“Predestination and the Glory of God”
by W. Robert Godfrey, Ph.D.
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!…For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
In Rome there is a church by the name of Saint Peter in Chains. It is not the famous Basilica of Saint Peter, but a smaller church, and in that church there is one of the most famous pieces of sculpture ever done by man, the “Moses” by Michelangelo. If you have seen that statue, you must have been struck by the vitality Michelangelo has been able to communicate to marble. Moses has come down from Mount Sinai and is seated with the tables of the Law in his hand—seated, yet almost as if he were about to rise up not only from his seat but also out of the stone itself. It is an amazing representation. As you looked at it you may have noted that on the head of Moses there are two little horns. This is surprising at first glance, until you remember, as I am sure you do, that in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate the passage that says, “When Moses came down from the Mountain his face shone” (cf. Exodus 34:29-33) is mistranslated and reads, “his head was horned.”
One wonders what Michelangelo might have done had Jerome translated the passage accurately. Because what really happened was that Moses had so basked in the glory of God on Mount Sinai that when he came down from the mountain his face literally radiated the glory of God. No doubt even Michelangelo would have been defeated in his effort to represent in marble the glorious shining of God’s glory in the face of Moses.
I fear that I may also fail this morning as I consider the glory of God. What an incredible subject to address: the glory of God in predestination! Paul directs our attention to it in Romans 11.
As we think about God’s glory it is good to begin with Moses, because after Moses had come down from Sinai and had confronted the sinfulness of his people, in his great distress he turned to the Lord in prayer. His prayer, as we find it in Exodus 33, was this: “Now show me your glory”—in the face of the disobedience of your people, in the face of frustration and disappointment, in the face of having broken the tablets of the Law-“show me your glory” (v. 18). As we want to see the glory of the Lord, we might follow Moses back up the mountain, remembering what Moses saw as he climbed it. The mountain was covered with a cloud, and in the midst of the cloud “there was a devouring fire.” After Moses had ascended the mountain God promised to show him his glory. But he said, “You cannot see my glory as it is in itself; I will hide you in a cleft of the rock, and as I pass by I will put my hand over you so that you will not be destroyed and will remove my hand as I pass by so you can just see my back, just a portion of my glory, and I will preserve you so you will not be destroyed.” It was having seen that glory of God that caused Moses’ face to shine when he came down from the mountain.
Then we read a little further on that this glory came down from the mountain when the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed. God’s glory was manifested among his people in the Tent of Meeting.
This gives some insight into what glory is. The root meaning of the Hebrew word for glory is “weight.” But as the Hebrews expanded on the meaning of this root word, they moved from the idea of weight to “wealth.” Somebody who had a heavy weight (of silver or gold) was a wealthy person. From the notion of wealth the word developed the sense of “importance.” Someone who is wealthy is usually an important person. At last we find it applied to God as the preeminently weighty, wealthy and important one.
Glory also became associated with the notion of light, since God most often reveals his glory to man in the form of a visible radiance. As he is in himself, God is, of course, inherently invisible. But when God wants to display his glory to us, he does it in terms of beautiful light, pointing to and illustrating his purity and holiness. The glory dwelt inside the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting, because God could never fully display what he is in himself to a sinful people.
We also see something of the hiddenness of the glory of God in Jesus. We read in John’s Gospel: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, …full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Yet that glory is veiled. John says, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us,” using the word that literally means “tented” or “tabernacled” among us. You see, the glory of God is still in the Tent of Meeting, but the Tent of Meeting is now Jesus Christ our Lord. In him we are in contact with God’s glory.
Charles Wesley expressed it beautifully in his hymn “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” when he declared:
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the Incarnate Deity.”
That expresses how the glory of God came down and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. That glory is displayed even in that most unlikely of places, the cross. For it is of the cross that Jesus declared, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). The glory of the mercy of God is displayed on Calvary.
