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The Mystery of Election

Posted: July 26th, 2015, by Reggie Kelly

As to the mysteries of foreordination and predestination, there’s too much connected to this than can be accounted for by divine foresight of what men will do with the words and actions of God in history. It not something I care to debate but I must contend for what scripture plainly affirms, of course. I am neither Calvinist or Arminian in the systematic or “consistent” kind of way. I do not, for example, subscribe to limited atonement, although I understand their logic, despite its contradiction of plain scriptures to the contrary.

When it comes to those who pass into reprobation, such as Pharaoh or Judas, I certainly don’t believe God is setting those guys up. He is, as you say, foreseeing and incorporating their own self chosen rebellion into His plan. However, once they have advanced to a certain place, God is free and just to take certain measures that He knows will exacerbate their condition and drive their fallen natures into greater exposure and damnation as judgement on an already existing condition.

On the other hand, even fully respecting a certain kind of limited free will, which I do, it cannot be denied that God does NOT operate according to the perceived rules of human fairness. What do I mean? I mean you have only to look at history, as also the history of revival and conversion. Paul himself and the surviving remnant of Israel (i.e., the third that is saved in one day), are perfect examples of God “tampering” with human freedom in a way that far exceeds and surpasses what He does with the general population over the general course of time.

Who can deny that in the case of some, much more than others, He brings far greater constraints and inducements? For example, for nearly 2,000 years, most of the remnant of God’s people was from among the Jewish nation. Then, for what has been nearly another 2,000 years, it is quite the exact opposite. Then, for a final 1,000 years, there is one nation under heaven whose population is 100 % saved while all throughout the nations there is ongoing evangelism and clearly a number of increasing preponderance, particularly towards the end of the millennium who refuse to behold the majesty of the Lord (Isa 26:10). Am I to believe that all of this happens only by God’s foreknowledge of men’s free will and actions. Besides Yada, as in Amos 3:2 and its Greek counterpart, prognosei, means intimacy or prearrangement of relationship, as when Adam knew his wife, Eve. It is much more than divine omniscience. .

I believe that God is free to bring such constraints as to conquer the natural resistance of the will without violence to the will. I further believe He is free to do this in the case of some without being thereby obligated to do the same in the case of all, and that, of course, is the offense. It is also the mystery of theodicy that Paul does not solve by merely invoking free will, which He so easily could have done in anticipation of the inevitable objections. Why did God choose Jacob, an individual and a nation, but not Esau, also both individual and nation independently of their works and before works were even possible. The answer is not mere foresight of their works. That would say nothing about grace. The scripture gives the reason very clearly. It was “in order that” His purpose in grace might stand, not of him who wills or works but of Him who calls, as always, “lest any flesh boast.” Special discrimination election was necessary for grace to be grace, that is of the biblical kind.

I would tend to go with you that this is only with regard to the Jewish nation as a corporate entity and your persuasion of that puts us at one in what I believe to be the main burden of Ro 11, but corporate entities are made up of individuals, and unless someone can explain a goodly number of scriptures that shows the instantaneous salvation of the Jewish nation, with all the subsequent population preserved in gospel holiness, without a single defection that is not met with quick chastisement and correction for a thousand years, then I’ve got to believe that something more than divine foresight is at work here. It is discriminating, apprehending grace that is NOT universal for the very reason that God’s lavish mercy on one does not obligate Him to the other, though He takes nothing from, nor imposes no disadvantage on the other. He is justly free to take special measures in behalf of one without this obligating Him to do the same for another, though He has done more than enough for the salvation of all so that all are without excuse. Their greatest damnation will be His goodness to all, but there’s a manifest difference between what some call ‘common grace’ and the special grace that is manifest by His deliberate and always successful pursuit of those the father gave to Jesus to bring home.

To fail to appropriate His provision lies entirely with the free will of man. God has done all on His part to be gracious, even pleading all the day long, not willing that any perish, taking no delight in the death of the wicked. On the other hand, those who appropriate God’s provision do so under conditions and constraints that do not prevail equally and at all times so that there is nothing in them to credit for the conversion of the will and transformation of their nature. That’s where I tend to leave it. While men are free and responsible for their actions, else judgement would be a mechanical sham, still, by any reckoning, there is more going on here than mere free will and divine foresight of what men will do with what comes their way.

