© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 2: God’s Call to Abraham: The Disruptive Truth of Man’s Kingdom Rejected
Lesson 41 – Abrahamic Covenant – Doctrine of Election
5 December 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We have three topics we’re going to talk about by way of the truths that come out of this event called the call of Abraham; the doctrine of election, the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of faith, three great truths. These three great truths are the foundation of the gospel, so that’s why we associate them with it. To review, last year we took up four events, creation, fall, flood, and covenant. This year we prepared for the call of Abraham and now we’re on the call of Abraham, and to each of these events we associate doctrines or truths. To review and comment on the importance of approaching things this way, as I said before, this class is not a substitute for a “Bible class,” nor is it a substitute for a class that gives more details of these topics.
Rather, what we’re trying to do is learn to get a panoramic view of the progress of revelation, to major on those events which the Scripture majors on and to be able to, in our minds, conjure up through the power of imagination, by concentrating on how God has reported these events, to fill our minds imaginatively with what went on in these events and connect them to truths, be able to draw out of these events the truths that the Holy Spirit seems to associate with them. For example, the doctrine of justification and election, we’ll see Paul in Romans over and over associates those doctrines with Abraham. And there’s a reason for it, because the things that are past are written for our understanding, so history was designed to teach, history is doxological, history is pedagogical, and because history is a divine pedagogy that means that these events have teaching value to them.
By way of review I want to get a running start to the doctrine of election. I want go back and look at how we’ve tied doctrines to these events in the past. To the event of creation we dealt with the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of nature. In other words, what is God, what is man, what is nature, and that is the element of the whole Christian worldview. If you get screwed up there you can’t build anything else because the doctrine of God we said, plus the Creator/ creature difference, we listed various attributes of God, we said He is sovereign, He is holy, He is love, and that He is omniscient and to those attributes we corresponded attributes of man, that man has a choice, man has a conscience, man can exercise love, and man can know things. And we mentioned that that’s what makes man made in God’s image, that’s a parallelism or similarity between man and God, and this is what is denied by 95% of our society today. Whenever the doctrine of evolution is taught man is nothing more than an accidental arrangement of matter, that’s all he is. If man is nothing more than an accidental arrangement of molecules, then there’s no such thing as real choice.
Let me review four things about man that correspond to four things about God. God has personal choice, we call it sovereignty; man has personal choice, we call it choice, but when we say man has choice we’re one of the few and last people in our society that really believe in choice. It’s ironic but the biology that is being taught, the psychology that is being taught, the whole philosophy that is being taught today basically makes man a mesh of molecules that are simply chemical motions in action, it’s just stimulus response, that’s all it is. And what we think is choice really isn’t choice, it’s just something that flows out of chemical determinism, physics, chemistry, that’s all, there’s no real choice. You can quickly see that if there’s no real choice, then what are the implications? We’re not responsible. On the biblical basis we have to defend real bona fide legitimate choice over against the chemists and the physicists. We come to conscience and we have to defend the fact that man has a conscience, that he seeks moral absolutes for judging purposes, and that is because he’s made in God’s image and he corresponds to God’s holiness. It doesn’t mean that we have absolute perfection; it merely means that we have an instrument aboard that seeks to be oriented to some moral absolute some place. That’s what the conscience is and that’s what makes man, man. We naturally seek moral absolutes. And the modern unbelieving pagan view is that you don’t have any God so if you don’t have any God then you don’t have any infinite, personally wise moral absolute. Once that happens, the second thing that happens to man is that losing his source of a moral absolute he has to get it some other place, and what is the other place? There can only be, ultimately, one other place, himself.
You always have variations, some people say 51% of the people, blah blah blah, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that it’s either you or God. But if it’s you and me, then what do we do with each other, now we’ve got two would-be gods in collision, and that results in chaos and violence, because if you’re going to be your moral absolute and I’m going to be mine, what do we do when we meet, we have no common ground. This is what is so terrifying socially about abandoning the moral absolutes. People think this is all theory; this is some theological, philosophical issue. It isn’t, it’s in the classroom, it’s out on the sidewalks, it’s in the business world, that if you give up a moral order, then there are certain ramifications that have to occur like night follows day. So man loses his choice, man loses his conscience.
Then we come to love, no man can really love unless you’re secure. If I am insecure I’m not going to be concerned about you, I’m going to be concerned about me and after I have my security then I’ll get concerned about you. That’s the whole problem with love. You can’t get love going in an insecure environment, and if you don’t have an environment that is controlled by a loving God as the background, then where do you get security from? Men try to generate security somehow, from insurance policies to the tower of Babel to socialism to Marxism, etc. We want to generate some sort of thing, that doesn’t mean all these things are ultimately wrong, the insurance was started by pastors in this country. But I’m talking about the wrong use of these things, the wrong use of government, the wrong use of these things as 100% security devices. There is no security in this world; therefore there can’t be any love. Love can’t get going in an insecure environment. So there goes the third characteristic of man down the drain.
Then we come to the fourth one, which is man’s knowledge, and that corresponds to God’s omniscience, but again if you do away with God you do away with omniscience, you do away with knowledge in an absolute sense, you’ve got to do away with human knowledge. Now what we call knowledge is just neuro activity in the brain. So you can quickly see that once you abandon a biblical worldview there are some very, very serious consequences that follow and set in, and we’re just seeing them unravel in our society and we look at this and at something else and say oh gee … well it is horrible to watch, it’s horrible to watch your country unravel itself in front of your face, but unfortunately it’s given to us to live in a generation in which this is occurring. And the only thing we can do is go back and make sure that in our souls, at least, we have it together; that’s enough, and hopefully here and there we can make some changes, hopefully here and there we can act as the salt of the earth, hopefully here and there we can hold some ground. But if we lose our bearings and orientation we’re not going to be worth anything anyway.
