There was one morning you did not at all feel like getting up out of bed. Perhaps you had not slept well, or perhaps the atmosphere was heavy. At any rate, you did not want to get up. But the alarm had rung, and as you needed all your time before going off to work, you had to will to get up. Yes, in life there are many things we do not want to do, but there is no way out of them. We require to make up our minds, and will to do them. I myself, for over forty long years, six days a week, have had to make up my mind to perform work, which, if I were left to my own wishes, I would not want to do. Every day a sense of duty urges you to do many things which are not the real things you would rather want to do.
Or what about that day you were with some friends, and you all decided, determined, and willed, to have a meal together. But you, yourself, did not really want that meal, because you were not hungry.
It was very different with starving Peter, that day he had been up on the housetop to pray (Acts 10:10) and had become ravenous. Often it is best to pray when one is empty, or when one is very ready for sleep. And real supplication can be a struggle, and exhausting. At any rate, Peter was very hungry. But how shall we describe his natural reactions? We might do so in different ways:
Peter desired to taste food. Peter wished to taste food.
Peter willed (that is, determined) to taste food.
Peter was willing (that is, agreeable) to taste food.
Peter wanted to taste food.
Peter did not need to "make up his mind" regarding his needs. There was more than mere desire present with him. He was more than willing to eat. It was more than a wish that he experienced. Peter wanted to taste food. There can be no doubt that is the best translation. Any child in the same situation would cry, "I want something to eat," and would not use the other terms. The English word WANT expresses well the need and the desire.
Let us, then, examine the Greek word thelO, which occurs over 200 times in the New Testament, and its noun thelEma, which is found about 60 times. In the Authorized Version (King James) the verb is rendered 98 times by will, 70 times by would, 13 times by desire, 10 times by will have or would have, and three times by list. The noun is rendered 62 times by will, once by desire and once by pleasure. Other versions render the verb occasionally by wish, desire, choose, and even determine. In the Concordant Version, the noun is always rendered by will, but, strange to say, the verb is in no fewer than 120 cases rendered by want, and only in 96 cases by will or would. The definition given is, "form a decision, choice or purpose." While the standard is WILL, the "idiomatic" rendering is want. Now, that the idiomatic meaning is want is very evident. I should say it is the best English equivalent. But the definition can hardly be correct. That of Webster, in his "Syntax and Synonyms of the Greek Testament," seems superior. "ThelO" denotes a natural impulse or desire, the ground of which is generally obvious, or for which it is unnecessary to assign a reason." Dr. Bullinger is substantially similar.
It will be seen at once that the whole question of what is God's "will" requires reconsideration when it is seen that the real idiomatic meaning of the verb is "want." It is both misleading and inconsistent to render at John 7:17 by "If anyone should be wanting thelE) to be doing His will (thelEma)." The sense must either be, if anyone may WILL to be doing His WILL, or, if anyone may WANT to do what He WANTS. Unfortunately, idiom forbids us to say, if anyone may want to be doing His want (or wants). Here I shall ask you some very pointed questions. Can you, as a disciple of the Lord, WILL, or purpose, or determine, to be doing His will? Does your freewill extend so far? Can you WILL to follow behind the Lord? (Matt. 16:24). Can you WILL to save your soul? (Matt. 16:25). Can you WILL to enter into the life? (Matt. 19:17). Can you WILL to be perfect? (Matt. 19:21). Did the Canaanitish woman of Matt. 15:28 obtain her extraordinarily bold request through WILLING or WILL power? "O woman, great of-such-as-you the faith! Let it be done to you as you are wanting." (Note: we suggest "of-such-as" for pronouns which precede their nouns, as here; this seems to be the form of emphasis required. Instead of "Let it come to be with you" we suggest "Let it be done to you," as the verb is passive. We cannot in English say, "Let it be-being-becomed to you." But as poiO (DO, make) shews no passives, it is reasonable to believe that these are supplied by the verb ginomai, here found in the Passive).
