Elect In His Calling

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

The election of the saints is according to something, in something, and for something; all of which things play out in this present time upon the earth.

These are not theoretical matters, but living and consequential matters: each one of the three proceeding from God Himself with the intent and power to find their fulfillment by the obedience of faith in the elect ones.


Elect “According To”


“…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

The first of these three is the only sure fountain of the other two. If we do not appreciate the humbling enormity of what this election, or this choosing, is “according to,” then we rob the subsequent matters of their true source of power.

For if God’s electing grace was according to our own choosing, then He should still be waiting for our dead souls to impossibly come alive and choose. But praise be to God! That while we were yet dead in our trespasses and sins, He made us alive: so that we might see, with eyes of a faith once unattainable, the grace of God bestowed upon us in a predestinating love that conforms us to the image of His Son!

That God foreknew is not a theological term for divine time travel. God did not peer helplessly along the parade of souls through time, hoping to see if there were many who decided to believe in Him. The prophets indeed tell us what God sees when He looks upon fallen man: “And there was no man to intercede.” Men have altogether failed to intercede, even on behalf of their own souls. And how could they? For they are not able to please Him, being without the gift of faith, the seed of His Life, in them.

That God forknew the elect means that He KNEW THEM before their time. It is a term of the longing and loving relationship of the Shepherd who seeks out the one lost sheep of the hundred, laying down His very Life for it. The Life-giving call goes out, and His lost sheep awaken to hear His voice, responding with cries for help.

Later on (v.3), Peter will say that according to this abundant mercy, we have been caused to be born again “to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” A living hope! A tangible hope! This means that the subsequent sanctification of the Spirit also comes from God, and not from ourselves. It is God’s power by which we are being gaurded through faith for the revealing of this ever-unfolding salvation until the Last Day (v.4-7).


Elect “In”


“…in the sanctification of the Spirit…”

The relational foreknowing of God, once having planted its seed, is meant to produce the fruit of the same Spirit by whose power we have been generated from above. It is at this point of contact with our lives that the electing and calling will of God tests the soil of the heart of a man. It is here that the seed will germinate and become fruitful, or wither.

It is here that the birds of the air will consume the seed if the soil of the heart is hard and unreceptive to its manner of dying. It is here that the heat will scorch it for lack of depth and root, though it spring up quickly at first. It is here that thorns and thistles will choke it out unless resilient growth displaces them.

And in that parable of the soils is also seen the progression of growth based upon how those three bad soils failed to receive the seed: hardness of heart in the first case, lack of depth in the second, and worldly cares in the third. Whereas, the pattern of growth is as follows: first, the heart softening to recieve the Seed which died and now lives, that it may spring up anew; second, the newly softened ground giving way to greater depth of root; and third, depth of root producing a resilient and fruitful planting – a tree which the birds of the air rest in the shade of, the sun cannot scorch, and the thorns and thistles have no effect upon.

Such is the work of the Spirit of God in a heart that keeps its First Love, surrendering to His mighty work. It is not for lack of His powerful working that we have no power; it is rather for our lack of abiding faith in He who continually works powerfully in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure. The three bad soils are so easily emulated in us – and the elect saint must vigilantly fight these conditions of the heart if Christ is to be fully formed in it.

The saints (Gk. holy ones) are elect in the santification of the Spirit.

“In” – it is a matter of abiding. Holy ones are those who do not allow their garments to remain defiled if they become stained. Therefore, we are later exhorted by Peter to be found confirming our calling and election; because continual repentance keeps the elect in the sanctification of the Spirit, by which their true obedience is made possible.


Elect “For”


“…for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood…”

This third matter of the elect’s calling is inseperably twofold.

There can be no true obedience – the obedience undefiled by selfish motives – unless the heart from whence it proceeds is already being purified by a worthy sacrifice. If even the prescribed sacrifices of the old covenant were in themselves unable to perfect those drawing near to God, nor could they cleanse the conscience, nor actually take away sins; how much more inadequate then are the sacrifices of which our own vain minds conceive in our pitiful attempts to enter the holy court of God.

