The Ordo Salutis
In 1543 Nicholas Copernicus enunciated an astronomical principle which revolutionized the study of science. Copernicus discovered that this earth was not the center of the universe, nor did the sun revolve around the earth. It would be hard to over-estimate the revolutionary impact of this single discovery, which completely reversed the order of scientific thinking.
About the same time as Copernicus, there lived a monk who enunciated a religious principle which swept the consciousness of Western man with tempestuous fury and changed the course of history. The monk, of course, was Luther, and his theological principle was "the Copernicus revolution in theology." For in the thinking of the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, not only was the earth the center of the universe, but man was the center, the starting point of theology.
While it was Copernicus who changed the scientific order and put the sun at the center, it was Luther and other Reformers who revolutionized the whole order of salvation by putting God at the center and by making God the starting point.
This ordo salutis (order of salvation), as it was called, was the supreme and vital heart-throb of the Reformation. If we today overlook this dynamic principle, we utterly betray the spirit of the Reformation, even though we may talk ever so much about faith, grace and the Spirit-filled life.
We would be guilty of idolizing a human instrumentality if we contended that Luther was always correct or always consistent. But no one saw more clearly than the great Reformer that the greatest heresy consists in altering the ordo salutis so that man becomes the starting point and man becomes the center. This is why Luther raged with holy (and, alas, sometimes unholy) fury against the Enthusiasts, for irrespective of how correct they may have been on some points, theirs was a gospel of how man comes to God or how man comes to the Spirit instead of the gospel of how God comes to man.
Do We Need Another Copernicus Revolution in Theology?
In answer to this question, we emphatically say, Yes! Who could deny that man — his needs, his happiness, his problems, his experience, etc. — is the center of the current religious scene?
This type of "gospel" utterly reverses the ordo salutis. It puts a burden on our backs that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear. It places man in an utterly impossible situation. Why? Because a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, is completely incapable of seeking God. Says the Word of God, ". . . there is none that seeketh after God." Rom. 3:11. Are those words clear enough? How can a man clear drowned in sin, who by very nature knows and loves nothing but sin, choose righteousness and holiness, things which his nature knows absolutely nothing about? How can men believe on Him whom they have not heard, and how can they hear who by nature are, in spiritual things, as deaf as a door nail?
People who would laugh a person to scorn for teaching that a man can get salvation by obedience to the laws of Moses, teach that men can obtain salvation by following these "evangelical laws" of the New Testament. Alas, the inner motions of obedience to spiritual laws are far more impossible than obedience to mere external laws! Before we as sinners can be told what we must do to be saved, we must first be told what Christ has already done for us on the cross to save us.
"In the Beginning God. . . "
What is needed here to lift us out of this groveling humanism is another Copernicus revolution in the current religious scene. We need to get back to the "order of salvation" of the Bible. The first words of God's Book are a great thunder clap against all the efforts of man to lift himself up to God. They say, "In the beginning God. . ." Gen. 1:1.
In salvation God is the first cause — the sole cause. Man is then called to response. The devil's constant aim is to reverse and pervert this ordo salutis. He makes man's activity the cause and God's activity the response.
This ordo salutis dethrones God and puts man in His place. This is what the Bible calls the spirit of antichrist — i.e., man in the place of God and Jesus Christ.
The gospel proclamation is the good news, not of man's act of choosing Christ, but of God's act of choosing and reaching out to fallen sinful humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth . . . — 2 Thess. 2:13.
. . . according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love . . . — Eph. 1:4.
Fallen sinful humanity can only respond to the gospel proclamation that we all have been chosen for forgiveness and eternal life from the beginning in Christ. The proclamation of the gospel must always come first, and then must come the invitation for all to respond in "repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". Christ first seeks us and we are thus called to respond to His invitation.
Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit... —John 15:16.
