I WILL BE TO THEM FOR A GOD, says Yahweh to Israel under the new covenant.
Under the old covenant He had neglected them, but under the new He will impart His
laws to their comprehension, and inscribe them on their hearts (Heb.8:9,10). The old
covenant left obedience to their own will, or determination, or choice. We are often told
that this is absolutely necessary in order to produce conduct acceptable to God. Force,
coercion or compulsion is said to rob obedience of all moral value. If this is so, how can
we explain Gods making a new covenant which determines the obedience of Israel
thousands of years before they are even born? Why does He do away with the old covenant,
if it alone had the one feature which gives value to obedience? Being a God to Israel
seems to express the difference between the two covenants. As God He does the determining,
the controlling, and leaves nothing to contingency or choice. That is the function of the
the old covenant Israel failed utterly because God neglected them and allowed them
to choose for themselves and to exercise their own self-determination. But, except where
God wrought by His spirit, they did the behests of the flesh (Eph.2:3), not the
will of God. Because there was no inward compulsion to do Gods will, they were drawn
away from Him, not by their own choice or determination, but by other forces beyond
their control. What was the result of this apparent liberty to choose? Romans (3:10-12)
sums it up for us. Instead of all or some choosing God, all avoid Him. Instead of
freedom of choice giving value to obedience, it opens the sluice-gates to disobedience.
Man is not free to choose His own way. He is either the dupe of evil forces or subject to
God. And he will always sin apart from the divine determination.
is what the old covenant should teach us, especially when we contrast it with the new. The
question is, what is more agreeable to God, the old covenant, with its tables of stone and
Israel apparently free to follow her own inclinations, or the new, where obedience is a
foregone conclusion, so that it is determined beforehand by writing the law on their
hearts? So-called freedom in man is only a nice way of expressing his separation from God.
He is abandoned to evil influences from within and without, which lead him to oppose the
will of God. He cannot please God until he is subject to God, which is the only true
freedom for a creature.
old covenant was an enigma. In order to put the people on trial, God based blessing on
obedience. He knew that they would not obey. But they did not know this, and real
blessing depends on the knowledge that they could not and would not do His
will. So it was necessary, for their sakes, and for all His creatures, that the matter be
demonstrated by experiment. When left to choose for himself, man does not, under any
circumstances, delight God by free and unforced obedience. Yet God was often pleased
with the obedience of those whom He chose. Those who are in the flesh, apart from
the power of Gods spirit, are not able to please Him (Rom.8:8). Only the chosen, the
elect, are His delight. All the rest use their apparent self-determination to disobey and
rebel against Him.
THE APOSTLES DID NOT CHOOSE CHRIST
Our Lords apostles are doubtless the best examples of
the question of choice. If anyone chose Him, then they did, for they left all and followed
Him. Probably they themselves looked at it in this way. But our Lord disillusioned them,
and told them plainly, You did not choose Me, but I chose you (John
15:16). This applies to all of the disciples, for He declared that no one could
come to Him except the Father draw him (John 6:44). Christ knew that no one would
come to Him of their own will and determination. They must be drawn. At times it
seems almost as if they were forced, as in the case of the apostle Paul, in whom
the truth shines more clearly than with the rest. He was determined to oppose God, yet was
practically compelled to yield to Him. Was not his conversion of far greater glory to God
and more pleasing to Him than if he had made up his own mind to turn to God?
THE FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY
How could God foretell the future if He did not have absolute
control of His creatures? How could there be a millennium if He allowed each Israelite to
choose whether to serve Him or not? If they had this choice, and had not His law written
on their hearts, what would keep them from repeating their sad history of declension and
rebellion? If God does not determine beforehand just what His creatures shall do,
prediction would be impossible, and prophecy mere guess-work. It would be futile to talk
about future bliss, and there would be no consummation but chaos. It is not that men may
turn against God and refuse to fall in line with His purpose, but that they will do
this if left to themselves. Even in the millennium those nations which are not under the
direct control of God turn against Him at its close.
