Saturday, January 19, 2019

Samuel D. Gordon on the Sovereignty of God


Samuel D. Gordon on the Sovereignty of God

Troy J. Edwards


But the Pharisees and religious scholars hardened their hearts and turned their backs on God’s purposes for them because they had refused John’s baptism. (Luke 7:30; The VOICE Translation)

A couple of days ago I came home from church, turned on the TV and caught the ending of the 1951 movie “Quo Vadis” starring Peter Ustinov as the corrupt Roman emperor who set much of Rome on fire and then blamed it on the Christians. The movie depicts the serious and monstrous persecution of the Christians in Rome by this evil dictator.
Upon discovery of the truth the citizens of Rome began to rebel against Emperor Nero and he hid in his palace. A woman he banished showed up and tells him that he will be killed by the people because of the monster he has become. Nero then says, “I didn’t wish to be a monster. The gods willed it.” I teasingly told my wife, “Hey honey, Nero was a Calvinist.”
The truth is, false ideas about sovereignty, whether they are found in pagan religions or within “Christianity” have been used to relieve men of the responsibility for their own careless actions. Muslims, even today, attribute everything that happens to “Allah’s will”. This means that no matter what they do, it was the will of Allah that they did it.
But “Christians” (particularly those who embrace Calvinist ideology) who teach these false ideas not only lead people to reject the Biblical truth in which we all have the freedom to choose good and evil (Deut. 30:15, 19), but also cast aspersions on the truth about God’s loving character. God is made out to be a monster who wills the worst types of evil upon men and women.
Not too long ago I was reading some material by one of my favorite classic authors, S. D. Gordon, who was famous for his “Quiet Talks” series of books. Gordon gave, what I believe to be, a very good refutation of the erroneous ideas put forth by those who hold to a distorted viewpoint of God’s sovereignty:

God’s Sovereignty.
There has been a good bit of teaching about “God’s sovereignty.” Behind that mysterious, indefinite phrase has crept much that badly needs the clear, searching sunlight of day. God’s sovereignty is commonly thought of as a sort of dead-weight force by which He compels things to come His way. If a man stand in the way of God's plan so much the worse for the man. It is thought of as a sort of mighty army, marching down the road, in close ranks, with fixed bayonets. If you happen to be on that road better look out very sharply, or you may get crushed under foot.
I do not mean that the theologians put it in that blunt fashion, nor that I have ever heard any preacher phrase it in that way. I mean that as I have talked with the plain common people, and listened to them, this is the distinct impression that comes continually of what it means to them. Then, too, the phrase has often been used, it is to be feared, as a religious cloak to cover up the shortcomings and shirkings of those who aren't fitting into God’s plan.
God is a sovereign. The truth of His sovereignty is one of the most gracious of all the truths in this blessed old Book of God. It means that the great gracious purpose and plan of God will finally be victorious. It means that in our personal lives He, with great patience and skill and power, works through the tangled network of circumstances and difficulties to answer our prayers, and to bring out the best results for us.
It means further that, with a diplomacy and patience only divine, He works with and through the intricate meshes of men’s wills and contrary purposes to bring out good now—not good out of bad, that is impossible; but good in spite of the bad—and that finally all opposition will be overcome, or will have spent itself out in utter weakness, and so His purposes of love will be fully victorious.
But the practical thing to burn in deep just now is this, that we can hinder God’s plan. His plans have been hindered, and delayed, and made to fail, because we wouldn’t work with Him.
And God lets His plan fail. It is a bit of His greatness. He will let a plan fail before He will be untrue to man's utter freedom of action. He will let a man wreck his career, that so through the wreckage the man may see his own failure, and gladly turn to God. Many a hill is climbed only through a swamp road.
God cares more for a man than for a plan. The plan is only for the sake of the man. You say, of course. But, you know, many men think more of carrying through the plan on which they have set themselves, regardless of how it may hurt or crush some man in the way. God’s plan is for man, and so it is allowed to fail, for the man's sake.
Yet, because the plan is always made for man’s sake, it will be carried through, because by and by man will see it to be best. Many a man’s character has been made only through the wrecking of his career. If God had had His way He would have saved both life and soul, both the earthly career and the heavenly character.
Let us stop thoughtfully, and remember that God has carefully thought out a plan for every man, for each one of us. It is a plan for the life, these human years; not simply for getting us to what we may have thought of as a psalm singing heaven, when we’re worn out down here.
It is the best plan. For God is ambitious for us; more ambitious for you and me than we are for ourselves, though few of us really believe that. But He will carry out His plan—aye, He can carry it out only with our hearty consent. He must work through our wills. He honors us in that. With greatest reverence be it said that God waits reverently, hat in hand, outside the door of a man's will, until the man inside turns the knob and throws open the door for Him to come in and carry out His plan. We can make God fail by not working with Him. The greatest of all achievements of action is to find and fit into God’s plan.[1]

