God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility

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I desire to say a few words on the subject at the head of this paper; adding a little as to the true nature of the work of Christ, its results in redemption, with the complete deliverance of the Christian from his sins, and his whole state as sinful child of Adam. Although he ever has sin in him to judge and condemn, his responsibility is now on an entirely new footing, viz, that of relationship as a child of God, a possessor of eternal life in the Son of God, and called to manifest the life of Jesus in his mortal body.
It is of immense importance in the present day, when grace is preached and more clearly known in comparison with days gone by, that the true nature of Christian responsibility should be understood; as also the ground on which the sinners responsibility now rests. Here the high Calvinist goes astray, both with reference to the sinners responsibility in despising and refusing the grace of the Gospel, under the plea of waiting for the call of God, and of the Christians true responsibility in manifesting the life of Jesus in His mortal flesh. The possession of eternal life in Christ expresses itself by the action of that life, asserting its existence and its practical qualities in undivided obedience to every word of God, and complete dependence on its source and spring, by a broken will, and a heart subject to Christ.
Much has been said and written on these subjects; but except in Christ they cannot be reconciled. The Arminian unduly presses one side, namely, mans free will and responsibility, and loses the truth of God as to the other; while the Calvinist, on contrary, unduly presses the other side, that of God’s sovereignty and electing love, and so loses the balance of Scripture as to the former.
It has been wisely remarked by a better instructed scribe, that “Scripture does not teach by negatives.” It teaches by direct truth. Hence, when the direct truth has been apprehended by one school of doctrine, it has framed its own line of things so as to lose the beautiful balance of the sanctuary, and thus damage has come to souls as to the full knowledge of the truth in all its bearings.
When the Arminian declares that God’s love through Christ’s sacrifice is “unto all” men, and the presentation of the Gospel as wide as the suns meridian ray, he speaks the truth, for, blessed be God, so it is. But when he adds to this direct, affirmative truth of Scripture his own negative deduction — namely, therefore there is no electing love of God, he has lost the balance of the sanctuary.
When the Calvinist declares that the saints for whom Christ died are the objects of God’s eternal purpose, and His peculiar electing love, he states the truth. Blessed be our God, so it is. But when he goes on to add to this direct truth his own negative deduction, he errs. When he says, that because God foreknew His own, and chose and called them in His electing grace, and that Christ died in their stead, therefore the love of God by the Gospel is not “unto all,” he too has lost the balance. When both say “yes,” they say well; when they add their “not,” the whole truth is not known. If a Calvinist with his electing love of God, and an Arminian with his free will and responsibility of man, were to put their affirmatives together, and not add their deductions and “nots,” we should have the truth! Let them then seek what Scripture teaches as to the reconciliation of those two affirmations; and they will find that both have had a measure of truth, while both too, have lost one aide of the scale!
The great principles of the sovereign purpose of God, and responsibility of man, are interwoven. throughout all Scripture. They are found from the Garden of Eden to the Greet White Throne.
In the Garden of Eden they were marked by the Two Trees of Paradise — the Tree of life, and the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This latter marked the responsibility of man to God, as an intelligent creature. Adam had been made in innocence. Innocence was the absence of the knowledge of good and evil. The sense of his responsibility was marked — not by an exaction — but by a prohibition: he was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, and thus to retain his place. He had nothing to gain, but everything to lose.
He forfeits all; he breaks the condition of the retention of his creation blessings, and the favor of God. Thus he becomes the possessor of a conscience which he only received when he fell; as God says, “The man is become as one of us to know good and evil.” This conscience may be thus defined: the sense of responsibility, united to the knowledge of good and evil. He has lost a state which can never lie regained. He never can be innocent — never can unlearn the knowledge of good and evil.
Thus he comes under the sentence of dying and death in this world, and, further, he is driven out from the presence of God; and finds in the solemn future, that after death comes the judgment. God retains His own sovereignty — barring the way to the Tree of life, lest man should partake thereof, and perpetuate his ruined condition; and man leaves His presence, with the responsibility of his condition as a sinner, known by a conscience and the sense of alienation from God, with the fear of what is to come, pressing on his soul.