But in Jesus, too, we see something of the visible display of God’s glory. You remember the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus was suddenly transformed, and light shone forth as he talked with Moses and Elijah. So, too, in the vision of our ascended Lord that we find in the first chapter of Revelation, Jesus is seen walking among the lamp stands of the church and is described in this way: “His eyes were like blazing fire … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (vv. 14, 16).
So much glory! So much to glorify the Lord for! It is with this in mind that Paul is moved at the end of Romans 11 to praise God, saying, “To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Mercy Upon All
What in particular moved Paul to glorify God? There are so many things for which we could glorify God. If you look through the Psalms, you will find God glorified for a wonderful range of activities. But Paul, in this verse, has been moved to glorify God particularly by his reflection on God’s mercy.
When you think about it, all of Romans 9-11 has been a reflection upon God’s mercy to his people. When Moses asked God, “Show me your glory,” the Lord responded by saying, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD…I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” Exod. 33:19). In response to the request of Moses to see God’s glory, God said, in effect, “You will see it in knowing that I am a God who shows mercy upon whom I will show mercy.” Paul quotes this passage in Romans 9. The discussion begins, then, in chapter 9 and concludes in chapter 11.
All sorts of men have been bound up together in disobedience to God, so that the Lord in his mercy might bind up all men, Jew and Gentile from every part of the earth, in the experience of his mercy. That is what evokes Paul’s doxology. What a wonderful God we have! What a glorious God, who manifests himself in such sovereign mercy! That is why Paul, in declaring his praise of God, says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36).
A Mercy Planned
In these words we see salvation displayed: “from him,” a mercy planned; “through him,” a mercy preached; “to him,” a mercy perfected.
A planned mercy is what Paul was talking about in Romans 9 through 11, as he reflected on God’s great purpose. This is what Paul has reminded us of over and over. God from all eternity has had a plan as to what he will do and what he will accomplish. That plan is, above all, that he will have a people for his name. His purpose is that the human race which he has created for fellowship with himself will not be lost but that out of fallen humanity he will raise up a people to have fellowship with him. That purpose will not be thwarted, neither by the will of Satan nor by the will of man, for God’s will stands over all. The tragedy of theologies that do not grasp this fact is that they reduce God’s plan only to making salvation possible and therefore leave open the possibility that God may not have a people for his name, that Jesus may have died but actually has saved no one.
This plan is profound in its richness. God has determined to create a people composed of Jew and Gentile alike, as Paul rehearses over and over again in these chapters. The church is built out of all the peoples of the earth: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Rom. 10:12). This is his richness, as he draws a people from every tribe and tongue.
Not only is God’s plan rich. It is also wise. It is wise because it accomplishes man’s glorification. You remember the golden chain of Romans 8:30: “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” That is God’s wise plan, a plan that moves from the beginning to the end. God will accomplish his purpose. He will have his people manifest his glory. We cannot increase God’s glory. We can declare it.
What a contrast between the wisdom of that plan and the foolishness of men. Paul spoke eloquently about that foolishness in Romans 1, when he wrote: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images, …the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised” (vv. 22, 23, 25). God’s wise plan is that we will be creatures in fellowship with our Creator. The foolishness of man is to miss that glory, reject that wisdom and, in the foolishness of our understanding, to create images for ourselves to worship. The Psalmist says, “All who serve them become like them.” (Ps. 115:8). And, oh, the tragedy! We who are called to reflect the image of the immortal God become reflectors only of the passing things of this world.
When we think on the riches and wisdom of God’s plan we dare never be apologetic that we are reformed. If you do not talk about the reformed faith, you are failing to give God all his glory. If you do not talk about it, you are not sharing the richness of God’s salvation with fellow Christians. Oh, do not harp on it! Do not beat people over the head with it! But do declare it! Declare the richness, wonder and glory of that plan.
