The result, the development of the rebirth is faith, conversion, sanctification, and also its completion: the presentation before the Father without spot or wrinkle.
The Father with his creative power establishes the bond of the covenant, opens the paternal home for his elect children, keeps the inheritance ready for them, and watches over them with his most special providence. The Son with is redemptive power takes their sins away, applies the power of his resurrection, and clothes them with the garment of his righteousness. Finally, the Holy Spirit with his sanctifying influence chooses the heart of the covenantal child as his eternal habitation, making what already belongs to the one in Christ also as a possession. He does not rest until the last stain of sin is removed from the heart and life, and the former dirty and besmirched sinner shines in perfection before God’s throne amid the angels. Therefore, we are baptised in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
We hear people speaking in their prayers to the Saviour only. We hear them singing in their hymns to Jesus only. It is a kind of Jesus-only worship. A Reformed person does not join them. He calls this one-sided and shallow. He certainly can still approve of a song that comforts his soul, such as “Jesus your atoning death/Is the refuge of my heart.” He knows that this short sentence of “Jesus alone!” conceals a fundamental confession and a central truth. He would be the last to deny that man can only exist in Christ, his surety, and that he must be included eternally in Christ, his head, and remain united to him in order to be saved. He speaks of Christ’s Church, boasts in Christ’s cross, takes his refuge in Christ’s blood, and proclaims Christ’s death. All this is true, but that does not in the least take away the fact that Jesus is mediator, the mediator who brings him to the triune Being, and that he finds rest in the triune God.
Our gratitude for the absolute necessity of Jesus can never be enough, but Jesus does not consider himself as the ultimate goal of redemption. He sends his people, whom he bought at great cost, in his name to the Father. Think of those marvellous verses in John sixteen, verses twenty-six and seven, “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you.” Christ is not the moving but the meritorious cause of salvation. Having discovered his guilt, the sinner takes his refuge in Jesus and out of fear for God’s wrath creeps behind the cross, calling out, “Jesus, help me!” But he does not keep hiding behind that cross. A ray of light will later penetrate his soul: the Father gave me this Jesus. Indeed, from eternity this divine Being cherishes thoughts of peace. Christ is the visible revelation of these thoughts of peace, the living appearance, the express image.
The dim light of dawn then becomes the full light of midday in his heart, and he sees the harmonious operations of the three divine persons in the plan of salvation. The Father, through the Holy Spirit, sends the sinner, still unaware of this mission, to the Son for the washing away of his sins. The Son sends the healed and cleansed sinner through the same Holy Spirit back to the Father so that God in Trinity shall be all in all.
So we see that there is a striking relation in the baptism form between these phrases: the washing away of sins by Jesus Christ and baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit. The small word, therefore,is here exactly in the right place and points to the ground. Clearly, because Christ’s blood was shed and his healing power is presented and sealed in baptism, therefore are we baptised in the name of the Trinity.
Rev. George Ophoff (1891-1962) was one of the founding fathers of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. In 1922, he was ordained into the ministry of the Word and became the first pastor of Hope Christian Reformed Church (later Hope Protestant Reformed Church) in Walker, Michigan, where he served for 7 years. In 1925 he was deposed from office by the Christian Reformed Church, along with Rev. Danhof and Rev. Hoeksema. The three congregations which these men served became the first churches of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Rev. Ophoff not only served as pastor of several Protestant Reformed churches, but he was a co-editor of The Standard Bearer from its beginning to the time of his retirement. From 1925 to 1959, when he retired, he also served as Professor of Old Testament and Historical Theology at the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The contribution which he made to the Protestant Reformed Churches and the cause of God during his years in the ministry was inestimable.
Rev. Ophoff loved the Reformed Faith. He was a staunch defender of sovereign grace. Even when he was under great pressure to compromise, he always stood fast in the Truth. In the words of Rev. Herman Hoeksema, he knew and loved the Reformed truth and, often in a fiery way, defended it. He never wavered but stood fast on the foundation of the truth as expressed in the Reformed Confessions (The Standard Bearer, Vol. 38, page 413). This pamphlet is an example of his enthusiasm for sovereign grace. Its content is taken from an article entitled, “The Doctrine of Sovereign Elective Grace,” which Rev. Ophoff wrote in The Standard Bearer many years ago. The article has been edited slightly to make it more readable. We present it to you with the prayer that Rev. Ophoff’s forceful and Scriptural arguments might be used of God to give you a better understanding of and appreciation for God’s sovereign elective grace.
