A Letter on “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.”
by B.W. Newton
Upon this important, but to many minds perplexing, subject, we feel assured that help will be afforded to our readers [of “Perilous Times” June/July 1906] by the publication of the following valuable letter written by the late Mr. B. W. Newton, on 3rd January 1888, to one who had been troubled by a hyper-calvinist; and by a book given to him on ''The Moral Government of God."
"My dear Mr. -------,
I have been very sorry to hear how you have been so tried by religious controversy. The book you sent to me, shows me very clearly what the nature of the controversy is. I sympathize with you much. It is a subject with which I am well acquainted. The very first trial I had in my Christian life, so long back as 1828, was caused by a controversy on this very subject. It caused me to separate from some whom I loved most dearly, and the wrench was terrible; but I have never regretted that step, and the person whom I most valued after years of chastisement and suffering, was brought back to the paths from which he had wandered. At the deathbed of one of the persons who had drunk deeply of this evil cup, I was present, and it was the most painful scene I ever witnessed. I have always been most thankful that I renounced avowedly and decidedly, all connection with those who held these evil doctrines. 'Withdraw' says the Apostle, 'from every brother that walketh . . . not after the tradition which he received of us.' (2 Thess. iii. 6.) The Apostle commands them to do that 'in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.'
No one can walk according to the instructions received from the apostles, who receives the doctrines of that evil and deadly book. The doctrines of that book and of the Bible are utterly opposed to each other; if the Bible be true, that book is thoroughly false. Shall we abandon the Bible and God, and follow the father of lies? On such an occasion as this, we may well say to ourselves, 'Be strong, and of a good courage.' It is a blessed thing to fight for truth, and to struggle against Satan’s falsehood. His grapes are grapes of Sodom and his wine, the wine of Gomorrah. Nothing is more clearly revealed in Scripture, than that God loves all His creatures, and that 'His tender mercies are over all His works.' He is kind even to the unthankful and evil. What tenderness can exceed the tenderness which the Lord Jesus exhibited when He quitted Jerusalem for the last time, and wept over it and said, 'How often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.' Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. There is in all, the same love, compassion and tenderness. The desire that the protecting wing should be spread over that rebellious and wicked city was shared by all the Divine Persons. It was rejected, and they who rejected it were responsible for the rejection, as also for all the rejection and misuse of all the other mercies that had been shown to them, spiritual and temporal. Such is the picture which the God of Truth has drawn in the Scriptures, and this it is, that this book of falsehood audaciously rejects. It is a solemn thing to reject and trample under foot any of the testimonies of God, more especially those testimonies which concern the display of His Own character and the methods of His dealings with His creatures. It is useless to reason with those who have fallen into the awful delusion into which the writer of this book sank. They refuse to bow to Scripture, and from the Scripture alone, we derive our weapons.
When the Lord Jesus met Satan, He did not reason with him but said 'it is written.' When, therefore, we are told that God pleadeth not with men, and seeketh not to save men as men, but only the elect, we say God hath said, 'As I live sayeth the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Ezek. xxxiii. 11. 'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' Isaiah i. 18. 'Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets; she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates; in the city, she uttereth her words.' Prov. i. 20, 21.
What words can more plainly show the pleading of the love of God, and the responsibility and consequent and the chastisement of man because of those pleadings. Even under the Law, the pleadings of God's love were made prominent, how much under the Gospel. The words of the Lord Jesus, 'How often would I have gathered, etc.,' are sufficient to prove this.
All His personal ministry, and the ministry of the Apostles afterwards, were attempts to gather the lost. The Brazen Serpent was the type of the presentation of Christ on the Cross to sinners as sinners; the presentation is as distinctly to the whole world as the presentation of the Brazen Serpent was to the whole of Israel, and so, the Apostle Paul speaking to a mixed multitude, many of whom became rejectors of the message said, 'Be it known unto you therefore men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish.' (Acts xiii. 38-41.) Many of them did despise and perished. Consequently, it is proved that the appeal was general, not limited, and that those who rejected that appeal were left under the full responsibility of that rejection.
Not long ago, I presented this passage to a minister who had been entangled in this evil doctrine we are now considering. I said to him, 'Tell me candidly whether you receive the statements of the passage,' 'No,' said he, 'I cannot, I never use that passage.' This was candid, but it showed that he was fighting not against my doctrines, but against the Words of GOD.’ 'Am I to preach to stones, or dead men,' said another, 'I will NOT do it, the blind cannot see and the deaf cannot hear. I will preach to the living, to those whose souls God quickened.' I replied, ‘This is what Ezekiel did.’ Was he not told to prophesy to dead bones, and to say, 'Oh, ye dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.' He did so, and as he prophesied, the Spirit came, and the dead bones were quickened. Souls are born again by means of the Word. (I Peter i. 23), not apart from preaching but by preaching. Such at least is the ordinary method of God. Consequently, His servants in preaching, do address the dead, but they trust in One Who can accompany their word with power, and cause the dead to live.
Many other quotations might be made, but I will confine myself to one. It is of itself conclusive. It is, as it were, the last message of the Lord Jesus to the Churches. 'The Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and let him that heareth say, Come, and let him that is athirst, Come, and whosoever will ' (that is, desireth) 'let him take of the water of life freely.' (Rev. xxii. 17.) Blessed words for which we may well thank God for ever and ever. Shall we cancel them? The system we are considering does cancel them. Does it not, therefore, bring itself under the awful curse of those who 'take away from the words of the book of this prophesy?' I think so. What greater sin can we commit than to hide the manifestation of God's love and grace to sinners, and to alter those methods of His developments of Himself.
'Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.' Do not those words throw on those that come not, the responsibility of not coming. To throw on them that responsibility was the very object of the Lord in speaking thus. Yet it is equally true that none will come unless they are drawn, and that effectually by the Father. This may prove, and does prove the strength of human evil, but it does not deprive men of their responsibility, or nullify the kindness of God in pleading with men. If then any should say, 'Why then does not God draw all effectually?' To that question, we return no answer. Man cannot answer or explain it. It will be explained by and bye together with all other mysteries when we shall know, even as we are known. In this, we anticipate not the hour of light, but wait trustfully on God, knowing that He will finally explain and justify all His ways. If we refuse to do this and insist upon explaining every difficulty, we may be left to wander on the dark mountains of unbelief and know the doom of those who reply against God. It is the duty of every minister of Christ not only to testify the Gospel of the Grace of God, but also to declare the terrors of His holiness. He can act according to Sinai, as well as from Sion, and the unrepentant world will have to meet His Sinai holiness with no propitiation. Paul, therefore, reasoned with Felix, 'of righteous, temperance and judgment to come,' until Felix trembled. But Paul's relation to Felix, as well as to Agrippa, was one of love, indicating a care for their souls; and that love came from the Spirit of God, through whom Paul testified. It is a grievous and a trying thing to find these truths denied, but falsehood and iniquity abound.
There is on all sides, a great withdrawal from the Truth and we must be patient and stand firm, not being moved by these oppositions, and conflicts, knowing that Christ's people 'are appointed thereunto.' It is not for us to determine the final doom of any. Brethren in Christ may be, and are, ensnared by these things, yet, if they be brethren, we are commanded to withdraw from them, if they walk not according to the apostles teaching. While they persevere in contradicting and sundering in God's revealed truth, we are forbidden to consort with them.
Truly wishing you all holy comfort and guidance, sustainment and blessing, I remain,
Yours in sincere Christian regards,”
B. W. NEWTON.