A Mercy Preached
There is also a mercy preached, for it is not only from him but also “through him” that we know mercy. The first thing that needs to be said as we reflect upon the mercy of God preached is that this mercy is preached above all by God himself. God does not make his plan and stand back. No, God remains active in the preaching of his mercy. We read in Romans 9:33: “As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” So also in Romans 10:21: “But concerning Israel [God] says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” God, who holds out his hand in mercy and calls people to himself promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” God remains the great preacher and declarer of this Word in the world.
But God has also appointed preachers to carry that message. Paul states that, and it is important for us especially who occupy the official office of preacher to remember our great privilege and responsibility.
Some of us are occasionally tempted to just sort of trudge off to church – either into the pew or into the pulpit – and take this as a matter-of-fact affair. But it is an awesome responsibility both to preach and to hear God’s Word. It is an awesome responsibility of the preacher to handle the Word of truth rightly, and it is an awesome responsibility to hear that Word. The apostle declares that the preaching of the Word is the savor of life unto life and death unto death (2 Cor. 2:16). For those who hear the Word and treasure it, it is life. For those who hear it and reject it, it is death.
I remember hearing of an old Welsh minister, who preached in a church that had a great high pulpit with a high staircase. He would conduct most of his service from below. But when the time came for the sermon he would climb those stairs and preach. Some Sunday mornings he would walk to the bottom of the stairs, look up into the pulpit and say, “I cannot go into that awful place.” Then he would turn around and walk out of the church. This left the elders somewhat disconcerted, as you can imagine. But it was a good testimony to the awesome responsibility of being a declarer of God’s Word. Moreover, it impressed upon the people that preaching could never be merely commonplace and ordinary. The pulpit was an awful place in the sense of inspiring awe and reverence before God.
Christ must always be the center of our preaching. That is why Paul returns in chapter 10 to Christ as the essence of the gospel. His declaration is that Christ is the “end of the Law” (v. 4). Christ in his own life has fulfilled all righteousness, has been obedient in our place, and then has gone on to bear the wrath of God for us on the cross. Paul says he is also a resurrected Savior, risen from the dead in the power of God, who now declares his gospel to all who will come to him. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul talks about “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (v. 4). This is Christ’s glory – that he is the Savior of his people, that he has done it all: accomplished righteousness, borne the curse, risen victorious over sin and death, and now lives to make intercession for us. That is why we must always return to Christ as the very center of the gospel.
Luther once remarked, “People are always saying, ‘Give me something new! Give me something new! I don’t want to hear just about the death and resurrection of Christ.’” Luther remarked, “What a tragedy! As if that great center of the gospel should ever become old, stale or a matter of indifference to us.”
When mercy is preached, it is preached in Christ. And it is preached unto faith. This also echoes through Romans 9 – 11. The preaching of faith is not all opposed to the preaching of election. Paul weaves them together. In Romans 11 he declares: “You stand by faith” (v. 20). In Romans 9:30 he speaks of “a righteousness that is by faith.” This does not make faith the one good work we do. Rather, faith is our link to Jesus Christ, and we are righteous through faith because faith puts us in touch with the righteousness of Christ. Christ and his work are our righteousness, and faith is our link.
What a stumbling block this is to pride! We all want to do something, particularly in the new world. We have been taught that we are to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But Paul says that there is nothing we can do – nothing, except to find refuge in Jesus Christ.
In Romans 10:16 Paul expresses this in ironic terms when he says, “But not all the Israelites obeyed the good news.” Israel was always talking about its obedience, but the people missed the whole point. It is not in our obedience that we are made right with God. It is in the gospel. Moses came with the Law so that people might be driven to Christ. The Law was to show us our sinfulness. But Israel missed that great function of the Law. Therefore, instead of being driven to Christ as their only hope and refuge, they took refuge in their pretended claim to self-righteousness. That is why Paul says we must preach faith. Paul warns over and over against being wise in our own conceits. We are not to repeat the mistake of Israel and say, “We are God’s covenant people. He’s obligated to us.” Oh, no! It is all by mercy. We have to rest in him and his completed work.