I shall cite another case which shews how we might be misled. "How many times do I want (EthelEsa) to assemble your children. . . and you will not "EthelEsate). At first sight we should certainly reckon that Jerusalem determined deliberately not to be gathered as described. Yet in each case the meaning is nothing more than "want." Did the Lord, many a time, merely express a wish to gather Jerusalem's children, while the inhabitants deliberately WILLED not? Or suppose that we read it thus, "How many times do I WILL to assemble your children. . . " (Matt. 23:37). If the Lord did so WILL, did He fail? Was He frustrated?
But how could the Lord have willed to gather together these children at that time, in view of the facts He made known just about that time contained in ch. 21 of Luke? In that chapter he details certain events which even now are still in the future (verses 10 and 11). Then, from verse 12 to verse 24 are many events which were to come "before all these" things stated in verses 10 and 11. We might say, Yes, 1900 years before them at least. All the events from verse 12 to the middle of verse 24 pertain to the first century, and have been fulfilled. Then in verse 24 (middle) we have the period between the destruction of the City and the present. "And Jerusalem will be (a City) trodden by (hupo, UNDER-by) Gentiles until what time may be fulfilled seasons of Gentiles." This cuts out any hope of a Hebrew Kingdom in the first century. We cannot place the events of verses 12 to 24 anywhere but in the first century, and these events were impending, inevitably, over the Nation during the whole period of the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore the Lord never willed to gather Israel at that time. But the time is coming when He shall will to accomplish what He has always wanted to do. And Israel shall then both will and want to be His true children, for they shall enter upon the life of the ages.
Could we say that the Scribes and Pharisees willed to see a sign, or merely wanted to see one? (Matt. 12:38). Mark helps us by telling us that they were seeking a sign (8:11).
When the disciples were being tortured by a hurricane, while trying to row across the lake (John 6:21), Jesus approached them, and according to the A. V., "they willingly received him into the ship." The R. V. says, "They were willing therefore to receive him into the boat." These statements, however, might almost imply that the disciples were conceding something, or obliging the Lord. There was more than mere willingness. The C. V. shews the proper sense, "They wanted, then, to take Him into the ship." Perhaps they felt that with a Man on board who could walk on the lake during such a storm, they would be safe.
Both the A. V. and the C. V. say that Pilate was willing to release Jesus (Luke 23:20). The R. V. says he was desiring to do so. But the proper sense is that Pilate was wanting to release Him. Pilate, however, was overruled by the mob.
The wind bloweth where it listeth (John 3:8). But did you ever know that the wind had a will of its own? And a will that is very erratic and fickle? But why not render literally, "The Spirit—just where He is wanting (thelei) is blowing (or, spiriting), and His voice thou art hearing." It would be very strange if the wind had almost unlimited free-will, while human beings had next to none. Was there not a time when God's spirit blew strangely upon us, for the first time, and we heard His voice? And does He not still blow upon us daily and stir us?
We now approach the noun form (thelEma, will), so often used of God. Occurring over 60 times in the N. T. Strange to say, just as the Hebrew word olam, when used of God, was always rendered by a word expressive of eternity, but when used of human beings, was translated by a term expressing very limited duration, so this noun is almost invariably rendered by "will." No one hitherto, it would appear, has had the temerity to suggest that the real meaning is merely what God wants. We have been trained to regard God's will as a fiat, fixed and firm and final; something inevitable and inflexible, ineludible and ineluctable.
And there are some who would tell us that everything which happens is God's will, even things which God does not want.
Let us, then, test this doctrine, as the matter is of vast importance.
If there is but one thing in the world that is not of God, then it does not require much proof that all things are not of God. If but one thing is not God's will, then there may be other things which are likewise.
Matthew tells us (18:14) in very simple language, that "it is not a will (i. e., something willed or wanted) in front of your Father—Him in heavens, that there may be lost one of these little ones." Can we aver, however, that no children are ever lost? God declares that He does not want this to happen. Or has He willed or purposed that this shall never happen?
