“And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
We have received a question in response to our article of February 15 which appeared under the title “That Election Might Stand.” We appreciate such response because it gives us an opportunity to learn of the reaction which our articles arouse as well as of the questions which they raise within the minds of the readers.
The question to which we have reference we believe to be of sufficient importance to warrant separate consideration in this article. The question singles out especially the last paragraph of the Feb. 15 article which we can quote in whole. “It is not surprising that the Arminian should put forth so much effort to try to find some other meaning for this text. (The text isRomans 9:10-13 which treats the election and reprobation of Jacob and Esau respectively.) But the ultimate reason for that also is that they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.'” The question asked is, if we should meet such people as stumble at the truth of election as explained in the article, should we tell them that the reason for their stumbling is that God wants them to do so? The problem centers, therefore, around the proper implications and applications of I Peter 2:8.
The difficulty with this text is found mainly in its last phrase, “whereunto also they were appointed.” A brief study of the text within its context will soon satisfy as to the proper meaning of the preceding elements in the text. Thus the “stone of stumbling” and the “rock of offense” refers to Jesus Christ as mentioned in verse 5. Those who stumble are those who reject. Christ as, for example the Jews, the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, who rejected Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah and, brought Him to Pilate to be crucified. Our text broadens the thought out even more to include all those who stumble at the Word of Jesus Christ, the Gospel. The text refers not just to those who were living in Palestine at the time that Jesus dwelt on earth in the flesh and thus rejected Him as He stood before them in the flesh; it includes people from every age of time who have heard the gospel of Jesus and refused to believe it. These all are disobedient. Men at all times and in every place have a moral obligation, to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ whenever they hear it. If they reject the Scriptures either in whole or in part they are disobedient and guilty before the just judgment of God. This all is rather easily gathered from the text. But when we come to the appointment unto this disobedience in the last phrase, we feel the need for further elucidation.
The Greek word which is translated “appointed” here has a basic meaning of “to set” or “to place.” The word appears quite frequently in the New Testament but often with different shades of meaning so that in our English versions it is translated with entirely different words. To gain the full weight of meaning intended in the use of this word it is well to examine various places in Scripture where it appears. In a number of places it is translated by the same word as used in our text, the word “appoint.” This translation appears in II Timothy 1:11 where Paul wrote, “I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” It is found also in Hebrews 1:2, “(God) hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” In these texts the idea of our English word “appoint,” to decree or prescribe a state or position to a person, is quite evidently on the foreground. Yet further study reveals that the translation with “appoint” does not do full justice to the real meaning of the original word. Another facet of its full meaning comes to the fore when we notice several other passages in which the word is translated “set.” So Acts 13:47 reads, “I have setthee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth:” This implies more than mere appointment; it includes the idea of placement and qualification. This same idea is found in I Cor. 12:28; “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets . . .” In places the translation is made with the word “make.” Frequently it is used in the phrase “I make thine enemies thy footstool.” It is used in Romans 4:17 with reference to Abraham, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” Gathering these various thoughts together we gain somewhat the full meaning of the word we are considering. It means not only “to appoint” but also “to set in position” and “to make or to bring to final fulfillment.”
When we apply this meaning to our text, we learn what is meant that some are appointed unto disobedience to the Word of God. It means that God has decreed and determined this disobedience. It means that God places certain people in the position where they should stumble at the Word of Jesus Christ. It means that God brings it to pass that they should do so.
This is not a popular doctrine. There are, in fact, very few that are willing to talk in these terms. Yet, this doctrine follows directly from the truth of the sovereignty of God which so many claim to believe. According to His sovereignty God has ordained in His eternal counsel all things which come to pass in time. In His providence He provides that this counsel may become realized. Nothing escapes the almighty power of His rule.
Furthermore, this is a current teaching in Scripture, by which we, mean, it is not unique to this text but is found frequently, forming a current of thought throughout the Word of God. We can do little more at this point than quote a few instances in which this same thought occurs. We have seen that the first reference of Peter in this chapter was to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Concerning that we read in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Much the same is expressed in Acts 4:27, 28, “For of a truth against the holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel; were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” In Ezekiel 14:9we read, “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” Similar are the frequent statements in Exodus that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh in reference to which Romans 9:18 concludes, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Besides these there are many others, such as II Chron. 18:21, Luke 22:22, Jude 1:4, II Thess. 2:11; Prov. 16:4, and others, which we do not have space to quote.
Having then concluded that God has determined and provided that there should be people that stumble at His Word, the question next arises whether it is proper to say that God wants these people so to stumble, or, in other words, does God desire such people to live in disobedience? In answering this question we must be very careful to distinguish clearly what we mean by God’s “want” or “desire.”
If we mean to ask by this whether God desires or finds pleasure in the existence of sin and sinful people as such, the answer must be no God is not a being that rejoices in the existence of sin. For example, we could not conceive of the possibility that God might desire to bring forth a world in which there would be no Christ, no salvation, and no goodness whatsoever. God does not find pleasure merely in the fact that there are wicked that perish.
Nonetheless, there is a sense in which we can properly say that God desires that there should be sin. If it were not so, God would never have created a world that could fall into sin. In this sense God desires the existence of sin in the world, not as an end in itself, not as something which affords Him pleasure in itself, but as a means to the accomplishment of that which does afford Him pleasure. God has determined that there should be sin in the world because as a means in His hand He uses it to the accomplishment of the salvation of His people and the glory of His own Name. So we read inRom. 9:22, 23, “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endureth with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” So to Israel God said inIsaiah 43:3, 4, “For I am the Lord thy God the Holy one of Israel, thy Savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” Also in Rom. 9:17, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
We might illustrate this point with the example of a farmer. A farmer may not derive a special joy from the hot and difficult work of preparing, seeding, and keeping his field. Nevertheless, he does desire to do this work, not because he finds pleasure in it as such, but because he anticipates through the means of this work the pleasure of the harvest which is to come. So God determines the deeds of the wicked not as ends in themselves but as means to the glory of His Name through the salvation of His people.
Should we, therefore, meet such persons as stumble at the Word of God, it would not be improper to tell them that God has determined their sin. It is after all a truth taught in Scripture of which we need not be ashamed. Nonetheless, in doing so we should be careful. not to leave the impression that we teach a God who finds pleasure in the existence of sin God does not desire sin in the world as an end in itself; but He has determined that it should be there as a means to an end, as a means to the salvation of His people and the glory of His own Name. Furthermore, we should assure them that, insofar as they refuse to receive any of the clear teachings of Scripture, their lives are not pleasing to God. If they desire to live Christian lives pleasing to God, they should repent from their refusal to receive that which He has revealed.
But let us bear in mind that this is not a point of doctrine which is easy to understand. In many senses it goes beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Therefore, when we present it we should be careful to do so clearly, intelligibly, and above all with proper humility. In so doing we may hope that our testimony may be used to bring some of God’s people to a greater understanding of revealed truth. It is the sad lesson of both Scripture and experience, however, that there are many who profess to be Christians, and even Reformed Christians, who will not receive these doctrines which God has revealed. They will repeatedly retort that, if God controls the ways of sin, He has no right to be displeased with the sinner. They echo the accusation which was brought to Paul, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Rom. 9:19. Neither can we improve on the inspired answer which the apostle provides, “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?” Rom. 9:20.