This is the background. All of these things come out of this creation event and to fortify our minds we can think of God speaking those things into action. You can visualize however your mind does it, visualize Adam and Eve, and visualize yourself as being in Eden with God creating Adam from a pile of sand, putting him together, walking through the Garden and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. Feed your imagination with those pictures and then link them with these truths.
Then we went into the fall. Out of the fall comes the idea that evil is bounded, this is a very new thought, this is something you’re not finding outside of the Bible, that evil is controlled, evil has a boundary, that there are certain true coping strategies and we went through eleven patterns of evil, six that are direct patterns and five indirect patterns.
Then we went into the flood and said there’s a picture of salvation, and the reason that picture is so important as a picture of salvation is in our time “religion” (quote unquote), I hate that word, “religion” is conceived psychologically, so when you use the word “salvation” it translates to somebody else as, oh, you’re talking about how you feel, you’re talking about some subjective religious experience. No, no, that’s not what salvation means, and the way to correct it is in your mind’s eye imagine being at the flood, imagine watching the whole surface of the planet disintegrate with this ark with the genetic pool of animals and humankind aboard that little ark floating around in a massive mess of water. That was judgment/salvation, two words that occur together and it wasn’t just psychologically. It was physical, it was totally environmental, it was geophysical, hence therefore in the future, the second return of Christ is not going to be a psychological event, it’s going to be a physical event. We have to fight this all the time, because the pressure of the world around us wants us to make salvation just a psychological inside experience, when that’s not true at all.
Then we came to the Noahic Covenant, and we prepared and set up for the call of Abraham. We mentioned that we are basically talking about from Genesis 12 to Genesis 50, that block of Scripture, and we’ve urged you to speed read it, don’t worry about details, so you’re acquainted with the unfolding drama of Abraham, his sons, etc.
We’re going to look at some of the texts to deal with the issue of election. We want to start by turning to Genesis 11 because we want to get the big idea first, before we get into the details. Let’s review by looking at the motif of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:4 is a very, very important verse because this gives the thrust of civilization in its pagan form. The sin nature of man, man in the flesh, Adam fallen, always produces a society that does this, and it’s done on a very sophisticated and academic level or it can be done in a normal common every day sense, but the thrust, the motive of the world system is described in Genesis 11:4. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Which was exactly what God wanted them to do, that last clause, “lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth,” is a diagrammatic opposition to Noah’s covenant in Genesis 9 when God said I want you to go into all the world. That’s deliberate, emphatic, and total disobedience, that last clause. Notice the phrase, “lest we,” there’s a negative purpose clause there, in other words, I want to disobey God but I know that if I disobey His overt command I’ve got to substitute something. So the whole rest of the verse, ahead of that last clause, “lest we be scattered,” is a replacement. There’s where the idolatry comes in, you can’t disobey God without creating a vacuum, and the vacuum sucks in a replacement. So every act of disobedience is really an invitation to some form of idolatry.
In verse 4 the key phrase is “let us make for ourselves a name,” in other words, we are going to generate, so to speak, the kingdom and a perfect security and everything out of our own finiteness. We will generate it. Then contrast that with Genesis 12:1 when God speaks to Abraham, “Go forth” and get out of the world system, get out of that city that you’re in, and then He says in verse 2, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing.” Notice “I will make your name great,” so there’s a deliberate contrast between Genesis 11:4 and Genesis 12:2, two different programs, one the pagan program and the other God’s program. In one man tries to do it all, man tries to generate the total answer, in the second program of God, God says I have the answer, you may not know it all and I will take the initiative.
You will also notice that Abraham doesn’t initiate the action, even though Genesis 12:1 looks like it’s coming after Genesis 11:31, but 11:31 is just the prior history; 12:1-3 is a summary statement, and we know from Acts 7 that the time of verse 1-3 actually is in 11:31. In other words, what I’m saying here is God called Abraham, Abraham didn’t start any motion, didn’t respond until he had a call. God’s initiative established this whole program that’s begun in the Bible here in Genesis 12. It wasn’t Abraham looking to do it, it was God who intervened. Last year we said the series was “The Buried Truths of Origins,” this year we’re saying “The Disruptive Truths of the Kingdom of God,” because here the theme is that God disrupts, God interferes, God intervenes, man has his plan and then suddenly God comes in and says no, this is the way it’s going to be. When we deal with the call of Abraham we’re dealing with a divine interruption.
We talked a little bit about Abraham, now I want to get background on the doctrine of election. I want to go to the New Testament where the New Testament reflects back onto the Old Testament. Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul does with Abraham’s life in Romans. Ever been in a Bible class where they never finished the book? In a course in Romans they usually stop at the end of chapter 8 and never finish it, and it’s because there’s some pretty stuff after Romans 8. But I want to spend a few minutes to kind of give you an overview of Romans 9, 10, and 11 by way of a perspective on the call of Abraham. Look at Romans 8:38-39, the last two verses of chapter 8. Everybody quotes these, it’s pretty well known, most people know Romans 8:28 and everything following Romans 8:28 basically is saying the same thing, Romans 8:33, “Who shall bring anything against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies,  who is the one who condemns?” Then you come down to verses 38-39 and there’s a statement made in these two verses that’s pretty dogmatic. Paul says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s that verse that leads into this three chapter apparent diversion.
