God All in All
DO YOU BELIEVE ALL of God’s Word? When I first came to know God I went to the meetings of the “Plymouth Brethren” and learned many a precious truth from them which, at that time, was almost unknown in the nominal churches. The Lord’s coming, the need of “rightly dividing,” a little as to the body of Christ, the difference between the church and the kingdom–these all found a place in my heart and mind at the very beginning of my life of faith. But I also received warnings against “non-eternity,” and “soul-sleep,” and “universalism,” to which I gave due heed.
At that early date my life course was determined by the acquisition of Wigram’s Concordances. Next to the Scriptures, they have been of the greatest value in my spiritual development.
These give a list of each word in Greek or Hebrew and all of its occurrences in English. This has been my lexicon, for the usage of a word is the only safe index of its meaning. These also showed how discordant our English translation is and led me to go back to the original.
The Brethren claimed to be unsectarian, but when I persisted in having fellowship with all of good conduct in the body of Christ they put me out, though this was the original basis on which their movement was founded. This proved a great blessing, for I was now free to believe what is in God’s Word apart from all religious restraint.
I had two objects before me: to believe all of God’s Word, and to suffer the persecution which must necessarily follow. I was conscious that there were quite a few texts in the Word which made me uncomfortable. I knew the so-called “explanations,” but they appeared to be only a form of unbelief.
The salvation of all troubled me from the very first. The Brethren changed God wills all men to be saved, to God wishes, but my concordance showed me that it was the Brethren who wished it so, not God. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. They also altered “the Saviour of all” to “the Preserver of all.” Since it was necessary for them to corrupt God’s Word on this theme it was clear that they did not have the truth. Romans five and First Corinthians fifteen and Colossians one contained statements which I could not believe because they contradicted many other passages dealing with the fate of unbelievers. It was only after the truth as to the eonian times was opened up to me that I was able to exult in their glorious unfoldings.
I now found myself able to accept and approve of those statements in the Bible which stumble so many saints, and cause so much unbelief, which may be concentrated in the one case of Pharaoh. God hardened his heart, and will judge him for doing that which he was forced to do. Is this right?
Not only that, but God was greatly glorified by Pharaoh’s opposition. How then can He judge him? A believer in eternal torment finds it impossible to charge God with such an atrocity, and refuses to believe it, or “explains” it away. But once we see God’s ultimate and that judgment, in God’s Word, sets matters right, all is clear and acceptable. God’s glory demands expression. Pharaoh, earth’s highest, is the best means. He is too soft, so he must be hardened. Eventually, at the consummation, he will be reconciled. But that is not possible until he has realized the enormity of his sins, and suffered their just penalty, set by God Who is just, not vindictive.
But even then I was not satisfied. There were still passages in God’s Word which did not receive my hearty acquiescence. I had a horror of implicating God in sin, so how could I echo the apostle’s words “all is out of Him” (Rom.11:36)? All out of Him–the evil, the misery, the opposition to His will? Yet the passage itself insists that He locks up all in stubbornness (Rom.11:32). Other passages, such as the sixth of Isaiah, boldly tell us that He blinds men’s eyes so that they cannot see. Pharaoh’s is no isolated case. It is very evident that God uses these things in order that His glory may be manifested. Is it then God’s will that men should sin? That cannot be. What is sin?
Once I found out that sin is failure, I saw that I had been making God the greatest of all sinners, so long as I believed that He could not save all, or that He had not been able to keep sin out of the universe, or that it was contrary to His purpose. Failure is sin, and if we imagine that God has failed in any particular we make Him the Sinner of sinners. God will not fail, and has not failed.
The first thought which came to me then was, “shall we, then, do evil that good may come?” Never! But immediately I was reminded that this is the very charge that was hurled at Paul! Could there be any better proof that I was on the right track? God does evil that good may come, for He is wise and powerful and loving. But men are foolish and weak and hateful, so cannot use evil, except in the most limited degree. A father may be trusted to put his child’s finger near enough to the hot stove so as to teach it to fear the fire, for he loves the child. Otherwise it is a most dangerous and erroneous doctrine. But God is not a man. That is the trouble with theology. It is always deifying man and humanizing God.
