The Exegetical Systematician: Beyond Even a 99.99% Accomplishment

If we concentrate on the thought of redemption, we shall be able perhaps to sense more readily the impossibility of universalizing the atonement. What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption. This is the triumphant note of the New Testament whenever it plays on the redemptive chord. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). “He gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2 :14). It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people. We have the same result when we properly analyze the meaning of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. Christ did not come to make sins expiable. He came to expiate sins—“when he made purification of sins. he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ did not come to make God reconcilable. He reconciled us to God by his own blood. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

The Exegetical Systematician: Love Constrains the Atonement

It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign good pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as the “I am that I am.” The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God. The love of God constrains to the atonement as the means of accomplishing love’s determinate purpose. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Redefining the Un-defined (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

—1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)

Election isn’t like that uncle you’d rather not own up to but must when directly asked. Election isn’t something the Biblical authors occasionally warm up to, burying in the back of their letters only after having made a multitude of qualifications. Peter leads with it.

If you want to be faithful to the Bible, you may not elect to not deal with election. You may not choose to avoid this choosing. Still, many deal with it by defining it such that it means nothing. Their definition is an un-definition. How this is done is by abusing a word that soon follows in Peter’s greeting, “foreknowledge.”

The saints are elect according to God’s foreknowledge. The un-definition of this is that God elected those He foreknew would choose Him. This is often called “conditional election.” God elects based on foreseen faith.

Such a view admits too much to being with. It admits that future events are known by God, and thus, these things cannot be changed. This means that out of all the possible worlds God could have created, He chose to create this one, in which He knew certain people would believe and others would not. God remains sovereign over salvation in a sense, but instead of a Sovereign whose grace touches us personally, His grace seems farther removed, almost deistic, as though God let the world loose only knowing where it would go but not guiding it there.

Regardless, do you see how such a un-definition destroys the clear meaning of the word “election.” If God chooses based on our choice, it is not He who ultimately chooses. This puts man behind God’s steering will. Imagine some henpecked husband is encouraged by his elders to take loving leadership in his home. He decides to start small by taking initiative in determining where they will dine their next date night. After opening the car door for her he boldly declares, “I choose to eat wherever you choose to eat.” He shouldn’t report to the elders, “I made the choice about dinner.” James Montgomery Boice says such a definition, “destroys the very meaning of the word, of course, for such election is really not election at all. It actually means that men and women elect themselves, and God is reduced to a bystander who responds to their free choice. Logically and causally, even if not chronologically, God’s choice follows man’s choice.”

“Foreknowledge” can mean knowing things ahead of time. Being omniscient, is true that God does know things before they happen. But is this all it can mean? Is this what it means here? 1 Peter is rich in using Old Testament terminology to speak of the church. This is what is being done when he refers to “elect exiles of the dispersion.” So perhaps we should go to the Old Testament to see what is meant by foreknowledge instead of assuming we know what is meant.

While “foreknow” isn’t used in the Old Testament, “know” is. For example, in Amos 3:2 God tells Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (ESV). God certainly had cognizance of everyone in one sense. What is intended here is that God had a relational and covenantal knowledge of them as his people. Is this language picked up anywhere in the New Testament? Jesus will tell many who profess to prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works in His name, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23 ESV). On the flip side, in John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (ESV). In all these instances “know” doesn’t mean simple mental awareness but covenant relationship.

What then does it mean for God to foreknow His people? It means that before they are capable of knowing Him in any relationship, He relates to them by setting His covenant love on them. Two things confirm this. In the New Testament usage of “foreknow,” it is never an act, such as faith, but persons who are foreknown.  Second, the text says not only are we elect exiles according to the foreknowledge of God, but that we were elect “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” This obedience is the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 10:16; 15:18; 16:25–26). You are not elect based on foreseen future belief; you believe because of an election in eternity past.

