And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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.
1. How to Ask Questions
1.1. Contrast Zechariah's response to the strange news of the angel in Luke 1:18 ("How can I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.") with the response of Mary to the stranger news of the angel in Luke 1:34 ("How can this be, since I have no husband?").
Zechariah doubted the word of the angel and asked for more evidence than he had. Mary accepted the truth of the strange sayings and simply expressed her desire to understand HOW it was going to be.
The angel struck Zechariah dumb. But he answered Mary up to a point ("The Holy Spirit will come upon you . . . with God nothing is impossible"—Luke 1:35, 37).
1.2. Consider Romans 9:19–20.
You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?" Has the potter no right over the clay?
"Answer back" does not refer to a humble inquiry about how these can be, but an in-submissive reaction against God's strange work. It is the same as the "striving" of Isaiah 45:9. The same word in Luke 14:6 suggests that it means answer back with a view to contradicting.
Therefore, it is good and right to want to understand as much as we can about the ways of God in salvation, and humble inquiry into the meaning of puzzling Scriptures is not wrong. What is wrong is an attitude that presents God with ultimatums and says that you won't believe it even if it stands written. The attitude is all important.
1.3. Hopefully we can move beyond the question: Does the Bible teach the sovereignty of God in salvation? and take up the LIFELONG query of how the Bible all fits together. All of us are engaged in that quest, and it will last till Jesus comes. But the atmosphere is so different among a group who do not any longer doubt that the Bible teaches sovereign grace but still want to know (with Mary), How can these things be?
1.4. Beware of being like the people in 2 Timothy 3:7 who are "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth." Delight in solutions; don't forever resist them as though it is noble to ever be the struggling skeptic.
1.5. Strive to become one who can instruct others in these things rather than assuming that you will always be the confused questioner.
1.6. "THINK over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything" (2 Timothy 2:7). Think! Think! Think! Think! Think!
1.7. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God" (James 1:5). Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray!
1.8. Remember that we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) and will be given more light by and by. Let us draw back from going beyond Scripture if we are tempted to impugn God. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right!" (Genesis 18:25).
2. God's Predestination and His Grief over Unbelief
Assuming that God has the right and power to call whom he pleases effectually to faith, how can it be consistent for God to pass over people and leave them in their sin and condemnation when Ezekiel 18:32 says, "For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God, so turn and live"? If God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but, in fact, Jesus weeps over the unbelief of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; 19:41–42), then why does he not effectually call them all? Or, turning it around, if he weeps over their unbelief, can we really believe that he has himself made the choice ahead of time who will believe and who will not?
2.1. First, we remind ourselves that Jesus said things even in Matthew and Luke that make his tears look puzzling; we are not forcing some strange doctrine onto Jesus.
2.1.1. Matthew 11:25–27—Jesus seems to rejoice that God has hid his meaning from certain wise ones in Israel.
2.1.2. Matthew 15:13—"Every plant that my Father has not planted will be rooted up."
2.1.3. Matthew 16:17—He says God reveals to Peter the true meaning of Christ.
2.1.4. Matthew 22:14—"Many are called but few are chosen."
2.1.5. Matthew 24:24—He refers to the elect who cannot possibly be led astray by the false prophets.
2.1.6. Luke 19:41–42—Right in the passage where Jesus is weeping he says, "But now they are hidden from your eyes." This is what he had said also in 18:34 and 9:45.
2.1.7. Both Matthew (13:10–17) and Luke (8:9–10) taught that the purpose of the parables was to conceal the truth of Jesus mission.
2.1.8. Deuteronomy 28:63 says, "And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you." This is apparently the opposite of Ezekiel 18:32. God does in some sense or in some circumstances delight in the death of the wicked!
From all this we do not throw the question out. We simply steady our hand so that we don't jump to unwarranted conclusions about the impossibility of grieving over the unbelief of Jerusalem and the death of the wicked on the one hand, and concealing the saving truth from them and delighting in their judgment on the other hand. We prepare ourselves for some complex and deep mind in God and in his Son.