So far in this discussion the pregnant and profound facts set forth in most categorical language by James in ch. 1:12-15 do not appear to have been honestly faced. The pernicious doctrine that everything comes out from God blasts itself against this solid rock. Because this brief passage has been more or less ignored, Scripture has been set against Scripture, with very baneful results. Passages have been made to state far more than they mean, while these verses in James have been shunned. "Happy is a man" (anEr) says James, "who is enduring trial (peirasmos), seeing that, becoming qualified (dokimos) he will be obtaining the wreath of life, which He promises to those loving Him. Let no one, being tried (peirazomenos), be saying that, 'From God I am being tried,' for God is not triable (or, to be tried; apeirastos) by evils, yet is Himself trying no one."
This statement is perfectly clear. The trial or probing is not from God. What is from God is the "testing" (dokimion) of faith which follows the trials (verses 2 and 3) and the "becoming qualified" of verse 12. "Now each one is being tried, by his own desire (epithumia; lust or overstrong desire), being drawn away and lured. Thereafter, the desire, conceiving, is bringing forth sin. Now the sin, being fully consummated, is teeming forth death. Be not deceived, my loveable brethren." Thereupon, James goes on to tell what it is that comes down from the Father of lights, good and perfect gifts.
Here we find the origin of human sins. These spring from immoderate desires, such as those Paul describes in I Tim. 6:9, which plunge men into complete ruin and lostness.
God is testing you, in the sense that He purges out the dross. He tests you until you are attested. He proves you until you are approved. That is the sense of the Greek word dokimazO, which is never used of the Adversary. He refines no one.
But let us believe with all our heart what James tells us, that God never tries us in the sense of the Greek word peirazO(C. V. PROBize, try, trial). This is the term used of the Adversary trying or tempting Christ and human beings, and of the Pharisees trying Christ. Men may want to try God, but He is not to be tried. That is the sense of the word apeirastos, which is different from the word found in Heb. 5:13, "untried" (apeiros).
Paul does not state, in I Cor. 10:12, 13, that he who falls through pride into a trial is being tried by God. Paul does tell us, however, that those who do enter such a trial can count upon God's faithfulness, for He will be making, together with the trial, the outcome or sequel, to enable it to be undergone. A careless reading of the verse might lead one to assume that God made the trial and the sequel at one and the same time.
Trench, in his most valuable book, The Synonyms of the N. T., shows that this word "try" (peirazO is used of those who are made to appear what they have always been. The word is related to our word ex-per-ience, and he says it means properly no more than to make an experience of; to pierce or search into. Satan's object in trying or "tempting" human beings is to shew up any defects. God's object in testing His own people is to shew up what is sterling and get rid of the dross.
Only in one case (John 6:6) are we told that the Lord ever tried anyone. He tried Philip with regard to the food required to feed the multitude. But this term is never used of God trying anyone.
Superficially, it might appear as though "the hour of the trial" which is about to be coming on the whole inhabited earth, to try those dwelling on the earth, will be sent directly from God. This, however, is not stated. On the contrary, "to be coming" stands in the Greek Middle Voice (erchesthai, not elthein), which proves that that dread hour will come of itself, as the natural effect of men's sins. When human crimes increase unduly, the crisis comes.
Is it not true, that sinful men and women, by their almost incredible indifference to the Living God, produce their own trials? Just at this point someone has a question. What about Matt. 6:13? "Lead us not into temptation" (or trial). Does not that look as though it were possible for God to lead us into trial? Does not God probe us to shew up our ugly spots, our defects? This is a verse which worries everyone who reads it. It seems so out of place, especially when the Lord's Prayer is recited.
The solution is to be found in a proper translation. It ought to read, "And Thou mayest not bring us into trial." The verb form is an Aorist Subjunctive, not an Imperative like the preceding words.
There are some things that God may not do. This is one of them. He may not and does not try men to expose them and their defects. For these reasons we stoutly enter an objection to an article in the magazine "Unsearchable Riches" for May, 1938, entitled "Further Enigmas." Therein it is maintained that God "is trying or probing mankind," exactly what James has told us God does not do! It is stated that God can only attain His purposes with man "by trying him, or putting him into positions where his actions could expose his inmost heart." "Now that we know these things, how marvelously exact is every word that God has spoken! We cannot point to a single syllable and say that it is misleading."