Michael Horton says, “We can talk about grace, sing about grace, preach about grace, just so long as we do not get too close to it. Election is too close. When we give in to election, we finally give up on ourselves in the matter of salvation.” Un-define election, and you can sing about grace, but the thing is, there isn’t as much grace to sing about. Hollow out the meaning of election, and you hollow out the meaning of grace, such that Peter’s blessing doesn’t ring out as powerfully, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

The Exegetical Systematician: The Free Offer Rides the Wave Divine Soverignty

It must be said without reserve that there is no limitation or qualification to the overture of grace in the gospel proclamation. As there is no restriction to the command that all everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30), so is there none to what is correlative with it. The doctrines of particular election, differentiating love, limited atonement do not erect any fence around the offer in the gospel. No text is more eloquent of the pure sovereignty of both the Father and the Son in the revelation of gospel mystery than the words of our Lord in Matthew 11:25-30: ‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so. Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Here is the sovereign will and differentiation of the Father. ‘He to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ This is the witness to Jesus’ own sovereignty in revealing the Father to men. But the immediate sequel is: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.’ The lesson is that it is not merely conjunction of differentiating and sovereign will with free overture, but that the free overture comes out from the differentiating sovereignty of both Father and Son. It is on the crest of the wave of divine sovereignty that the unrestricted summons comes to the labouring and heavy laden. This is Jesus’ own witness, and it provides the direction in which our thinking on the question at issue must proceed. Any inhibition or reserve in presenting the overtures of grace should no more characterize our proclamation than it characterized the Lord’s witness. —John Murray, The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel

On Parenthetical Statements and Swallowing Big Pills (Exodus 11:1–10)

Words (parenthesis) more words.

Parenthetical statements explain and clarify. Exodus 11:1–10 has an opening parenthetical statement (vv. 1–3) and a closing one (vv. 9–10). These two parenthetical statements hug the declaration of the tenth wonder as tightly as, well, parenthesis.

Following the ninth plague of darkness, Pharaoh calls for Moses and commands Israel to leave, but without their livestock. No deal. Pharaoh erupts and tells Moses to be heedful not to see him again lest he die. Moses retorts they indeed won’t see one another. What follows explains why Moses could say this with confidence. The parenthetical statement in vv. 1-3 takes us back before Moses appeared in Pharaoh’s court.

The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

End the first parenthesis. Resume closing salvo against  Pharaoh. Moses declares the last of the wonders before Pharaoh (Exodus 11:8–9). Moses knew the end game from the beginning (Exodus 4:21–23). He knew multiple wonders were God’s want-to, not His have-to, and that the death of the firstborn would be the finale. Now he’s learned that God wishes to round things out at ten. God’s judgment is no mindless rage, but poetic justice. The emphasis, the stress, the accent of God’s poetry weighs on this, His glory.

The closing parenthesis (11:9–10) are just that, half, or the closing of a parenthesis. The first half came in 7:3–4 just before the first sign was done.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.

Exodus 7:3–4 and 11:9–10 together form what Bible scholars call an inclusio. Think of them as a kind of verbal parenthesis, using similar language to mark off a large section. Note the similarity of the closing half to the opening.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

I have no fear of being as repetitive as the Bible. Medicine often is repetitive. We need radical healing in our souls. The total sovereignty of God is a big pill to swallow and we need to swallow the whole thing—daily. This is not a drug with a score down the middle so that you can cut it in half. The Bible isn’t perforated such that you can take a half-sovereign and pretend you’ve ingested the a whole. So again, and without trepidation, these multiple wonders are not a have-to because of Pharaoh’s hardness, Pharaoh is hard because multiple wonders are God’s want-to. In redemption God is totally sovereign. This sovereignty expresses both God’s justice and His grace without compromising either. By these mighty acts God makes distinction (Exodus 11:7). In the tenth wonder God will reveal how He can make this distinction. Both Israel and Egypt deserve this tenth wonder, but for His people, He provides a sacrifice. Distinction by sacrifice; this is the gospel of the sovereign Lord.

