Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Does God beg sinners to come to Him?

Within Reformed circles it has become fashionable to recoil at any discussion of God 'begging' sinners to come to Him. After all, it is argued, God is the great King of the Universe.  A king commands, he does not beg--or so the argument goes.

There is, of course, much in that statement which is true:
     (1) God is the King.
     (2) He does issue commands.
     (3) He will bring about His will.

According to Ephesians 1:11, God ‘works all things after the counsel of his will'. This includes even the sinful actions of those who rebel against Him. Referring to those who make war against God, Revelation 17:17 says, “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose.” God commands obedience, so why then do some Christians paint God as a beggar who pleads with sinners to come to Him.

The answer may surprise you: because that is the very language the apostle Paul uses. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the apostles says "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (note: the KJV, NIV and other translations render this "as though God was making his appeal through us". The words "as though" are not in the Greek text, and are an unwarranted addition. Paul is not "supposing" that God is speaking through him, he is making a factual claim).

So, the God who commands is a God who is humble and loving enough to beg. Certainly there are sections of Evangelicalism that focus on this to the exclusion of the Bible's clear imagery of God as a king who commands. Both are true, it is not an either/or.  God commands sinners to repent, and He (at least through faithful believers) begs them to repent.

In reaction to this, one blogger wrote: "This isn't the God of Scripture. This is JUNK. God doesn't beg."  Interestingly, a quick survey reveals that great Calvinistic/Reformed thinkers have always believed that God does beg---it is only in the more hyper-Calvinistic quarters where this has been denied. Samuel Rutherford (preaching from Song of Songs 2:14) said,
"It is ordinary for man to beg from God, for we be but His beggars; but it is a miracle to see God beg at man. Yet here is the Potter begging from the clay; the Savior seeking from sinners!"
Speaking on 2 Cor 5:20, Spurgeon said:
"Remember, wherever we speak about the power of grace we do not mean a physical force, but only such force as may be applied to free agents, and to responsible human beings. The Lord begs you not to want to be crushed and pounded into repentance, nor whipped and spurred to holy living. But, 'My son, give me thine heart.'"
And there are many more. We could offer similar quotes from men like Augustine, Hugh Latimer, Thomas Manton, Isaac Ambrose, Stephen Charnock, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, William Gurnall, George Swinnock, Ralph Venning, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, and Thomas Chalmers (among others).

Modern preachers have also recognized this truth. When preaching on this verse John MacArthur stated:
"It says that God reconciles us, God is in Christ reconciling, God is begging...This is the best offer any human being was ever made. What is the begging part? The picture here is pleading. It's actually the Greek word parakaleo. This is a word with lots of meanings...ask, urge, encourage, counsel, admonish, exhort. Its associated with the Holy Spirit who is called the parakletos, a noun form of the same word. So here we are counseling, urging, asking, pleading, admonishing, exhorting to get people to be willing to reconcile to the God who is willing to reconcile with them."
Now is the time for personal confession. In the past I've stood at the pulpit and boldly proclaimed "God is the King, he doesn't beg." Yet I wonder how may simply use that (misguided) belief as an excuse for their own lack of personal evangelism. Paul's entire point is that he and other faithful believers are God's mouthpiece. Paul begged sinners to come to Christ, and he stressed that it wasn't merely him, but rather the omnipotent King of the universe begging through him.

If God is willing to beg, urge, and plead with lost sinners, so am I.


2 comments:

  1. The word "beg" is not one and the same as "appeal" or "call" or "implore" or "other commonly used terms when God "woes" or "is involved in reaching people with the Gospel message.
    In fact, "begging" is a act of a individual person engaging in a posture of subservience to another (sort of down on his or her knees) in order to get something or see something accomplished. Nowhere is the Holy Bible does it ever present God in His diety and character positioning Himself like that. Humans yes, even Jesus the Christ in his 100% humanity did such, at least in His attitudes toward some, but never in God's presentation of His actions or attributes does He reveal Himsself in such a characger role! To say so discredits His character and nature of being! It lowers God to "our" own image and makes Him "like" us so we feel comfortable in our getting "some" glory out of salvation and our dealings with this thrice Holy God! I would encourage you and anyone else to be very, very careful in evaluating the Character of God and presenting your results as "bonified God ordained wording and teachings" for God will hold you especially accountable for taking His name in a vain or lowered manner!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lamar, I think this may be a case where we can be "more Calvinistic than Calvin". The overwhelming majority of Reformed/Calvinistic writers who have commented on this passage did not shy away from using the word "beg" applied to God.

    To do so doesn't "discredit His nature", "lower Him to our image", or "take his name in vain". It simply respects Paul's wording in this passage. I would respectfully argue we do not honor God by conveniently ignoring what He said. Remember, Peter tried that with Jesus, and our Lord would have none of it.

    ReplyDelete