Therefore the writer to the Hebrews said,

For by one offering He has perfected the carrying through of the ones being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:14 (LITV)

Those who are being sanctified are being “carried through” into the holy of holies: not by God deceiving Himself and merely hiding our sins from before His face; but rather by we no longer deceiving ourselves, and He actually taking away our sins as we behold His face.

The matter therefore once again comes down to the substance of our faith: what our hands and feet proclaim to be our hope, and what our path testifies to be our vision. The blood of Jesus is that by which our faith is fully assured, and that which sprinkles our hearts from an evil conscience, and that which washes even our body as in pure water to walk in the obedience of a living faith.
To enter the holiest place is to enter as a living sacrifice upon an altar. To remain in the holiest place is to remain and increasingly embody an intercessory posture.

Earlier I noted how the unregenerate man has no intercessory ability (or desire, truly). But those who are elect by God’s will in the santification of the Spirit are brought into an obedience that is a life of intercession on behalf of the body of which they are now becoming an integral member. The obedience to Jesus and the sprinkling with His blood is what they are now purposed “for,” as priests in His living temple, ministering unto God.

As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)


“So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.”
– Author Unknown, to “Diognetus”
[circa 130AD~200s AD]


Priesthood: The Calling Which Purifies


§I ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES


You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5 (ESV)

Our obedience to the priestly calling of every member of God’s house is the only source of our ability to please Him in what we do. And the priestly calling of all believers is not, as many evangelical traditions have made it, to primarily be the confidant of one another’s sins: it is rather to be a minister UNTO THE LORD, who purifies the true ministers of His temple.

For despite the small good that can come by the confession of our faults one to another (Jas 5:16), there is no overcoming power in the act of itself; and even the prayer of a righteous man, though it may avail much, is soon discovered by many to be of little use in the continued overcoming of worldly and fleshly lusts. This is because we tend to minister in these things not unto the Lord, but rather unto ourselves.

Men seek “accountability” for their besetting sins amongst themselves, and in so doing tend to quickly neglect the power of God; which is found only in each one offering his own incense upon the altar of the brokenness of interceding love to Him, through obedience according to the giftings and callings of God.

For there is but one mediator between God and men: “the MAN Christ Jesus.” And if that Man alone (to whom we truly have to give an account) does not appear or seem close enough as to keep us from falling, then we have found the real root of what besets us: that our present experiential knowledge of God Himself is lacking.

“…to offer spiritual sacrifices…”
A spiritual sacrifice makes no excuse for the self: this means that the one offering does not consider their present sins worthy of hindering an entrance into the holy places. For the blood that has been sprinkled for us, and the body that has been torn open for us, gives us entrance, so that “going boldly” we may find grace in the time of need. His throne in the temple is the mercy seat – and have not our own hearts become a seat of mercy for His holiness, if He has indeed regenerated us in Christ? We have no excuse not to offer the spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to the Lord, in view of God’s mercy.

“…acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
To confess sin to a brother, or to receive prayer from an elder, is only a spiritual sacrifice as far as it is done freely as a love offering to the Lord (and this can only proceed from a heart enraptured in some degree by His goodness). But the confession of a sin or the receiving of a prayer as a resort to please the real or perceived standards of others, or to attain to a level of personal piety whereby one might feel spiritually accomplished, is idolatry, and is an unacceptable sacrifice.

Time will tell the source and motive of all personal piety. Even an external source or motive, if it is yet other than the goodness of God Himself, falls woefully short of His glory. God will not be mocked. And He will not uphold the proud: He will allow them to fall again, especially if one whom He loves cannot be humbled unto His grace by any other means.

Therefore, we are not left to our own devices, nor to the cleverness of schemes, nor to the wisdom of sound counsel only. But we are called to fulfill the calling of a new priesthood, wherein is found a santification that goes far beyond the overcoming of only one particular sin, though that victory is also given.

The office of priesthood is the office of intercession. If we will minister to the Lord acceptably as priests, then we will seek Him earnestly in all our motives – especially those pertaining to good works, though without delaying in action. We will also be willing for Him to lay upon our hearts the burden of His own soul for His house, and for the lost sheep of His pasture.