Rev. Steven Houck,
The electing and rejecting God is Supreme. Such is the plain teaching of Scripture. To deny the sovereign character of elective grace is to deny that God is God. It is to maintain that of the two, God and man, man is the stronger, and thus the factor that shapes God’s choice. This is indeed the lie that constitutes the premise, the supporting pillar, of the average sermon to which our church-going public is made to listen. I realized that the phraseology of which I avail myself in defining the lie with which the modern Evangelical discourse is fraught may be strange to you. The apostles of a dethroned God and an enthroned sinner would perhaps recoil from declaring that man is able to defeat the purposes of God. They rather speak of a God who loves and wills to save all men (head for head), of a Christ who died for all, and of a (depraved) sinner who can believe if he will. But know that, though God is supposed to will to save all men, many perish, so that the eternal death of an unrepentant sinner spells defeat for the Almighty. To say, therefore, that God indiscriminately wills to save all, is to dethrone God. To maintain that the natural man, destitute of regeneration (such is indeed the implication), can will to believe, is to seat him on a throne, left vacant, as was said, by a dethroned God.
Once more, to deny the sovereign character of elective grace is to deny that God is God. Yet many do deny it. The sad fact is that the doctrine of a sovereign election and reprobation is to many a dreaded doctrine. The number of the divines in the Christian Church who will consistently champion it is comparatively small. Many openly decry the conception of a God, who has mercy upon whom He will have mercy and hardeneth whom He wills, as the product of a diseased brain and, when pressed, begin to prate of an election reposing upon foreseen faith. Others of a more Reformed persuasion prefer to keep silent about the matter altogether, which they do, except on rare occasions when custom compels them to bring it up. But even then this truth must be neutralized by some such nefarious admixture as “a general well-meaning offer of grace.”
Scripture is most outspoken respecting the matter of election and reprobation. This no one acquainted with the contents of Holy Writ will deny, ever has denied. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world…” (Ephesians 1:4). “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1Peter 1:2). Verily, the doctrine of election runs like a seam of gold through the entire Word. It is the main pillar upon which the truth-structure, reared by the prophets and the apostles, reposes. It is so interwoven with the texture of every other truth of the Christian religion, that to preach any of these is to preach election. There is nothing cold about this doctrine. Election spells divine love, mercy, compassion, wisdom, power, justice, holiness. God in infinite mercy, taking an ill-deserving sinner included in Christ Jesus, to His bosom, to be to Him a close companion forever, this is election.
Whereas, as far as I am aware, it is freely admitted that Scripture in unmistakable speech teaches a divine election and reprobation, the issue is not: Does Holy Writ teach election, but rather: What is the character of the selective process? Is it supreme and sovereign, or bound and imprisoned by the will of man? We affirm on the basis of Scripture that the divine choice must be as sovereign as God Himself. And He is absolutely sovereign. High is He above all nations, exalted far above all gods. What may be the secret of His supremacy? He is God, infinite in might, the almighty Creator of the earth and the fullness thereof. He appears in Scripture as the Creator of the saint and as the sole source of his salvation. Also of sin, He is the supreme necessity. He forms the light, and creates darkness; makes peace and creates evil (Isaiah. 45:7). Verily, the joint testimony of Scripture that God is supreme is overwhelming. The burden of the joint message of all the prophets and the apostles is: God is supreme. He is God. What then must be the truth about His choice, His elective grace? As God, this choice is, must be, supreme. This is the proposition to the defence of which we arise in this pamphlet.
