. In this particular article I will reply to two separate letters that the undersigned received with respect to two articles that I wrote last fall in the November 1 and December 15 issues of the Standard Bearer entitled “Choosing At The Becoming Of Age” and “The Choice Of Faith.” In order that the reader may see the complete picture and benefit from this exchange I will quote these letters insofar as they pertain to the subject.
The first letter reads as follows:
In your article in Nov. 1 Standard Bearer you speak of the choice of Moses “for or against God.” Also you direct this to us readers as well, suggesting that “God certainly chooses His people…; but man also chooses.”
It is very true that we must make decisions in this life. However, to say that I must choose between God or against God is not in harmony with God’s command to serve Him only! If God commands us to serve Him, then we never have a choice. It is purely of God who works in me to will and to do of His good pleasure; and I may never say that God places a choice before me. Could you please explain this more fully in a future S.B. article?
Also, you quote from Joshua who said to Israel “Choose you this day whom ye shall serve.” Joshua says “We shall serve the Lord.” That is all Joshua and his house can do because that is what God commands them. Israel had forsaken God and Joshua tells them to choose between the gods on the other side of the flood or the gods of the Amorites
Oftentimes this text gets quoted to suggest that Joshua gives Israel a choice between God and the Devil. This is not the true meaning of this text.
One more question. Is there a difference between choices made in our every day life and decisions as to spiritual things?
The second letter is similar and reads as follows:
We are writing in connection with your articles in the Standard Bearer, “Choosing At The Becoming Of Age” and “The Choice Of Faith.” We are in disagreement with these two articles because they are contrary to Scripture.
Your first article, first two paragraphs, we strongly oppose. I quote “…but man also chooses. He either chooses the way of sin or by God’s grace he chooses the way of life.” In fact man acts only when activated by God, so that we cannot turn to what is right unless God turns us
“Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned.” A man’s heart indeed does devise his way, but never independently of God’s control. For his thoughts and words come by the sovereign operation of God upon his heart
Prov. 16:1, 20:24
Man is totally depraved, deprived of all spiritual ability
He is wise to do evil, but to do no good when it is his nature only and continually to do evil
Man goes according to his nature which is totally corrupt, for “the heart is deceitful above all things…”
But we believe through grace alone
Acts 18:27, Eph. 2:18
our believing is from God. Faith is a gift from God. We are confident of this very thing (not of our doing) that He who has begun a good work in us will perform and perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ. For we trust, not in our strength (for we have none) but in His power to keep us from falling, so that we are faultless before Him.
There are more answers in the Canons of Dordrecht and Catechism. It all points out very clear that man wills only evil. So man cannot and will not choose God’s kingdom. If a child does not confess publicly, it does not mean that he has “spiritual weakness” (your words). It means the Lord has not bestowed grace upon that child as of yet. But we know that grace may abound in the heart of the regenerate man through the working of the Holy Spirit. From that will he confess before God and His people. “God is Faithful and Gracious.”
In reply to these letters I want to express my appreciation, first of all, for the concern shown for the truth of God’s Word, and secondly, for the Christian way in which the letters were written. I will attempt to clarify the articles in question and thus try to remove any misunderstanding that there may be regarding this truth.
The basic problem, which has always been difficult to understand, is how to harmonize the sovereignty of God with the responsibility of man. Scripture teaches both. The question then is, “If God is sovereign, wherein does the responsibility of man lie? And if man is a responsible creature, how is God still sovereign?”
To answer this question we must see that Scripture does speak of choosing. In fact, God exhorts us to choose. Let us first look at Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Then Joshua 24:15, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Also consider I Kings 18:21, “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.” Now let us go to the Psalms, chapter 119:30, “I have chosen the way of truth: Thy judgments have I laid before me.” Now just one more, Luke 10:42, “But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
These are just a few examples from the Holy Scriptures which, in each instance, literally mean “to pick out, to select.” Now, how do we understand this without becoming Arminian?
To show that the position of my two articles is in harmony with our Reformed heritage let us turn to several of our church fathers who wrote on this same question some years ago. The late Rev. G. Vos, in explaining Joshua 24:15, had this to say in S.B. Vol. 13, p. 394:
Does it not seem very poor leadership to leave the people as it were to the inclination of their own hearts? Would it not sound much wiser to say to them: Don’t you dare serve other gods! Don’t let me see the semblance of idolatry in your midst! Would it not work much better to whip them into shape, like a dictator?
