the pagan gods of Babylon. God is rescuer, yet when someone cries out to the idol it cannot save the person. God is sustainer, yet the idol cannot even move from the place in which it is seated. Therefore, in verse 9, God says:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.

God asserts here the foundational truth inherent to both Judaism and Christianity: there is no God besides YHWH. He is the only healer. He is the only sustainer. He is the only rescuer. In vs. 10 YHWH describes His kingly freedom in all three elements of freedom. God “makes known the end from the beginning,” or, to use theological language, God has exhaustive foreknowledge of future events based on His creative decree. The reason God knows what is to come, those events which are still yet to pass, is because, as Genesis 1:1 states:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

 

God goes onto state that “my purpose shall stand” and “I will do all that I please.” Based on God’s omnipotence, or the doctrine that all things are possible for God, it is impossible for Him to fail. He shall accomplish all that He sets out to do and will succeed in fulfilling His purpose. Let us go further and list a number of similar verses that carry a similar message or possess similar content. These passages deal with the sovereignty of God and his kingly freedom in creation and the guidance of history.

The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen. – Isaiah 14:24

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” – Daniel 4:35

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. – Job 42:2

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. – Psalm 115:3

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. – Psalm 135:6

God even goes so far as to elect some unto salvation. Let us exegete Romans 8:28-9:24. To begin with, we have the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:28-30.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The important things to notice are that:

  1. All the verbs are active
  2. The subject is God
  3. The direct object is individuals

 

First we have, “God works for the good of those who love Him,” but who are those who love him? They are “those who have been called according to His purpose.” God’s calling precedes the loving of God. The purpose of that calling is so that those who love Him might “be conformed to the image of His Son.” Elsewhere Paul writes, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)” It is the function of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of the Son, and such a conforming can only come from God Himself. We then read, “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Each step in the process of salvation (predestination, calling, justification, and glorification) is a sovereign, or freely willed, act of God. Who is the direct object of these active verbs? As we read further, Paul tells us.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

The direct object of Romans 8:28-30 is the we, or us, and the identity of the pronouns is “those whom God has chosen.” Now that we are finished with Romans 8, let us move directly into chapter 9. Vs 1-5 state:

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul begins Romans 9 with a lamentation. He is lamenting the fact that many of the Hebrews have not accepted Jesus Christ or His gospel. He says that to the Israelites belonged all of the promises and benefits of the old covenant. We also have a reference to the deity of Christ; however, it is not in the scope of this paper to go into that subject. It is in vs. 6 that Paul raises the first of many objections that He puts to Himself.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

Paul goes on to elaborate on what this means.

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.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

Paul uses Genesis 21:12 and Genesis 18:10 and 14 to make a point about why it is that the word of God has not failed. It is not that all who have descended from Israel are recipients of the Old Covenant promises and benefits. Rather, it is only those of whom are in the remnant, of which God chooses the members of according to Romans 8:33. Paul continues:

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by 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.”

Again we have a strong statement on the sovereign choice of God on the part of Paul. “Before the twins were born” and before they “had done anything good or bad”, it was accord to “God’s purpose in election” that Jacob would be loved and Esau hated. This decision, as Paul belabors, is “not by works but by him who calls.” After this, Paul raises the second objection.

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!

What is his response? It is:

For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,and I will have

compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Paul’s answer is direct and straightforward.

  1. God’s mercy is a free act that cannot be demanded
  2. God’s justice is against sinners
  3. God’s justice is purposeful and rooted in His holy character

Paul goes on to the final retort from the potential objector:

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?”

Paul’s response is:

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—  even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Paul’s answer is thus. Who is a human being to talk back to the sovereign creator of all things? Paul employs sarcasm in his answer as he speaks to the absurdity of pottery talking back to the pottery former. Is it not God’s kingly and sovereign right, says Paul, for God to make from the same group of sinners some to wrath and some to glory so that His divine attributes, namely His justice and His mercy, may be displayed before all of creation? In all of this, we see Paul’s defense of the right of God to exercise sovereign and free choice in the direction of human affairs, election to salvation, and in creation. We also see what God’s purpose is. Ephesians 1 makes the same point in slightly different language. There, in vs 5-6, Paul states:

He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

It is all to the praise of “His glorious grace”!

  • Defining Meticulous Providence: An Authoritative Definition

What is MP then? From the texts of Scripture, we may define MP as such:

MP: a being x exercises MP iff that being freely and sovereignly chooses to ordain and primarily cause all events in time through a creative decree

This then is our functional and scripturally based definition of MP.

  1. The Argument from Evil: A Statement of the Argument

There are two main statements of the argument from evil; however, both have the same, basic plan of attack. The idea is that if evil exists in the world then it is hard to see how an all good, all loving, all powerful, and all knowing being could exist in light of such evils. The logical problem of evil focuses on evil existing in general and the inductive argument from evil focuses on specific instances of gratuitous evil, or evil that has no morally justifiable explanation. The arguments generally go something like:

Logical Argument from Evil

P1. God is maximally great

P2. Evil exists

C1. God is either not omnipotent, not omnibenevolent, or not omniscient

P3. Classical theism entails maximal greatness

C2. Classical theism is false

 

Inductive Argument from Evil

P1. God is maximally great

P2. There exist events x that are such that failure to prevent them is characteristic of a wrong-making property

P3. For x, the amount of wrong-making properties outweigh the amount of right-making properties

P4. Any action whose wrongmaking properties outweigh its rightmaking properties is morally wrong.

P5. God allows some x events to occur

P6. A being that allows x events to occur is not morally good

C1. God is not morally good

P7. Maximal greatness entails that God is good

C2. God does not exist

Too many non-theists, both of these arguments may seem persuasive; however, I believe that the Christian theist has a response to both with the utilization of MP.

2.1 The Argument from Evil: The Meticulous Sovereignty Theodicy

In this section, we will seek to state the argument.

P1. Evil exists (inductively true)

P2. God exercises MP (scripturally true)

P3. MP requires that God has a purpose for all decreed events (definitionally true)

P4. Gratuitous evil is unpurposed or lacks a morally justifiable reason to exist

P5. All evil is purposed (P2, P3)

C. There is no gratuitous evil

Therefore, we see how an MP Theodicy is able to undercut the motivation for the inductive argument for evil. As for the logical version, I would make an appeal to the skeptical theist hypothesis and ask the objector for a reason why God could not possibly have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.