THE WILL THAT DELIGHTS GOD
In His later and higher revelations God no longer speaks in
enigmas, but tells us plainly how He operates and what delights Him. In Philippians the
curtain is drawn aside and we are shown His method with His saints. In us He is operating
to will as well as to work for His delight (Phil.2:13). Let none of us think that,
if we use our own will, this will please Him. It is only when He operates in us through
His Word and spirit that we can do works for His delight He does not depend upon us to
choose the right of ourselves, or to will what accords with His wishes, for that would
only be the operation of the flesh or the influence of evil spirits, and these are opposed
to Him. So He displaces them and makes up our minds for us, so that our will coincides
with His. And then He does the work through us. Being His will and His work,
it is not merely acceptable to Him, but a positive delight. We are not conscious of
coercion but rather of fellowship and agreement. We are delighted when we do His will and
not our own.
One of the most precious passages in Gods Word on the
subject of human self-determination follows a restatement of the grounds of our salvation
in accord with the transcendent grace of Ephesians. We are saved in grace, through faith.
It is not out of us. It is Gods oblation. It is not out of works lest
anyone should be boasting. His achievement are we, being created in Christ
Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be
walking in them (Eph.2:7-10). If we will heed the words which we have italicized, it will
be seen that our salvation and all our good works do not originate in us, or in our will
or determination in any way. We will not be able to boast that the choosing was ours, for
God chose us long before we were born. No act of ours could put us in Christ Jesus before
God wishes to boast. He desires to display in us what He can do, so He created
us in Christ Jesus. No stronger figure could be used to show that it was done without the
least help on our part. Did Adam choose or determine or will to be created? Was his
cooperation necessary? Would it have pleased the Creator to win his consent? Was the moral
value of Gods act destroyed because He acted arbitrarily, compelling Adam to be
created without his expressed permission? Was God indifferent to him or displeased because
he had not acquiesced in his own creation? Such is the figure used of us. Before we were
created in Christ Jesus we were quite as incapable of cooperating as Adam. Whatever
conscious experience we may have had when believing was all, a result of Gods
operation. It originated in God, not in ourselves. We are only creatures. He alone is the
all of us are inclined to look upon our good works as the product of our very own private
volition, for so it seems to our consciousness. We imagine that here, at least, God leaves
us to ourselves, so that we may will and work to please Him. And we take credit for these,
as something that we accomplish without Gods intervention. But this idea vanishes
when we see that God made ready our good works beforehand. First they originate in
Him, and He it is who puts them into our hearts and hands. We will be rewarded for them,
of course. But how much greater will be our thankfulness when we find ourselves commended
for that which really came from Him and was wrought in us and through us by His power
alone! And what a delight it will be to God to see His achievement in us! We are
not our own achievement, but His!
ALL IN ALL
The touchstone of any teaching is its relation to Gods
ultimate, the object that is to be attained through the eonian times, the final result at
the consummation. That God will be All in all, very few, even of His saints, fully grasp.
We are thankful for those who believe the second all. What we have been considering
makes it possible for us to believe the first. In Ephesians and Philippians He is on the
way to be All in His saints. He wills and works in them. When they are vivified this will
become true in fullest measure. The mere possibility of opposing Gods will is then
no longer present. Then we will know the full meaning of the title, God, the DISPOSER.
There is no freedom worthy of the name in doing our own will. It is found only in
conformity with Gods. At the consummation all of His creatures will give Him
His true place in their hearts and in their lives. He will become their All. No one
will determine aught but God. There will be no coercion, for there will be no opposition.
He will draw them to Himself and all will be subject to Him, the only normal and
natural and agreeable state for a creature, in relation to his Creator.
term Disposer gives us the essential idea of the Hebrew and Greek titles for God.
He alone is the One Who has any right to will or to determine. Our place is to be subject.
It is the work of the Son to bring all into subjection. Even He Himself will take that
place. It is the task of the eons to bring this about. Do we know God as the Disposer, who
throughout the maze of human history, notwithstanding all the evil and sin that threatens
to destroy His universe, will draw all to Himself at the blessed consummation? And do we
know Him as our God, who alone enables us to approach and worship Him when we ourselves
could not and would not? Oh that we could learn that we are nothing and that He is
our All! Then, and not till then, will we fully realize that we also have a God!
A. E. Knoch