Proven From Scripture
What we will now prove from Scripture is that God’s choice, selection, is sovereign, that is, not bound, tied down and held in bondage by man. What may be meant by a supreme, in distinction from bound choice? Let us illustrate. The matter is simple enough. A merchant is in need of an able clerk. He advertises, and shortly two men, “A” and “B” apply. The merchant fixes his gaze first upon the one and then upon the other, and the thought rises in his soul, “A” strongly appeals to me. Him will I select, providing he possesses the necessary fitness. A brief interview, however, convinces him that the fit man is not “A” but “B.” “B” therefore is taken and “A” dismissed. A bound choice; bound because shaped and influenced by a circumstance (the fitness of the applicants) which the merchant did not create, but before which he is compelled to bow and take cognizance of, a circumstance, therefore, that constitutes the factor that determined the choice. On the other hand, if the merchant, capable of making of a man what he wills, could choose without considering what the applicants within themselves are, his choice, determined solely by factors within himself, would be free and sovereign. From the very nature of things, however, man’s choice is always bound. He cannot move mountains; hence he chooses the path that leads him past them. He decides to cross the ocean in a ship because the opposite shore can be reached in no other way. His choice to go his way alone is shaped by the refusal of the friend to set out in company with him. Forsooth, the field in which man’s will can operate is exceedingly small.
However, as the choice, selection, of a God who made heaven and earth, moves mountains, dries up seas, creates evil, turns men’s hearts, is the source of anything of goodness in man — this choice, elective love, of God is supreme. Nowhere is this more plainly taught than in the ninth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Attend to the argument of the verses ten to fourteen: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” This passage asserts, mark you, that God loved Jacob before he had done any good, so that the supreme cause of the divine choice as it devolved upon the younger child was not the good works, which he, as a historical phenomenon, performed; but the will, the good pleasure, of the Almighty God. And this is the same as saying that He chose Jacob with a view to creating in him life, goodness, and power. For, not of works but of Him that calleth, that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Forsooth, God’s choice is supreme. The sole factor that determines it, is found within Him. He has mercy upon whom He will.
Deny the sovereignty of the divine choice, say that a sinner of himself believes, can believe if he but will, and cannot be made to believe, if he will not; and you brush aside with one sweep the entire mass of testimony of Scripture that God is God, and set man on a throne left vacant by a dethroned God. For if the spiritual Israel, as to its hallowed energies and power (its faith, hope, love, and good works) is not of God, is not the creation of His almighty will; He is not Israel’s Maker, exalted and almighty Father, King and Savior. To say, therefore, that there is something of goodness in man that is not of God, not the creation of His will — some power, however infinitesimal, to appropriate the Christ and the blessings of the kingdom, to take hold of the life-line thrown out, some power to utter a single faint cry for mercy — is to strip Him of His infinite might, yea of all His glories, and draw Him down to the level of the creature to be trodden under foot of man. Consider that man is by nature dead in trespasses and sin, and thus destitute of spiritual life and power. How, then, can He believe, will to believe, of himself?
As to Esau, God hated him before he had done any evil so that the supreme reason of the divine rejection as it devolved upon the older child was not his corruption, the evil works he as a historical phenomenon performed, but the will, the good pleasure, of God. For reasons within Himself, the Almighty resolved to reject and to harden the historical Esau. “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will he hardeneth.” (Romans 9:18). Consider that if Esau’s total depravity was the supreme reason that compelled God to reject him, the Almighty would have been forced to reject Jacob as well, for he by nature was as depraved as his reprobated brother. This shows that the supreme reason of Esau’s rejection was not his wickedness, but the sovereign will of God.