Why do you think Paul does what he does in Romans 9, 10, and 11 when he starts talking about Israel? He hasn’t been talking about Israel in Romans 8, why does he suddenly start talking about Israel and the Jew in Romans 9-11; what’s the story here, why the seeming discontinuity. If you think about verses 38-39, what is it an assertion of, which if you were a Jew in the first century and somebody had said that to you, and you looked around and saw the loss of Israel, the fall, the exile in 586 BC and knew that as part of your Jewish history, the nation went down, the Jews that were living in the Israel of Jesus day were very aware that this was a ghetto compared to the nation that existed in Solomon’s era. They always remembered the great kingdom of the past. Why, if you were a Jew, living and reading Romans 8, what might you think to challenge the truth of verses 38-39? What would be in your memory? What would be as part of your personal Jewish history that would tend to argue, that you would say, well, Paul, I’m not quite so sure about the statement you made in Romans 8:38-39. In verses 38-39 he’s saying that God is always going to be protecting His elect ones, those that are in Christ. Now if you’re a Jew, what are you going to assert? Excuse me, what about the exile, You let the nation down, this was supposed to be God’s elect nation, You let Israel be conquered. Even in this day was Israel free? She was under the foot, the boot of Rome. So excuse me, if God can’t keep His promises in the Old Testament, what makes us think He’s going to keep His promises in the New Testament. So there’s a Jewish argument to contravene verse 38-39. Hence, therefore, He’s got to deal with it, and that’s what Romans 9-11 is all about. It’s to clear away a misunderstanding of Jewish history that could have led to a very severe doubt and a challenge that God always does protect His elect.
That’s why in Romans 9:1 he says, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,  that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart,  For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,  Who are Israelites…” etc. Now he deals with the Jewish plight, the Jewish predicament here, which could have been used as a counter argument. Notice in verse 6 how he answers it, he says “But it is not as though the word of God has failed, for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.  Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’  That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” He says I contravene the opposition by saying that the promises of God given in the Old Testament were not given to all Jews, those promises of endurance were given to those Jews who were genuine believers. And it’s their destiny that God has been faithful to keep. So he says you’ve got your eyes on the wrong terms of the covenant, and he goes back therefore to build a base to correct understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant, Abraham being the first Jew.
He points out in verses 8-9 that Abraham had two children, but it was Isaac that was the one who to whom the promise was given. Then he goes on to the next generation, verse 13, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated,” that there’s a division in the second generation. Verse 14, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!  For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” The whole idea is that God promised to be faithful to those whom He called, and He says you Jews, you think that God called the whole nation, perfect security for all time; you didn’t read the fine print. God called those who respond to Him, God called those who are the elect, God called Isaac, He called Jacob, if you try to give me the counter example of Ishmael and Esau, that’s not a valid argument, because they are not considered to be (quote) “the elect” in the Old Testament.
What is an argument here is it’s a definition to whom do these promises apply? Again going back to Romans 8:38-39, that is a promise to all who are “in Christ.” And he says if you’re a believer, obviously you’re in Christ, and the promise applies to you, but you can’t use the Jewish history counter argument because that counter argument is grounded on a false understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant. He goes on and describes the whole thing, and comes to chapter 10, then chapter 11 and finally in Romans 11:29, he goes through Israel’s history. He’s saying that Israel will not be erased from history, he doesn’t say that every Jew is going to be saved, but he says that the nation Israel will be saved, there will be a remnant of Israel that will be saved. In verse 29 he says “The gives and the calling of God are irrevocable.” When God starts a work in history He finishes that work in history and He’s not going to stop until He finishes it. So “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  For just as you once were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience,  so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.” In other words, he’s talking about Jews and Gentiles and he’s saying in the future all of the nation Israel will respond, there will come a day for Israel’s great golden era, it’s not behind them in Solomon’s time, it’s ahead of them in Messiah’s time. Verse 32, “For God has shut up all disobedience that He might show mercy to all.”
Then after going through this very difficult section of Romans 9-11, look how he concludes, and I want to emphasize that because he’s winding up this three chapter dissertation, and obviously there are lots of questions, Paul knew there were lots of questions, and he concludes by pointing to a characteristic of God that we mentioned last year. Romans 11:33, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” There’s that thing called the incomprehensibility of God. It’s a corollary of His infiniteness. It doesn’t mean there’s a contradiction, in God’s mind there is perfect, 100% logical fit, the problem is we can’t load enough in our computers, our finite limited computers, to understand how these pieces all fit together, and so he says it’s unsearchable, His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable. That’s a corollary to Christian doctrine. And we can’t say that we understand the whole plan of God, if we understood the whole plan of God it would be claiming that we’re omniscient, and that’s precisely the pagan agenda, the pagan agenda has always sought omniscience for man. So we can’t slip back into that as we understand a little bit about election.
Notice verses 34-36, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” Did we give advice to God?  “Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” This is the end of that three chapter dissertation.
He resumes in Romans 12:1, which everybody begins to read again because we skipped over Romans 9-11 because those are hard chapters. We slip from Romans 8 to Romans 12 and we quote, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship,” forgetting that there’s one introductory word there in 12:1 that depends on the last three chapters, the word, “therefore.” The whole command to give yourselves a spiritual sacrifice to God is contingent on being able to do it by faith. You can’t do it by faith if you doubt that He’s going to be honest to His calling and His promises. And for Jewish believers particularly they’re going to have a lot of doubts, because to them they’ve been the bad boys of history, they’ve been kicked around, and it doesn’t really look like God kept many of His promises. At least to the 1st century Jewish world it didn’t look like He kept many of His promises.
So Paul deals with that because you can’t believe if your conscience won’t let you. You can’t work up faith, faith is the result of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating the heart, and you can’t make yourself believe it. The way you create faith is by listening to the Word of God, and listening to it, listening to it, thinking about it, listening to it, thinking about it till it clicks. When it clicks you can believe it. So that’s why he says “Therefore, I urge you brethren,” in light of the fact the calling and the mercies of God are without repentance, the fact that God chooses to do a thing and He’s going to bring it to pass, that’s why he says “I urge you to present your bodies a living sacrifice,” it’d be kind of stupid to present your bodies a living sacrifice to a God who never finished things. Hey, I’m not going to risk that, go play with somebody else’s life, don’t play with mine. So verse 1 that’s so popular in our evangelical culture is contingent on an understanding of this doctrine of election, that God completes what He starts.
