A Defense of the Doctrines of Grace
A Biblical Response to
"An Examination of Tulip – The Five Points of Calvinism by Robert L. Sumner"
Part Two - Unconditional Election
By Dan Norcini S.S.
When dealing with the doctrine of Unconditional Election, it is almost amusing to see the arguments that Mr. Sumner vainly attempts to discredit it. His comparison of the doctrine to "the kind they have in Communist Cuba, Red China and Fascist Spain - it is a stuffed ballot box", is the kind of useless flapdoodle that we Calvinists must constantly deal with among these opposers of truth. There is no substantive interaction with the verses that we use to prove our position – there is simply a haranguing into the open air, or in his case, onto printed paper as if the mere bringing forth of swelling words is enough to settle the argument forever.
Once again, Mr. Sumner displays his ignorance of our doctrine and his inability to harmonize the Scripture. He writes:
"Actually, unconditional election makes God a respecter of persons – choosing some and rejecting others – and arbitrarily at that, since they say His selection is not based upon any action of the chosen. " ‘Blind selection’ might be a more proper term since there is no discernable or explainable reason for His partiality to the few".
I will first of all deal with his calumnies against the sovereignty of God and His right to do with His creatures whatever He pleases. While Mr. Sumner assures of that there is no discernable or explainable reason for His partiality to the few, the Scriptures teach us that there most assuredly is. Mr. Sumner in his blindness may not discern it, but we Calvinists can boldly declare that the wonderful reason behind it all:
"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". (Romans 9: 22-23)
"And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Issac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." (Romans 9: 10-13).
There is a silence from Mr. Sumner that is deafening as concerns these verses. He makes no mention of them and either is unwilling or unable to respond to their obvious meaning.
The truth is quite evident to all but those whose minds are blinded by their own prejudice towards the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. God does indeed have a reason for His election of some and His rejection of others and that reason is given by the inspired apostle; it is called - "His purpose according to election". It is reiterated by Paul to his young protégé in the faith, Timothy:
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,…, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our own works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began." (2 Tim 1: 8-9).
It is essential that the reader grasp this if he or she is ever to understand the purpose of God and His works and His ways. It is the fundamental distinction of Calvinism and is what separates it from Arminianism and the rest of man-centered, man-focused, man-oriented religion. Calvinism starts with God at its center, its focal point and then proceeds from there. He does all things for His own glory first and foremost. His eternal purpose is supreme and His will determines that which will be.
Arminians on the other hand such as Mr. Sumner, make man the focal point and start from there. Man determines his own destiny and his will reigns supreme. So supreme is man that even the Most High has met His match and cannot rule over this stout rebel but must give way before his vaunted free will. God’s purpose is determined not out of Himself but rather by what He sees the creature will do when left to itself. In other words, God is subject to the will and whim of the very creature He has made and cannot determine its destiny. The creature reserves this right to itself. Thus the Most High is reduced to the status of a helpless bystander Who must sit back and for fear of infringing on man’s "free-will", forfeit His right to govern all things in accordance to His own will and purpose.
What Mr. Sumner fails to understand is that man is not the epicenter around which creation revolves. He is not the be-all and end-all of all things. In this vein, those of the Arminian persuasion are more closely related to secular humanists than to Biblicists for secular humanism has man at the center or apex of all its tenets. They seem incapable of understanding the fact that Scripture starts and ends with God and the glory of God.
"For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen". (Romans 11: 36).
It is for His own glory and according to His own secret counsel that God does all things. He does not consult with His creatures to get their opinion as to how He ought to conduct His affairs in the world that He has brought forth by the word of His power.
As the apostle so elegantly states:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?" (Romans 11: 34)
This also includes His choosing of some and His rejection of others. He has His own purpose, a wise and holy purpose that He formulated before the foundation of the earth when He elected those whom He would save and predestined them to bear the image of His Son (Romans 8: 29-30). Verses 22 and 23 of Romans 9 give us a glimpse into His intent in so doing. It clearly sets forth the truth that God is willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known upon a group of people that are referred to as "vessels of wrath". Additionally, God also desires to show forth the greatness of His mercy upon another group of people termed, "vessels of mercy".
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states this so succinctly that it cannot be improved upon:
"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His own glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice." 1 Tim 5:21, Matt 25: 34, Eph 1: 5,6, Rom 9: 22-23, Jude 4. Chapter 3, Paragraph 3.
