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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part IV: The omnipotence of God in the Affairs of Men

Chapter 4

The Omnipotence of God in Personal History

      ANY CONSIDERATION of the omnipotence of God in the lives of individuals soon becomes a consideration of predestination. To many people the idea that God would coerce anyone is repugnant, an invasion of our right of self-determination. Fortunately for us, God does ignore this right at certain critical points, especially in the matter of our salvation -- for otherwise none of us would be saved. Some people seek to escape the force of this by saying that God's plans are not based upon His predetermination of our actions, but upon His foresight of what those actions will be in any given circumstance. Yet such a view would surely rob God of the right to make any plan according to His own will, leaving Him only with the right to accommodate His plans according to our wills -- wills which are fundamentally sinful.
     I believe Scripture makes it clear that God has intentions of His own which we are predestined to fulfill exactly. His foreknowledge enables Him to use us to serve these purposes in the best possible way and for our own best good, but this foreknowledge is not the basis of our election. The basis of His choice of one individual for salvation rather than another rests solely in His own good pleasure. To suppose otherwise is to invite the dangerous and wholly unscriptural idea that there is some moral or spiritual superiority in the elect which singles them out and makes them more particularly worthy of God's favour (1 Corinthians 4:7). But Romans 9:21 assures us that this is not the case. It is of the same lump of raw material that sinner and saint alike are molded; the choice must rest entirely with God, and the basis of it is hidden from us. 1 Peter 4:10, in the original Greek, tells us that a gift, some gift (not the gift as in the King James Version) is given to every individual. Such gifts are used of God to fulfill His intentions whether as redeemed or unredeemed people. Some vessels are appointed for more and some for less honourable use, and

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together we all combine our labours, saved and unsaved alike, to the working out of His Master Plan. Certain parts of this plan seem to require that a man be unsaved, some that he be saved. The Lord's children are challenged to make sure that both their calling and their election to salvation are sure (2 Peter 1:10). Election to salvation should not be confused with a calling to a life work.

Four Stages in Salvation

      There are four stages in the salvation of a man's soul which are clearly recognized in Scripture, yet which in experience are not always so readily discernible. The first is repentance, (1) the second faith, the third salvation, and the fourth eternal life. Each of these is stated specifically to be a gift of God.
     Paul assures us that it is not the goodness of man, but the goodness of God that leads to repentance, for the material out of which God makes saints is exactly the same material as that out of which He makes vessels of dishonour.
(2) That's why he warns against any boasting as though the saints were basically any different from other people initially. (3)
     This gift of repentance first granted to Israel is in some way related to the exaltation of Christ
(4) but the same gift was later on likewise granted to the Gentiles. (5) The graciousness of God in granting this gift to men otherwise utterly opposed to Himself is the basis of Paul's plea that we also should be gentle with those who set themselves in opposition against us, peradventure God will also grant them repentance as He granted it to us. (6)
     I think it was Spurgeon who once said that he would not preach another sermon but for his conviction that a man's response resulted entirely from the grace of God and according to His will. It was only because the Lord had touched her heart -- and for no other reason -- that Lydia became the first European convert.
(7) Whether a person be Jew or Gentile, the turning to God is always because of God, and not because of man. As John put it so emphatically, "It is not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man," but of God that a soul is

1. Romans 2:4
2. Romans 9:21
3. I Corinthians 4:7
4. Acts 5:31
5. Acts 11:18
6. II Timothy 2:24,25
7. Acts 16:14 

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saved. (8) John also said that it is not of blood either -- that is to say blood relationship as an Israelite was not enough to predispose a man toward God. It was because God gave them a heart to know Him that Israelites became true Israelites with a new spirit within. (9) Such people were blessed, not because of any inherent goodness, but because God chose them to draw them near to Himself. (10)
     Repentance, according to the meaning of the original Greek word, means a change of mind. Esau sought with tears to change his father's mind, but he could not change the mind of God.
(11) Judas changed his mind, but it was not "God's changing," only his own -- and therefore it could not bring any blessing. Indeed, it brought only anguish of soul and suicide. (12)
     Until one realizes that repentance means only a change of mind and has nothing necessarily to do with sorrow for sin, it must always be rather confusing to read in the Old Testament of the many occasions upon which God repented (see, for example, Exodus 32:14 and 2 Samuel 24:16). What is intended is that God changed His mind, not that He had found He had made a mistake. Why would He change His mind? And does such a change of mind imply an indecision? The fact, though it may appear strange at first, is that when God "repents," He is bearing testimony to His own un-changeableness. God's attitude toward wickedness is unchangeable, and so is His attitude toward holiness. In the face of each He responds with absolute consistency. When, therefore, a wicked man changes his ways and becomes a holy man, God's attitude to the same individual, being absolutely consistent with His own nature, also changes in response.
      Humanly speaking, this action can only be described as a change of mind -- which, of course, it is: and yet God is unchangeable. Thus, when Israel was wicked and the people deserved punishment, God's attitude was one of condemnation. Whenever Israel was revived through the ministry of some man of God, then the Lord's attitude was one of commendation. Such a change of attitude, usually expressed in some such words as "and God repented Him of the evil He had thought to bring upon Israel," is actually a testimony to the unchangeableness of God. Sometimes in our zeal we may persuade a man to repent, to change his mind

8. John 1:13
9. Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:19
10. Psalm 65:4
11. Hebrews 12:17
12. Matthew 27:3,5 

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toward God, but as Jeremiah says, only if God turns us unto Himself are we really turned. (13)
     It is not enough to change one's mind and to take a more humble attitude toward God, for repentance alone does not bring salvation but only suspension of judgment. Nineveh repented and "was spared."
(14) But it was not saved, for it came later under a devastating judgment that wiped it out as a city once for all. Similarly Peter speaks of the long-suffering of the Lord in delaying the final judgment for the same reason. (15) Salvation is based upon an act of faith, not merely repentance. But like godly repentance, saving faith also originates entirely with God. Those who were helped by the ministry of Apollos were not merely people who wanted a new religion in a world that was tired of the old, but people who had already believed "through the grace of God." (16) Later on, Paul tried to make sure that the Corinthians would not attach too much importance to his own ministry or to that of Apollos, who seemed to be such an outstanding expositor of the Way of Life. Even though many had been blessed by them both, it was really God who had given every one of them the faith they had. It was God who gave the increase, even though it was Paul and Apollos who had been the instruments. (17)
     That salvation is a gift of God hardly needs to be emphasized to anyone of evangelical faith. It is not in the consummation of this total transaction with the Lord that we are likely to make any mistake about man's independence. It is chiefly in the initial stages that the issue is debated, in the first signs of a change of attitude and then the expression of faith. Thus, while some people are disposed to argue that it is up to man to repent and believe, almost anyone will agree that once repentance and faith are expressed, then the rest is up to the Lord.
     It may be objected that God "commands" men to repent and believe, and that such a command would be meaningless unless it were possible for a person of his own free will to fulfill it. But the same may be said of the Ten Commandments, which are in fact encompassed by a single command, namely, that we are to love the Lord altogether with all our strength, all our mind, all our soul, all our heart -- totally. We cannot do this, of course, apart from the

13. Lamentations 5:21
14. Jonah 4:11
15. II Peter 3:9
16. Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29; I Peter 1:19-21
17. I Corinthians 3:5,6

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empowering of the Holy Spirit and even then only for a limited time until the old nature re-asserts itself. We are commanded to do it, nonetheless. It is not what God anticipates we shall do, but it is what God requires of us and it is proper that we should know what the requirement is.
     There is more need, therefore, to stress the omnipotence of God in the first stages than in the last. However, Scripture is quite explicit as to the fact that salvation is a gift of God, as will be seen from the following references: John 1:11-13; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
     The same applies, naturally, to the gift of eternal life, as shown in these passages: John 10:28; Romans 6:23; Titus 1:2.
     Because He has chosen us, and not we Him (John 15:16), He is in every sense the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
     Any graciousness that we may have is a gift from Him: as for example, Romans 15:15; I Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 3:7; 4:7.
     Any talents that we may happen to have are given to us entirely "according to His own will" (Hebrews 2:4), a fact elaborated upon in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, where it is stated that they are "divided to every man individually as He wills" by the Holy Spirit.
     Likewise, our position as a child of God in the body of Christ is exactly what God is pleased to make it. 1 Corinthians 12:18 excludes absolutely no one in this category: "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him."
     Our duties and responsibilities are similarly by God's specific appointment. See, for example, Mark 13:34 (to every man his work) and John 15:16. Even more specific is the statement made in Ephesians 2:10: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." This was equally true in the Old Testament, as acknowledged by Isaiah (26:12): "For Thou also has wrought all our works in us."
     Even what seem to be our most crippling handicaps may be by God's appointment. Note the case of Moses who was lost for words (Exodus 4:11), and Jeremiah who lacked maturity (Jeremiah 1:6,7), and Paul whose presence was almost contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10).
     These passages are so familiar that the force of them is often lost upon us. But I venture to say that if anyone will take each passage and examine it carefully, word by word, he will be amazed to find how little of our achievements can be credited to ourselves. Does this mean we are really little more than puppets? I think the answer to this question lies in an understanding of what the word fruit means in the

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New Testament. This is properly the subject of the next chapter, but it may help to point out here that though the responsibility of appointing the good works that we should walk in is God's alone, He holds us responsible for bringing forth the fruits of those good works (Colossians 1:10; Jeremiah 17:10), namely, the response of the soul in the doing of them.
     In other words, for the fulfillment of His Master Plan God appoints each of us duties (which are appropriate to our station in life), and these we shall do. But in the doing of them we may become better men or not better men -- depending upon our own response to circumstance. Fruits are not souls saved (notice the wording of 1 Corinthians 9:1), but spiritual qualities reflected in personality, as clearly set forth in Galatians 5:22,23, and resulting from these appointed tasks. In the long run, the worker is more important than the work; what our deeds do to us is of more importance with respect to ourselves than merely having done the deeds. God is primarily seeking to make saints, not executives or even leaders.
     From beginning to end, we are His workmanship. Our salvation, our station in life, our talents and handicaps, our duties and responsibilities, our good works -- in short, the total circumstances in which we find ourselves -- are all designed or permitted in order to contribute to God's great purpose of making saints to His own glory.