In the matter of "seeking" and "finding" it is the Lord who first does the seeking. When Adam (the man who represents all men) lost himself in the darkness of his self-chosen estrangement from God, it was not his voice which was heard crying, "God, where art Thou?" Rather, it was the voice of the faithful Shepherd calling, ". . . Adam, . . . where art thou?" Gen. 3:9. That is the story of the Bible. As in Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven," God goes after man
. . . with unhurrying chase,
and thanks be to divine Love, His hot pursuit after this runaway man is not in vain. Not content (because it was not sufficient) to send His most trusted servant Gabriel to seek and find this man, the mighty God leaves throne and glory, empties His divine treasury, abandons all and comes after man in the Person of Jesus Christ—in the words of the Gospels, "to seek and to save that which was lost." Thanks be to God, He did not return to heaven until He could cry in triumph, "Mission accomplished!" The gospel message goes to the ends of the world with the proclamation that the sinless Lamb of God has died to pay the penalty for sin of all humanity. All may now respond to the invitation to "Come unto Christ Jesus all you who labor and heavy laden with the burden of guilt and shame of sin. Forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life is promised to all through, "Repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
And unperturbed pace,
Thus the Bible exhorts us, "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found Isa. 55:6. This, however, is never the cause of salvation but an invitation to respond to "the gospel of your salvation." Eph. 1:13. We could not choose God unless He first chose us. We could not call upon Him unless the Holy Spirit had first called out to us. We could not seek God unless He first sought us. We could not find God unless He first found us. That is the sense in which we are to understand human activity. This is the true "order of salvation".
"In the Beginning Was the Word"
Who could miss the starting point of the New Testament message or miss seeing how clearly parallel it is to Genesis 1:1? Says the evangelist, "In the beginning was the Word . . ." John 1:1.
The starting point of salvation is not predestination or election. When we move predestination to the center or the starting point of our scheme of systematic theology, we spoil the fabric of divine revelation. Even some of God's great saints have proposed that in the order of divine decrees by proposing that God first elected who would be saved and then (in order of thinking if not in time) He appointed Christ to become the Redeemer of those whom He had elected. But great difficulties and inadequacies confront this scheme of systematic theology:
1. If God elected prior to His appointment of Jesus Christ as Redeemer of the elect, then there must be a higher (and prior) cause of our election than Jesus Christ. This would not be election in Christ but a prior election outside of Christ.
2. This scheme of systematic theology leads to the conclusion that Christ assumed His redemptive role because God first elected whom He would save . This is the wrong ordo salutis, as we will now show.
In the beginning was the word. . . .All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. — John 1:1,3.
This means that before predestination, before God chose us, there stands Jesus Christ, the eternal Word. There was nothing planned or chosen before Him. All that was chosen and planned was both chosen and planned by Him and for Him.
. . . for by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. — Col. 1:16, 17.
In the beginning, therefore, stands the Word — the Logos, or divine Reason. He must be the starting point and center of all true theology. This means that Christ is the reason for all of God's actions. Everything God does is because of Christ. God predestinated us to salvation because of Christ. He chose us because of Christ. Christ was the grounds of all of God's actions.
Just as God justifies on the grounds of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, so God elects on the grounds of Christ's mediatorial work, known of God from the beginning. So the apostle Peter could write to the church, ". . . elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father 1 Pet. 1:2. This is not election in view of and because of our foreseen faith and evangelical obedience, but it is election because of God's foreknowing the obedience and death of Jesus Christ. So in another place Peter declares, ". . . Him, being delivered [to the death of the cross] by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God..." Acts 2:23.
We say, therefore, that before election stands Jesus Christ. In the beginning stands the Logos, the divine Reason and grounds of all God's actions.
From the beginning God the Father has had no dealings with any man save Jesus Christ. How could we see His face and live? If the holy Father would communicate with us by one word or glance, we would be devoured by the fire of His infinite holiness. Therefore the Father judges no man (John 5:22) — no man except Jesus Christ. ". . . there is. . . one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. . ." 1 Tim. 2:5. God knows Him and will deal only with Him.
For the moment let us lose sight of all men and look only at this one Man. God elected this one Man:
Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delights . . . — Isa. 42:1.
. . . Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious. . . — 1 Pet. 2:6.
Here is "the Man of God's own choosing." This is particular election — the election of one Man. He was chosen because He loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Heb. 1:9). Of all other men the Bible declares, ". . . there is none righteous, no, not one..." Rom. 3:11. But Jesus is called "the holy One of Israel." Isa. 17:7. Among all of God's people, only One is holy.
God can deal with this Man and have fellowship with Him because He sees in Him the undimmed reflection of divine perfection. God cannot talk to sinners, for His eyes are too pure to behold evil. But here is a Man whom God is able to talk to. Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized. The Father speaks directly to a Member of the human family. What does He say? ". . . This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matt. 3:17.
Here Christ is accepted and presented as the second Adam, the new Head and Representative of the race. As the new Representative of the race, He is qualified to act for those whom He represents. He is able to assume all their obligations and debts, and act as if their sins were His sins.