2.2. Second, we consider the possibility that God has the capacity to will something in one sense that he disapproves of in another sense. We consider this because it seems to be the case again and again in Scripture, which is the only place we can find out clear and reliable things about God.
2.2.1. For example, God willed the death of his Son (Isaiah 53:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). Yet this was a terrible sin that Jesus should be killed. Did God delight in this occurrence or not? I think he did, insofar as he contemplated it as an act of redemption for the accomplishment of his wise and holy purposes. But I think that he did not delight in it insofar as he contemplated it as an act of sin in the intentions of the Pharisees and Pilate and Herod. He was angry and grieved.
From this I conclude that God's will is not a simple thing. He can will a thing in one sense and not will it in another sense. When we read that God wills a thing or that he does not will a thing; or when we read that he delights in a thing or that he has no delight in a thing, we must always be ready to admit that this simple statement of what he wills or delights in is not the whole story.
2.2.2. Take Ezekiel 18 and Deuteronomy 28, for example. Must we say that these are simply contradictory, or should we not say that in one sense God does delight in the judgment of the wicked (insofar as he contemplates the judgment in relation to the greatness of their wickedness and in relation to the preservation of his justice and glory and in relation to the other good things for other generations that will come from it, etc.), and in another sense he has no delight in the death of the wicked (insofar as he contemplates it narrowly as the destruction of his creature created in his image with potential for his praise and as a tactical victory of the evil one)?
2.2.3. Similarly with Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem. In one sense he is grieved as he considers the sin of the people, the dishonor of his Father, the loss of life in spite of the fact that they had had such great advantages in the Word of God. But in another sense he gives hearty approval of God's overarching design to suffer a temporary hardening and blindness to lie upon Israel. He even "rejoices in the Holy Spirit and says, 'I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for so it was well pleasing to thee.'" Whether he is weeping or rejoicing depends on the angle of vision, or on whether Jesus is contemplating the universality of things or the narrow nature of sin and death for itself in isolation.
2.2.4. Therefore, the numerous texts in the Bible that describe God willing and yearning that men and women be saved should not be ignored, or diluted. We should let them stand and, in fact, we should join God in his tears and longings. But then we should realize that the mind and heart of the infinite God are more complex than we may have at first thought and may indeed allow for another sense in which for good and wise purposes he ordains to come to pass what in itself he hates (like the death of his innocent Son).
2.2.5. This is the way that I would be inclined to understand the passages in 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 if the contexts of these passages did not provide a different solution—which I think they do.
188.8.131.52. 1 Timothy 2:4
"God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."
In all likelihood "all men" is not to be taken in an individual and universal sense since it probably does not mean this in verse 1 ("I urge that supplications . . . be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions"). It seems that "all men" refers to all stations and groups of men. All sorts and levels of men. So the point is that God is not willing that any group be excluded for salvation.
Moreover, in 2 Timothy 2:25 this phrase, "knowledge of the truth," occurs and the context shows that God is the one who gives repentance and a knowledge of the truth!
But IF all individuals are meant, then we must ask why all men are not saved. One theology says: because man has the power of final self-determination. Another theology says because God wills at another level to pass over some in election and effectual calling.
But note well. The former theology really implies that God has another will too: God really wills that there be a world in which there is self-determination, even though he knows that it will mean the loss of many people in destruction. That is, God wills a certain kind of world more than he wills to keep people from being lost.
This is just what I think too, only the world that I think God wills instead of willing to lose none is a world in which his purpose is to display his glory by the revelation of his power and wrath in judgment against the ungodly. I say that God prefers a world redounding to his glory instead of a world in which no one is lost. The other view says that God prefers a world with self-determining humans instead of a world in which no one is lost.
So both of us wind up saying that "God wills all men to be saved" really means salvation in itself is the right and beautiful thing when any one's personal duty and destiny is considered, but God wills not to save everyone because of a higher will that he has—then our answers to what that is part ways. Which is the biblical answer?