We too quickly excuse ourselves in saying, “But I am unworthy to minister to others.” Yet aren’t we much more unworthy to minister to the Lord, which is our first and primary calling, and for which He has made us a way into the holy of holies? Surely then, He will make us able to minister to others in word, in deed, and in prayer, if only we are found ministering to Him in the same things by the bearing out of our souls before Him, and the seeking of His heart to become our own.

And how, one might ask, can this ministry intercession cleanse a man’s way?


§II“LIFT UP YOUR EYES”


And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.
Acts 5:32

Ministering to the Lord in the seeking and doing of His will, despite ourselves and despite our existing shortcomings, is the magnet for His overcoming power. We become witnesses of His work only through obedience. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Exercise thyself UNTO Godliness.” A man with no living experience of walking by the palpably leading hand of God will be a man of little or no strength in God; since the scope of his walk requires little or no strength, and he sees nothing beyond where he sits.

The overcoming power of God is given according to the measure of obedient faith in the various callings of God upon each one. And although the obediences to which He may call us might appear irrelevant or unable to affect our present sins, that is not at all the point. Dare we counsel God in the methods by which He delivers us from our own folly? He places one step at a time in front of us; and He orders those steps according to HIS wisdom, not our own.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV)

The Hebrew for “loyal” here carries the concept of which Jesus spoke when He said “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single (or sound), thy whole body shall be full of light.”

In other words, while men seek to rid themselves of particular sins by developing tunnel-vision for those sins, the greater answer is truly found in developing a focused vision for whatever places Christ is calling one to in Him. For what the eye beholds, the body will soon reflect. The beholding of He who dwells in us and calls us will transform the beholder and the obeyer – and He is only beheld unto transformation by those who obey Him.

To neglect any prompting of the Holy Spirit is to neglect stepping into a greater place of His power.

If we wait to cross the Jordan until we are first made perfect, then we will never cross. We need to cross in order to find the beginnings of His perfecting power; for in that obedience are contained the seeds of perfection, and also the loyalty of heart which God answers in overcoming strength. In stepping into Jordan, the floodwaters which seemed to prevent us from taking the promised land are suddenly backed away from us, even beyond Adam (Josh 3:16), and the conquering of Jericho (the stronghold) comes well within the realm of possibility.

God fights on behalf of devoted hearts, and teaches them through continued experience to also fight for themselves. We are being made perfect through the crucible of obedience unto greater obedience.

As it was prophesied of such a priestly generation, to whom He comes as God into His temple:

And He (the Lord) shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Malachi 3:3

Priesthood in God’s temple means that we are called to fearfully minister to His heart through walking by faith in the face of all ungody fear; and in this ministry we will find that He begins ministering far more deeply to our own hearts in the purification of the Holy Spirit than by any other means. It is the office by which the exercise thereof will call up a dead church to rise and meet the Lord who calls her to “come away,” shedding all the trappings of self-made religion as the faces of heaven’s inhabitants beam with awe and joy at the sight of a worthy Bride.

The heart of sanctification is not to please ourselves, but to honour God, who is worthy.

They shall enter into My sanctuary, and they shall come near to My table, to minister unto Me, and they shall keep My charge.
…And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.
Ezekiel 44:16,23


“Experience is the secret of power.”
Brian Troxel


SEE ALSO:

Neglect It Not: Intercession

HIS Intercession Is Our Calling

Resurrection Life

And Enoch walketh habitually with God, and he is not, for God hath taken him.
Genesis 5:24 (YLT)

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
Hebrews 11:5


§IALL THINGS NEW


Although the death of the body is no longer to be feared by those in Christ, nevertheless, we ought not so quickly respect or contentedly resign to its unnatural sleep, but rather always gladly strive to ascend in the new life which Christ Jesus has purchased for us; even to the full redemption of our bodies.

“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”
Luke 24:5-6

O, that the power of the curse were not so highly esteemed by those on whose behalf it has been lifted, and in whom it can be undone!