Turn in the notes to page 30 we’ll look at it under four points. The first one goes back to something very fundamental, and I want to emphasize this at the beginning because if there’s one time when a lot of people get bent out of shape it’s in this area of the doctrine of election, and it’s because nine times out of ten the whole discussion starts off on a wrong foot. Nine times out of ten when people start talking about this, they talk about election as some sort of idea way over here, separate from everything else. The point I want to make as we start, that underlying little clause, “Never try to learn one piece of revelation isolated from the rest, or you will eventually at some point compromise the presupposition of biblical faith.”
The Bible is a system, the Bible is a coherent systematic revelation from God, and you can’t take a piece here and a piece there and understand it apart from the other pieces. You say then, well how do I ever get started? Very slowly, because there’s a process here of learning this piece, and then reflecting on it, and it takes time, it takes years of reflection, and then God through circumstances in your life will take very practical pressures to force you back to where you have… we get stripped out of all of our fleshly gimmicks and then you’re standing there naked before Him, and then gee, maybe I should do that after all. Yes, after everything else has been knocked out and then we decide we’re going to do that, and we think we’re so spiritual. But it’s only because He’s forced us into a corner, that’s why we did it, or that’s why we trust Him.
In this area of election we want to realize that you have to consider it as part of the whole and the easiest way of doing that is to think in terms of the literal call of one guy out of the city of Ur in 2000 BC. It’s the easiest picture. So I’m going to present it under four things to kind of help. The first one on page 30 is “Election rests upon Creation.” So you can’t have one without the other; read with me that paragraph. “Abraham came out of the pagan heartland of Mesopotamia. The two cities where he lived—Ur and Haran—were known centers of worship of the moon god Nanna/Sin,” those are two different names of the moon god. “As I showed in Part II of this series, such paganism ‘buries’ the memory of ex nihilo creation along with the Creator/creature distinction,” i.e., the nature of what God is. “All reality is viewed as one continuous scale of being. History appears to be run for a time by, say, a moon god until another god supplants him. Behind these wars of the gods lies the ultimate mystery of the tablets of destiny or fate or chance.” That’s the pagan mind. If you can’t have a personal God in charge because you don’t have an infinite personal God then you’ve got to have something in charge and it’s either chance or fate.
Usually you read in pagan stories about the tablets of destiny, you go into the famous film epic, 2001 Space Odyssey that was done, still one of the great classic films of all time, and you’ll see at the beginning and at the end of the film Stanley Cooper has this thing, it looks like one of the tablets of the Ten Commandments going through outer space, as though that is controlling man’s destiny. So somewhere you have to have a controller, so usually in paganism it’s the tablets of destiny or fate or chance. This [can’t understand word] to horoscope business, etc.
“To respond to God’s call to leave the domain of the moon god, Abraham had to have believed that God was Creator overall and therefore that His message of election was secure from any interference.” Now let’s put some shoe leather on that. You are a business man, Abraham, you are in Ur, if your life is controlled by the moon god and what the moon god decrees for your city and your city state and all your business transactions are going on, you’ve lived your whole life there, you’ve got everything planned out, what you’re going to do, etc. And then God tells you what He told Abraham in Genesis 12, get out and go to a land that I’m not going to tell you about, but I’ll show you how to get there. In terms of the pagan mind, what are you doing when you leave the city that is controlled by the lunar cult? Leaving the area what do you run into danger of? You’re going into another territory; the moon god doesn’t control the other territory. The gods in those days were geographically limited and everyone knew that, so for Abraham to walk out of the city of Ur over to the city of Haran over to God knows where meant that the God who he trusted had to have something different about Him than the moon god had. This God that called had to have absolute and total control over all geography, over every area. His sovereignty had to be universal, not local. Right away we know that to answer the call Abraham had to have an idea; he had to have broken totally in his heart with the pagan worldview. He could not have believed in the Continuity of Being and operated on the basis of that call.
Somewhere God the Holy Spirit illuminated his heart to Who and what God was, and it’s this illumination that occurs at gospel hearing. This has got to happen before we can trust in Jesus Christ. Some of the false conversions that we have in our churches I’m convinced that Jesus is presented as some sort of guru, sort of a panacea, and what happens is that people don’t ever think of Jesus as really God, or that sin is really a violation of a legal relationship with this God of the universe, so having a very trivial and low view of God, and a trivial and low view of sin, you’re going to have a trivial and low view of Christ. So you can use the name “Jesus,” you can use the term “Christ,” we can talk about trusting in Christ but if the content of who and what God is isn’t there, you’re going to have a false conversion, it’s not going to last, it’s going to fade away, it’s going to be a hip-ho for the moment.
Right away we’re faced with the fact that election, the call of God, isn’t the call of a moon god, it isn’t the call of chance, it’s the call of the Sovereign God of the universe. So it rests upon the existence of the Creator/creature distinction. The whole idea of election is simply that this, the ex nihilo creator, is the ex nihilo creator. And God chooses to do it this way. He chooses to make the rainbow with those colors, that’s His choice. He chooses to make chlorophyll green, and He chooses to have Abraham’s around, it’s His right. We may not like that, we may feel offended, but if we feel offended, that which is in our heart that feels offended, do you know what it is? It’s a prideful desire to be God. A lot of people don’t get the point, the doctrine of election is like a
2 × 4 that comes up along the side of the head and bang, it wallops you, realizing that He calls the shots, not us. So that part of it rests upon election.