As God got His man on the road to Damascus in one day by a sudden blast of transforming divine revelation (“when it pleased God to reveal His son in me”), just so, He will get His nation! (“the time to favor Zion, yea, the set time has come!”) In terms of a human perception of divine fairness, where does this leave the many generations that were not so specially constrained, their power fully shattered and met by a mighty, divinely timed in-breaking of transforming revelation that kills the old and quickens the new? Not an every day event, to be sure.

God is free to raise the dead and quicken whom He will, not just those who will and run. He’s God and that’s the point He seems to go out of His way to make, even for a thousand years of requiring the nations to recognize and honor His just prerogative in discriminating election and grace. It’s a mystery, hid and laid up among His treasures from the beginning. It is a mystery how one is made to differ from another only by God’s grace, yet without injustice to those not so specially wrought upon by God, even while His just severity is seen to fall without remedy on the unwilling for the very sake of their unwillingness. But the people will be willing, not of themselves, but in the day of His power. That’s not just any day that man chooses to make the day of God’s power. It is the time of His special act. It’s a day of resurrecting grace that is specially directed on one people, but no less every individual who will make up that nation.

That’s just some of my thinking on the matter. It makes no one happy on either side, so I’ve never gotten too spoiled to having the luxury of full doctrinal agreement on this among those I love and with whom I rejoice to fellowship. But here I stand though it loses me much support, as you can imagine, even though I’ve never pushed it or indulged in the philosophical problems it can tend to create beyond what the scripture explicitly or leaves to necessary inference. There it is: Man is responsible and God is sovereign and the twain do meet. But free will, by itself, or God’s foreknowledge by itself alone, does not seem to sufficiently account for what we see in scripture, history, and most especially prophecy.

God is free and just to constrain and bring powerful and rare inducements to an extent that becomes a natural offense when the same is not done equally for others. When you think about it, both the Calvinist and the Arminian must bear the implications of this scandal to humanistic reason. Why didn’t God provide atonement and potential for repentance for Satan? His grace towards man did not thereby obligate Him towards the angels that fell and I can imagine that this is part of their rage, but that is speculative and I have to quit. It’s all too deep for me but I am only obligated to affirm what the scriptures most plainly affirm regardless of how this perturbs or disturbs the reasoning mind, mine included. Hope that helps explain me a bit more though I doubt I can answer many of the questions it must raise. I’m as non plussed about much of this as the next person, but feel God is saying something through these things that we must not miss only because it boggles the mind and creates philosophical problems. The answer seems more to bow than to understand.

Jacob’s Trouble and the Dilemma of the Covenant

Posted: July 22nd, 2015, by Reggie Kelly

This is how I approach the question of the futurity of Jacob’s trouble. It is to build first the covenant background and the eschatology that grows out of the covenant, particularly what I like to call ‘the dilemma of the covenant’, as the question of how God will accomplish His unconditional promise to not only bring the particular people into this particular Land, but most importantly, keep them there.

He will accomplish His unconditional promise by meeting the imposed conditions Himself by means of atonement and the gift of the Spirit. It was a remarkable epiphany when I discovered how God had used the issue of covenant jeopardy that always threatened Israel’s abiding security in the Land as the means by which God would constrain the prophets to see ahead to the necessity of the great apocalyptic in-breaking of the day of the Lord, but also the revelation of the mystery of the gospel as the basis of the ‘everlasting righteousness’ that could indeed guarantee an eternally secure peace in the Land, because He would become, “the Lord our Righteousness (Jer 23:5-6).

The logic goes like this: History is proof that if God were waiting on Israel, He’d be waiting forever. It is only if the tendency to backslide can be cured, once and for all, that the promise can be sure of everlasting continuance. With the covenant curses threatened on disobedience hanging always overhead, and with the tendency to slip back again into apostasy after every fleeting revival or reform, how can the promise of eternal security in the Land ever be sure to the wayward nation?

The jeopardy posed by the conditional covenant can only be overcome if all of the people, and not only a remnant, are partakers of an eternal righteousness that is unchangeable and secure, so that none will go back or depart, even unto children’s children (Isa 54:13; 59:21). This is exactly what is promised in the everlasting covenant, and it is all built around the promise of the Land as an everlasting possession by this ‘particular’ people, forever free from the curses of the law that that continually threaten invasion, desolation, and exile.