What we can then glean from the above is that God’s design in His universe, indeed His very reason for creating it in the first place, is to glorify Himself by the manifestation of His own attributes before the creatures He has brought forth. This is only fitting as the person of God is the sum of perfection and beauty and is infinitely glorious. Everything about Him is absolutely perfect and exceedingly admirable and lovely. His mercy is perfect. His justice is perfect. His holiness is perfect. His righteousness is perfect. His love is perfect. His goodness is perfect. His severity is perfect. He is perfection! It is the intent of the Most High therefore to display His attributes so that His creatures may behold them and marvel in wonder and in awe at His majesty.
Referring back to the apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans we can see that God is willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known. Why - Because the wrath of God, as fearful as it is, is something that is absolutely perfect. Simply put, the wrath of God is the execution of His justice against evildoers. It is His eternal hatred of sin springing into action by inflicting on transgressors the perfect sentence for their crimes. As terrible a thing as it is, it is still a thing of perfection for only in God does there reside perfect justice. It is found no where else in this universe. To those who are its recipients, it will be a thing of terror filling them with dread. To those who have been privileged to escape it by being granted faith from on high, it will fill them with wonder and awe. Thus God will glorify Himself by the display of His justice.
In addition, lest some might vainly think that they can somehow escape this wrath on their own or circumvent it by their cleverness or steel themselves and thus fortify themselves against it and thus stand up before it – God is willing to make His power known as well. He will crush His adversaries as easily as a man crushes an insect which he loathes. No creature can withstand His almighty strength. The stoutest rebel will fall before Him on the day of His wrath. Listen to the words of the prophet Nahum:
"A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power...Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger?" (Nahum 1: 2, 3, 6).
Thus, the Lord will magnify Himself by displaying His power and crushing all opposition to His reign. Now in order to do this, in order to demonstrate His wrath and His power, in order to glorify Himself in the punishment of sin, God passed over a company of fallen sinners and left them to the just condemnation that they deserve. These are termed, "vessels of wrath" by the great apostle. They are to be the recipients of His indignation. He is to show forth His glorious justice by inflicting it upon these vessels of wrath. Consider the following verses:
The Lord has made everything for His own purpose (margin), even the wicked for the day of evil" (Proverbs 16: 4 NASV).
"For God hath not appointed us to wrath…" (1 Thes 5: 9) – it being obvious that there are some who are;
"for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed." (1 Peter 2: 8 NASV).
"But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed…" (2 Peter 2: 12)
"For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to condemnation…" (Jude 4).
These verses clearly teach that there is a group out of mankind that in the purpose of God were to be appointed to wrath or ordained to condemnation where they would serve as an object lesson throughout eternity of the severity of God and His eternal detestation of iniquity. God does them no wrong in this matter since He owes them nothing in the first place. Think about it for a moment dear reader. What does God owe to any man but judgment? Who can lay any demand on His mercy? Mercy by its very nature is something that is undeserved but is wholly gratuitous. Who ever heard of a convicted criminal coming before the bar of justice and demanding that he be shown mercy? What he does is to throw himself on the mercy of the court. He pleads and begs for mercy not as a right that he possesses but as a hope which he desperately desires to obtain.
Now the problem with Mr. Sumner and those of his Arminian partisans is that they somehow feel that if God is going to show mercy to any one individual or group of individuals who deserve nothing but death and condemnation, that somehow He is therefore obligated to show it to all. He no longer retains the right to deny it to anyone! Once He determines to show it to some He has no choice but MUST show mercy to all. I wonder if Mr. Sumner and his band of cohorts would have the brashness to try their quaint notion in a law court. I can almost hear them saying, "Your honor, in the last case before this court, you determined to show the defendant mercy and absolve him of his punishment. We have come to the conclusion that in the case now before your court that you also MUST show our client mercy. You have no right to do otherwise seeing that you did it before." They would be unceremoniously drummed out of court and perhaps even fined for contempt. Yet the same right that is allowed to any earthly judge is summarily dismissed by Mr. Sumner and company when it comes to the Judge of heaven and earth! What kind of brazenness is this that will march itself into the court of heaven and demand mercy of the Most High? How differently read the Scriptures:
"…I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." (Romans 9: 15 -16).