Man Can’t Frankenstein Spiritual Life (Exodus 9:1–12)

Pharaoh’s wealth (livestock) and health were stripped from him. Job’s wealth and health were stripped from him. Only one of them worshipped. What made the difference? God. God hardened Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12). Implicitly, He softened, regenerated, and saved Job.

You can’t make a spiritual man by beating his flesh to death. God may, and often does, use means. He may strip a man of wealth and health in bringing him to life, but unless the Spirit works within, it matters not what happens without. If this was just a matter of getting the right physical leverage, then we could make the difference. But as Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:63).”

We cannot beat spiritual sense into one worldly wise.

We cannot create faith in God by evidencing the hopelessness of idols.

We can’t bring a dead man alive by beating him.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (1 Corinthians 2:12-15).

The determinative factor is unseen.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:6–8).

Man can’t Frankenstein spiritual life. The Spirit must blow on a valley of dry bones and make them live. Unless God works within, it matters not what happens without.

Unless YHWH Is YHWH (Exodus 4:18–31)

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Pharaoh hardened his heart.

Pharaoh’s heart was hard.

Which one is it? Yes. Perhaps you’d like to pretend that these things were happening at different times and that it all started with Pharaoh hardening his own heart; that God only steps in to further harden that which is already irreparably hard. Make God’s hardening pointless—that’ll solve our problems? Nope. Can’t do that. These are synonymous. These are all happening at the same time; and over them all, God is sovereign. God declares that this is His intention from the beginning (Exodus 3:19, 20; 4:21) , and He tells Pharaoh why, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:15–16).” YHWH could have made quick work of Pharaoh, but that won’t do. God want’s wonder upon wonder to fall on Pharaoh so that His renown might echo through the earth.

How’s that for a truth to make palatable? More sugar please? This makes no sense, unless YHWH is YHWH. Own that, and you’ll bow. Jonathan Edwards got this (by got, I mean received; and by received, I mean by grace).

He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man’s heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening. Thus God sends his word and ordinances to men which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening.

There it is. YHWH is YHWH. God is God. Because of the curse, for soil to grow hard and wild, nothing need be done but let it alone. So it is with man’s heart. So it is because of man’s heart. Dirt is a parable (Matthew 13:1–7). Soil isn’t self-softening. The Farmer doesn’t just spread the good seed, He preps the soil. We’re rocks. God restrains. If He did not, we would plunge into darkness. Down. Down. Down. This is our sinful trajectory. We are totally depraved. Sure, we’re not as wicked as we could be, but we are totally, altogether wicked. None does good. Any “civil virtue” we may exhibit is really “pretty idolatry.” In unbeliever’s every “good” act, something is being worshipped, and it ain’t Jesus, or they wouldn’t be unbelievers. Wickedness is in every crevice of our being: will, affections, desires, thoughts, inclinations, et cetera. We’re not a sin blackout, but every part is shaded in. We’re not naturally good. We’re subdued, limited, restrained, and most importantly, graced. Should God let the rocks fall, it would be nothing but an act of justice; a holy, righteous judgment on every son of Adam.

YHWH is YHWH. This is His prerogative. “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19).” “The LORD,” meaning YWHW, and YWHW, in part meaning, “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Some receive mercy. Some receive justice. No one receives injustice. Behind all of this: YWHW. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:19–23).” Justice justly falls on some to magnify the graciousness of grace. “But we all deserve grace!” Isn’t that a contradiction? Further, if we’re not in hell, we’re all experiencing some degree of grace (common, non-salvific grace, but grace nonetheless) and spurning it, thus proving, we don’t at all, all deserve grace.

Moses is a sinner. Praise God, Moses, by the Spirit, paints Moses as Moses was. In chapters two through six Moses beats everyone else to the punch and roasts himself. God is the hero. Pharaoh sins again and again and finds justice. Moses, along with Israel, sins again and again, and finds grace. The only thing that makes the difference, is YHWH, the covenant God of unfailing love for His elect people. YHWH is YHWH. Realize this, and you don’t choke on the thought of sovereign justice; you get choked up thinking about sovereign grace.