If we juxtapose Deut 4:29ff with Deut 29:4 (the inversion helps memory), we find an important clue in Moses that sets up the whole theology of the Day of the Lord that would be carried forward by the prophets. According to Moses, Israel’s days could not be prolonged in the Land (Deut 4:26; 30:18) until they would receive the heart that until now, God had not yet given them (Deut 29:4). This would not come to the nation as a whole (there was always a remnant who had the new heart) until after the ‘great tribulation’ of the latter days (Deut 4:26-31). This alone would overcome the perennial curse of the broken covenant, thus assuring unending security in the Land, from which they would “never again” be plucked up or afflicted anymore forever (2Sam 7:10; Jer 31:40; Amos 9:15).

This is the background for the eschatology of the day of the Lord as partial solution to the dilemma of covenant jeopardy. That the promise must wait until after the unequaled the tribulation of the Day of the Lord was well known. Unknown was the deeper and even more glorious solution that lay hidden in the mystery of Christ. You see then how God has built His plan around the all constraining question: How does a backsliding nation ever come to lie down safely in their own Land, never again to fear cursing or oppression from their enemies? The Land can only be eternally secure if all the nation, and not only a remnant, has a righteousness that is eternally secure unto children’s children, world without end. This is exactly what was promised in the everlasting covenant. It is the ‘everlasting righteousness’ that will come in at the end of Daniel’s final week (Dan 9:24).

However, the deeper mystery, hid in other ages, is that the New Covenant could only be purchased through the ‘blood of the everlasting covenant’ as basis for the imputation and indwelling of that righteousness that is ‘wholly other’ as perfected on the principle of an endless life in the humanity of the elect Servant Son. So the post-tribulational Day of the Lord (the time of Israel’s resurrection / birth into New Covenant righteousness), together with the revelation of the gospel, becomes the ultimate divine solution to the dilemma of the covenant, or perhaps I should say covenants, plural.

Paul shows that the addition of the Law, with its imposition of conditions, could not annul the immutability of the promise, because the meeting of the conditions would not be by the power of man but by the God who raises the dead. The giving of the Law creates the dilemma of how the promise could be certain of fulfillment, since if anything is left to man, the promise is at risk. Only through resurrection would a people who are dead be able to so fulfill the law as to be safe in the Land forever.

This is why Paul is so vehement against making the promise to depend on anything of man, else it would be uncertain and subject to defeat. But faith, rightly understood, is impossible to the flesh. Faith that is quickened of God is born of God. As such, it is as far removed from human ability as the living from the dead. Faith is not a work of man but of God. The devils believe but the faith of God’s elect is an overcoming faith precisely because it is born of God (1Jn 5:4). In that sense, the faith that is quickened by the Spirit is in itself ‘a piece of resurrection’ (Art’s words).

The sudden revelation of Christ to the surviving remnant of Israel at Jesus’ return, analogous to Paul’s revelation on the Damascus road, is all about God’s determination to show in Israel’s resurrection the same power that He showed in Christ’s resurrection. But whereas Jesus was seen alive by chosen witnesses, every survivor from among the nations in that day will see the spiritual resurrection and return of the national servant / son (Ex 4:23-24; Hos 1:11; Isa 41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 49:3).

It is the covenant as fulfilled through the death and resurrection of the personal Servant Son in the midst of history that becomes the basis by which He will raise the corporate son at the end of history, all in open vindication of His unfailing power to fulfill the conditions of the covenant by Himself alone, precisely so that no flesh might glory, and for this, it must be by grace alone from start to finish, with nothing depending on man, else all is put at risk, even His eternal inheritance in Christ.

That Abraham fell into a deep sleep and was not permitted to pass between the pieces was to underscore that this everlasting covenant was made within the Godhead and was not lent out to the mercy of human will or cooperation, but of Christ who was in Abraham by the divine nature, as one born of Word and Spirit. So, in that sense, it is not I but Christ who is the true cooperator, as certainly obedience is required but only Christ’s obedience through the Spirit can fulfill the righteousness required by the Law in a way that is living and acceptable.

It must be so, because the obedience of which man is capable is fatally short. This is why Paul will speak of the obedience of faith, which is really the obedience of Christ at work in the believer through the Spirit, as it was no less the Spirit of Christ in the OT righteous (1Pet 1:11). This is also how there is ultimately and essentially only one Seed that inherits the promise, as the inheritance of the corporate seed is only by Him, as partakers of His divine nature, as born of the Word of God.

