Saturday, September 4, 2010

God's Handling of the Reprobate

We have studied a lot recently about how God shows mercy to the elect. It is by His grace alone that we are brought into His Kingdom. There is another side to this equation, which is the judgment God shows the reprobate. The reprobate may be the reprobate for one of two reasons (besides that God has willed it). The first is that the Word may have been hidden from them. The example Calvin uses is with the Gentiles for the 4,000 years preceding Christ. The other reason is that they may have heard the Word, but God may have hardened their hearts to refuse it. Calvin writes, "he leaves in blindness those whom he has once condemned and deprived of participation in his light... If the same sermon is preached, say, to a hundred people, twenty receive it with the ready obedience of faith, while the rest hold it valueless, or laugh, or hiss, or loathe it." It is God who allows us to not only hear His Word, but to have the heart to receive it.

Calvin asks why God may show mercy to some and judgment to others. He answers his own question by quoting Augustine, "God could turn the will of evil men to good because he is almighty. Obviously he could. Why, then, does he not? Because he wills otherwise. Why he wills otherwise rests with him." Calvin says that this is far more adequate than what Chrysostom taught. Chrysostom taught that "him who is willing and stretches out his hand God draws to himself." Calvin immediately responds, "Otherwise, the distinction would seem to lie not in God's judgment but solely in men's decision." It is God's judgment and not the decision of man. My question is why do people who claim that God is sovereign insist that we have the power to overrule His will by choosing or denying Him? God sometimes sends His Word to those whom He wishes to increase their blindness. For instance, He sent Moses to Pharaoh knowing that He would also harden his heart to make him not receptive to His Word. God illumines the hearts of those He wishes to make His own. He obscures His Word from those He wills to reject. But, "For however much obscurity there may be in the Word, there is still always enough light to convict the conscience of the wicked."

God chooses to harden the hearts of some. We are told that plainly in Scripture. We might ask why He does this. "The fact that the reprobate do not obey God's Word when it is made known to them will be justly charged against the malice and depravity of their hearts, provided it be added at the same time that they have been given over to this depravity because they have been raised up by the just but inscrutable judgment of God to show forth his glory in their condemnation." Calvin notes that certain impious individuals may accuse God of being abusive to His creatures purely for His own amusement by judging them when He hardened their hearts. Simply put, "the wicked suffer nothing out of accord with God's most righteous judgment." God is righteous in everything He does, therefore, when He convicts the wicked, it is with perfect reason.

There are some Scripture passages which seem to contradict that God chooses some for His judgment. The first one that Calvin highlights is Ezekiel 33:11, "Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’" Ezekiel is telling the Israelites not that God gets pleasure from condemning the wicked, but it is part of God's design to assure believers that God will pardon them as soon as they repent of their sins. Also, it is so that the wicked will understand that their sins are doubled because they did not respond to God's goodness.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 states, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." One must look at the previous two verses to better understand what it means for God to desire that "all men" be saved. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," (1 Timothy 2:1-4, New King James Version). Calvin writes, "By this (vs 3-4), Paul surely means only that God has not closed the way unto salvation to any order of men (such as the kings and all who are in authority in verse 2); rather, he has so poured out his mercy that he would have none without it."

In the final section, Calvin tells us that "When we receive the promises in faith, we know that then and only then do they become effective in us." He then discusses the fact that illumination of God's Word is also part of His election. "Therefore, since God's mercy is offered to both sorts of men through the gospel, it is faith - the illumination of God - that distinguishes between pious and impious, so that the former feel the working of the gospel, while the latter derive no profit from it."

One final note: we are not able to understand God's justice. A common objection to the doctrine of election is that "that's not fair." In the words of my mother when any of her children complained about anything not being fair, "Life's not fair and if it were we would all be burning in the bad place!" Augustine said it a little differently, "they who measure divine justice by the standard of human justice are acting perversely."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.25.1-3.25.4

No comments:

Post a Comment

Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf