Grace as a life theme makes more sense if God, properly, is sovereign

Christian churches are built to inspire God’s worshipers to see visually God’s majesty, authority, pre-eminence, glory, holiness, perfection, autonomy, sovereignty and other attributes, to the benefit of their souls. (Abigail Tulis photo)

At le club francais today Bob Franklin, a graphic artist who seems to live all over the country “portant plusieurs chapeaux” (wearing several hats, as he put it) talks about his metier as he eats a very moist salad and I chomp on a Public House burger with enough meat in it to cover a month’s worth of beef for an ordinary mortal.

He is a programmer, an artist, designs things on computers, does marketing — I am impressed. He speaks in good French, though he admits having trouble with the throaty Rs in that language of love, romance and, in the 1700s, diplomacy.

Our chat touches on my calling — i.e., our explorations of local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond. My website is a propos de grace, I said.  Grace, as I said to my suave 50sh interlocutor sipping a glass of water, is something God gives us — though we are rebels and sinners — through the merits and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

The effect on mankind of this outpouring of mercy, I say, is plus de paix parmi les hommes, plus de grace— more peace among men. I try to enumerate: Less war, less fighting, less envy, less arguing, less selfishness, less pride, more forgiveness, more love as people live out Christ’s example.

I’ve been meaning to relate another conversation a few days earlier with Anthony, who is much less willing to consider the operation of God’s grace and the choice and freewill of God that the lovely doctrines of mercy imply.

Grace, but not from a sovereign God

Anthony, a liberal-minded religious man I’ve known 20 years — has trouble speaking but is perfectly lucid at 90. His family members have left him aside in his wheelchair with its wheels locked and we sit half in the sun under a pavilion at his retirement home. Counting on God’s providence to have a free moment, I press into a subject we have discussed often.

“Anthony, do you rely on Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, and none other? I’d like to continue our talk about this matter and the claims I’ve made before.” Through his sunglasses I see his eyes focusing on me. I lean almost over his lap and speak perhaps too loudly, as his hearing is fine. “Anthony, I want to ask you about God and your dealings with Him.”

He blinks. He is willing to listen, but no doubt he is wary at what he suspects is coming and frustrated that he cannot speak facilely.

“I want you by God’s grace to be relying solely on the sacrifice of Jesus for your salvation, on Him and none other. Do you?”

He stares at me, and moves his lips. I peer into his eyes behind his sunglasses.

“The scriptures teach that God gives his grace to His children, and saves them. For you to have God’s favor, you have to submit your will and your understanding to Him. You are saved on His terms, not on your own. No man cometh unto the Father but by Jesus Christ, through faith alone. You are saved by His death on the cross, and by the fact that He is the Son of God in that He rose from the grave.” Anthony is hunched over. I try to think how this man, a lifelong papist, is thinking so that I can try to read his responses.

I wait, press my face close to his, but do not make out what he is saying. “God makes distinctions among men,” I wander ahead. “He sent His son to die for His people, His children, and because He is God the work of Jesus Christ effectually saves every man God intends to save, and none are lost. Not one is lost. If He died for you, you shall be saved by His grace through faith alone.”

He sees what’s coming: “Died — for — everybody. Loves — every person,” Anthony croaks.

In earlier days Anthony had made long and generous statements declaring God would never judge anyone, that He is a God of love and that He loves everyone.

“May I suggest we talk about Christ’s parables, Anthony? They are in red in your Bible, and are the words Christ uttered. Christ in the parables and other places makes very clear that wrath and judgment are part of His character, and are built into the world He has made. Do you remember the parable of the wheat and the tares?” I recount how the enemy sows weeds in the wheat field and the master tells his servants  don’t pull out the tares, lest the wheat be uprooted also.

“And does not Christ say that the harvesters, the angels, will gather the wheat and put it into the barn, but uproot and bind the tares and cast them into the fire? God makes distinctions among people, Anthony. Some He saves. Others He destroys in righteous judgment.

“What — Muslims?” What about Muslims, in other words.

“Do Muslims believe on Jesus Christ for their salvation? No, they don’t. Remember what Christ said in His parable of the fish. The fisherman drop the net into the sea and when they get to shore they pick the good fish and throw out the bad. And Christ explains that. He says that this making of division is something at the end of the world, when His wrath is poured out those He rejects. They suffer agony, wailing and gnashing of teeth. [Matt. 8:47-50]

“And what about the parable of the sower, Anthony? Remember the sower? Some of the seeds fall on bad ground, and are either choked by weeds or burn up in the sun. The good seed, which refers to the children of God, fall on prepared ground — ground the farmer has tilled and readied to receive them. The others are the people whom God does not save. These are people left to follow their own wills. He leaves them alone. [Luke 8:5-15]

“And what about the parable of the wicked vinedressers? Remember, it’s about the vineyard owner whose vintners refused to pay him his due, and when he sends servants to collect it they mistreat them and kill them; he says he’ll send his son, because they’ll reverence him. But do they? No, they kill the son, and he comes and destroys the vinedressers and will give the vineyard to others” [Luke 20:9-19].

I intersperse my comments with pauses, and several times offer what I suppose his response to be. I go only so far in stating for him his arguments. Maybe it’s best if he just listen to his young friend.

In bosom of Abraham

“Do you remember the parable of the wedding feast and the man who showed up without a garment? The man who had been invited to the wedding feast came wearing his regular clothes, and he was not fit to remain at the table. When the king addresses him as to why he has no garment, he is speechless. He is bound hand and foot and taken away and cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.  [Matt. 22:2-15, see also 47-49]

“Anthony, I urge you on the peril of your soul not to worry about Muslims and to require of God that somehow He save them, too. They are not the issue. You are. They are Muslims because God has withheld His grace from them, and leaves them to their own devices. You are at the end of your life.

“I don’t know if I am going to see you again in this world. I urge you in Christ’s name to consider what you have heard from Christ’s own lips about those He casts out and away. For many are called and few are chosen [Matt. 22:14].

“All of us are unworthy. We are those people who the king invites to the feast and we show up. That king, in the parable, tried to invite another people, the first group, the old Israelites, but they rejected coming. They scoffed at his servants, and one went to his field and another to his business. You remember? Do you remember that?”

“And the parable of Lazarus — remember that? The rich man is in hell, and Lazarus the poor man whose sores were licked by the dogs as he awaited crumbs from the rich man’s table is in heaven in the bosom of Abraham. How is it that God doesn’t save the rich man? Why is he in the torment of hell?”

Anthony mumbles. I fret, unable to make him out. “Maybe when we get back to your apartment you can write out the letters and tell me,” I offer.

“Well, you are concerned about me in not seeing Muslims as among God’s elect; who are they to blame for not being Christians? How is it their fault? Well, we can get into that later. But I am glad you brought them up because your accounting for them means that you do not believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. You believe there is salvation apart from God. Because you insist on pagans, Muslims and disbelievers having access to God in their own way, what that really is telling me is that you are not relying exclusively on His mercy and grace alone or salvation.

“That you insist others can be accepted of God by their own genuine opinions means that you, yourself, don’t rely exclusively on God for your eternal hope, that without it you are lost, perishing and damned forever. You don’t see yourself as truly lost, nor them, and that only through Christ — with none other to save you — do you have eternal life.

“Anthony. Do you remember those parables? Do you remember them?”

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