The things of the Spirit of God seem far off and ethereal to the carnally minded, who deem embodiment itself a curse. But to be with the Lord is to still be embodied: it is not be disembodied, but rather to be transfigured in body. “For there is a spiritual body.”

At this very moment, Jesus is sitting on the throne of majesty in a literal human body, even the same body which a young Hebrew servant-girl bore in her womb. But that same body, which was just as able to die as our own bodies, was also made incorrubtible by the power of God’s Spirit, of whom it had been conceived.

If therefore we ourselves have been born of the Spirit of God in His regeneration, then we too have become a generation conceived of the Holy Spirit until Christ is fully formed in us, so that even our body is able to become blameless – just as the body which Christ walked in and died in – and ought to be honored to such an end. Yes, these bodies are able to be walked in even as He walked, and to do, as He said, “greater works than these,” by the Law of the Spirit of Life in Him. And although they might still be able to be made subject to death, they are now by His quickening Spirit even more able to be made subject to a completed resurrection, even as death could not hold Him. For it may be that we are the generation timely-born, of which I believe Paul glimpsed, but could not declare much regarding.

If then our old man is put fully to death, how can our new man not be raised fully to life, even the body, which also belongs to the New Man, which is Christ’s own body? And this can indeed be, since the bodies of the redeemed are already able to be made subject to His life even now – He who was able to be transfigured even before His death, yet still submitted to it on our behalf, that He might taste death for us all, and we could obtain His resurrection life.


§II THE QUICKENING SPIRIT


And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Romans 8:10-11

Here there are two Persons of the Godhead expected to be dwelling in us. The first is Christ, with whom our body still remains “dead because of sin.” And this is where men tend to stop, which is the miserable life of Romans 7. But the second Person here is the Spirit, by whose power God “quickens our mortal bodies.” Therefore, it is unlawful for us to comfortably accept the death at work in our members when the gift of the Holy Spirit to us is the same power which raised up Christ from the dead!

So then, by the rebirth of that Spirit we are no longer of the seed of the first Adam, but rather of the Last, who in us becomes a life-giving Spirit. And if this be so, then that same Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from out of the dead is able also to do such a work in us, if in Him we likewise die. For if we in the new birth have already become like Him, whose body was able to die, yet now lives; how much closer are we (than we had thought) to His full resurrection life, even the redemption of our very bodies in transfiguration! For by Him we are unashamed to look upon He whose Word is near, “even in your mouth and in your heart.”

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)

Now, might we still die an earthly death, just as generations of generations have done before us? It may well be. We are not greater than they who gave life and limb for the gospel to reach our own ears, nor than most of those whose bodies expired, as all things have been cursed to do. But that is not necessarily our only gift, if we should lay hold of the resurrection life of Christ Jesus. Why then should this glorious truth not be preached to those whose manifestation as sons of God has been groaned for by the whole of creation in every age since death entered in, and still groans to this day? Will not the God who answered the prophets of old by fire much more answer the righteous in things that pertain to better promises?

For the creation was not subjected to futility without hope; and that Hope has now come, and dwells even now in the redeemed, and even now graces many a life – and yet, do we still wallow in that which He has done away with? When will we ourselves be done with it?

Again,

“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”
Luke 24:5-6


§III LIFE THROUGH DEATH


Or is it all in vain that the Spirit within us is provoked to righteous jealousy? No! Salvation is nearer than when we first believed; but who will labor for its fruit today, rather than waiting upon the death of the curse to do its work on their behalf? What many glories shall be missed by those who invested little in the work of the Master!

Why should we wait upon death to be our first and only enemy truly conquered, when Christ charged forth through all enemies in life, and conquered death as His last? Let us rather, as He did, conquer all other things at the present time, that we may also conquer death at its appearing, even as He did. Let rather He who began the good work in us be allowed to bring it to completion, even unto the Day of Christ; whose Day’s appearing does not end in the secret confines of the heart, but only begins; and whose Spirit groans for His very likeness become manifest even in our bodies! And His likeness is that of a man from whom the world stands aghast in rejection, and that of one who has been smitten by God and afflicted.