So it was that I arrived at my goal: to believe all of God’s Word and to suffer persecution like Paul. He was falsely charged with teaching men to do evil (Rom.3:5-8), and he was reproached for saying that God is the Saviour of all mankind (1 Tim.4:10).
But, above all, I now have a real God, Whom I can worship and adore without the least reservation. He harms, but He heals, and both together, the harming as well as the healing, is a blessing to His creatures as well as a glory to Himself.
It is our object to lead our readers to this same goal, where they can accept all of God’s words and give Him all the adoration of their hearts.
THE PROCESS AND THE GOAL
GOD HAS A GOAL. He intends to become All in all His creatures (1 Cor.15:28). He will accomplish this by way of reconciling all His enemies by the blood of Christ’s cross, by justifying, vivifying, and saving all mankind at the consummation (Col.1:20; Rom.5:18; 1 Cor.15:22; 1 Tim.2:4; 4:10). But before this there is a long and painful preparatory process, a weary way which leads His creatures to this consummation, much of which seems as dark and distressing as the goal is bright and filled with blessing.
Almost all of us are short-sighted. We see a part of the way but we do not see the end. We confuse the going with the goal. Our Bible translations are partly to blame, for they fail to clearly mark the fleeting nature of the process, as it is in the original languages. And if an honest attempt is made to carry this across in a concordant version, it clashes with our conventions and our hard hearts. God grant that we may faithfully witness, in our renderings, when God reveals an absolute fact concerning God and His purpose, and when it is only a temporary process, for this He has clearly indicated in the ancient manuscripts.
Judgment is God’s strange work. He uses it on the way. Men make it the end. No matter how an unbeliever is dealt with, whether he dies as a result of sin, or by the direct intervention of God, whether he be cast into outer darkness or into Gehenna, this is not his end. All who do not belong to Christ will be roused from the dead and judged before the great white throne. There they are not forgiven, or saved, but judged. But this is not their end. All these will be cast into the lake of fire, to suffer the second death. Even this is not their end. God does not reach His goal in any of His disciplinary measures. These only prepare His creatures for it. Let us not confuse the going with the goal.
Very little is said to us about God’s goal until Paul completes the orbit of God’s Word with his later revelations. Hints there have always been by which hearts in tune with God have been filled with high hopes. But it is not until the meridian sun of God’s grace has come from behind the clouds of sin and law, to reveal the deepest recesses of God’s immanent love to the most undeserving of the race, it is not until the truth for the present was made known that God tore aside the veil of the future completely, and gave us an unclouded view of His ultimate. Once we revel in this we will never go back to previous revelation on this theme, for like the curtain of the tabernacle, it seems to hide, rather than reveal the full blaze of the Shekinah glory.
The usual way is to view the goal in the darkness of the way. We go back to passages which deal with judgments and allow them to throw their dark shadows across the consummation. We should believe that God will justify all mankind (Rom.5:18), and view the previous judgments in the light of this final achievement. We bring up passages which tell of death, to darken God’s declaration that it will be abolished. We should believe that God will make death inoperative at the last, and view the previous passages in this glorious light. We turn to tests which prove that unbelievers will be lost or destroyed, and, with these passages, dim the great declaration that God wills the salvation of all. We should illumine them with the later and higher revelation. We find God’s enemies in the fiery lake at what seems to be the close of revelation, and misuse this fact to deny God’s declaration that all will be reconciled (Col.1:20). We should not take one to destroy the other, but believe both, for reconciliation follows estrangement, and it alone accords with God’s final goal.
