God and Christ
“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 God’s 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 Deity.
Under 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 God’s 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.
That 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.
The 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 God’s 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 Lord’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 eonian times.
But 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 God’s 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 God’s operation. It originated in God, not in ourselves. We are only creatures. He alone is the Creator.
Almost 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s. 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.
The 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
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