The simple truth is that far too often we forget that we are not dealing with a race of pristine pure beings who have lived in perfect conformity to the divine laws. Quite the contrary – all of mankind are guilty rebels to the divine government. The Scriptures emphatically declare that:
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Romans 3: 23).
"…that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3 19).
Where is it written that God is obliged to pardon any who rebel against His authority? Where is it written that He is under any compulsion whatsoever to pardon those who despise His laws? Where is it written that He had mercy upon the angels who sinned in the rebellion led by the devil? If He did not pardon the angels who sinned and withheld mercy from them, why can He not withhold pardon from any fallen sinner among the realm of mankind? Are those of the Arminian persuasion ready to intrude into heaven and contemn Him for withholding mercy from the angels? Yet they would impugn Him for doing so with men. As the Lord Jesus taught in one of His parables:
"Is it not lawful for Me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?" (Matt 20: 15).
"But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?" (Romans 3: 5-6 NKJV).
As the above Scriptures so amply demonstrate, it is a RIGHTEOUS thing for God to inflict wrath. If God were to deal with all of mankind and give us what He owes us, we would all be destroyed! Even so that destruction would still be a perfectly righteous or just act of God. Consider if you will - the thrice-holy God could have destroyed Adam and Eve and with them all mankind immediately after they had sinned in the garden had He seen fit to do so. Who could have faulted Him had He chosen do to so? Did not Adam and Eve deserve it? Had He not placed them in a wonderful paradise? Whose fault was it that they sinned? Had He not clearly warned them in advance of the consequences of disobedience? To say otherwise is do make an absolute mockery of His justice. So then, what is amazing is not the fact that God did not destroy the earth along with man in it, but rather that He decided to show mercy at all.
Simply put then, God is absolutely sovereign in dispensing His mercy and if He is not, then the very concept of the word "mercy" has been reduced to meaninglessness. Mercy must be free, unmerited, and undeserved. It must be gracious if the word is to mean anything whatsoever.
Additionally, it cannot have respect with anything that is in the creature or anything that the creature might be foreseen to do. If as Arminians believe, God looks down the corridors of time to see who it is will believe the gospel when they are confronted with it and then on that basis determines to show them mercy, this mercy then becomes a "debt" which God owes to them. In other words, if God supposedly foresees faith in a particular individual, as Arminians are fond of dreaming that He does, and then, upon that basis, He chooses to show mercy to them or "elect" them unto salvation, then in actuality, God is "rewarding" them for their foreseen faith. In other words, God grants them mercy as a reward for their foreseen faith or their choice of Him! Furthermore, it would be an unrighteous thing for God to withhold mercy from any that He sees will perform this condition. After all, if they meet the condition that God has set forth then who is God to deny the reward to them? But if this is true, mercy is no longer gracious and free, but becomes a "debt" which the Almighty MUST pay to His own creatures. It is a "reward" for a particular "work" which the sinner performs. Thus, we are left with the inevitable conclusion that they have literally "earned" the mercy of God. They may pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for their wise decision to receive the gospel unlike the clods who rejected it and thus have a legitimate ground for boasting. But how contrary is this to the Scriptures:
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Cor 1: 26-31 NASV).
Simply put, God’s unconditional election of some to eternal life and His rejection of others leaves man absolutely no room for boasting whatsoever. Man earns nothing from God especially His mercy. Either God’s mercy is completely free, unmerited and undeserved, or it is based on something that He sees in the creature. But this is to flatly contradict the Scriptures as we have already seen:
"…I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." (Romans 9: 15 -16).
"Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work" (Romans 11: 5-6 NKJV).
It is impossible for Arminians such as Mr. Sumner to reconcile their doctrine with the definition of "grace" that the apostle Paul sets forth. According to Paul, if God’s grace, and by implication His mercy, is shown or extended to any one or any group based on some "work" which God sees they will perform, grace is no longer grace! It has become a "reward" and is no longer unmerited.
Far differently speak the Scriptures however:
"And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), It was said to her, ‘The older shall servbe the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." (Romans 9: 10-13 NKJV).
The simple yet profound truth reiterated here is that no foreseen works by the creature enter into God’s decision to choose some to eternal life and to pass over others and leave them in their sins. God’ election is according to His own good pleasure and purpose which He formed before the foundation of the earth.