Know well that to rebel against the reasoning of the above-cited Scripture, is to be compelled to embrace the sickening lie that the supreme reason of the divine rejection of the sinner, is the latter’s wickedness — his persistent refusal to give ear to the pleading of a God who would save but cannot and therefore finally resolves, contrary to His inmost desire, to punish the incorrigible culprit with eternal death. And this is equal to saying that the attempt of the Almighty to save ends in dismal failure as often as a sinner perishes. But let me ask: Is God’s will bound? Does the unwillingness of the sinner to be saved spell defeat for the Almighty? Does the iron wall of man’s opposition stay the Lord? Is His resolve to save a man shattered upon the rock of man’s stinking pride, arrogance, and contempt? Don’t say that I speak too disparagingly of man. He is a creature with a stiff neck, with a heart of stone, with a mouth full of dreadful curses, with a tongue under which lurks the poison of asps, with a throat that is an open sepulchre, with feet swift to shed blood, with a mind imagining vain things. In a word, he is a creature incapable of saving good and inclined to all evil. Dead is he in trespasses and sin. Does the stony heart of this man constitute the rock that resists the hammer-blows of God’s grace, the rock with which His will collides and is dashed to fragments? Nay, my friend, there is no such rock. The stony heart of man defeat God — Him who measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, meted out heaven with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in balance; Him before Whom the nations are nothing; Him, the incomparable God, Who bringeth the princes to nothing and maketh the judges of the earth as nothing? (Is. 40). This God overruled by the will of man, receding when man advances, proceeding only when man deigns to let him pass? Nay, it cannot be. How preposterous the very idea! No heart so hard that He cannot break. No will so stubborn that He cannot bend. No sinner so dead that He cannot revive. No sinner so proud that He cannot debase. No heart so filthy that He cannot cleanse. No sinner so lost that He cannot save. No sinner sunken so low that He could not raise up and set in heaven with Christ. However, He hath mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. The one believes, repents, and cries for mercy, because God so wills. And another resists, hardens his heart, says no to the Almighty, and perishes in his sins because He so wills. The electing and rejecting God is supreme. Will any true lover of God care to maintain the contrary? Again I say that I cannot conceive of him doing so.
The First Objection Weighed
It is said, that the doctrine that God, according to His own purpose and for a reason in Himself, to wit, His own good pleasure, chooses one and rejects another, is inconsistent with divine justice. The apostle dealt with this objection. That he did so proves conclusively that the views we champion are actually his. Otherwise, it could never be explained why he should raise and remove the aforesaid objection immediately upon having quoted from the discourse of the prophet Malachi the words, “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 9:13). “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Romans 9:14) is the question the apostle now puts forth. And his answer: “God forbid. For He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion . . . . For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Both passages are from the book of Exodus (Exodus 9:16; 33:11). The purpose of the apostle is obvious. He sweeps away the objection by showing that Scripture and thus God Himself unmistakably declares that He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy and hardeneth whom he will unto His glory. What God actually does — does unto His everlasting glory (such is the implication) — is, must be, just. So, then, what the apostle would bind upon our hearts is that, whereas God (according to His own purpose, for a reason in Himself, and with a view to Himself) actually chooses one and rejects and hardens another — this doing of His is, must be, just. Let this sink deep into your heart, my reader. God’s works (including the rejection and hardening of the sinner) are truth and verity; they being performed by Him for a reason in Himself, according to His purpose, and with a view to Himself, to the enhancement of His name, with an eye single to His glory, with Himself before His eye as the ultimate goal. Consider that He is the highest good, a Being wise and just, the inclusion of all that is good and lovely. Hence, any work of His that has not Himself as its supreme cause and goal falls short of Himself and is vile. Because God ends in Himself, He is the just and the holy God. Such is the reply of the apostle to the objection that sovereign rejection involves God in an unfair treatment especially of those whom He wills to reject and harden. The apostle’s reply does not satisfy you? So, then, it is not enough for you, to know that — whereas it is actually the way of God to have mercy on whom he will have mercy and to harden whom He will — Paul’s doctrine of a sovereign election and rejection is, must be, consistent with divine justice? Consider that what you set aside is God’s very own appraisal of His doings, yea, of Himself. You dare say to God that His appraisal of Himself is wrong? You, a finite creature of the dust, dare to sit in judgment over God?
The Second Objection Weighed
Another objection raised against sovereign elective grace is that it is incompatible with human responsibility. This grievance, too, was advanced by the enemy of the truth who rose before the eye of the apostle. It again shows that the doctrine of the preceding verses is: God chooses one and rejects another because He wills. The form in which the apostle has the objector cast his complaint is: “Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?” (Romans 9:19). The reasoning here is plain: If it be true that the destiny of man is in the almighty hand of God; if it is not of him who willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy; if one believes because God saves him; if another remains impenitent because God hardens him, and is lost because God fits him for destruction; if man’s state and destiny depend on God alone — how can He find fault, that is, how can He blame man and hold him responsible? For who can resist His will? Observe that the objection is precisely the one being urged against our doctrine of the character of the elective grace of God. Let this set you to thinking. It shows that we are in exceedingly good company, in the company of no one less than Paul.