This last statement is undoubtedly true. But we may be sure that it is not James who is misleading us. Let us believe God and His revelation implicitly. We do not claim that this tragic error is deliberate. We are sure it is not. Most probably it is due to forgetfulness. It is easy to overlook certain scriptures, especially when we have set our heart on proving a theory which we find attractive. While we do not lose sight of the fact that the Hebrew contains terms which mean trying, testing and refining, and while the O. T. does speak of God trying human beings, there is no term which corresponds with our Greek word peirazO, in the sense of shewing up a man's blemishes.
If, in fact, God is seeking to probe into human hearts today, and expose their inmost defects, it would seem He is meeting with very little success, apart from believers. The proper time for mankind to see themselves as they are will be when the Great White Throne is in session.
But let us get away from all this miserable introspection. God has not made man, in His own image too, in order to paint him black, to crush him, to expose sins and weaknesses for which he is not really responsible. God has made man in order that He may bring man to perfection, and shew forth mankind, His own race and kin, to the whole universe, as His glory.
To some it may seem that it is obvious apostasy to claim that all is not out of God. But James has shewn us that these temptation-trials are not from Him. The real apostates are they who disbelieve James.
Here is a question I would like to ask you. If everything is according to God's will, why should it be necessary for us to test what that will is? Paul tells us, in Rom. 12:2, not to configure to this eon, but to transform by the renewing of the mind, so that we may test (dokimazein) what is the will of God—that which is good, and well-able-to-please (euareston) and mature. The obvious implication is that there are some things which are not God's will, some things which He does not want. Why does not Paul state here that God wants or wills also that which is evil and displeasing and immature? Here the R. V. margin reads, "the will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect." Young's rendering is, "what is the will of God—the good, and acceptable and perfect." The following versions read similarly, Weymouth, 20th Century, Dewes, Moffat, Goodspeed, Alford, Bloomfield, Cunnington, Challis, Godwin, and Lutterworth.
You think, probably, that you are standing for the doctrine of God's deity because you put a certain construction upon Romans 11:36. You insist, in no uncertain terms, on understanding the "all things" in an absolute sense. I am not afraid of Romans 11:36 and similar verses. Let us test a few of them.
The Lord tells us, at John 6:63, that the flesh benefits nothing. And at meetings you will hear speakers condemn the flesh utterly, as capable of nothing good, and totally depraved. Never are we told that God became Man, but it is easily overlooked that the Word—He who expresses, or publishes God,—becomes Flesh. And not only did God appear or become manifest in flesh, but all those whom He saves and whom He will yet save, must appear also in flesh. No one can enter the Kingdom of God apart from a life lived in flesh. Thus the flesh has its own benefits, even though it comes so often short. Flesh is capable of both good and evil actions. Just how human beings in flesh who live through the Thousand Years, or who live on the New Earth, will attain to complete incorruption and vivification, we are not told. But we have no reason for thinking that their flesh will see death. The direction wherein flesh cannot benefit will be discovered from the context of John 6:63. It is the spirit, and the spirit alone, that vivifies. The flesh is benefitting nothing—to produce vivification. Flesh can produce natural life. It can produce dying flesh. But it cannot produce the real life.
Let us, if possible, explain the statements of Scripture from the context. Only then shall we think logically.
Another verse which has been grossly mishandled is John 15:5, "For apart from Me you can do nothing." (Unfortunately, in the 1944 edition of the Concordant Version this statement appears in verse 2, where the previous words have caused confusion. There are other serious defects, as in verses 6 and 14). The context deals with fruit-bearing. Webster gives the sense as "Apart from Me ye can produce no (fruit)." The word poiO is used not only of doing or making, but of producing fruit. You cannot argue that all your actions are done in union with the Lord. You cannot walk with the Lord, and be in the light of His word, if you go on doing evil. God's face must ever be against them who go on doing evil.
But, if you possess the light of God's word, you will be bringing forth fruit so long as you are doing that which God wants, in line with Romans 12:2.