One more proof of this will suffice to remove Mr. Sumner’s objections and establish our doctrine. We have concentrated mainly on the "vessels of wrath". Now we will turn our focus to the "vessels of mercy". In the book of Acts we find an account of Paul’s missionary trip and of his preaching in the city of Antioch. As was his custom, he preached in the synagogue. The vast majority of the Jews who heard his message scoffed at it and rejected it. Of many of the Gentiles on the other hand it is written:
"Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48 NKJV).
Note carefully the order of the words. Mr. Sumner and those of his persuasion are constantly wresting this Scripture to make it read as follows:
"And as many as believed had been appointed to eternal life."
But it DOES NOT say that! It does not state that that these Gentiles believed the word of the Lord and by consequence were then appointed unto eternal life. Nor does it state that God "foresaw" faith in these Gentiles and as a result of that appointed them to eternal life as Mr. Sumner and his Arminian friends are fond of asserting. Quite the contrary – the exact opposite is taught here! God’s appointment of some to eternal life was the CAUSE of their believing! It precedes their believing! In other words, the doctrine of unconditional election is clearly and unequivocally established. First the appointment or ordination by God – then the believing follows as its result. They are the recipients of divine mercy not because of their faith but prior to it. That is the Scriptural order. Period! Sadly, this Scripture has never gotten in the way of Arminians propagating their pernicious doctrine. They simply ignore it and pretend it does not exist or perform such exegetical contortions in trying to blunt it obvious meaning that the poor unfortunate text no longer remotely resembles its original meaning.
Here is yet another text:
"But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10: 26 – 27 NKJV).
In this passage which pictures our Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd we are introduced to a group of the Jews of His day who rejected His message and His person. And how does the Lord Jesus explain this, their rejection of Him? He explains it based on the doctrine of unconditional election. They rejected Him and did not believe because they were not His sheep. Their rejection of Him did not result in them not being sheep. They were not His sheep in the first place! If they had been, His next statement clearly teaches that they no doubt would have believed! Those hear His voice which is intended to convey the idea of hearing and responding in faith and trust as any normal sheep does with its shepherd. Not only do they hear His voice but they follow Him in contrast to the goats and the wolves. In other words, they are sheep first and then as a result of that they respond in faith and obedience to Christ as He is revealed in the gospel. They do not make themselves sheep by their own act of believing – they are sheep by election!
The assertion therefore by Arminians such as Mr. Sumner that, "God elects those whom He sees will believe", is patently false. This is a lofty truth and one that is calculated to instill awe and a sense of wonder in mere men such as ourselves. It is not our business to understand entirely the, "Why", behind it all. It is our business to simply realize that it has been revealed as His divine, eternal purpose and to bow before it in humble submission. The apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he deals with God’s electing grace and His predestinated purpose in chapters 8-11 of the book of Romans is led to reverently exclaim:
"Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11: 33).
Where the great apostle marvels in awe and wonder at the inscrutable judgments of God and trembles in adoration before His oftentimes mysterious ways, Arminians such as Mr. Sumner on the other hand smugly dismiss this statement by asserting as their noxious doctrine:
"God chooses those whom He foresees will believe. It’s that simple! Follow us and we will make it all clear for you ignorant dolts."
Additionally I have one final thought to add in closing this section. The flaw in the doctrine of Mr. Sumner is the reaction that it evokes from those who hear it compared to that of the doctrine which the apostle Paul promulgated as recorded in Romans 9. Mr. Sumner and all Arminians believes that God merely looks down the corridors of time and chooses or elects those whom He sees will believe the gospel. This prevailing view elicits no outrage, no particular objection from those who ascribe to it. Their response is typically, "That seems fair enough". However, one cannot but help to see in Romans 9 how the apostle Paul anticipates the reaction that the doctrine he espouses will evoke in his hearers who correctly understand him. Notice carefully the bold-faced and underlined section of verses 10-21.
"And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), It was said to her, ‘The older shall servbe the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘for this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against god? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it,‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"" (Romans 9: 10-21 NKJV).
It is obvious what Paul is doing. He is anticipating the very responses that will be raised against his doctrine and is meeting them in advance. Notice the expression that he expects those who hear him to raise, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?" In other words, "It’s not fair for God to choose Jacob and reject Esau without respect to any of their works! That would be unrighteous!" Isn’t that the exact same response that is raised against the doctrine of unconditional election by those who first hear it?