Now we want to understand what Paul meant in Romans 11:33 when he said “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” We want to remind you on page 31 about the fact that God, in His nature, is incomprehensible. Last time we dealt with the fact of the Creator/distinction. We said that God has certain qualities and that we have to be careful about how we talk about God and His qualities, His attributes. For example, if you start talking about God’s sovereignty you have to remember that there’s not some abstract quality called sovereignty shared by both God and man, that’s not the point. Sovereignty is God’s choice, and we are finite creatures and we have our choice, and this choice is similar to but not identical. Our choice is similar to God’s sovereignty, but our choice is not equal to God’s sovereignty. We always have to remember, every attribute of God is that way. That’s what we’re talking about here. Our ideas are similar to God’s ideas, they’re the creature version of them, but they’re not equal to God’s ideas. If our ideas were equal to God’s ideas and identical we’d have omniscience. So when we talk about God causing things, etc. we have to be careful.
Let me go through these paragraphs on page 31 on election. “Like Abraham we have to leave our pagan notions behind when we face the doctrine of election. It must be understood against the backdrop of creation: that there is a Personal Sovereign behind origins and history; and that there are two levels of being—Creator and creature—not one. The Creator’s (Q)uality of sovereignty cannot be identical to the human creature’s (q)uality of choice. Our choice is only a finite replica of God’s sovereignty so we ought not to visualize,” and here’s the important point that gets stuck in all these arguments, “we ought not to visualize God’s control over us like, say, some deterministic chemical cause-effect reaction. Such sub-biblical imaginations always erase personal responsibility because, like Nimrod, they cannot conceive controlling real people without coercion.”
God can control us without eliminating responsibility. How He does that I have no earthly understanding. You’ve seen glimpses of this in your life, if you’ve lived the Christian life any length of time, you know that God puts you in a certain situation, in a certain time, in a certain place, so that you’d run into this person who had that background and all of a sudden you see three or four things happen. Did you feel a secret voice telling you “go right 150 feet?” You didn’t hear any call; there was no computer plug in telling you to get there. You, in your consciousness just did it, you were there, you just happened to be there, and this other person just happened to be there. How did that happen? We don’t know how that happens, and that’s what we’re talking about here with election. He pulls it off, He does it daily. It’s how He sovereignly controls without coercion. That is what Paul means when he says “How unsearchable are His ways.” The average person, if you talk about God’s sovereignty they think, oh, if God is sovereign, then we’re just puppets. Well, if God would be like us, the only way we could get total control is have puppets. Do you see the fallacy in the imagination? What they’re doing is they’re trying to visualize how you can control something like you’d control something. That’s not the point, you aren’t God; the issue is how God controls someone without coercion. We can’t do that, God can.
The nearest illustration, in our own realm, to sovereignty is to think of yourself as an author of a book, do you control the plot of the book? Yes you do. But if I am a reader of your book, do I get the impression that this character in your novel is being forced to do things? No, because the book reports that they’re free to do this and this and this and this, and this is how it winds up. You, as the author are able to somehow make your characters do the plot. If you can do that with a book, why can’t God do that with history, we’re in His book and He makes the plot come out that way. But He does it somehow without coercion. So that’s what we’re talking about in that area.
[blank spot] Look at Romans 9:21, Paul uses an illustration that has in its background the fall. In verse 21, “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?  What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” The image of the potter and the clay wasn’t original to Paul. Paul got that out of the Old Testament, so let’s go back to where he got it, Jeremiah 18. Again a Jewish reader of Romans would have known this; the modern New Testament Christian wouldn’t.
Jeremiah 18:2, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.  But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.” What happens to the pot that’s being made, notice the text, he’s making a thing on the potter’s wheel and it gets screwed up so he has to remake it. In the analogy what’s the human race done, when it was first made in creation, what intervening event happened? The fall happened, so the human race got screwed up, it got marred, the clay has been marred, so election has in view not only creation but it also presupposes a fall, so you have the lump of clay, you have the event of the fall and now the clay is all messed up. What election asserts is that God comes in and he can remake the clay, so He remakes the clay, and then He leaves some of it, that is what election is all about.
The question is how does that happen? Turn to Romans 9 and we’ll see something about the verbs that are used in that passage. In Romans 9:22-24, those who are hep on conjugating verbs notice something. Verse 22, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power know, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” What is the voice of the verb “prepared” in verse 22, active or passive? Passive, in the passive voice the subject receives the action; the Greek also has a middle voice which is reflexive. So you have prepared for wrath, and it’s a passive voice, which in the Greek can be also reflexive, prepared themselves. They have been prepared; this is the damaged pot from that Jeremiah 18 illustration. It says in verse 23, “And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory.” There’s the verb again, “prepared” but now what voice is it, active or passive? It’s active. So over here we have prepare, not prepared, God does the preparing; the vessels here, the subject is left out, the subject and an indefinite verb or passive voice, you have to kind of think about whose doing the acting here. It’s very strong and clear that God prepares the ones that He prepared beforehand for glory, the vessels of mercy, but the other verb doesn’t share that power.
What we have here is something you will observe time and again in Scripture, we’ll see it again at the Exodus event, where there’s an asymmetry about God’s sovereignty that somehow tells us something. Here’s God’s sovereignty, He controls good and He controls evil, but His control over the good is different than His control over evil, He doesn’t go into a lot of details but there’s an asymmetry here, it’s not the same. The Bible has various ways of telling this, through verb tenses, voices of the verb, there’s another thing like this in the Ten Commandments, I am the God who visits the sin of the fathers unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me, but then it goes immediately and turns around, and I visit blessings on the thousands of generations of them that love me. There again is this difference that goes on, saying that God in His active desire of His heart is to bless, but that He is sovereign and He will leave that which has become foul, become disorganized, become rebellious, He will often leave it in a state or rebellion.