Likewise with John 3:27. John Baptist's statement that a man cannot get anything unless it be given him out of heaven refers only to spiritual gifts. John pointed out that it was from heaven that the Lord obtained His power. The statement does not refer to all and sundry. Are you prepared to claim that all your bad points are gifts out of heaven? If you do, you will ask for more.
And what of John 14:26? Have not many claimed that they know all the truth? The truth is, however, that not one of us knows more than a few fragments of the truth. We are on far safer ground if we shall profess our profound ignorance and stupidity. Every sect has claimed to hold the truth, and every sect has been proved to be very deficient. Are you any better?
The Advocate (literally, He who can or may be called alongside; para-klE-tos), will be teaching (or, go on teaching) you all things, and reminding you of all things that I said to you. Here the second clause partly explains the former clause. Yet the fact remains that the disciples learnt only the truth which was appropriate to them. Certain things could not be revealed to them. And who is the man that is clear as to all that Paul teaches?? What the Lord meant was, that Holy Spirit would teach the disciples all that was necessary, all that was appropriate, all that they could then or in future bear. The same applies to John 16:13.
Another verse which is universally made to say far more than it means is Romans 14:23, "Now everything which is not out of faith is sin." Perhaps at some time you have been troubled by this verse. If you are conscientious you must have observed that you perform many deeds which are in no way out of faith. You do the same things that the worldling does, who has no faith. Very truly does Godwin, in his translation of Romans, write, "The apostle does not teach that every action which is not produced by faith, has the nature of sin." How could a mother's love for her child be sin, simply because she may not possess faith? Such love is the fulfilment of natural law, and nature is never on the side of sin. To sin is to come short. To fulfil natural law is not to come short. The subject matter of the whole chapter is the scruples of brethren and various stumbling blocks, especially in the matter of foods and eating. Right through the chapter Paul mentions foods or eating seven times, so that this is the subject prominently in his mind all the time. In the last verse, however, he is not embarking upon a subject which is entirely outwith the scope of the preceding context, as though he were reviewing every act in the lives of believers. What Paul does in verse 23 is to round off and sum up the chapter. We have no right to judge any outsider domestic (verse 4). We have no right to discriminate, or draw distinctions, in the matter of the scruples of others, as in the case of eating. Faith is an individual matter for each believer, but if we draw distinctions in the matter of the scruples of others, we are not walking in line with faith, but are falling short.
Various friends of mine have sought to pass judgment upon me for not believing those verses which appear to state that "all things are out of God." I have been told that "God's word says so," as though this was final. Some have echoed the charge that not to accept these statements as they wish them understood, is apostacy.
One thing which most certainly is not of God is wishful thinking, in regard to the Scriptures. Yet this is the great danger which faces all believers. All of us wish to be most faithful to God's revelation, and would rather believe a little bit too much than believe too little. It is felt that to believe a little more than Scripture actually says will at least not be unsafe. The great majority of people who profess belief in universal ultimate reconciliation do so because they wish this to happen. Perhaps nowhere has wishful thinking gained a bigger victory and destroyed real faith so much as in the various forms of doctrine which are akin to British-Israel. Here all Scripture is mishandled as though it were a meccano set or a plasticine outfit—out of which to construct anything that might be fancied.
Let us then safeguard Scripture contexts. Let us understand them as any careful and logical writer means them to be understood. All the N. T. writers are most logical and exact writers. If the Scriptures are flawless, do not mar them by your wishful thinking.
Here is one passage which is often bandied about, and which was flung at me as being conclusive I Cor. 11:4-12, especially the final verse, "yet all is out of God." The passage deals with the headship of the man over the woman. Paul sums up his argument with the words, "Even as the woman is out of the man (andros), thus the man (anEr) also is through the woman, yet the all things (are) out of God."