Notice again, the second underlined section of the above quoted verses – "You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" In other words, If God has mercy on whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills, how can He blame anyone for their sins and punish them since it is a plain truth that no one can resist His will?" Paul’s response to this is to simply remind the man where he stands in the overall scheme of things. He is but a mere creature and it is impudent for him as such to call into question the ways of the One that created him! Man is but a piece of clay formed by the Great Potter who may dispose of it as He sees fit in His own infinitely glorious wisdom. He may make of one a vessel for honor and of another a vessel of dishonor. It is His right to do so. After all, the clay belongs to Him who made it in the first place!
Quite simply then, any doctrine concerning election that does not draw forth or elicit the exact same response as that which Paul’s doctrine elicited in his hearers is NOT THE SAME doctrine that Paul taught. If it was, it would cause the hearer to initially say the exact same things that Paul is expecting him or her to say. This should be completely obvious to all but those whose minds are closed by their own prejudice.
The fact is man’s stubborn and willful pride instinctively rebels against the thought of any truth that reminds him of how insignificant he really is. This is one of the main reasons Arminianism is so difficult to root out of someone who has imbibed its deadly poison. It naturally caters to and fosters man’s vainglorious notions of his own inherent abilities. Unconditional election on the other hand abases man and lays him in the dust at the feet of his transcendent Creator who holds the power of life and death in His own hands. It humbles him and strips him of any ground of boasting and any vain pretenses of self-importance. It declares that God is God and man is man and ultimately this great God holds every man’s destiny in His own hands. Man, as glorious as a creature as he was once, must still bow before the sovereign might of Him who made him. No other truth of Scripture is so humbling yet at the same time so comforting to the child of God. No other truth of Scripture so clearly declares that God is truly "King over all the earth" and holds the life and destiny of every man is His hand.
They are many more Scripture texts that could be brought forth to establish the truth of this wondrous doctrine but to do so would only be wearying to the reader. Should the necessity arise to respond to any further attacks on our doctrine by Mr. Sumner, they can and will be most certainly brought forth and employed in the cause of truth.
Suffice it to say for now, the simple but glorious truth is that before the foundation of the earth, before time existed, God, in His sovereign mercy willed to pardon a group of people and extend mercy to them, not based on anything that He saw in them or anything they might do, but solely out of His own mere good pleasure. These are they whom Paul calls "vessels of mercy". These are those whom the Lord Christ refers to as His sheep. These are the elect of God.
"I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me…" (John 17: 6 NASV).
This writer will admit that this is a "hard saying" when the implications of it are correctly understood. The mind reels when contemplating it but it is nonetheless a revealed truth of Scripture and no amount of exegetical gymnastics will make it go away. It declares that God is God! Calvinists do not believe this truth as the result of some esoteric philosophy that we have embraced but rather because it is revealed in Scripture and no amount of carping criticism such as that of Mr. Sumner can blunt the edge of it.
Proceeding onward now in our defense of the doctrine of unconditional election, Mr. Sumner accuses the doctrine of making
"God a respecter of persons – choosing some and rejecting others – and arbitrarily at that, since they (we Calvinists) say His election is not based upon any action of the chosen."
Our initial response to this, before we examine the Scriptures from which this phrase is lifted and forced to do such cruelty to itself, is to first ask Mr. Sumner to define what he means by the use of the term, "respecter of persons". Does He mean to say that God must treat all men exactly the same way so that what He does for one He must necessarily also do for the other else He is guilty of partiality? If He chooses Abram out of the land of the Chaldees and reveals Himself to a pagan idolater, must He also reveal Himself to all the rest of the pagan idolaters (Acts 7: 2-4)? From whence comes this great privilege of Abram if not from God showing Him great favor or partiality above all other men on the face of the earth at that time?
If the Most High chooses the seed of Abraham and grants them deliverance from the Egyptians decimating their land and slaying their firstborn must He also spare the Egyptians and take them as well to the land of promise? Perhaps someone should inform the Most High and declare to Him that His unfair treatment of singling out the Egyptians for ruin and devastation made Him as respecter of persons.
"For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life." (Isaiah 43: 3-4).