Some may balk at statements like, “We can make God fail by not working with Him.” Yet, this is not an inditement on God as much as it is on men who refuse to work with God in accordance to His plans for them (see Psalm 81:10-16). Therefore, we believe that Gordon gave a biblically accurate understanding of God’s sovereignty that is in line with the Bible’s revelation of God’s loving character.


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[1] Gordon, Samuel D. Quiet Talks with World Winners (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908), pp. 125-128

Saturday, December 29, 2018

God Repenting: Insight from an 1865 Bible Commentary

While doing some research for a book that I am writing on the open view of the future, I found a quote about "God repenting" in the Bible from an 1865 Bible commentary that I thought was very interesting and wanted to share:

"God is often spoken of in the Scriptures as repenting, —as, for example, at the flood, (Gen. vi. 6,) and during the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, (Exod. xxxii. 14;)—while, on other occasions, it is said that “God is not the son of man, that he should repent,” (Num. xxiii. 19,) and, in Rom. xi. 29, “that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” We may here remark how false and unfair that method of interpreting the Scriptures is, in which one class of passages—that which each considers favourable to his own peculiar views—is adduced and dwelt upon, while others, which he regards as unfavourable, are passed by unnoticed. In order that the whole truth may be elicited, both classes of passages should be examined and compared with each other. In accordance with the passages just quoted, it is as erroneous to say that God cannot repent of anything as simply to ascribe to him human repentance."
Barth, Christian Gottlob The Bible Manual: An Expository and Practical Commentary on the Books of Scripture (London: James Nisbet and Company, 1865), pp. 405, 406


Now, this does not mean that the author of this commentary was an open theist (and seriously doubt that anyone was labeled such a thing back then anyway). It is possible that the person held to a strict Arminian view of God's foreknowledge. The quote is only to say that there were some theologians, even in the earlier centuries, who did not buy into the idea that Scripture does not mean what it says when it says that God "repents" or "changes His mind".

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas and Why Jesus Came: The Character of God

CHRISTMAS AND WHY JESUS CAME: THE CHARACTER OF GOD

"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." (1 John 5:20)

The good thing about Christians is that, most times, we remember why we have taken what some say is a pagan holiday and redeemed it to celebrate our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah, coming to earth as a man. Quite often though, the emphasis is upon His sacrifice for us.

While it is good to keep this at the forefront, also remember that one of His main purposes was to reveal the truth about a loving, caring, Heavenly Father. Lies have been spread about God since the beginning of man's existence and Jesus came to set things straight, to give us an understanding about God's true character. Let me leave you with a quote from a great classic author on prayer.

“The Revelation of the Father was His work. We have been taught to think, many of us, of His Atoning Work, of His Death, as the one feature upon which it is good to dwell. Such teaching gives us a wrong perspective. Before we can wish to be reconciled, we must know the Being to Whom we are to be reconciled. To know God is our first demand, and so the Revelation of the Father is the first work of Christ.” – Eyton, Robert The Lord’s Prayer: Sermons (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., LTD), p. 29

Monday, December 17, 2018

A. B. Simpson and the Serpents in the Wilderness



A. B. Simpson and the Serpents in the Wilderness


“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:5-6)