Surely no logical reader could argue that the all things of which Paul here writes consist of more than the subject matter of the previous few verses. No sane writer finishes off his subject matter by jumping off at a tangent into distant space. The "all things" are just those matters which Paul has been discussing—the relationship of the sexes to each other and to God. All along, or by origin (huparchOn), has man been God's image and glory, and woman is out of man, while the man is through the woman. But the whole, all of them, are "out of God." Had Paul finished off his statement by saying that all things in the universe were out of God, his argument would have been left incomplete. Such a statement would not have helped his reasoning. The little word "yet" should be watched. For me to know that the sexes are out from God will make me honour them. But for me to know that all vices are out from God will certainly have the opposite effect.
Another verse which has been flung about in a manner both irreverent and irrelevant is II Cor. 5:18. Taken by itself, "Yet the all things are out of God" looks very convincing. But these words are circumscribed by a context. Dr. Bullinger and others have shewn the danger and the folly of acting upon detached statements of Scripture. There was once a soldier of the United States, who, during the War with Spain, was in great agony, because he had read in the Bible, at Rom. 15:28, "I will come by you into Spain," and Spain was the last place into which he wished to come. This method of shutting the eyes and dropping a finger on to the first verse it may encounter, or perhaps laying a finger on to a text and then shutting one's eyes to the context, ought not to be used by those who wish God's exact truth.
In this passage we find the Flesh Creation contrasted with the New Creation. The primitive things are contrasted with the new things. First we have in verse 16, "So that," then "Yet even if," then "Nevertheless now." Then in v. 17, "So that, if . . ." Then Paul sums up, with reference to his subject matter, "Yet the all (plural) is out of God." No Greek speaking person would conclude that Paul was referring to anything other than what had gone before. Just as the primitive things were out from God, so were the new things. The Greek Definite Article has the force of "the aforesaid" and refers to something just mentioned or prominent in the mind of the speaker or writer. The words "the all" are like "these all things."
We now approach what is probably the strongest verse put forward by those who insist that all absolutely is out of God, vizt., Romans 11:36. What is the subject of the chapter? The subject is, Has God thrust away His People? Here again, for the third time, we find a contrast between two parties or opposites. Once again, the two are complementary, and God requires, and uses, both of them.
Israel has just had his innings. He fails. Then the Gentiles get their innings, until the fullness of them enters in. They too will fail. Then Israel will get life from the dead, and this time he will not fail. Of both these parties, throughout the centuries, it is true that at one time or another God locks them all up unto unyieldingness (this is the best equivalent of Greek apeitheia, a negative term. This is true of every human being at some time, but it is not true that everyone is obstinate or stubborn). To both the parties in this age long drama God will shew mercy. Only a God could so have operated the general scheme of things to bring about the necessary result. The chief matter in Paul's mind is the vast blessing that God will bring to the saved ones out of each party, especially to His ancient People. Paul alludes to world-conciliation, or perhaps we might put it more positively, world-befriendment, but we dare not drag in here any reconciliation of the universe. Nor does Paul mention dead people, or the period before the Nation began.
It is quite undeniable that out of God and unto God and through God are all these things of which Paul here tells us. But as Paul has not been writing about the entire universe, or even all mankind, have we any right to go beyond him and give to verse 36 a universal application? We should never do so if this were a legal document. The fact that the definite article stands before the words "all things" (ta panta) necessitates that we bear in mind all the time the subject matter which has preceded.
There is no need to label any brother an apostate simply because he reads Paul logically.
The C. V. note here attempts to demonstrate that the subject of the passage is the universe. Paul, however, is speaking of God's judgments, His ways, and His mind. He has not been dealing with the universe or with creation. There is a passage where He does deal with creation and the universe (Col. 1).
It is pure assumption, mere wishful thinking, to conclude that Rom. 11 :36 takes in universal history, and all creation. Such a view may outwardly seem to glorify God. But are you really telling me that your God is the "source" of all the disgusting vices, all the inhuman barbarities, all the malignant lies, which revolt your right-loving heart? Is that what Paul means when he says God's judgments are inscrutable, and His ways untraceable?