How perverse and blind have we often been! When God says all, we have said some. When God speaks of a very small fraction of mankind, such as the living nations who stand before Christ to be judged according to their treatment of Israel (cf Matt.25:31-46)–a mere handful as compared with all mankind–then we make their sentence hopeless and extend it to all! Faith has almost fled from the earth. What calls itself faith is mostly a masquerade, for it refuses God’s Word for the traditions of men, yet insists that it is genuine.
Let us allow the light of the latest revelation to illumine the earlier, partial unfolding, and let us not use the earlier to eclipse the latest, the highest, and the only complete unveiling of God’s mind and heart.
Why should we be Jonahs, sitting under our withered gourd, furious because God does not fulfill the word which we have proclaimed. What about the truthfulness of God’s Word? Must it not be upheld? Would it not make God a liar if He repented and did not overturn Nineveh in forty days? The idea that God has a heart as well as a mouth, and had compassion on the creatures He has made was heresy in Jonah’s eyes. Are we not far worse than Jonah? He actually had to take back God’s express declaration. We need only retract our own false inferences from it, dictated by the heart altogether out of harmony with His loving goal, which our dim eyes have failed to discern, even though it is written in letters of gold across the horizon of the far off future, and is clearly visible to every heart which has been humbled by His grace, and which beats in unison with His love. God grant that we are no Jonahs!
GOD ALL IN US
MOST DELIGHTFUL is it to contemplate that distant day when God will be All in all. Because of the unbelief of Christendom we are prone to emphasize the second all, and rightly insist that it admits of no exceptions. Every creature of His hand will then be close to His heart. Yet we should not confine our contemplations to the number alone, but also maintain the full meaning of the first All. God will not occupy a small fraction of our lives, nor even half or three-fourths. He will be everything to us. There will be nothing in our experience that will not be divine. Every occurrence, each incident, large or small, important or trivial, will come to us consciously as a gratuity given by God, and it will bring a constant response of adoring worship.
GOD SOMETHING IN ALL
Perhaps it would not be too much to say that God is something in everyone in this life. Even the unbeliever and the atheist, especially in their earlier years, have at least a tinge of God-consciousness, especially when overwhelmed with sudden terror or dismay. But it is not until He reveals Himself to His chosen, that they begin to realize the part He plays in their lives, and that He becomes the focus of their consciousness. At first this may be very weak, but, as they become mature, He takes a larger and larger place in their experience. The heathen have idols made by human hands. Let us beware lest we also worship a deity who is not and will not be our all, made by human heads.
GOD ALL IN SALVATION
In these days the standard question which is pressed upon the unbeliever is, “What must I do to be saved?” This leaves the impression that the sinner must have a hand in his salvation. He must repent, or reform, or join the church. Even Paul’s reply to the Philippian warden, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31) is distorted, as though it were a meritorious deed, when, in fact, it is of faith that it may accord with grace, not with works (Rom.4:16). And the faith is that of God’s chosen (Titus 1:1). Salvation is all of God. It begins with His choice before the disruption (Eph.1:4), which eventuates in His call and justification and glorification (Rom.8:30). Nothing is left to us. He alone gave His Son, the sacrifice that saves. May we add nothing to it!
GOD ALL IN LIFE
But the believer need not wait until that day. As he matures he will gradually realize that God is All to him now. At first he seeks to inject himself and his will, and the unknown god of chance into the affairs of life. Then he begins to see that God is in all the great crises, the important decisions. But finally he wakes to the fact that everything, no matter what its size or duration, is under God’s control. All space and that which fills it is subject to the Great Disposer. All time and every event that occurs in it is planned and put in its appearance when God wills. God is our all, in things great and small! So we anticipate the glorious goal to which He is guiding His universe. May this be the precious portion of all who have partaken of His peace!
A. E. Knoch
The preceding studies are adapted from three editorials appearing in Unsearchable Riches, vol.24, pp.65-69; vol.26, pp.131-134; and vol.42, pp.225,226.
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