If you want another glimpse of this, turn to Deuteronomy 4, it’s a comment on what’s going on here as He pulls Abraham out of the pagan world; this is the Mosaic commentary on it. Notice how He talks about His elect nation verse the un-elect nations, because the concept is the same even though here it’s nations and in Abraham’s day it was the family. In Deuteronomy 4:19, He’s warning them not to worship the creation with idols and He says, “And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God” notice this clause, “has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt,” there’s the picture of the clay all screwed up and what God does; He reaches down and redoes, but when He redoes He doesn’t redo all of it, so the second element in the doctrine of election is that it has in the background of the imagery of election is a fall has happened. God isn’t obligated to do anything, but He reaches down and He calls people like Abraham out.
Let’s go to page 32, the third point, and turn to Hebrews 11, the great chapter on faith, and we’ll talk more about faith later, but the third thing about election that I want to communicate: Election, when it happens in history, is a revelation, it’s a revelation never before seen nor being able to be predicted. It’s a surprise event, so that what you have in the call of Abraham, if you diagram it on a time line, would look like this, you’d have Nahor, Terah, Abraham. Abraham lives in the city of Ur, and then all of a sudden the call comes, and now Abraham leaves and he starts his own pathway. At that very moment, when the call of Abraham comes there is revealed the election of God. It was not there before, nor could it have been predicted. There’s nothing inside history whereby you can predict what God is going to do. This is a surprise event, sort of like happens in the atom now, the [can’t understand word] quantum theory where you suddenly have no rhyme or reason, all of a sudden you have this change of state, you can’t predict it, it just is there. So in history it’s the same thing, when you have this thing it’s a surprise event. That has implications and the implications for our faith are quite profound because in Hebrews 11:3 we have the statement that history is ultimately unpredictable, which, by the way, is an argument why science will never be able to write a history. Science presupposes predictability, it presupposes that events T + 1 are the same in [can’t understand word] physics as a T, and that is an assumption, it can’t be proved, that’s assumed, and then after we assume it, then we predict it.
In Hebrews 11:3 we say, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen as not made out of things which are visible.” In other words, the steering wheel of history is outside of history, and we are constantly surprised, time after time, with the hand of God as he works in our lives. Carrying this further, down a few verses, look at what the author of Hebrews says about Abraham in verse 8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out,” and look at the last clause, “not knowing where he was going.” “Not knowing,” was Abraham therefore “not knowing” insecure? What did Abraham know? That tells us what he didn’t know, what did he know? He knew that the God of the universe was there, and the God of the universe was calling him and that sufficed for his knowledge base. He knew those, he could do the other. But in all reality the Bible tells us we don’t know a lot about what’s going on, and the key is visualizing Abraham as a businessman. Any person that runs an office, runs a business, can put themselves in Abraham’s position. How would you like somebody, God, to call you, you’re going to move your business to some place, and I’ll show you where. That doesn’t really give you a sense of comfort; it’s a big disruption to be facing that. But that’s what faith is, and election is this sudden intervention in our lives, this call that comes in. That’s what we want to see, election is always a surprise event.
On page 33, this is the comforting side of it, Abraham didn’t know but he did know the One who called him. We want to look at the first paragraph under point 4: “Election is God’s Basic Eternal Promise to You and Me. In Abraham’s case all three of the promises—land, seed, and worldwide blessing—were still future when God called. A very important implication of election is that every other promise God makes to his elect is contained already in His election promise.” God’s promise to provide a child to Abraham, God’s promise to protect Sarah to Abraham, that was all wrapped up in the original call. “If the final state of the elect is promised, then every need leading to that final state must also be promised. Jesus used this reasoning when He deduced resurrection from the Abrahamic Covenant.” We’ll see how Jesus deduced the entire doctrine of resurrection from the Abrahamic Covenant. Turn to Matthew 22, this was a stunning thing that Jesus did, but if Jesus did this, it’s a model of how to reason from the basis of the Word of God.
The doctrine of resurrection is not clear in the Old Testament, obviously the doctrine of resurrection is very clear in the New Testament, because Jesus rose from the dead, but Jesus kept insisting that resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament. There’s only one passage in the Old Testament that talks about resurrection clearly, and that’s in Daniel, but interestingly in Matthew 22:29, when the Pharisees had an argument with the Sadducees about resurrection, in verse 29 Jesus starts to discuss resurrection. He says, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” So He’s challenging their interpretation, He’s says, verse 30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read,” so now He pins them down to an Old Testament passage, you guys should have known about resurrection, “have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying,  I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” What on earth does that have to do with the resurrection? Can anybody see the inference? First glance through here is not easy to see. Let me show you what Jesus apparently is doing with this passage, and it was a surprise to the people of His day and what it is to us, it shows us how serious Jesus took every word of Scripture.
What Jesus is saying is there was the Covenant promise. What was the Covenant promise to Abraham? It was the land, the seed, and the worldwide blessing. Each one of these has a temporal fulfillment and an eternal fulfillment, that this land wasn’t just the land of Israel in his day; it was also to be the eternal temple of God, the New Jerusalem. The seed wasn’t just to be Isaac; it was to terminate in the eternal One, the God-man, Messiah. The worldwide blessing was to ultimately be the worldwide kingdom of God. All of these pointed to the future. Did Abraham live forever? No, Abraham on the time line looked like that, and he was dead. So the question is, if Abraham died here, how do these promises pertain to Abraham? You can say, well Abraham in his spirit, Abraham in his soul, after he died he was blessed. But this isn’t talking about soul, this is talking about a land, land is physical. How is Abraham going to receive this promise if he doesn’t have a body to receive it in? And he says “God is of the life” and life in the Hebrew means body plus soul, not just soul, body + soul. So God is the God of the living, and He makes His promises, therefore if Abraham died Abraham must rise again from the dead.