…His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind…
Isaiah 52:14 (ESV)

If the image of God is to be seen in us, then it is an image to be painted with blood – both His and ours. Sanctification is costly, to the degree that one values the vanity of self.

For if those whom He justifies He also glorifies, then He does so by an ongoing resurrection through death in those who go about bearing the dying of Christ’s body in their own, filling up what sufferings are yet lacking in it. For even if we were to walk with God as Enoch or Elijah did, it is not therefore our assured right to be translated without suffering finally at the hands of evil men, but only a possible privilege.

There is no part of Christ’s body of flesh that was not subjected to scourging and death. Likewise, there can be no true part of Christ’s mystical body (the church) that does not partake in at least a similitude of the same suffering. Therefore, any member of this body that has not so humbled themselves remains a shame unto it, and remains unworthy to partake in His resurrection life.

And if one now says, “Ah, yet by the living sacrifice of His body and blood, He has made me worthy;” then let that one know, that such a powerful grace should be becoming manifest in a living sacrifice of themselves unto His workmanship.

There is a day appointed in which the God of peace will perfom a quick work, to sanctify us not in part but in whole, and to keep us blamless in spirit, in soul, and in body unto His Day: and His Day has begun to dawn already.

O, that our mortal flesh would see His appearing in immortality!
O, for the creature’s newness of life to be manifest as the noonday!
O, to lay hold of this gift, and the lowliness of spirit that is its price!

“Such A Heart In Them”

“Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou [Moses] near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.”
Deuteronomy 5:25-27

Thus was the stubborn posture of the hearts of the children of Israel toward the Word of God when it came to them in power and great glory.

The hearts of wicked men are ever blind to the mercy that has already been shown to them unmerrited; therefore grace is a stranger to them, and they to it. Despite all the clear proof that God has not already struck them down in wrath, the ungrateful question of the accuser is always stirring within their souls, “Has God indeed said?” And by their love of that lawless question, however secret it may be, all of their ways are made crooked, and they always miss God. For notice that outwardly they still claim that they will perform the commandment of God; but only, they say, if another should “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee.”

Now, although it pleased God in His soveriegn plan that for our learning Moses should stand as a kind of mediator for the children of Israel, prefiguring for us the unfathomable abasement of His Word in a Man on our behalf; still, His jealousy remained provoked in that ancient day toward those who so rejected His Word as it had appeared to them. For God will not be mocked; and His way will stand, though men so inventively seek any other door than what He graciously provides them. Therefore He was angry with that generation, and lamented their hardness of heart.

And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye [Israel] spake unto me [Moses]; and the Lord said unto me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!”
Deuteronomy 5:28-29

“…they have well said all that they have spoken.”
The Lord who searches the thoughts and intentions is not taken aback by the self-deceit which pervades the hardened heart of merely religious men. Their most pious response is still dependant upon another man knowing God for them; and this He sees as no different, if not even more despicable, than those who shake their fists at Him unabashedly.

“O that there were such an heart in them…”
The hearts which tend by God’s grace towards true obedience are marked by a desire to know God’s voice for themselves. But those which tend away from desiring a personal knowing of God’s voice; who tend to desire the voice of other men; and perhaps even mock that God would so speak to them, except through a man, reveal that they are full of disobedience already.

“…that they would fear Me…”
The wisdom of God is obtained through the fear of Him: those who fear Him seek His counsel diligently for themselves, and leave it not in the hands of any other.

“…and keep all My commandments always…”
The scriptures loudly attest to us that true obedience is that which is born of a heart that has been made humble and contrite before the living God. When God appears to such persons, they bow in faith saying, “Thy will be done, and first in me!” – and they go forth, though they may not see how it is possible. For they trust that He who gives the commandment will grant within them its Breath unto Life. But the passing of one’s own responsibility onto another is the way of the dead.

“…that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!”
We damn not only ourselves, but in a way our children also, when we willingly give place to any other Mediator than Christ Jesus. Let us not render ourselves as another lesson of failure for a generation yet future; and if we do, may our own children quickly overcome our lawless and faithless spirit, however it might sting our wicked pride.