Ah, but Joshua is not the leader of a political party which must be kept intact by hook or by crook. He is not a dictator who will stand or fall all according to the size of the following he has. Joshua is the type of Jesus Christ our Lord!
And the theme of his discourse is religion, the service of the God of heaven and of the earth! That makes a tremendous difference.
Religion, the service of God, is entirely a matter of freedom, of liberty, of spontaneous endeavor. There is not an inkling of compulsion in religion. On the day of the Lord of hosts, He will have a people that are very willing and very eager to do His sovereign will. Religion is that we submerge our will entirely in the will of God. And that will is that we love Him, know Him and obey Him from the motive of purest love.
And Israel must learn this. Therefore Joshua casts the ball their way. Choose ye this day…!
Concerning this same passage the late Rev. G.M. Ophoff wrote in S.B Col.9,p.192:
That He is the author of our good choice, that we choose as His instruments, does not remove the necessity of our choosing, nor render our choosing superfluous. Man’s life is a perpetual choosing between good and evil, though it be true that the natural man can do nothing but will to choose the wrong, will to choose the gods of this world. Choosing is an action of the rational, moral creature and sets man off from his fellow creatures as a responsible being.
God wills to be served only as a being chosen by His worshippers, chosen in distinction from darkness, from the lie, from gods that are no gods, from gods that constitute the dark and horrible reserve from His own blessed self. Therefore He not only places His blessed self within the range of our vision, but also confronts His people with the dark reverse of His adorable self, namely, the devils at whose shrine the world worships, and He bids us to compare, to appraise, to choose, to decide whether it is evil to serve Him. And in choosing Him we declare that we loathe darkness, hate sin, and love Him, as a being blessed forever.
That we are always under the necessity of choosing between God and Mammon, truth and the lie, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell,—means that life is an unbroken test trial. But in this trial we are kept by His power through faith.
Let us look at one, the late Rev. H. Hoeksema as he explains Deuteronomy 30:19 in S.B. Vol. 9, p. 26:
For, strange though it may seem, impossible though it may at first appear, man always does and always must make the choice, either of life or of death!
…Choose you must and choose you do, constantly, every day and every night, with every breath you take, with every move you make, with every word you speak, with every wink of your eye, with every inclination of your will, with every desire of your soul, with every thought of your mind. Always you choose between righteousness and unrighteousness, between light and darkness; you prove them, you evaluate them, you distinguish between them, you clearly manifest that you know them, you express preferment of either of them you approve of righteousness and loathe unrighteousness, or you love the darkness and hate the light.
…Behold, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing! What will ye?
And constantly, persistently, with his heart and mind as well as in all the directions of his walk the natural man replies: I will death!
Choose therefore, life!
Only by grace will the admonition be heeded!
After having read the various Scriptural passages and after having read what some of our church fathers have written concerning two of these passages, it becomes very evident whether or not man chooses. Yes, man chooses! God did not create a stock and a block or a robot, but God created a rational, moral creature capable of judging and choosing. By nature he chooses the evil and by grace he chooses the good. But he chooses! This is precisely what I wrote. I quote, “He either chooses the way of sin or by God’s grace(emphasis added, RM) he chooses the way of life.” The title of the first article stated the truth that manmust choose, while the title of the second article stated that this choice is of faith, referring, or course, to Moses and to every child of God. The articles in question were designed to instruct, and again, by God’s grace, strengthen the faith of the young people so that when they come to years of discretion they will publicly confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And, yes, some of these young sheep are weak and they need to be strengthened. How does God do that? By His Word and Spirit. What is this Word? Choose you this day whom ye will serve!
Not to confess the Lord’s name when one has “come to years” is halting between two opinions. We may not serve God and mammon. The demand is love Me, serve Me with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength! Our young people who are weak will hear the admonition and exhortation of the Shepherd. By grace! By the grace that God gives by the means of that very exhortation, His Word.
If there is still any difficulty with the articles and/or this reply please write again. Through such discussions the truth is made plain.