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.

Humble Teacher, Humble Student, Humbling Truth

In a letter concerning election and predestination:

“Permit me to remind you, in the first place, of that important aphorism, John iii. 27, (which, by the bye, seems to speak strongly in favour of the doctrines in question): “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven.” If you should accede to my opinions upon my persuasion only, you would be little benefited by the exchange. The Lord alone can give us the true, vital, comfortable, and useful knowledge of his own truths. We may become wise in notions, and so far masters of a system, or scheme of doctrine, as to be able to argue, object, and fight, in favour of our own hypothesis, by dint of application, and natural abilities ; but we rightly understand what we say, and whereof we affirm, no farther than we have a spiritual perception of it wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not, therefore, by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect a satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am persuaded that you are seeking in this way: if so, I am confident you shall not seek in vain. The Lord teaches effectually, though for the most part gradually. The path of the just is compared to the light, which is very faint at the early dawn, but shineth more and more to the perfect day.”  —John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1

Superglue not Necessary Unless (Matthew 23:37-24:2)

This text is like superglue (if needed). But it isn’t like the covert superglue project of a son glueing two things together that shouldn’t be, say a forehead and a flashlight. No, this is the mature parental glueing together of something the clumsy child has broken.

It doesn’t take superglue to hold the end of chapter 23 with the beginning of chapter 24. It just takes clumsy foolishness to break them apart. Jesus’ lament is snuggled nicely in the midst of judgment speak; it’s cozily at home. Curse and lament, “woe,” and “o,” tenderness and wrath, these two do go together.

How? Theologians have long spoken of two wills (some even mention three) in God using a variety of labels. You may hear them mention God’s secret and revealed will, or His will of command and will of decree. They might speak of his sovereign will and moral will, or his efficient and permissive will. Still others prefer the terms decretive and preceptive will. That there are so many terms says both that there is something there, and that that something is complex.

Let’s simplify by analogy. Can you have two wills? Have you ever had to go to the dentist? Have you ever wanted ice cream and to exercise? Better, have you ever wanted ice cream and to lose weight? As far as I am concerned, both exercise and ice cream are good desires. The trick is to will them in the right proportion.

Can God have two wills? Look no further than the cross. When sinful men crucified our Lord they were violating the will of God, and yet, they were carrying it out. We mustn’t think of God’s will(s) like our going to the dentist, “I guess I have to. I want to, but I don’t want to.” The ice cream illustration is better. Ice cream is so good, illustrations become superior to other illustrations by the mention of it. A person might desire ice cream, and desire to exercise; and these desires can harmonize perfectly. Perhaps the exercise is so intense, a high number of calories must be consumed.

In God, mercy and wrath meet perfectly. It takes no superglue for these to go together. They meet in this goal, the glory of God. Jesus wills to save and He wills to damn and He does neither with a grimace. “Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).” The will of God is always done with pleasure, because the Father delights to make much of the Son and the Son of the Father and the Spirit of them both. And this is what everything that God wills in every way is ultimately about. If you make God supremely about you, you will hollow out words like election, and sovereignty to put these two together. If you realize the cross (John 17:1, 4-5), and all creation (Romans 11:33-36) is ultimately about the glory of God, you will see that these harmonize perfectly.

If you can’t bear this, remember this, Jesus deals out nothing that He hasn’t borne. He deals out wrath, for His glory in the damnation of sinners, and He bears that wrath for His glory in the salvation of sinners.

I Want to Eat, Just Not with You (Matthew 22:1-15)

It’s not the idea of a feast we reject; it’s the Host. But the Host is also the fare. When He says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” we lose our appetite. Still, the idea of a feast, we love. Adam had no problem with the garden. He just wanted to be God too. Fallen man would rather be miserable in sin, than joyful in God.

This parable makes you see the folly of sin, and specifically the sin of unbelief in the gospel. To reject the gospel of the kingdom is to reject an eternal royal wedding feast. “How can they reject the feast?” we cry. But we are them. When you know the human condition you are not puzzled that many refuse, nor by the intensity of the refusal. You are flabbergasted that any come at all.

Here is a parable chock-full of human response—some are apathetic, others persecute, one presumes, and the unexpected feast—and Jesus explains it all by saying many are called but few are chosen. Jesus explains human responses by divine election.

Election does not keep people out of the feast who want in, it brings people in to the feast who would never come.

Matthew 13:10-17 & Revealing and Concealing

Jesus’ speaking in parables both conceals and reveals. In the same act, Jesus reveals the mystery of the kingdom to his disciples, though He will have to explain the meaning later, and conceals the mystery of the kingdom from the crowd. So while this revealing and concealing is simultaneous, it is not symmetrical. Jesus reveals by giving, He conceals by withholding. If light is present, God is to be praised. If darkness is present, self is to be blamed.

Matthew 11:25-30 & The Joy of Revelation and Redemption

Revelation and redemption go together; they are inseparable. Revelation normally both precedes and follows redemption; and revelation always causes redemption (I am speaking of the application of redemption). Revelation is not simply the imparting of raw data, but the knowledge of a Person (v. 27). Revelation is not something we seize, but something God graciously gives.

Here we see God withholds revelation from the “wise” and gives revelation to little children. The “wise” are those who have a form or worldly wisdom, in opposition to the wisdom that comes from God. It is a wisdom ignorant of God, apart from God, and in opposition to God. Specifically it looks at God’s redemptive revelation and thinks it foolish (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16). So just as the “righteous” in Matthew 9:11-12 are not really righteous, so here the “understanding” don’t understand. They don’t understand for two reasons: sin within, and revelation withheld (Matthew 11:20-24).

It is important to realize that God’s hiding and revealing are not symmetrical. God’s does not hide and reveal in the same way. God positively gives light, but He does not positively give darkness. God’s hiding is an act of judgment on those who do not wish to see; His revealing is an act of grace on those who do not deserve to see. Thus Jesus denounces the cities for their unbelief and praises God for hiding revelation from them. God does not hide revelation from men who are otherwise trying to find Him. No one is trying to find Him (Romans 3:11). God is the predator, we are the prey. If we refuse it is due to darkness within. If we come is is due to light from without.

Revelation as an act of grace is not merited by definition. Grace is undeserved. No one has a right to it. Only judgement is merited. Some get justice, some get mercy, no one gets injustice. The astounding thing is not that God chooses some, but that He chooses any. If we are undeserving, why does God reveal to any at all? Because it is His “good pleasure” (v. 26 NIV). In Luke this is even more apparent as Jesus thanks God rejoicing in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).

Imagine the proudest Father, and the most deluded son. Picture that father who already believes that his son is the next hall of famer even though he is only six years old, and his son who thinks his dad is some genius-millionaire-superhero; and then magnify their delight and delusions to infinity. Then realize that God the Father, and God the Son are like this, yet they never exaggerate the other. The Father’s Son really is perfect, the Son’s Father really can do anything, and they both want you to know it! The Father wants you to be thrilled at His Son, the Son wants you to marvel at His Father, and they send the Holy Spirit to open your eyes. You are saved because God is so happy in Himself. The entire Trinity rejoices in redemptive revelation. You were redeemed in joy, now joy in your redemption.