“Who hath resisted His will?” The objector then has grasped the force and implication of the apostle’s reasoning. The question is, however, whether the doctrine of the preceding verses yields this conclusion. And the answer: In the mouth of the objector, the complaint, “No one can resist His will” is vile slander. What the objector means to say is that the reprobated sinner is hardened irrespective of what he can do about it, is hardened therefore against his own good will and better self. If God would only withdraw and permit this better self to assert itself, the hardened one would obey and not rebel. The sinner, according to the reasoning of the objector, is being compelled to say no to the Almighty, though he would say yes. Hence, God cannot find fault. What has the apostle to say to this? Nothing directly. He could have replied: Thou, O man, canst not resist God’s will in the sense that thou, being hardened by God, canst will to do nothing else but harden thyself and say no to Him. Thy will is only evil as thyself. With thy whole being, with all the power that is thine, dost thou pitch thyself against God. He, therefore, finds fault with thee, holds thee accountable. For thy rebellion is wanton, willful, unrestrained, unfettered.
Verily, though hardened, man is the subject of his rebellion and behaves in agreement with his nature. With such amazing freedom does he sin, so far is he from being able to detect the power of the Almighty over and in him as something foreign to himself, that he denies the existence of God. Ask a man who persists in his unbelief why he continues to say no to the Lord, and his answer will not be: God hardens me, but, I will not believe, I hate God and refuse to come to His service.
That the apostle knew how to meet the aforesaid objection is evident from the following passage taken from the first section of his epistle: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but have pleasure in them that do them. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” (Romans 1:32-2:1). So then, the express declaration of Scripture is that the rejected sinner, though hardened and fitted for destruction by God, is nevertheless inexcusable, and is thus being held accountable for his moral state. Though hardened by God, man sins as a free moral agent. If you ask, How can this be? I must reply that I know not. What Scripture here presents is no contradiction but a mystery, which for this reason defies our powers of penetration. Deny either that man is at fault, or that God hardens him, and the mystery vanishes into thin air. The exponents of the theory of a well-meaning offer of salvation to all men, of the theory that God wills to save all, that Christ died for all, of the theory that a sinner of himself can believe — I say, the exponents of these various theories have no mystery.
“How can He find fault. For who hath resisted His will?” Let us now attend to the apostle’s reply to this question. Consider, that the question is rhetorical and may, therefore, be converted into a positive statement thus: God cannot find fault, for no one can resist His will. The opponent feels certain that the objection he now raises compels the apostle to concede that his doctrine is inconsistent with human accountability and therefore shall have to be relinquished. But the apostle is not to be silenced. In replying, however, he purposely refrains from caviling with his opponent about the matter of human responsibility, for the reason that all such complaints rise not from sincere perplexity, not from an earnest desire to know the truth about the matter, but from a stinking pride that dares to cavil with God and challenge His claim upon His moral creatures. Grievances they are that spring from a sinful unwillingness to believe that with God there can be no unrighteousness; from a vile stubbornness, that against better knowledge, refuses to concede that, whereas God is God and man His creature, a thing formed, God can do with man according as He wills. The apostle, therefore, frames a retort designed to rebuke the opponent’s stinking pride and to expose the blasphemous root-thought from which the complaint springs (read Romans 9:20-23), the root-thought, namely, that God hath no right to do with His moral creatures as He pleases. Essentially this complaint is like unto the one first raised: “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Attend now to the apostle’s reply: “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?” (Romans 9:20). It is to be noticed that the apostle here judges the opponent out of his own mouth. The opponent had thought to overturn the apostle’s doctrine by the complaint, “Who can resist His will?” Just so, such is the force of the apostle’s reply, in the right sense (not in the sense in which the opponent meant it), no one can resist His will. When He hardens, the sinner can will to do nothing else but harden himself. Hence, thou, O man, art but clay in the hands of God. Being clay, it behoves thee to hold thy peace.