Then we see Jesus on the cross, not as the accepted Man, but as a cursed, rejected Man. God sees no sin except that which is upon Him. God therefore punishes one man until the penalty of sin is exhausted and the justice of the law is fully satisfied.
A man who has finished paying for the crimes chargeable to him is released from prison. So God released this Man from the prison house of death. In the resurrection we see Jesus as the accepted Man, received into glory, seated on God's right hand and given the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).
We say, therefore, that God has found one Man holy, one Man obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. God has punished one Man— and as yet only one Man knows what it is to fall into the hands of the living God with sin upon His head.1 With one Man God is well pleased, and He has therefore elected this one Man to glory and has seated Him on His own right hand in heavenly places.
Christ the Representative?
On his way to the Diet of Worms, Luther passed through Erfurt and was urged to preach in this city where he spent those agonizing years in the convent cell. A great crowd assembled to hear what this renowned monk had to say. Addressing the expectant assembly, Luther's voice rang out with thrilling power:
Philosophers, doctors, and writers have endeavored to teach men the way to obtain everlasting life, and they have not succeeded. I will now tell it to you. . . God has raised one man from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, that he might destroy death, expiate sin, and shut the gates of hell. This is the work of salvation. . . . Christ has vanquished this is the joyful news; and we are saved by his work, and not by our own. . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "Peace be unto you; behold my hands;" that is to say, Behold, 0 man, it is I, I alone, who have taken away thy sin, and ransomed thee; and now thou hast peace, saith the Lord. — Quoted in J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (New York: American Tract Society), Vol.2, pp.240, 241.
The first fact of the gospel is the proclamation that God has punished one Man, accepted one Man, elected one Man and taken one Man to glory. The second aspect of the gospel is that Christ now gives the invitation to all the world to personally repent and call upon His name for the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. It is this second aspect of the gospel which glorifies the Christ event with the personal message of our salvation.
That this one Man was the representative Man (i.e., the second Adam) means two things:
1. His doing, dying and rising were not for Himself, but for all who personally trust in Him. It was the same as if all whom He represents had lived sinlessly, died, risen again and had been received into glory. The principle is clearly stated by the apostle: ('. . . if One died for all, then were all dead 2 Cor. 5:14. Paul is here referring to all who shall believe and personally call upon their Lord for justification and forgiveness.
2. All that God did to this Man and all that He gave to this Man, He did and gave to those whom this Man represents. God will therefore have it published that when He punished the One, He punished the many. As He accepted the One, He shall accept the many. When He raised the One to sit in heavenly places, He raises the many. Who are the "many" here referred to? All the sons and daughters of Adam whosoever calls upon the name of Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life.
If we say, "Christ came to represent only those whom God pre-elected," we have reversed the ordo salutis. The New Testament message doesn't say: "In the beginning was election. . . . All things were made by election; and without election was not anything made that was made." Neither does the Bible teach us that Christ was appointed as our Representative because God first elected us. "In the beginning was the Word . . ." From everlasting He was appointed to be the Redeemer. The representative office of Christ did not appear because of election, but election appeared because of the work of the Mediator. ". . . by Him all things [including election] consist." Col. 1:17. He is the "Alpha and Omega." Rev. 1:8.
The next thing to consider is this: What does the gospel say about God's redemptive act in Jesus Christ? It declares that it is finished! The gospel is the good news of an objective, concrete, historical event. Christ came to the cross in order that God might reconcile the entire world unto Himself (Rom. 5:10; 2Cor. 5:19), and in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God has set His seal to the fact that He has accomplished this (Rom. 4:25, N.E.B.).
On the part of God, reconciliation and redemption are an accomplished fact (Rom. 5:10; Heb. 9:12), an objective reality which is not affected by the subjective attitude of man (Rom. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13). Christ has paid for those sins which He bore, and God has accepted that payment. This is why St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God had chosen, accepted, redeemed and forgiven them in the Person of Christ (see Eph. 1:4-13). If God had not already atoned for the sins of all men in the Person of Christ, He could not offer those gifts in the gospel to all who will believe in the atoning blood of Christ.
Therefore, if we preach the gospel to a certain man, we must tell him, on the authority of God's Word, that God has wrought out his complete salvation in the Person of Christ. God invites all who hear the invitation to come unto Him and build their house upon the Rock which will never fail them nor forsake them. That is the gospel.
Once we have settled that the gospel is the announcement of the good things that God has done in the Person of Christ, we have only to inquire, Unto how many is this gospel to be presented?
The gospel is to be presented as a general, external call to all. The Scriptures are just too explicit on this point:
. . . Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. — Mark 16:15.