Did God, using His divine power, actively place and irresistible influence upon these poisonous serpents to harm His people? Many believe that He did and some even believe that it is justified. This is an understandable conclusion from the text but it certainly does not give us the best picture of the God who commanded us to love our enemies as He loves His (Matt. 5:44-46).
The Bible is the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God so the passage itself is not in dispute. However, our interpretation of such passages are always subject to scrutiny. A better interpretation of Numbers 21:5-6 which is more in sync with our Lord Jesus’ revelation of the Father-heart of God can be determined how the word “sent” is correctly translated.
“Sent” is from the Hebrew word “shâlach” which, according to Joseph Rotherham, “It often takes the modifications expressed by permit, to declare or hold and, to help.”[1] When the people spake against Moses and God they literally moved themselves out of the realm in which God could legally protect them. He had no other choice but to permit Satan to have his way and influence these snakes to attack God’s people (see 1 Cor. 10:8-10).
I have dealt with this subject in several of my books but recently while browsing through one of my favorite Bible commentaries by one of my favorite classic preachers, Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919), I found these fascinating comments on Numbers 21:6:

The venomous snakes, which were permitted to torment them on account of their murmurings, represent the Satanic visitations of spiritual or physical evil which come as the result of disobedience and unbelief. “The LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6).
There is such a thing as temptation befalling the spirit through the divine permission on account of sin. The Scriptures speak of persons being delivered over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28), and souls that have been delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, “and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
No path is so beset with temptation as the path of cowardice and disobedience. And no souls walk in such a victory over the power of the enemy as those who dare to go forward in full obedience to all the law of God and trample on the power of serpents and scorpions. The only place where we can have power over Satan, is beneath our feet. Our attitude must be constant victory and defiance, or it will be constant harassment and torment.
This terrible visitation, however, led ultimately to a more glorious manifestation of the grace of God. And so, often, the temptations of life can be overruled for spiritual discipline and final victory. So Christ refers especially to the temptations in the wilderness, as the result of sin (1 Corinthians 10:9-10), and uses their example for our warning against all evil. But at the same time He encourages us with the most gracious promises of deliverance and protection, if we abide in humble, vigilant faith and obedience (10:12-13).[2]

Simpson taught that this serpent attack was not instituted by God but permitted by Him when the people removed themselves from under God’s protection. He compares this to how Christians today sin and then open the door for the devil in their lives. God delivers people over to the master they choose to follow if they insist upon rejecting Christ and following another.
When we submit to God, Simpson points out that these things can be overruled by God for the purposes victory in our lives. God neither instigates or desires these things to come upon us but when we open ourselves up to them, and repent after seeing the error of our ways, God can then teach us from them.
Finally, Simpson emphasizes the truth that we can walk in constant victory over Satan and his attacks if we will remain obedient to God’s Word. We can then exercise our authority over evil forces. Excellent teaching from one of God’s great servants of bygone days.

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[1] Rotherham, Joseph The Emphasized Bible, Bradbury, Agnew & Co., ©1902, p. 919
[2] Simpson, Albert B. The Christ in the Bible Commentary, Volume One (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1992), p. 278



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Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Reason for Misery and Pain by Brother Andrew

"As Christians we know as well that the pain and misery in this world are not God's doing or His choice. He suffers with us, and ultimately suffered for us, but He never wants us to suffer. Out of love, He gave us the freedom to say yes or no to His just and righteous will, and to the extent that we've said no, we have permitted the forces of evil to wreak havoc upon our world. The suffering we experience is the natural consequence of ungodly behavior--either our own or that of others. As humans, we are the authors of our own misery. God alone is the author of love."
"And God Changed His Mind" by Brother Andrew, p. 39

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Does God Place Stumbling Blocks Before People?



Does God Place Stumbling Blocks Before People?

Troy J. Edwards


In our weekly Bible studies at our church we have been dealing with the subject of evangelism. Particularly, we have been looking at excuses used by sinners to reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior. While gathering together the passages of Scripture to help our students evangelize self-righteous people (or “I’m a good person” person) I ran across the following passage:

Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezekiel 3:20)

I have read this passage a number of times. Its declaration on the fact that when a “righteous” person sins all his previous righteousness will be forgotten was a good fit for dealing with the self-righteous sinner. Yet, it also demonstrates how superficially we all read Scripture. In all of these years I had never noticed the portion about God laying a stumbling block before the person in order to bring about his demise.