Subsequently (for I pass over the scene from Adam to Moses), God gives His law from Mount Sinai, which in the main is coincident with mans conscience, but adds the authority of the Lawgiver to what conscience felt was due to God and his neighbor. The first Table was what God claimed — here it was an exaction — towards Himself: the second Table was what God directed in a fallen world to fallen man, as to his parents, his neighbors property, and his wife; personal rights having been set up in the world when man had departed from God. The law embodied the two great principles of responsibility and life. But it put having life as the result of fulfilling perfectly the responsibility. “This do, and thou shalt live.” “The man that doeth these things shall live in them.” Just as if I were to say, “if you do so and so, you will receive a fortune,” it would be a proof that you had not the fortune yet. It would be quite another thing if I told you how to use and spend your fortune when you had one. Thus, through the Gospel, God bestows eternal life as His gift, and then directs it, as we shall see.
Thus in Eden there was innocence without grace to sustain it; and out of Eden there was responsibility and law without life to fulfill it. Then came Christ after all the testing of man was over. When He came, He exposed the true condition of man as wholly lost. For His love He had hatred and scorn! God did not fully pronounce on mans condition, until he had had every chance of recovery presented to him. If there had been any latent good in man, which it only required fresh culture to bring forth and develop, it would then have been found. But no! God was there in perfect love and goodness, disclosing mans state, and reconciling the world to Himself — not imputing their trespasses unto them. If they would now receive Him, all should be forgiven. But they despised Him in His lowly path of love, and sought to have the world without Him. If you say, “It was my fathers that did it, and if I had been in their days, I should have received Him;” then you are a Pharisee: this was the ground they took also (see Matt. 23:3030And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. (Matthew 23:30)). The history of the world was told out, and mans condition proved: sinning, lawbreaking, and God-hating is the tale!
Jesus unites the two principles of the Two Trees in Himself. As Son of God He had life in Himself; He was the “eternal life which was with the Father” and was “manifested” in the Son, as man on earth (1 John 1:22(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:2)). He takes up willingly the responsibilities of His people, accepts the cup of wrath — God’s divine and righteous judgment against sin; thus uniting in His own person on the cross the principle of the Two Trees. In His holy soul He bears all the terrible judgment of God for sin; He makes His soul an offering for sin; and bears our sins in His own body on the Tree. Thus clearing away by one complete act of suffering and wrath all our responsibility as children of Adam: not one vestige of it remains! Having done this to the glory of God. He rises again — God raised Him from the dead and expressed His perfect satisfaction and glory in what Christ had accomplished, by setting Him as man on His throne on high. Thus the second Adam risen and now in the glory becomes the Head of a new race. He has cleared away their responsibilities, and become their life! He is the life of every one who believes. The Holy Spirit is given consequent on this, and, dwelling in the believer, unites us to Him in glory. We are born of the Spirit of God, on the ground of redemption; we have eternal life in Christ, and all that stood between us and God’s righteousness, has been atoned for by Christ on the cross, and put away forever — both whet we have done, and what we are. God is thus righteous in justifying the man who believes in Jesus. It is His righteousness to do so.
What then is the Christians responsibility? It is this. He has a new life altogether — eternal life in the Son of God — the characteristics of which are dependence and obedience — both seen to the full in Christ Himself walking here. With a perfect will — He never did it, but lived in undivided obedience to His Father. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” While He could create a world, He never put forth His power for Himself — not even to quench His thirst from the well He had created! —but lived in dependence on His God. This was expressed often, outwardly by prayer — all night at times, in prayer to God. And He is our life! Where it exists, it must assert itself somehow: these are its chief features.
We have the treasure in earthen vessels, but are entitled to reckon ourselves dead; we have died with Him, and are alive to God only through Him, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. The power of this life is the Holy Spirit. He, when we grieve Him not, engages the heart with Christ: with the eye upon Him we “can do all things.” In the sense of utter weakness in ourselves (for strength here is only sin), the heart lives by Christ; He governs all the motives of our lives, and power works in the weakness of His people, for when we are weak, then we are strong.