If we have a duty to tell each man the gospel, in the very nature of the case we must tell him that his sins have been borne by Jesus Christ, that he has been chosen and accepted in the Person of his Representative and that, consequently, God now calls upon him to repent and believe the gospel. To tell him any less than this is not preaching the gospel to him. The Bible will let us have none of this tongue-in-cheek general call as if it were not seriously intended for all.
. . . Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people . . . a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:10, 11.
We do not say that it would be unfair for God to provide salvation for some and not the rest. God is under no obligation to save any sinners. It would be an act of perfect justice if God left all to perish in sin. He is in no wise responsible for sin, and man has no claim upon His mercy. The issue here is not the extent of God's justice but the width of His mercy. Neither is the question, What system of theology is most logical in all its parts (as judged, of course, by man's logical apparatus)? but, What comports most nearly to the Biblical revelation of God's character in His word?
The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works. — Ps. 145:8, 9.
That God has seriously intended all to share in the benefits of Christ's atonement is clear from the blessings of "common grace." The Father in heaven "maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt. 5:45. ". . . He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." Acts 14:17. If all the blessings and good things of life — food, air, friendship, human affection, civil righteousness — may be enjoyed by all, are they not evidence that Christ has died for all? For these bounties which theologians call "common grace" are still grace—undeserved kindness — and grace comes only through (because of) Jesus Christ. He was nailed to the cross that all these blessings might flow to this earth. Every man who lives on this planet lives solely because Christ died. Herein God gives proof of His love for all and of His provision for all through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Furthermore, the moral law, which is a transcript of God's character, requires that we love all men without partiality or hypocrisy. We are commanded to love our enemies. We do not love all unless we desire their best good, even the good that we cherish for ourselves. For this reason we are commanded not only to give the gospel to all, but to make "supplications, prayers, intercessions . . . for all men." Why? "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim. 2:1, 3, 4. Any scheme of theology that requires man's love to be broader than God's love is far from adequate.
When the rich young ruler came running to Christ to inquire the way of eternal life, "Jesus beholding him loved him." Mark 10:21. That is to say, Jesus sought his best good and willed to give it to him. Yet he never became one of those followers whom Jesus called "My sheep". Yet Jesus still loved him, and where there is love, there is the will to save the one who is loved. So it is written:
. . . God so loved the world . . . [and is] . . . not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. — John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9.
. . . God . . . is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. — 1 Tim. 4:10.
. . . He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world. — 1 John 2:2.2
God's salvation, poured out to us in Jesus Christ, is like the woman's alabaster box which was broken to anoint the head of Christ. The fragrance filled the whole house. The disciples looked on in astonishment, and some even murmured, "Why was this waste. . . ?" That alabaster box is like God's grace which has been lavished upon the human family in the broken heart of Christ. So few seem to avail themselves of it. There is enough for every sinner and to spare. God is such a prodigious Giver. He gives good measure, pressed down and running over! As nature itself, the handiwork of God, makes more than ample provision for the propagation of life, so where sin abounds, grace does much more abound! As General Booth used to say of God's grace, "There is enough to go around."
Despite any weaknesses or tendencies to subjective humanism, the great Methodist revival was an inevitable reaction to a predestinarian theology gone to seed. John Wesley looked on all men as blood-bought souls. There were none so low or underprivileged but that Wesley believed that God loved them and gave His Son to die for them. The message that Christ positively died for all was as a breath of fresh air. The glad tidings set hearts singing, voices ringing and feet running. If we must criticize the theology of John Wesley on any point, let us first acknowledge that here was one of the greatest instruments of evangelism seen since the apostle Paul.3
The Human Response
In the gospel, therefore, two great facts are announced and must stand together:
1. God chose one Man. He found one Man righteous, holy and pleasing in His sight. He accepted Him as the new Head of the race to stand in Adam's place, to represent all, even as Adam represented all. He punished this one Man, put Him to death and buried Him out of sight. Then He resurrected this one Man, a new Man, and received Him into glory.