God's Rule Over the Unsaved

     But what of the unsaved? To what extent does God rule in their circumstances? Surprisingly enough, Scripture has quite a bit to say about them.
     It is natural that in the Master Plan of God there must be some tasks to be performed which, if they are to be done with thoroughness, paradoxically could only be done by people who also delight in opposing the will of God. This seems a strange statement to make, but it can be illustrated very clearly from Scripture. The perfecting of the saints is inevitably associated with the trying of the saints. Peter speaks of the trial of our faith. The Old and New Testaments both show how such testing is effected, namely, by unbelievers who take delight in their own skepticism and seek to undermine the faith of others. They suppose they are acting as entirely free agents, whereas in fact they are probably indirectly inspired by Satan.
     Satan may suppose that he is accomplishing some measure of victory against the Lord. Scripture takes it one step further and shows that Satan is working only by permission and that such permission is granted for no other reason than the ultimate glorification

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of God in the perfecting of saints. Thus, in the Old Testament, false prophets were sometimes appointed to tempt Israel to serve other gods, and the strength of their appeal was reinforced by miracles which God Himself permitted. But such permission was not given without first a warning to the children of Israel that their devotion to the one true God would now and then be tested by this very means. This happened also in the New Testament, where even heresies were introduced that they which were approved of God might be made manifest by contrast. (18)
     Of course, such heresies did not develop apart from the individuals who introduced them, and undoubtedly those early saints would never have received such men had they been aware of their character. But Jude says that these men crept in unawares -- yet not without God's permission, for "they were before of old, ordained to this condemnation."
(19) Such men became "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" to those associated with the children of God who had not really humbled themselves. It was to make such people manifest that these men were appointed. (20)
     To many men the way of salvation was offensive. These men were worldly wise, wise in their own conceits. From such men God has deliberately hidden the truth for so it seemed good in His sight.
     Israel as a nation -- for reasons we can only dimly discern -- was somehow blinded and hardened in heart against any recognition of their own Messiah.
(22) This blindness continues in our own day. Its continuance appears to be the result of a deliberate action on the part of God, (23) that through it He might in the end have mercy on a greater number of people, the Gentiles in the present, Israel in the future.
     There is never really any word spoken against the Truth; nor is there any wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord, no matter how serious the situation may appear at any given moment.
(24) When the Lord states what He is going to do, there is none that can deliver out of His hand and none who can prevent it; when such plans involve the actions of wicked men, not all the prayers of all the saints can deflect such men from completing their evil work. (25)

18. Deuteronomy 13:1-3; I Corinthians 11:19
19. Jude 4
20. I Peter 2:8
21. Matthew 11:25
22. John 12:39,40
23. Romans 11:32
24. Proverbs 2 1:30
25. Ecclesiastes 7:13

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Nothing, nothing in the universe, could have prevented the wickedest deed in human history, the Crucifixion, because it was an essential part of God's Master Plan.
     We are not concerned to attempt here any rationalization which would, as it were, tone down the implications of such passages as these. They are by no means the only such passages (see, for example, the wording of Matthew 18:7 and 2 Peter 2:12). All we can do is to hold fast to the few statements of Scripture associated with passages like these which seem to indicate, in a general way, how God will one day completely justify His own actions. As Paul says (Romans 9:22), "What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: only that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had aforehand prepared unto glory?" In the meantime we must also remember that the "vessels of wrath" and the "vessels of mercy" are both made from the same lump.
     Many people have sought to evade the force of these statements in Scripture, which seem to make the Lord responsible for so much of the wickedness of man, for false prophets, for accusers of the brethren, for unbelievers, and for other classes of men who have resisted the Word of God and the work of the Church throughout history. As a rule this involves employing softer language or transposing words or phrases in the text in such a way as to change the meaning of the sentence radically. Possibly this is justified in some of these verses, but it is not justified in all of them and the force of some, at least, is unquestionable. The general impression one gets is that the actions of men are so predetermined, at times, that they cannot possibly be held morally responsible for them. Yet in a few of these verses they are held responsible, because they are said to be "wicked." We must therefore turn now in the final chapter to an examination of this most critical of all issues, the grounds upon which God bases His judgment of men who, for all their wickedness, may simply be fulfilling His will.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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