Of course, the extreme Calvinist is right at home with such a passage. The Calvinist’s deity is one who sovereignly controls every single event and ensures that it comes to pass. The extreme Calvinist believes that God is the cause of each person’s sin (though he holds the sinner responsible for the act that the sinner committed). However, this is troubling for the Bible-believing Christian who is not committed to a theologically deranged idea about God’s sovereignty and believes that God is truly good, kind, and holy.

After reading how God Himself claims to put a stumbling block before the sinner I put the evangelistic Bible study aside for a moment to investigate this further (After all, one area of my ministry is to vindicate God against the false charges of being arbitrary, vindictive, and cruel).

One of the first things I did was to compare the King James Version to other translations. Sadly, some of them made God appear to be even worse than the KJV translators depict Him. For example, the Easy to Read Version says, “If good people stop being good and begin to do evil, and I send something that makes them stumble and sin, they will die because they sinned.” This rendering makes it appear as if God sends things just to cause people to sin.

If that isn’t clear enough the International Children’s Bible reads, “He may do evil. If I caused him to sin, he will die. Because you have not warned him, he will die because of his sin.” Now when our children sin they can point to this passage and say that God caused them to do it because He wanted them dead. That’s enough to make even an atheist blush.

The Good News Translation does slightly better: “If someone truly good starts doing evil and I put him in a dangerous situation, he will die if you do not warn him.” Well, at least it does not render the passage in a way that makes God the active cause of a person sinning. It only turns God into a killer by having him place people into dangerous situations. While the idea of God directly punishing a sinner by personally placing him in danger is more acceptable to the majority of Christians, it does not fit with the overall picture of the God presented to us by Jesus the Messiah.

Yet, Ezekiel 3:20 is the inspired Word of God and it cannot be ignored. But, one can get a better understanding of such passages than the ones presented by the majority of English Bible translations. For instance, a better interpretation is found in the Amplified Bible which attributes personal responsibility to the one who has fallen into sin:

Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness (right doing and right standing with God) and some gift or providence which I lay before him he perverts into an occasion to sin and he commits iniquity, he shall die; because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood will I require at your hand. (Amplified Bible)

I like this interpretation of Ezekiel 3:20. It fits well with the rest of Scripture’s understanding of how God mercifully reacts to the sinner. God attempts to bless the sinner but it is the sinner who perverts this blessing, thereby, bringing about his own demise (James 1:13-15; 1 John 2:15-16).

Nonetheless, I am not an expert in original Bible languages and cannot confidently affirm that the Amplified Bible’s rendering is the most accurate one. Its accuracy is only affirmed by its consistency with God’s character as revealed in other portions of Scripture. While this is sufficient for my comfort and understanding of my loving Heavenly Father, others may need, what they believe to be, more concrete evidence.

To provide this evidence we only need to look to the permissive sense. J. B. Rotherham’s literally translated The Emphasized Bible has very often been helpful in demonstrating the truth of this principle. Note his rendering of Ezekiel 3:20:

And when a righteous man hath turned from his righteousness, and committed perversity, and I have suffered a stumbling- block to be laid before him he shall die, —though thou hast not warned him, in his sin I shall he die, neither shall be remembered his righteous deeds which he hath done, but his blood, at thy hand will I require.

In Rotherham’s literal translation we are told that God suffered a stumbling block. The word “suffered” is an archaic word meaning “allowed” or “permitted”. In the Old Testament God is often said to have done that which He allowed or permitted (or did not use His divine power to prevent from happening) by virtue of the fact that a person has removed himself or herself from under God’s protective presence. This permissive sense application of Ezekiel 3:20 is backed by a few Bible commentators and scholars:

“A stumbling block, leaving him to his own lusts, and suffering him to fall thereby.”
Cobbin, Ingram Condensed Commentary and Family Exposition of the Holy Bible (London: Thomas Ward and Company, 1837), p. 853

“Every man in the last hour of his life trips over a stumbling-block—which God sees, and permits to remain—and falls into the grave.”
Cobern, Camden M. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 8 (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1901), p. 61