If this is not a clear example of God favoring one group of people above another, words no longer have any meaning whatsoever. Notice carefully the expression, "since you are precious in my sight". The clear implication being that the Egyptians, Cushites and Ethiopians were not. Also note the expression, "since you are honored and I love you". Again, the obvious meaning is the Israelites were honored and loved by God, the Egyptians, the Cushites and Ethiopians were not. Quite simply, there is no way to make any sense whatsoever out of this passage unless one sees that God favored a peculiar group of people, the Israelites, above all the others mentioned here, and because of that favor towards them, He gave them benefits and blessings above all other nations on the earth. Yet, if we are to believe Mr. Sumner, this is cruel and arbitrary of God and is a cynical plot by Calvinists who attempt to misrepresent Him before men.
Continuing on, If God grants the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, must He also grant the priesthood to the tribe of Benjamin? If He speaks face to face with Moses and appoints him to lead His people, must He also speak face to face with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and allow them to share the leadership with Moses?
If God chooses to give to His people the cultivated vineyards, olive groves, houses of the former inhabitants of Canaan must he also invite the Philistines to come and dine with his people? The question should answer itself but for the benefit of Mr. Sumner and those of his persuasion we will let the Scriptures speak.
"Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant…" (Deut 6: 10-11).
It is quite clear from this Scripture that God simply confiscated the cities, the houses, the wells and cisterns, and the vineyards and olive trees of the Canaanities and gave them to His own people to possess. In other words, He was partial toward His people.
If Mr. Sumner says that the peoples of the land were gross idolaters and wicked sinners and that God only took their land after they had become terribly wicked– the question is were they any worse than the Israelites who still carried their idols along with them after being delivered from Egyptian bondage? Did not the children of Israel quickly corrupt themselves by worshipping a golden calf and celebrating a drunken orgy beneath the holy mount of God?
"And at that time they made a golden calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship them. I will also remove you beyond Babylon." (Acts 7: 41-43).
The truth was that the vast majority of the sons of Israel were still deeply possessed of the sin of idolatry and were as guilty as the inhabitants of the land of Canaan in this regards. God did not show them favor because He somehow saw that their nature was not as evil as that of the Canaanites. Quite the contrary as the express testimony of Scripture clearly relates:
"Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, …Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people". (Deut 9: 1, 4-6).
The truth is that four centuries earlier, God had sworn to Abraham that He would give to his seed the land of the Canaanites as their possession. The Canaanites were indeed wicked and rightly deserved the judgment of God, but one inescapable fact remains, the sons of Israel did not deserve the land any more than the Canaanites did. Their being rooted out of the land was an act of a completely sovereign God to whom belongs "the earth and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Psalm 24: 1).
"For the world is Mine and all it contains" (Psalm 50: 12 NASV) says the Most High and He clearly demonstrated this in dispossessing an entire group of people from their native land and giving it to His own. Hence, it is obvious to any fair-minded reader that God was partial, or shall we better say, gracious, toward one group of people, Israel, at the expense of another group of people, the Canaanites.
It would be easy to fill the pages of this essay with further references to buttress the point so I will dispense with that for the sake of space. But I do wish to ask the reader to consider two more examples from the pages of the New Testament before moving on.
The first is the incident surrounding the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel. The angel Gabriel is dispatched form heaven to bring a message to a virgin named Mary in the city of Nazareth. Let us observe the angel’s message.
"Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid Mary; for you have found favor with God.’" (Luke 1: 28-30).
What an inestimable privilege was bequeathed to Mary! She was favored by God to be the mother of the man Christ Jesus! Is not this a clear example of God showing partiality toward this woman or favoring her over another? Why did He choose her above any other virgin in the land of Israel? The answer is because it pleased Him to do so! He chose to be gracious to Mary and grant her this rich privilege that He did not grant to any other woman in the land. Yet apparently, Mr. Sumner and those of his persuasion think this is an "arbitrary" thing with God as if it is something beneath Him to honor one of His own creatures over another. One wonders if they would be happier if the Most High granted every woman in Israel the ability to conceive a child who would be called Jesus and save His people from their sins. After all, He is no respecter of persons they insist on declaring to us.