He expected, and this is kind of awesome, because I wouldn’t have inferred that, maybe if you banged me over the head and made me think about it a little bit I might, but He expected people to be able to look at the Abrahamic Covenant and deduce resurrection from it. A pretty tall order, don’t you think. He didn’t rely on Daniel to prove the doctrine of resurrection; He relied on the Abrahamic Covenant to prove the whole doctrine of resurrection. He said you read that, you should have understood it, why are you arguing about resurrection, it’s all cleared up in the Abrahamic Covenant. Maybe it was to Him, but for most of us we have to think about that one, don’t we. And it gives us serious pause to the fact that when we look at these Scriptures there’s a lot more in them than we’re willing to give them on the first, second, third, or even fifth readings.
We covered in quick form the issue of election and I want to conclude, on page 33, that last paragraph under election because this is why this doctrine is so important in our Christian life. “Election, then, is basic to all else in the Christian life. Contrary to Arminian claims,” those are people who believe you can lose your salvation, “we must begin our new life in Christ knowing of our election, that our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:20, cf., 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10; 2 John 1),” there are some verses to prove it. “Without this assurance we can never truly claim any of God’s promises because we can never be sure that they are addressed to us! Knowing that God has called us and works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure must precede our faith walk,” so election is wrapped up with the fact that we can be confident, we can be certain, we can be sure of God’s plan, and it’s a marvelous source of blessing. This is why Romans 8 and Romans 12 was written that way, Paul wants us to be sure that “all things work together to good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose,” from an election.
The most famous promises of all the Christian life has election embedded in it. So that’s why the call of Abraham should be a picture to us, of the fact that Abraham did not know the land, he did not know the child, he did not know how he would be a blessing, but he did know God called him, and he acted accordingly, and that’s what God wants us to do with election, I call you and I expect you to respond to My call. And as we walk down the path together I’ll show you this and I’ll show you that and I’ll show you some more stuff, but I’m not going to show you the whole road map right now, you’re going to have to trust Me, I have the map, you just follow me. And that’s very frustrating because I’m the kind of guy, I want to see the map first, then I’ll decide whether I want to go on this trip. I want everything laid out first so I can decide. But you see, God’s designed our lives so that if we act that way we can’t operate. He’s deliberately structured it so we have to believe.
Next time we’re going to deal with the doctrine of justification, and if you’ll look at that and Romans 4 because next week it’s going to be kind of tough if you come from a Roman Catholic background because we’re going to deal with the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Here’s where the watershed happens, because this is the Protestant Reformation, what it’s all about. You want to be careful, because Roman Catholicism does not believe what some Protestants maliciously tell, you hear Protestants often say Catholics believe in justification by works; Catholics do not believe in justification by works, and you can prove it by their own catechism, so you have to be careful that we be truthful to depict what Romanism says, on the other hand we want to show you what Luther and Calvin discovered that launched the whole Reformation, and why today in our evangelical circles we are in great danger of going back to Rome by the way we’re preaching the gospel. So the doctrine of justification is very, very important, so please read the notes. Tonight was a very hasty survey of a very difficult area, so I probably stirred up more questions than I answered but I’m here so you can take some shots if you want.
Question asked: Clough replies: The answer to the analogue on God’s side to our conscience is His holiness, or describes sometimes His righteousness or His justice, the analogue on God’s side for love is love; the analogue on God’s side for knowledge is omniscient. Those attributes are key and the reason why I mention those four is because those four turn out to be requirements for all of life for man, and if you take God away, then they collapse, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing, because man has to come up with a substitute. Man has to substitute some sort of a base for choice, conscience, love, and knowledge.
And that’s where we as Christians can counterattack, in other words, the pagan mind is very arrogant and it looks upon us as the weaklings and we have to rely on faith, blah, blah, blah, and they’re the people to be pitied because here they are, trying to build a doctrine of choice, and all they’ve got is chemistry. They’re trying to build a doctrine of conscience and rights, and they don’t have any source for them. They’re trying to build an atmosphere where people can love one another when ultimately there’s insecurity, and they’re trying to build knowledge without any prior knowledge, without any absolute controls, absolute standards of truth. So really the pagan is to be sadly pitied. The Bible’s term for the destruction of those four things is a technical term that occurs throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, called vanity, and when you see that word in the New Testament you want to be careful, because if you read it like I did for many years, you just kind of read it over quickly.
You’ve done some reading in Christian classics, Pilgrim’s Progress, and you remember Vanity Fair and all I remember was growing up my mother had some cosmetic thing or something called Vanity Fair, but when I became a Christian I realized what that’s talking about, it’s talking about Vanity Fair is this pagan error, Vanity is the idea of lack of substance, it’s sort of like in James, “what is your life but a vapor that passes away,” ppffftt, on a cold morning. It looks like it has space and substance, but it turns out not to have anything, it’s like cotton candy. So that’s the flavor of the word “vanity” and “fair” is the old English word for beauty, and Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress meant that there’s this attractive, paganism is attractive, it wouldn’t be a temptation if it wasn’t attractive, so it’s an attractive vanity, and this is why it seduces people, because it is attractive.
So the collapse of those four things is basically vanity, and that’s what Solomon means when he goes over and over, “all is vanity, all is vanity, all is vanity,” he says I had this, I had that, I had did this experiment, I did that experiment, I bought this, I bought that, and I tried to build my business and I had security, etc. and it’s all vanity. And people think what went wrong with Solomon. Well, it was that he did all the experiments, he tried everything, and he had the means of trying, he had the brilliance most of us don’t have, none of us do, Solomon probably was one of the most brilliant men who ever walked the face of the planet. He was probably on a par with Leonardo DaVinci, all you have to do is read the book of Ecclesiastes and write down on a scratch pad every area that guy did experiments in. He was in botany, he was in math, he was in physics, he was in engineering, he experimented a thousand times with marriage, that would wear anybody out, and he went on and on from one area after another with all this, and his conclusion is that it’s all vanity.