“That is, I permit him to be tried, and he fall in the trial. God is repeatedly represented as doing things which he only permits to be done. He lays a stumbling-block, i.e., he permits one to be laid.”
Clarke, Adam The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments (New York: Lane & Scott for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1850), p. 434

I lay a stumbling-block--not that God tempts to sin (Jas 1:13, 14), but God gives men over to judicial blindness, and to their own corruptions (Ps 9:16, 17; 94:23) when they “like not to retain God in their knowledge” (Ro 1:24, 26); just as, on the contrary, God makes “the way of the righteous plain” (Pr 4:11, 12; 15:19), so that they do “not stumble.”
Jamieson, Robert, D.D. “Commentary on Ezekiel 3”. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=eze&chapter=003>. 1871.

This settles the problem, does it not? God does not literally put stumbling blocks (temptations to sin or dangers as punishment for sin) but simply ceases to protect the sinner when he or she persists in his or her sin.

This should settle the issue. But, while doing my Bible cross references for Ezekiel 3:20 I ran across Jeremiah 6:21 where again God claims to personally lay stumbling blocks: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.” I have no doubt that my critics would use this passage as one of their, “Ah ha, Gotcha” moments if I do not deal with it.

We must always keep in mind that these stumbling blocks that are said to be laid by God are really those of man’s own making. As James Burton Coffman says in his commentary on the passage:

“There was nothing capricious or vindictive on God's part who is represented here as placing ‘stumbling blocks’ in the way of Israel. ‘The stumbling blocks confronting the people were of their own making,’ when they had deliberately refused to walk in the good way (v. 17).”
Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Jeremiah 6”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jer&chapter=006>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999. 

If Coffman’s understanding is accepted then, like Ezekiel 3:20, we can understand Jeremiah 6:21 from the permissive sense as well. Dr. Jack Blanco offers us this paraphrase of Jeremiah 6:21 in his book, “The Clear Word:”

“The Lord said, ‘I will let such troubles come on my people that both parents and children will stumble and fall, and neighbors and friends will perish” (emphasis are mine)

The permissive sense is the best sense in which to approach such passages in the light of God’s loving and merciful character by which He does not personally act to harm the sinner. Finally, the insight from an older book is very helpful in this regard:

“‘Behold, I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people, and . . . they shall perish’ (Jer. vi. 21), it should be understood that these evils, though affirmed of God (because they exist by His permission), are really ‘the fruit of man's own thoughts,’ through not hearkening to, but rejecting, God's words, statutes, and judgments, which thus become stumblingblocks and a curse, in place of the blessing for which they were intended; for God recompenseth not evil for evil, but good for evil, ‘making His sun to rise on the evil and on the good.’ In like manner, when we read of God, that “He that made them will not have mercy upon them, and He that formed them will show them no favour' (Isaiah xxvii. 11), it should be understood that this unmercifulness arises not out of God’s, but out of man’s will, who closes the door to God’s mercy and forgiveness by opposing God’s laws, and so deprives himself of the blessing they are designed to fulfil. Man will not ‘take hold of God’s strength that he may receive pardon and peace (5), for the moment he did so, he would find that in place of a God of wrath, He was a God of peace; ‘a God that pardoneth iniquity . . . that retaineth not his anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy’ (Micah vii. 18); and blotteth out as a thick cloud transgression and sin (Isaiah xliv. 22). These, and all similar passages, are to be understood as solely bearing reference to man’s reciprocation—perverse reciprocation—of the life of God, and not to the life and will of God Himself.”
Jennet, E. The Man: the Mighty God. Outlines of Thought (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1871), pp. 210, 211

Ezekiel 3:20 and Jeremiah 6:21 can be understood in the light of God’s love and mercy for the sinner. Unless one prefers to hold to a false theological perspective that makes God the divine dispenser of sin and disasters, one should have no problems seeing that such passages are to be understood as God respecting man’s freedom to choose against His wishes and reluctantly permitting him to suffer the consequences of that rebellion.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

How Does God Punish? (Meme)



“How does God smite, wound, or ‘punish’? He does it by the removal of His protective presence. When His presence is gone then the sinner is left at the ‘mercy’ of the forces that seek to destroy him or her.” (pp. 95, 96)

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