The second example comes from the gospel of John, the fifth chapter. It opens by describing the sheep gate in the temple as having a pool of water nearby. Around this pool lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame and withered (v. 3). The story tells us that at a certain season, an angel would come down and stir the water and the first one into the water would be healed of whatever infirmity it was that had inflicted them. The passage then goes on to describe a man who apparently had some form of sickness that had completely debilitated him for 38 years. In a beautiful act of mercy and grace, the Lord Jesus seeks out the man and heals him.
What is so remarkable about this passage is that the entire incident is related in such a way that it clearly teaches that it was the Lord Himself who initiated this work of mercy. There is no record whatsoever of this man coming to Jesus and crying after him as we see in some other accounts in which Jesus healed various individuals. All is initiated by the Lord Christ without any word, action or deed by this lame, helpless man. He goes and seeks out the lame man. Furthermore, he is the only one out of the vast multitude that is healed – the only one! But according to Mr. Sumner’s view, this action of Jesus is an "arbitrary" one and thus makes Him a respecter of persons. Mr. Sumner would have us to believe that Jesus must heal them all or He can heal none at all! He must give them all a chance to be healed or he can deliver none of them at all! Rather than rejoicing in the mercy of God toward one sick and helpless man unable to deliver himself, apparently Mr. Sumner would rather fret and pine away about those whom the Lord passed over and left in their sickness.
Why did the Lord Jesus not heal that entire pitiable multitude that day? The answer is – because He did not choose to- that’s why! There is no other reason. Were not they all in need of His mercy and healing touch? Of course they were. Did He in fact extend mercy to them all and heal them all? No, He did not. So we are left to fall back upon the only Scriptural explanation which Mr. Sumner and those of his persuasion are unable to accept:
"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion". (Romans 9: 15).
What Mr. Sumner calls arbitrary, we Calvinists call Sovereignty.
Now, we will turn our attention to clearing away Mr. Sumner’s misuse of the expression, "God is no respecter of persons" and his fatuous reasoning that this somehow forbids God from showing mercy to whomever He wills. The first thing to observe is the passage from which this expression is lifted and then wrested to countenance Mr. Sumner’s error.
"The Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." (Acts 10: 34-35).
Now, what exactly is going on here that elicited this saying from the apostle Peter? It is none other than the fact that the first incident in which a Gentile is brought into the kingdom of God after the day of Pentecost is being recounted. Peter has just received a vision from the Lord in which a sheet full of animals that were considered unclean under Jewish ceremonial law has been let down from heaven before him (Acts 10: 10-16). In the vision a voice comes to him from above which commands him to kill and to eat of these unclean animals. This startles the apostle’s sensibilities as Jewish law forbade partaking of these animals. While Peter was pondering the meaning of the vision messengers from the household of Cornelius arrived at the home where Peter was staying. The apostle was then informed by God to go with these men to the household of Cornelius whereupon, after arriving, he learns that the Lord had sent an angel to them informing them to send for this same Peter who would speak to them an important message. Peter, who is a Jew, is astonished to hear their story and in amazement marvels at the fact that a Gentile is being granted the rich privilege of hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only now that he begins to understand the ramifications of his previous vision. In effect, the Gentiles, who are emblematized by the unclean animals in the vision, are no longer to be regarded as unclean by the Jews that have made up the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are to be placed on equal footing. It is in this context that he utters the expression quoted above. Once this is understood, the entire expression, "God is no respecter of persons" is easily understood.
You see, it is difficult for those of us who live so far removed from the days of the early church to understand the depth of animosity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles. Quite frankly, the Jews looked down their noses at the Gentiles and regarded them as a type of "second-rate" human being. Priding themselves over their being chosen by Jehovah as His own people, they treated the Gentiles with contempt and actually regarded them as unclean and inferior. Simply put, there existed an incredible prejudice in the mind of the Jews of those days toward any of the Gentiles. Most good Jews of those days would not even dream of defiling themselves by entering a Gentile’s house to eat. Yet, God would make it quite clear that even these Gentiles were not to be excluded from the universal kingdom being established by His Son. This truth was simply mind-boggling to the Jews that made up the early church. So much so, that the Holy Spirit records their reaction upon observing the Spirit of the Lord fall upon these same Gentiles of the household of Cornelius:
"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God." (Acts 10: 44-46).