As Moses said to Israel earlier in the same discourse, recounting God’s marvelous deeds among them:

“Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the Lord.” Also the Lord was angry with me [Moses] for your sakes, saying, “Thou also shalt not go in thither. But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.”
Deuteronomy 1:35-38

Excerpts: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

The following is a lengthy selection of excerpts taken from the famous sermon first preached by Jonathan Edwards to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts.


Their foot shall slide in due time.
Deuteronomy 32:35

In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as per verse 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text.

The expression I have chosen for my text, “their foot shall slide in due time,” seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed in Psalm 73:18: “Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places; Thou castedst them down into destruction.”

2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18-19: “Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places; Thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”

3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, “their foot shall slide.” Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

…There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of Hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them.

The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea (Isa. 57:20). For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;” but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.

……Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly in Hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive; it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive and when they used to hear about Hell, ever to be the subjects of that misery, we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself: I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected: I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief: Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. O my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hearafter; and when I was saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction came upon me.”

…God has laid Himself under no obligation, by any promise, to keep any natural man out of Hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no interest in the promises of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till He believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.

So that thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of Hell; they have deserved the firey pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, His anger is as great towrds them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of His wrath in Hell; and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment: the devil is waiting for them, Hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out; and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance, of an incensed God.

…Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards Hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it: the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in service to God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose; and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of Him who hath subjected it in hope.

…The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced, light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.

However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but His mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, “Peace and safety:” now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His sight than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to Hell the last night; that you were suffered to wake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into Hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.

…Consider this, you that are present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will execute the fierceness of His anger, implies, that He will inflict wrath without any pity. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; He will have no compassion upon you, He will not forbear the executions of His wrath, or in the least lighten His hand; there shall be no moderation, no mercy, nor will God then at all stay His rough wind; He will have no regard for your welfare, nor at all be careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, then only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be witheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. “Therefore will I also deal in fury; Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in Mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” (Ezek. 8:18)

Now God stands ready to pity you,; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare. God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be continued in being to no other end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from pitying you when you cry out to Him, that it is said He will only “laugh and mock.” (Prov. 1:25-26) How awful are these words, which are the words of the Great God, “I will tread them in Mine anger, and will trample them in My fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment.” (Isa. 63:3)

“What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels fitted to destruction?” (Rom 9:22) And seeing this is His design, and what He has determined, even to show how terrible the unrestrained wrath, the fury and fierceness, of Jehovah is, He will do it to effect. There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will be dreadful with a witness. When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed His awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of His indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it. “And the people shall be as burnings of lime, as thorns cut up shall they be burnt in the fire. Hear, ye that are afar off, what I have done; and ye that are near, acknowledge My might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.” (Isa. 33:12-14)

Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty. “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring to all flesh.” (Isa. 66:23-24)

It is an everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.

…There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing it would be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight it would be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him!

…And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of Hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men’s hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace, at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great a danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind.

…Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, that the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid to the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

Apostasy, Our High Priest, & Our Participation

The book of Hebrews was of course written to Christians, but also very much with the doubting Jew in mind. With this observation as part of his basis, John Owen had what seems to be a unique perspective on one particular element of the following warning:

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Hebrews 10:28-29

“The last aggravation of this sin with respect unto the blood of Christ is that it is that ‘wherewith he was sanctified.’ This is not a real internal sanctification, but a separation and dedication unto God, in which sense the word is often used. Some have thought that this refers unto the person guilty of the sin here insisted on; but the design of the Apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ Himself who is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated to God to be an eternal High Priest by the blood of the covenant which He offered unto God. That precious blood of Christ whereby He was sanctified and dedicated unto God they esteemed an “unholy thing,” that is, such as would have no effect as to consecrate Him unto God and to His office.”
John Owen, from his commentary on the book of Hebrews

An earlier section of Hebrews directly confirms this:

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
Hebrews 7:26-28

This actually renders the warning much more grave than it sounds on the surface, particularly against the religious deception of antichrists. The writer of Hebrews is saying that this apostasy from Christ is of such a nature that it denies not only the full legitimacy of Jesus’ high-priestly office, but also its absolute uniqueness.