Thus, Israel is given to show the true nature of grace as a resurrection phenomenon through the quickening of Spirit in those who are called according to His purpose, before and apart from consideration of their works. (Ro 9:11, 16). An all saved, holy nation, compromised specifically of Jews, will exist in that specific Land for a thousand years to give continuous witness that men live by mercy and not by works of righteousness which they have done. In that sense, Israel exists to destroy all boasting by putting this great principle of grace on display. This is why He requires that Israel’s special covenant election be recognized and honored by the nations for a thousand years.

For one thousand years, an all saved, eternally preserved nation will witness to what Satan and flesh protests and hates the most. That is discriminating grace that has the right to visit or to pass over without obligation, as so well captured in the glorious old hymn that says, “while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.” Nothing is more despised by the pride of man. This is why for one thousand years, Israel will embody this principle openly, that through them, God might impress upon all flesh His righteous prerogative to save and keep apart from works of righteousness which have done. Yet, the righteousness that is wrought in us through the Spirit received by faith could never be more actual and real, yet nothing of ourselves.

The divine upholding of God’s right to choose and quicken whom He will does not cut off anyone from hope unless they insist on including something of themselves or their own power in that hope. Like Israel, election exists to destroy all boasting, but it cuts off no one, only the lie of human entitlement based on merit. I hope that is clear.

This is some of the more salient points that I see God making through the prophetic purpose that He has built around the election, the fall and rising again of Israel in that faithful pattern of life out of death.

You Have Boasted Against ME

Posted: July 14th, 2015, by Reggie Kelly

Notice the oft overlooked fine print.

Ezek 35:10-15

10 Because thou hast said, These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it; whereas the Lord was there:
11 Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord God, I will even do according to thine anger, and according to thine envy which thou hast used out of thy hatred against them; and I will make myself known among them, when I have judged thee.
12 And thou shalt know that I am the Lord, and that I have heard all thy blasphemies which thou hast spoken against the mountains of Israel, saying, They are laid desolate, they are given us to consume.
13 Thus with your mouth ye have boasted against me, and have multiplied your words against me: I have heard them.
14 Thus saith the Lord God; When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate.

Mic 4:11-12

11 Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion.
12 But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor ….

To speak against the mountains of Israel (obviously Jewish covenant claim), is regarded by God as blasphemy. Read it there in the text. Notice how He takes the words that men speak against Israel’s right to the Land as spoken against Himself, even though the nation, so far from attaining to covenant obedience, is a ‘sitting duck’ for the day of ultimate covenant judgment. Notwithstanding, God takes the contempt of Israel’s neighbors very personally. This needs to be probed as so much is at stake in this question.

The above are just two of a considerable number of passages that contain God’s view of the modern question of “divine right” to the Land, currently being hotly debated among evangelicals. As in so many of these examples in scripture, there is a mysterious overlap with a partial fulfillment in history that fell clearly short of of all the stated goals of the prophecy and a future fulfillment that will exhaustively fulfill every detail. This leaves a clear choice in interpretation.

Where there is a conviction that no part of the Scripture can fail of real and literal fulfillment, in conformity with the plain meaning of language and the original author’s intention, this points necessarily to a more complete fulfillment in future. This is particularly seen where the prophecy is set in the context of Israel’s ultimate salvation at the climactic day of the Lord. Where this principle is ignored or rejected on critical grounds, or the language spiritualized on dogmatic grounds, the tendency is to consign such passages to antiquity, voiding them of relevance or application to the modern circumstance.

While of course recognizing a partial fulfillment in past history, the demands of detail and context point necessarily to a future fulfillment that will include all the parts of the prophecy of which history makes no account, most particularly the final and everlasting deliverance of Israel at the Day of the Lord. As much as this has not happened, we conclude that such passages as these do indeed apply to the modern situation.

So much you know. What I want to particularly point out is that God’s great umbrage with the nations in their defiance of the covenant with regards to the Land in particular, is set in passages that presuppose Israel’s pre-millennial condition of covenant bankruptcy. The judgments that come upon the nations at the day of the Lord have particularly in view their view of Israel. That is to say, the attitude of the nations towards a still outstanding and binding covenant with Israel (the everlasting covenant; Ps 105:8-11) is regarded by God as more ultimately a statement of their attitude towards Him.