2. This one man stood before God as everyman, and that human nature of everyman was in Him. Therefore when One died, God reckoned that all died in Him (2 Cor. 5:14), and when One was found righteous, all were represented and reckoned as righteous in Him (Rom. 5:18). That human nature which was lost in Adam has been restored in the person of Jesus Christ, and every man who is sure he too has a human nature may be just as sure that he is included in that personal offer of redemption. Said Luther in a Pentecost sermon:
Moreover, who knows whether I am elected to salvation? Answer: Look at the words [of John 3:161 , I beseech you, to determine how and of whom He is speaking. "God so loved the world," and "that whosoever believeth in Him." Now, the "world" does not mean 55. Peter and Paul alone but the entire human race, all together. And no one is here excluded. God's Son was given for alt. All should believe, and all who do believe should not perish, etc. Take hold of your own nose, I beseech you, to determine whether you are not a human being (that is, part of the world) and, like any other man, belong to the number of those comprised by the word, "all". — Quoted in What Luther Says, ed. Ewald M. Plass, Vol.2, pp.608, 609. 4
Faith and Election
We have looked at election from the side of the divine cause. Now we must look at election from the side of human response to the divine invitation.
The gospel does not find friends. It makes friends. It does not look for a few special people who are called the elect, for none are personally called the elect until they personally come to faith and repentance and are thus adopted into Christ. The gospel finds sinners, sinners who are dead in trespasses and sins. It comes to men not "in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." 1 Thess. 1:5.
This divine power of the Holy Spirit reaches out to all the world through the proclamation of the Word of the gospel and creates faith in hearts that had no faith (Rom. 10:17). It bestirs and draws the heart to seek Christ, to earnestly desire to be reconciled to God. When Christ called Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him across the water, the power to do this was not in Peter but in the Word of invitation.
It is utterly wrong to suppose that the sinner's will is free to come to Christ whenever he chooses. Unless God's Word through the drawing power of the Holy Spirit is present to heal, there will be no healing. It is written in the Psalms that God's people "shall be willing in the day of Thy power. Ps. 110:3. The liberating power, even to choose Christ, is in the gospel. That is why man cannot come to Christ unless God speaks to him in the gospel. It is not the sinner's privilege to decide when he will come to Christ. Those who say to the Spirit, who speaks to them in the gospel, "Go Thy way, . . . when I have a convenient season, I will call for Thee" (Acts 24:25), flatter themselves that they have within themselves freedom of will to accept Christ whenever they please. They are making a terrible mistake. Those who resist the call to believe and repent are in very real danger of being "hardened" in unbelief and sin and may not be given another opportunity to hear the pleading of the Spirit to take of the water of life freely given in Christ.
The way to get people to believe in Christ for life eternal is not to keep urging faith as Pharaoh urged the people to make bricks without straw. Preach Christ and Him crucified, suffering and dying on the cross for the guilt and sins of the world! Give to them the glad "words of . . . salvation." Acts 13:26. You may urge faith for ever and aye, and people may remain as empty of it as a flour barrel with both ends out. Teach and proclaim that which will create faith. Proclaim that which will work in them to will and do of God's good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Uplift Him who draws all men to Himself (John 12:32). Give the gospel proclamation and then give the invitation to repent and believe. This is the true "ordo salutis"!!!
Then when this gospel is heard, you may and must urge men to respond. The importance of human responsibility is not nullified by divine initiative; it is magnified. In view of what has happened and what has been given to them in Christ, men are to be urged with radical seriousness:
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found . . . — Isa. 55:5.
We have seen that God has elected one Man. He is the elect One just the same as He is the righteous One. Therefore only those who personally receive Christ in faith and are joined to Christ in faith-union can be called the elect ones or the righteous ones. This is the human side of election. Faith is not the source of election. Sola gratia is the source. Neither is faith the meritorious cause of election. Solo Christo is the meritorious cause. But faith is the instrumental means of receiving it (just as it is the instrumental means of receiving righteousness). That is the true meaning of sola fide.
. . . choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . — Deut. 24:15.
. . . repent ye, and believe the gospel. — Mark 1:15.
. . . be ye reconciled to God. — 2 Cor. 5:20.
. . . arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins. . . Acts 22:16.
This is the reason why the Bible calls no one "elect" who has not come to personal repentance towards God and faith in Christ as one's Savior and Lord. Only thus is one personally "in Christ". Outside of Him none are righteous, none are elect and none have paid the awful debt of sin. And those who are in Christ are called to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure." 2Pet. 1:10. How? By daily giving all diligence to abide in Him.
. . . a Man (Christ) shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. — Isa. 32:2.
".....one Man for every man." Rom. 5:15 and ".....But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. Heb. 2:9. That is cause.
"Thou art my hiding place. . " Ps. 119:114. That is response.