Up until this incident, the early church was comprised of converted Jews only. From this point on, the gospel message would go out to the Gentiles as well for soon afterward, Antioch would be the first city to house a church comprised primarily of Gentiles. This was the startling discovery of the apostle Peter that called forth his expression, "God is no respecter of persons". In times past, God had dealt exclusively with the Jewish nation and had had "respect" only unto them.
"He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord." (Psalm 147: 19-20).
From now on, He would turn to the Gentiles as well. No longer would the kingdom of God and His truth be confined exclusively to one group of people. Henceforth, God was to be no respecter of persons. Both Jew and Gentile would be welcome in His household!
In summary then, when the Scriptures speak of God not showing partiality it is not dealing with His right as a Sovereign to dispose of His creatures as He wills. "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" (Matt 20: 15), said the Lord Jesus. Far from undermining the doctrine of unconditional election, Peter’s expression gives hope to the Gentiles that they too may become recipients of the kingdom of God that was promised in the prophets.
One additional last point on this matter, when the Scriptures speak of God being no respecter of persons, they also convey to us a simple and yet glorious truth. No one group of people is to be excluded from the promise of eternal life as revealed in the gospel. The doors to the kingdom of God are open to not only men, but women as well. Not only may the poor enter in, but the rich may as well. Slaves may come in as well as their masters. The aged may enter in; the young may as well. The educated and refined may enter in; the illiterate and crude may as well. Those who are fair-skinned may enter in; those who are dark-skinned may as well. In short, God is no respecter of persons. He bars the doors to no nationality, no sex, no social ranking whatsoever. So marvelously free is His grace that the company of the redeemed will comprise men and women from every conceivable background:
"Thou art worthy to take the scroll and open its seals; for Thou wast slain and hath redeemed us unto God by Thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Rev 5: 9).
The idea therefore that because God is no respecter of persons He cannot have mercy on whom He will have mercy and have compassion on whom he will have compassion is found to be completely without merit and thus falls to the ground along with the rest of the rash assertions of Mr. Sumner as respects this issue.
We will deal more extensively with the Jew/Gentile situation when we come to deal with the doctrine of the limited atonement. For now however, in closing this section on unconditional election I would urge the reader to consider the following scriptures.
"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." (Matt 11: 21-27).
"And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." (Matt 13: 10-11).
No amount of exegetical contortions can alter the plain and straightforward truth declared in these two passages. In the purpose of God, one group of people are privileged to hear the truth while another group are not but rather have it hidden from them. It is interesting to note the passage in the eleventh chapter of Matthew where Jesus rebukes Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their failure to repent at his preaching and the obvious demonstration of His divine power. He goes on to say that if Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had been so privileged they would have repented long ago. A thoughtful reader should ask the obvious question – "why didn’t He then go to Tyre and Sidon and preach in those cities?" The answer to that question is the doctrine of election! God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. As a matter of fact Jesus plainly declared that:
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15: 24).
Quite simply, God chose not to send His word to Tyre and Sidon through the instrumentality of His Son. In effect, it was not granted to Tyre and Sidon at this time to be recipients of the word of God. Only Israel was to be blessed with the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. In so doing, He favored Israel above the cities of Tyre and Sidon. He made a distinction between them based solely on His own eternal purpose and good pleasure of His will. The calling of the Gentiles such as Tyre and Sidon would come later after the death of Jesus and His subsequent resurrection and glorious exaltation. Furthermore, even within the nation of Israel only a chosen portion would be granted understanding of the truths contained in the parables that the Lord Jesus spoke. All the rest would have it hidden from their sight.
This dear reader is the truth that we Calvinists contend for, namely that the Most High God is the absolute Sovereign of heaven and earth. It is He who determines the destiny of every man for it is He and He alone who dispenses the means of grace as He sees fit. He is beholden to none and may look with favor upon a land, a people, or a nation and send forth His word into it and thus richly bless it. He may also shut up His word from a land, a people or a nation as easily as He shuts the heavens from raining and cause it or them to dry up and wither away spiritually. Who is it that can challenge Him for so doing? Who would dare call Him to account for His actions?
"And furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain; One part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up." (Amos 4: 7)
"Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and be a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other beside Him. Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to their land for an inheritance, as it is today." (Deut 4: 32-38).
As for Jehovah all His ways are righteous!
And thus for the glorious truth of unconditional election!
Yours in Christ,
Return to Homepage