From the standpoint of His controversy with His people, it is God Himself who brings down the rebellious nations as a rod of discipline. But from the standpoint of the nations, this is high effrontery against the claims of His covenant that is the ultimate provocation of wrath on the nations. Let us not miss the paradox. “Offenses must come but woe to them by whom they come!”

Israel’s vulnerability to the curses and discipline of the covenant notwithstanding, when the nations move against them, a red line is crossed. Significantly, it is with act in particular that His anger comes up in His nostrils, as so many scriptures attests. Tell me if this does not mean that God continues to regard the Land and the people He chose to place there as uniquely His by “divine right”?

Israel’s shortcoming of covenant obedience, which Christians now rightly see as gospel obedience, was never before a final deterrent of entrance into the Land, whether initially with the Exodus or the return from Babylon. The remnant of true regeneration was always only comparatively small as it is today. The only thing that ever cast Israel out of the Land was when the cup of iniquity would come to full, when the iniquity of the Land would reach intolerable proportions.

Furthermore, when Israel went back to the Land, it would be at best a ‘day of small things’. The return would fall clearly short of the promise. Return to the Land was not based on a national repentance. This is to confuse any pre-tribulational return to the Land, whether ancient or modern, with the final and complete return that is indeed based on the post-tribulational repentance of the penitent remnant that becomes the all holy nation born in one day after Zion’s travail.

With the return from Babylon, there would be a time of refreshing in the Land but it was not expected by the prophets of the return (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) to last. Even the post-captivity prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who led in the revival, and Malachi would continue to look ahead to an ultimate day of the Lord, the final transition from this age to the next.

However long they would stay in the Land follwoing their return from Babylon (Daniel said 70 weeks of years), whatever the ups and downs, there would remain still ahead an ultimate time of unequaled trouble called, “Jacob’s trouble.” This would include yet another brief and final time of terrific desolation and Jewish flight to places of safety. In the fore-view of the prophets building on Moses, this would be the last installment of the ongoing discipline of the covenant that must follow Israel to the end of the age. As much as the tribulation is still future, Israel’s further desolation is still future.

In all of this, the point most clearly to made for our purpose is that despite Israel’s outstanding exposure to covenant discipline and divine judgment, this by no means detracts from the wickedness and bold defiance of the Word and Spirit of God that becomes explicit wherever presumptuous words and hands of self righteous men are raised against God’s chosen people, the Jews, and against the Land He sovereignly gave to them by divine right, not of a temporal, conditional covenant, but an unconditional, and therefore everlasting covenant. It is His holy and divine work to bring them to that place and He is surely able, but in the meantime, the nations are accountable to know, not only His counsel but His heart towards them. That was the church’s job, but you know the paradox of history.

Let us be very clear: The gift of the Land was never based on any superior righteousness of the Jewish nation (Deut 9:4-5). Quite the contrary, it was given by free and sovereign grace. However, their ability to keep the Land in abiding peace would never be finally secure to them until the whole of the nation, without the exception (Jer 31:34), would all be regenerate “from that day and forward” (Eze 39:22, 28-29). That Israel will exist millennially as an entirely saved nation after the last gentile aggressor has been destroyed at the end of the ‘times of the gentiles’ is made ‘inexcusably’ plain all throughout the prophets (Isa 4:2-3; 45:17, 25; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34, to mention only a few).

Although Israel must remain vulnerable to covenant judgment util that day, still, whether in the Land or out of the Land, they are no less set apart and no less beloved, despite their covenant infidelity and enmity against the gospel, so that to look upon them as covenantally insignificant, let alone to lay presumptuous hands on what God has chosen and about whom He has so definitely spoken, is in all the scriptures a precursor to wrath. Antisemitism is a sign of self righteousness and pride that discerns nothing of the true nature of divine election and mercy that is not based on works. Its resurgence is a modern sign of the first magnitude. It is always a portent of disaster and curse upon the nations that embrace it, because it represents something profoundly near to the heart of God that can only be spiritually discerned.

He gave them up for a brief moment, for their sins, yes, of course, but in a deeper sense, for us, for had He brought them in at that time, as He will surely do at the appointed time (Ps 102:13), where would we be? In a mystery, their momentary blindness is an alabaster box of divine sacrifice of unspeakable cost that to sleight or despise is to provoke His profound displeasure.