When human pride finds that no work of man can contribute toward salvation, it makes a last-ditch stand by trying to smuggle in faith as a contribution to human salvation. But the New Testament doctrine of election bars this last loophole of human pride. It teaches us that we are not chosen because we have faith, but we have faith because we have been chosen in Christ from the beginning (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). Faith therefore is sola dei gloria — solely to God's glory. ". . . it is the gift of God . . ." Eph. 2:8. God the Holy Spirit is the sole cause of faith.
If the will of God and the grace of God are the reason for faith, what then is the reason for unbelief? We wish to make our point quite clear that there is no reason for unbelief. To give a reason is to excuse it. There is no excuse for it.
God is in no sense the cause of unbelief. The divine decrees are in no sense an accessory to sin. He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 2 Pet. 3:9. When on judgment day the Lord receives some men into glory, He says to them, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . ." Matt. 25:34. Then He banishes others to perdition, saying, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire. . ." But here the expected parallelism breaks down. Let not human logic run ahead of the Word and stub its toe in the dark, but let it follow humbly behind the Word, where all is light. Does the Lord also say to the cursed that their reward was "prepared for you from the foundation of the world"? No! He says, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. . ." Matt. 26:41. God did not prepare this end for any man.
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel. — Ezek. 33:11.
" . . . why will ye die . . . ?" God gives no answer. There is no answer! If man could give a reason for sin, it would cease to be sin. Faith is rational, for it is a confession of reality, an acknowledgment of something already in existence. Unbelief is irrational, unreasonable — a denial of reality.
It is even said that Jesus "marveled because of their unbelief." Mark 6:6. Why a man should ever reject the gospel and resist the Holy Spirit, who brings the gift of faith, can never be known. Such a man is without excuse. Basically, the New Testament (especially John) acknowledges only one fountain head for all sin — it is the sin of unbelief. This is the world's sin (John 16:9). It is the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, for it is a stubborn, unexplainable resistance to the Spirit. It merits the wrath of God unmixed with mercy.
. . . . the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. — 2 Thess. 1:7-10.
Yet shall we say that God, who created man for the praise of His glory and gave to him the awesome gift of individuality, is thus defeated by the unreasonable choice of man? Does man's unbelief mean that "the Word of God hath taken none effect"? Rom. 9:6. No, for even as God used the stubbornness of Pharaoh and the apostasy of the Jewish nation for His own glory (Rom. 9:17; 11:12-36), so the wrath of man shall praise Him (Ps. 76:10). Man's unrighteousness shall "commend the righteousness of God," and the truth of God shall more abound through man's lie (Rom. 3:5, 7). So whether men shall be saved or lost, it must still be true—
. . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. — Phil. 2:10, 11.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. — Rom. 11:33-36.
1 This is not to deny that the wrath of God will fall upon the Christ rejecters. but it is to remind ourselves that the day of final rewards and punishments is always spoken of in the New Testament as eschatological—i.e., "the wrath to come." 1 Thess. 1:10.
2 G.C. Berkouwer, the Reformed theologian makes some incisive comments on these "universal" passages of the Bible:
The doctrine of apocatastasis [eventual salvation for all, it must be admitted, has often flourished in reaction against the frequent failure of the church throughout history to take seriously the "universal" passages of Scripture. The depreciation of these passages has sometimes followed from a particular doctrine of election that leaves no room for the universal invitation to salvation, on the ground that salvation could honestly and truly be offered only to the elect. The set-up is clear on this view: there is no universality at all, only strict particularity. And if one encounters a text in the Bible with a general offer of salvation, he explains it away by arguing that the speaker had no way of knowing who were included in the closed number of the elect and thus had to use the word "all". But there was no real offer of salvation to all. Obviously this extreme does as much violence to the seriousness of the proclamation as apocatastasis does. . . .
Often people have tried to counter the claims of universalism by taking these universal words as in fact particular. interpreting them on the basis of the contrast between the elect and the reprobate as applying only to the elect. Such an argument. however, can never convince universalism, because the application to the elect alone cannot be exegeted from the texts. The profound meaning of the fact that the gospel must be published to all (canons of Dort, II, 5) cannot be denied; and this gospel is and remains the glad tidings, the good news. The urgent call of the gospel goes out to everyone indiscriminately, because God's work in Jesus Christ is directed to the world (c.f., Matt. 24:14; 28:19). — G.C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 19721, p.408.
3 Such tributes have been made to Wesley by A.H. Strong, a staunch predestinarian, and historian Philip Schaff, who is German Reformed.
4 This was not the view of the younger Luther, who wrote in his commentary on Romans that Christ did not die for all.