184.108.40.206. 2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
Again, as in 1 Timothy 2:4 it appears that the context limits the application of this divine wish. In this case it limits it to the church, or we might say to the elect. Note the use of the word YOU. "God is forbearing to YOU, not wishing that any should perish."
In other words, God aims to give enough time to the world so that all the elect will repent and be saved. Verse 14 seems to confirm this. Peter addresses the "beloved" and says, "Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation." That is, God is forbearing and not bringing history to a close because he wants all the "beloved" to repent and be saved.
2.3. For the question why God does not elect and effectually call all people to himself see Romans 9:22–23 and 11:30–32.
3. Prayer and Evangelism
If God has elected unconditionally and predestined those whom he elected and is effectually calling those whom he predestined, what is the point of praying and evangelizing?
3.1.1. Compare Ezekiel 36:9–10 with 36:37. On the one hand the re-population of Israel is promised. And on the other hand God says that he plans to (literally:) "be asked of" by the house of Israel. In other words, God wills that prayer be the occasion for the fulfillment of his promises.
3.1.2. It is not logically inconsistent to say that God will answer prayer and that he has decided before the world what shall take place. For the prayer itself is one of the things he has foreordained as a means of bringing about what he wills. He wills to do things through prayer so that we will be more conscious of our reliance on him and of his intimate involvement in the world (John 14:13—"that the Father may be glorified in the Son").
3.1.3. If God did not have the right and power to call effectually, what would you ask him to do for your unbelieving friends and family? How can you pray if you DON'T believe in the sovereignty of grace?
3.1.4. The persistent burden to pray for something, like revival or the conversion of a friend, is a good sign that God is moving to do something special. A movement of prayer usually precedes the great works of God, not because enough people have the power to twist the arm of the Almighty, but because God is pleased to prepare us to behold his work as a gift of grace and to cherish it dearly by having us plead for it so fervently.
Why engage in missions if people are already predestined to be saved, and the predestined cannot be lost?
3.2.1. God commanded us to (Matthew 28:18–20), and no amount of philosophical speculation should deter us.
3.2.2. God has ordained that his effectual call of the elect will happen through the preaching of the gospel and not without it (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5; 1 Corinthians 1:23–24; Romans 1:16; 10:14–17; Acts 26:16–18; 13:48; John 17:20; etc.).
3.2.3. It is impossible that the elect should be lost (Matthew 24:24). Nevertheless, people are lost because we don't evangelize and because we don't pray, who otherwise would be saved. For if we evangelized and prayed, we would give evidence that God had planned to save people. The upsurge of world evangelism and prayer is the sign that God is about do a great ingathering.
3.2.4. We should want to enjoy the thrill of being empowered by God as a channel of his saving grace. Not to evangelize because God has predestined is to be like the man who chooses to stay in bed because he says if God had predestined him to get out, he would get out.
3.2.5. The effectual call of God based on God's eternal election is an encouragement for missions (Acts 18:10; John 10:16; 11:52; 17:20).
The doctrines of sovereign grace are not overthrown by problems in Scripture. They stand firm and are the precious foundation of our deepest hopes.
4.1. They give hope to our prayer life that God can and will break through where it looks humanly impossible.
4.2. They give hope to our evangelism that God will not only give us the strength to persevere in missions, but also that God will effectually call his own from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.
4.3. They sever the root of all boasting and pride and self-reliance, both toward God and toward man, and put in the place of pride a lowly walk that is continually stunned that it was chosen to be saved.
4.4. They guarantee the right and ability of God to fulfill the promises of the New Covenant—to give us a new heart, and write his law on our heart, and cause us to walk in his statutes and love and fear him all our days.
4.5, They give us deep security that could not be enjoyed if we believed that God simply designed a general way of salvation with no particular persons in view and left it finally up to us who would belong to this salvation.
4.6. They insure that the work of the ministry is both indispensable and undefeatable (2 Timothy 2:10).
4.7. They reveal the true nature of grace and the true desperation of our plight without it. So God gets all the glory and we are moved to worship him and love as never before.