What Paul is saying might be put this way: All these foregoing things are out of God and through Him and for Him, because there was no one who knew His mind, no one who became His adviser, no one who could first give to Him and be repaid by Him. These things are out of this Sovereign Being, just because they could not have sprung out of any other being. Even the C. V. Note is entitled "Conciliation — National," covering even the statement about verse 36. Had the passage fallen within the part of the Literary Framework marked as dealing with "God's Sovereignty" (8:31 to 9:29), things would have been different. But ch. 11 is shewn to be in that part of Romans which deals with God's methods, what some might term the "dispensational" part.
In Gen. 7:19 we have one of the most explicit statements in all Scripture. "And the waters prevail greatly, greatly, upon the earth, and are being covered all the mountains — the high ones, which are under all the heavens." Yet there are human beings, who, because of their unbelief and wishful thinking, have the temerity and audacity to minimize the universality of the Flood on the earth. The description makes it clear that the "all" referred to is the mountains universally in the whole earth. In this case the "all" may not be limited.
In another expression, "the disruption of the world," it is quietly assumed that it was the earth which was affected, and all the earth. The term "world," surely, (Greek kosmos) has to do with the human beings on the earth, human society and institutions. But just how a world of human beings could have been "disrupted" or cast down away back probably millions of years ago, seems a difficult problem. The C. V. Concordance explains "world" as being "especially the constitution of human society in a given period of time called an eon." Somewhat naively it adds. "There was a world before the disruption Gn. 1:2; II Pet. 3:6." Must we then conclude that the society which existed in that world before the "disruption" was not human, but something else?
In the Old Testament certain evils are stated to have been from Jehovah. Such a statement is very far from being common or frequent. The fact, however, that on one occasion an evil was from Him is surely no proof, no indication, that every evil was from Him. According to a very beautiful passage, I Sam. 2:6-8, Jehovah kills and makes alive; He makes poor and makes rich; He uplifts from the dunghill the needy, to give them a dwelling with nobles. But must we assume from this that He uplifts every needy one or beggar from every dunghill?
On one occasion, David was quite clear that Jehovah had delivered Saul into his hands (I Sam. 26:23), but he was not at all sure whether it was Jehovah who had stirred up Saul against him, or whether men had done this (verse 19). If David understood that everything which happened came from God, he would never have entertained any doubt. Strange that he should be so sure about one event, and so dubious about the other.
Here is a matter which has occasioned the writer much real concern for some years. Can it be God's wish that after calling and teaching them, leading them into His deep things, some of His own people should in their latter days turn aside, wax apathetic, become dictatorial and self-centered, or occupy the position of a Diotrephes?
That God leaves the Gentiles to go on in their own ways is a matter of revelation and observation. The nations are not concerned about obedience to God's righteous statutes. But can God be behind any evil tendencies in His own saints? Or are their spiritual failures due simply to disobedience—disobedience to the very clear instructions expressly laid down for our learning and guidance?
In plain words, can we defeat God's wishes for us? It would seem we can. In ordinary life, if we break rules or laws, we are liable and likely to suffer in some way. If we break the laws of nature, we always suffer somehow. But if you ignore or disobey the divine rules for our spiritual guidance and welfare, you expect grace to be lavished upon you!
Truth, however, is much stranger than fiction. I shall illustrate by a concrete case.
An elderly believer had for years sought to defame and denounce other members of the Body of Christ. Though he had access to God's deeper truths, and was well taught in some ways, and possessed the best versions of the scriptures, he confessed that for many years he had suffered extreme barrenness of soul and spirit. He admitted tacitly that he was quite out of touch with God. Recognizing at last that he could not attain spiritual well-being otherwise, he craved forgiveness on account of his many evils.
In our Catechism at school as children we had to learn by rote that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever." This should at least be true of every child of God. We can enjoy God, and of features within God to enjoy there is no end.
But this unhappy person did not at all enjoy God. Indeed, he trembled in view of a very salutary process which will take place at the Judgment-seat. Could it possibly be the wish of God that he should spend forty long years in the wilderness, learning next to nothing, nay, losing much that he had once learned?