What then is the sinners responsibility? It is this. Christ has offered His blood to God! On the day of atonement of old, (Lev. 16) the High Priest went in with the basin of blood to the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled it upon the golden throne of God, and the holy place was filled with a cloud of incense. The incense came from the burning of ingredients which composed the holy material; “stacte and onycha, and galbanum... with pure frankincense” beaten out small — the minuteness of a perfect man’s nature, (that man, the Son of God), presented as sweet savor to the eye of God during His perfect pathway here. It was the blood of such an One which was presented; and more — One who had first borne the judgment and had willingly drunk the cup. Such in measure was the sacrifice of Christ to God. As a consequence, it is God’s righteousness to set Him in glory, and to rend the veil from the top to the bottom — every attribute perfectly unveiled and glorified by His work, and to send out the gospel to the wide world — to all! I say every attribute, yea, the very nature, of God is glorified more than if there never had been sin. Where could we see love to the sinner — where righteousness against his sin — where truth, majesty, holiness, light? IN THE CROSS! The moral glory of God unfolds itself at this unrivaled scene, where it was more fully told than even the displayed glory will reveal it. Thus He can say, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”
But this is God’s side — the first goat, so to say, of Lev.
16. There is another side too, that typified by the second goat: in it we have not God’s side but ours. If the blood of the first goat was offered to God, in that place which was all gold within (that is, God’s righteousness), the other goat tells us of the substitution of Christ for His people, in the place of responsibility outside, the brazen altar; sins, transgressions, and iniquities, were all confessed on its head, and it was sent away into the land of divine forgetfulness. On the ground of Christ having offered His blood to God, I can tell a world of sinners of the grace of God, and that He desires that all should come in. There is nothing to hinder — wilt thou come? It is the meeting place with God for every sinner in this world, who will come to God by Him.
You say, I have no power, I must wait for my call; till God gives me power to accept, I cannot come. Here is where so many err. They look for ability and talk of want of power; but God never attaches responsibility to power but to will! Suppose your child was outside that closed door, and you called him in. He refuses. Again you call: again he will not come. You go to punish him for not having come; he remonstrates and says, The door was locked, I could not come. Nay, you reply, that is no excuse; for you should have known that I had the key, and when I called, you should have known that I would have met you and unlocked the door. It was his will that hindered him; the plea of want of power will not excuse a soul at the day of judgment. It was his will that hindered — he would not come.
When the sinner comes to God, I can tell him another thing. I can tell him of the substitution of Christ in the second goat, on the day of Atonement; as he had been invited on the ground of the propitiation offered to God — of the first. The two goats are Christianity.
The sinner is now guilty of despising the riches of that grace, which rose in the triumph of God’s own heart above his total ruin. And while it tells him of a judgment to come, it looks not to him for power to accept the grace of God in Christ, but unfolds that God has accepted what His Son offered to Him for sin; that thus His heart has now a righteous channel to express itself, namely, through that precious blood. What hinders then? His will? Alas, his will!
Consequently you will always find in the preaching or teaching of the Apostle Paul, that he treats men not for their sins in detail (though they are guilty of them too), but for resisting the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven in His testimony of grace. “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering.” “Behold! ye despisers, and wonder, and perish.” They are guilty for despising the grace of God — the Spirit of grace that strives with them, and are treasuring up for themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and righteous judgment of God.” Men hated the grace and lowly revelation of God in Christ below, “they hated me without a cause;” and they despised the revelation of pardoning love which rose in the triumph of His love above the hatred.
Then comes the final action of judgment at the Great White Throne, where the principle of the Two Trees of paradise is again found. The book of life marks God’s sovereignty, and the books, in which were detailed the works of men, mark their responsibility, and they are judged according to them, and cast into the lake of fire! Men are not judged for what they are; but for what they have done!
If we examine Scripture, we shall find these two principles side by side. If there is a Calvinist side, so to say, in the shepherd seeking a passive sheep, and in the diligence of a woman sweeping the house for a passive piece of money, there is an Arminian side as well, in a prodigal returning to his father!
As to the Gospels, as has been remarked, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give you Christ presented to mans responsibility, and consequently men are invited to “come;” John on the other side unfolds God come to man, and sovereign election marking all His ways. There is not one invitation in that touching Gospel to a sinner to “come.” The plaint of His heart is that, spite of all the testimony they had had, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” And “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.”
In 1 John 4:9, 109In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9‑10), you also find the principle of the Two Trees — God’s Son manifested that we might have life. How often you see a soul in an agony of exercise, just because the life, is there, before it knows all the blessedness of the work of Christ, who was made a propitiation for our sins (vs. 10); bearing away all our responsibilities, as children of Adam, before He bestowed upon us eternal life.
If the Lord be pleased to help souls, with this short examination of these momentous subjects, and clear the vision of some, it will be a fresh mercy from His hands.
London: Allan, n.d.