For Christ’s own blood consecrated Him unto an office that can neither be substituted, nor shared with, nor acted within, by any other man. And to do so is to “do despite unto the Spirit of Grace.” For the Holy Spirit is the only rightful person by whose power we can be made partakers in the very same Indestructible Life according to which our High Priest made His intercession.

Therefore it is by the Spirit’s groaning within us that we are continually made both witness and subject to the transaction of Christ’s death and resurrection within ourselves, as we also groan with Him.

By this we eat of His bread, and by this we drink of His cup; for in this we discover and become a functioning member of His living body, which is thereby being perfected.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:16 (ESV)

Will & Desire, Nature & Grace

Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Psalm 37:4

The heart which delights in the Lord will eat the fruit of Godly desires; but the heart which delights in itself will eat the fruit of sinful desires.

The sinful will desires not against its own nature, nor do the sinful desires will against their own nature.
Likewise, the sanctified will desires not against its own nature, nor do the sanctified desires will against their own nature.

But the will of each desires against the nature of the other, and the desire of each wills against the nature of the other; for two contrary natures cannot be at peace in one man.

Therefore God in Christ became man so that body soul and spirit might escape the sinful nature through the likeness of His death and resurrection by faith; and the God-man first became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God – not in ourselves – but in Him.

As the scriptures say,

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
Galatians 5:17

If you have found a hunger and thirst for righteousness, it is His mercy alone to which you owe thanks, and His grace alone by which you must walk; only then will you find HIS righteousness bestowed upon you as a garment, and HIS holiness poured upon you as pure water.

There is no righteousness you can apprehend, no mercy you can earn, and no state of grace you can achieve. But that which Christ has apprehended, earned, and achieved, He now gives; and He gives it beginning in the seed of faith, which He alone also plants, waters and gives growth to: so that the man of faith might, by the application of grace, apprehend – and not apprehend that which God has already apprehended for him, but rather apprehend that which God has apprehended him for.

For that which the Spirit of God concieves is “born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” And if such a thing born should become full-grown, it must not forsake, but rather mature in, the very same elements of the very same Christ. For His gospel is unto His own, and they hang upon it, and He is their vindicator unto life.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” We are not our own workmanship, nor can we ever be forged in the foundry of our own will unto these good works. For only His will is that which follows after His desire, and so proceeds from His divine nature. And this perfect cascade of nature down unto holy deeds cannot be ascended from deeds unto nature by any man, any more than a worm can ascend the watery steps, the grace and vigor for which is given only to the river trout.

It is our tendency, according to the flesh, to venerate the “free will” of man, which truly is free only within the realm of its given desires; so that we prove ourselves unfruitful in the actual works of God, building rather a faith unto ourselves (though we confess no such thing aloud), unto great and terrible disappointment.

For the will is free only to follow after the desires of the heart; and the desire is free only to follow after the dictates of nature.

Will is determined by desire, desire is determined by nature, and nature is determined by God.

Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?” Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, “Why hast Thou made me thus?”
Romans 9:19-20

God’s decree is not limited by the bounds of our desire; the bounds of our desire are rather set by God’s greater decree.

The soul which cries at the supposed “unfairness” of this arrangement has not considered the fierce wrath which he has deserved since before he was brought forth from the womb, and how merciful it is that divine justice has not yet been poured out upon him. For it is the kindness of God which leads us to repentance.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
Romans 12:1-3

What, according to this scripture, does our ability to sacrificially offer ourselves derive from?
“The mercies of God”!

And how are we freed from being conformed to this world?
Not by renewing our own minds (which men are tended towards), but rather “by the renewing OF” our minds (a work of the Word and Spirit of God); which then leads to the working out in us of the singular decreed will of God, which singular will is “good, acceptable, and perfect.”

And the command here is one toward humility before God, which can be genuinely and soberly practiced only in light of God’s graceful gifting of faith toward each one who has ever found it.

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10