What is the factor that comes into collision with God's wishes? We should say, without hesitation, that in such cases it consists of the individual's excessive desires, just as James 1:14 tells us. God's will and wish for His people is that they renounce every dominating or excessive soulish wish or craving. God will assuredly not destroy these desires if we do not come to hate them.
Injunctions such as we find in I Thess. 5:14-22 have been committed to writing so that the saints will not overlook them, or become indifferent to them. A young believer told me that such injunctions were merely optional; we could keep them if we wished. Grace allowed us such freedom. Paul writes, however, "Do not be quenching the spirit (v. 19). If this means anything, it means that believers can quench the spirit. Take a look round and you will observe cases you know of. Rightly you will put it down to the person's own wrong conduct. You would not argue that God had quenched His own Spirit.
Nor may we be sorrowing the spirit, the holy spirit of God, in which we were sealed unto deliverance day (Eph. 4:30). Alas, we have all come short here. It is possible to sorrow God's Spirit. But God will not stop this practice if we will not learn to abandon it.
Similarly, it is incumbent upon the saints to see that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, defiling many. (Heb. 12:15).
Do not wait for "grace" to come along to enable you to do your duty. You may die ere it reaches you. Such grace is apt to be very erratic. Go and do you plain duty now. When Moses was told to remove his shoes from off his feet (Exodus 3:5), because the place on which he stood was holy ground, we may be sure he did not wait for "grace" to do this; he obeyed at once.
I was once taken, during an evangelical effort, while I was a mere youth, to interview a man who had been in gaol for murder. It was hopefully thought that some of us might influence him into the truth. But I was very skeptical. The man shewed not the slightest sign of repentance for his misdeeds. In fact, he soon shewed that he was beyond any repentance. He reckoned himself as good as anybody.
Can it be possible, however, for a believer to lose the power and the desire to repent? We believe it is possible. Paul's clear injunctions in I Cor. 12:22-26 regarding the less honourable members have been almost totally ignored, with the tragic result that we witness far too many schisms. The tendencey is to run after and lionize leaders. Almost inevitably the leader succumbs to the deadly snare, and soon waxes puffed up, important, self-satisfied. This leads to spiritual blindness, and the faculty of repenting becomes atrophied.
Can we say it is God's wish that any of His own should lose the power to repent? It certainly is not His wish. For one to lose this power is like a reversal or denial of the process of conversion. God does not leave His own people to go on in their own ways like the world. He gives us His spirit and He gives us very clear instructions as to our conduct. He leaves it to us to obey these instructions. lf we wish to be obedient, He gives us the power to do so.
lf the Lord has enjoined upon us to "proclaim the word, be standing by it, opportunely, inopportunely" (II Tim. 4:2), may we maintain that it is "from God" if some say, do not be over anxious about proclaiming the Good News; as "God will save all in the end anyway"? Thus, naked disobedience to the divine injunction is inculcated, while believers lose that joy and reward that comes with implicit obedience.
No believer can thrive without being attached in some way to a life-giving effort or movement. Our God is in no sense the God of fatalism, but of freewill and effort. Why, what does James mean (ch. 4:8), "Draw near to God, and He will be drawing near to you"? Does that not mean, we make the first move? Do not wait for "grace" to bring God near to you. James was no believer in the Deity-destroying error that everything issues or originates from God.
Finally, in connection with the "all out of God" passages which have been discussed above, may I make two quotations? The former is from the "Autobiography" of the late R. G. Collingwood, an archaeologist and very shrewd thinker. "You cannot find out what a man means by simply studying his spoken or written statements, even though he has spoken or written with perfect command of language and perfectly truthful intention. In order to find out his meaning you must also know what the question was (a question in his own mind, and presumed by him to be in yours) to which the thing he has said or written was meant as an answer." Upon a little reflection, I think you will thoroughly agree with this opinion.
The second quotation comes from "Unsearchable Riches," November, 1948, page 272, "We should always interpret a passage in the light of its context, and never use it to 'prove' something which is not in view." With this statement we are in hearty approval. And I think our readers will agree.
ALEXANDER THOMSON. Last updated 27.8.2007