So that’s what we’re trying to get at here, so that we as Christians don’t become paranoid. We don’t have to be paranoid, the other people ought to be paranoid, they’re the ones that don’t have any substance, and we ought to start telling them that when they arrogantly deny they need Jesus Christ. What do you mean you don’t need Jesus Christ, you don’t even have an idea of truth or knowledge or anything else, don’t tell me you don’t need Jesus Christ, don’t give me that stuff, I was born in the morning but it wasn’t yesterday morning. And that’s the way we ought to handle that kind of arrogance, call it for what it is, graciously but nevertheless pointedly.
Question asked: Clough replies: That is wrapped up with the fact that in Noah’s time, a good way of looking at that is you have to keep in mind that election is a part of God’s sovereign control, and when we’re talking sovereignty here, He never absolves or destroys somehow in the process human responsibility. And if you want to think about Noah, and think about He called Noah and his family, He also preached to the entire world for 120 years, so no person who winds up as an unbeliever can ever argue that they’re in unbelief because of election, being not elected. The condemnation in John is they have not believed, and their condemnation is that they have not believed. Believed what? Believed what they knew of the Word of God that had come to them, and that’s why we have to be so careful because hyper-Calvinism gets hold of this and destroys it.
That’s why, I didn’t have time tonight, but one of the things, maybe I can draw this diagram that’s helped me think that through, because for a time I had some people that were intent on becoming hyper-Calvinists and they almost took over the campus at Dallas Seminary at one time, and they even came out with a statement that said, gee, if I knew who the non-elect were I wouldn’t bother to witness to them. That is the ultimate stupid extrapolation of this, and the way to think about it that has helped me is to think of the fact… this is time going this way, and think of God’s existence up here, and history down here, God in His mind has always understood who the elects are and who the non-elects are, obviously because He’s omniscient. But in history, what I’m trying to do is make the point that the elect do not come into existence until the gospel is preached and they believe, so if this X represents the gospel witness, somebody sharing the gospel, this is the person believing, that’s the point where the elect ones exist, they don’t even exist prior to that point. Now they exist in God’s mind, but so did the universe exist in God’s mind before creation, didn’t it? But it didn’t exist until God created it.
If you get this idea here, what it does, it means that every time you witness, or I witness, or we share the gospel, it means that that sharing of the gospel, that evangelism is the very means that is being used to create the elect. The elect are never conceived as elect, you don’t have [can’t understand word] spectacle in the Bible of unbelieving elect people, it’s not there. Elect are already in Christ, we share Christ’s election, and we are believers. But you don’t EVER in Scripture, EVER see the elect identified running around in an unbelieving state. The term is always reserved for post-belief. And that means that this act of witnessing, that “call” that comes through the gospel, is not an impotent sorting device, and that’s why hyper-Calvinism historically has been very weak evangelistically.
That’s what happened to the Reformation, that’s what happened to the Puritans, they went down because they never had a vigorous evangelism, and the reason they never had a vigorous evangelism, they didn’t even evangelize their kids, what happened was they lost it, here they were, they had created one of the most vibrant Christian civilizations known to man and they lost it in two generations. And it was because there was a defect in their doctrine, their doctrine made this gospel witness really unnecessary, because after all the elect are going to believe and we don’t have to help them, they’re going to just do it themselves. That’s wrong. The elect are called into existence by the gospel, and that’s why, I forget where the verse is but it’s in Paul’s epistle where we cause condemnation and we cause life, we’re saviors of death and we’re saviors of life, what he’s saying is that when you evangelize somebody you’re pushing the envelope because what it means is they hear the gospel, bang, it comes into somebody’s heart and if they believe, what’s happened is you’ve had regeneration, here you have an elect creation, but on the other hand, if they keep rejecting, rejecting, rejecting, every time they hear the gospel, the gospel is hardening their hearts.
So the gospel evangelism does two things, not one; it not only creates the elect but it damns those who do not believe, and that’s the human tragedy of a church that preaches the Word of God. Because people can come into Bible-believing churches and hear the Word of God and hear the Word of God, and hear the Word of God, and not act on it, not act on it, not act on it, and finally their hearts get hardened, and then you have some big blow up in the church or they go off and do some stupid thing, and oh gee, look at the hypocrites in the church, they were every Sunday. Yes, but was going up here, that’s the point. So the gospel preaching is tied to your question and the question about God not willing that …. repents, that everyone repents, that is, but clearly He has designed history in which people don’t all repent, and the question is why? How do we get those two things together? If you’re successful at doing that, write a book, because no one has ever gotten those two together in history, we’re just told to witness to everyone because that’s God’s desire and we’re told also that there are those who from before the foundation of the world were chosen in Christ, in other words, if you look at it another way, God knew where history was going to go before He started.
Question asked: Clough replies: No, Abraham wasn’t elect before he was called. No, the doctrine of election was implicit in the Bible but what I’ve done in this series, I went through every speech in the Bible, from Joshua, Moses, Stephen, and I built a graph, and I graphed the events that these guys kept talking about, and that’s how I arrived at this set of events. So the set of events was distilled out of biblical speeches. I figured if these guys when they did their big long sermons were emphasizing these events, then I ought to emphasize these events. And then I said okay, I got, say 20 different events out of the Bible and then I said if you look in the speeches, or you look in the discussions of the New Testament, how do they handle, what do they talk about when they talk about that event, what does that event show them, and clearly in this event, the call of Abraham, election is being shown, in a way not true of other events, because when Paul goes to expound the doctrine of election in Romans 9-11 he doesn’t talk about Noah, he doesn’t talk about Moses, but he talks about Abraham. So it must be that the call of Abraham is the clearest picture of election, not that it didn’t occur before.