The contrast Paul draws in Romans 10 is between condemnation and righteousness. In our self-righteous efforts to fulfill the Law we will find only condemnation, but in Christ we will find righteousness and hope. That is, righteousness is harmonized with the theme of election. Election is never a threat. Election never undermines our faith but rather under girds it.
Luther expressed that beautifully in these words:
“Now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will and put it under the control of his, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running but according to his own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and that he is also great and powerful so that no devils or opposition can break him or pluck me from him” (The Bondage of the Will).
That is the certainty that election gives us. I do not want salvation to be in my hands. I want my salvation to be in God’s hands, because he is faithful and able. That is the mercy that we preach and the confidence that we have. That is the mercy that glorifies God, for it is a mercy grounded in God’s plan and declared to his people.
A Mercy Perfected
Finally, there is mercy perfected: “To him are all things.” God is active from the beginning to the end. He will accomplish his purpose, and God’s purpose is that he will glorify himself in glorifying us. What an assurance that is! God’s original intention was to give glory to his creature, man. You remember the words of Psalm 8: “You made him [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul declares that “man… is the image and glory of God” (v. 7).
Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” But the amazing thing is, although God will not give his glory to another god, he does give his glory to man, made in his likeness. Man lost God’s glory in his sinfulness: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But God determined to restore that glory – not the fading glory that Moses had shining in his face when he came down from the mountain, the glory that passed away – but rather a permanent, unfading glory. In 2 Corinthians 3:11 Paul develops this, saying, “If what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” We are to grow in that glory even now: “We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (v. 18). Moreover, we can spread that glory to others who have not heard: “The grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15).
Finally, we have the culmination in the fulfillment of glory that awaits us. This must influence the whole way we live. Everything that happens to us in this life must come under the arc of God’s coming glory. Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul, who had gone through shipwreck, torture, imprisonment and who was now facing martyrdom, can refer to these problems of life as his “light and momentary” trouble in comparison to that eternal weight of glory which is beyond all comparison.
Calvin recommended meditation on the future life as a spiritual exercise. He said the only way we could really bring things into perspective in this life is to remember that our real home is in glory. Evangelicals are sometimes accused of preaching “pie in the sky by and by.” But meditation on the future glory does not make us “no earthly good,” as some say, but rather gives us that liberty as sons of God that was expressed on the lips of a Spanish soldier in the sixteenth century: “I would rather face a whole army than one Calvinist convinced he is doing the will of God.” That is what happens when you realize that whatever goes on in this world is only a momentary affliction.
Paul did not say this easily or lightly. Paul knew the reality of suffering. But he looked beyond this life to the eternal weight of glory that awaited him. Our Lord said, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). Peter promised: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Moses had only a fading crown of glory, but ours will be unfading. With that crown of glory we will glorify God for eternity. This is what John saw in the Revelation: “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power’” (Rev. 4:10, 11). There it is, you see. God glorifies us, and we take that glory and consecrate it back to him, glorifying him forever.
Calvinists are a minority today, and we can sometimes be discouraged. We can be discouraged by the surrounding secularism and because we sometimes feel that non-Calvinistic Christian groups are more successful than we are. That may be true in some areas. But we have a great task to perform, and that is to open to fellow Christians and to the world at large the depths, riches and wisdom of God’s glory.
We live in a day when many have eclipsed the glory of God in their teaching. They have eclipsed it by ignoring God’s perfect plan. The sinfulness of sin is reduced so that man’s free will may be unimpaired, and therefore the work of Christ is reduced. Man needs only a partial faith. By contrast, we who have looked deeply into God’s Word know that we are dead in our sin and unable to help ourselves. Therefore, at the right time Christ died for us, and by the irresistible work of his Holy Spirit, brought us to faith in himself. What a gospel that is! What a Savior we have! “To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
© 2008 Westminster Seminary California All rights reserved
By W. Robert Godfrey, Ph.D. © 2008 Westminster Seminary California. Website: www.wscal.edu. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 888/480.8474
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