“Who art thou that repliest against God…” Let every opponent of Paul’s doctrine seriously ask himself this question. Let him ask, who am I that dare to set my mouth against Heaven and say, There is unrighteousness with God? Who am I that dare to challenge God’s claim upon His moral creatures? Who am I that have the vile courage to call God to account? Indeed, who art thou, O man? Consider for a moment who thou art: a vile lump of clay by thyself, impotent, lifeless, without power to make anything of thyself at all, either a vessel unto honour or a vessel unto dishonour. Consider, that thou canst not as much as harden thyself except the Almighty hardens thee. In God, thou dost live, move, and have thy being (Acts 17:28). Thou art creature, the issue of His will. Even as a vile sinner thou dost come forth out of the womb of divine providence. In a word, by thyself, thou art clay. Thy cavilling with God, how utterly preposterous! It behoves thee to hold thy peace and to extol the adorable sovereignty of thy Maker. For thou art clay. Yet thou openest thy mouth, thou a vile lump of clay, to criticize God, to accuse Him of unrighteousness, to challenge His claim upon thee, to say to Him, Why hast thou made me thus? Unbelievable! O man, thou art clay. Tell me, asks the apostle, hath not the potter power, that is, right over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? O man, have you ever heard of anyone challenging the right of the potter over the clay? Would it not, among men, be considered the height of the absurd for anyone to deny that the potter has this right? And would it not be considered the height of folly and arrogance for the dishonourable vessel, a mere lump of clay, to say to the potter, “Why hast thou made me thus?” And yet, O man, thou repliest against God, sayest to him, “Why hast thou made me thus?”
What, then, is God’s very own answer to him who challenges His right over His moral creatures and insists that with Him there is unrighteousness because He exercises His divine prerogatives over man as his sovereign Maker? It is this: Consider, O man, that with me there can be no unrighteousness as I am holy God. Consider, further, that I am thy sovereign Creator and therefore have a right to do with thee according to My will. Therefore, be still and bow before the sovereignty of thy Maker. Humble thyself under My mighty hand. Extol My sovereignty, My glories, as thou beholdest them in the face of My Son, Christ Jesus. Doing so, thou hast within thyself the evidence that thou art a vessel of mercy prepared unto glory.
O man, will you continue to denounce the adorable God because you cannot reconcile His perfect doings with your corrupt conceptions of what is right and proper for Him to do? Not satisfied with God as He is, you try to improve upon Him. Improve upon God and you get a monstrosity.
So then, He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. It means that the relation He sustains to sin is causal. He hardens first, and as a result, the sinner hardens himself. The exponents of the theory of the free will of man reverse this. Man first hardens himself and as a result, God hardens him. The very fact, however, that the apostle insists that God may do with His moral creatures as He pleases proves that His hardening the sinner is the cause of the sinner hardening himself. The heart of the entire argument of the apostle is that the relation God sustains to sin is causal, active, progressive, and not, as is commonly held, passive, permissive, receding. What is meant is not an abandonment of man to a reprobate mind, a withdrawing of the restraining influences of His Holy Spirit, a giving up to the uncounteracted operations of surrounding hardening or perverting influences, but a positive giving up of the sinner to sin through the wickedness of his own heart. Deny this and you overturn the entire argument of the apostle that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.
Having brought to the fore and removed the chief objections raised against the God of sovereign mercy and of sovereign wrath, let us now face the question: What may be the real reason for the rejection of this God? And the answer: the very fact that He is supreme, selects one and rejects another because He wills, for reasons in Himself, according to His purpose and unto His supreme and everlasting glory. A God so absolutely sovereign, the vile sinner cannot tolerate. So he fabricates himself a God. But what is this God other than an idol that can be taken up, stationed in a corner and stay put; a figurehead, if you will, trained to take orders; an ornament; a deified extension of man himself; a God who will talk along with man and say that He selects one and rejects another for reasons in the creature (man’s virtue, faith, or unbelief that defies even the power of God). Such a God, man makes for himself, a God who selects or rejects according as man wills and unto man’s supreme glory. The apostles of a dethroned God have no objection to God casting a man into hell, if only it be conceded that the supreme reason for Him doing so, is the sinner, his stubborn will. Even in hell the lost one can then glory in himself, shake his fist in the face of God and with the proud Stoic of old say, My will even thou canst not overpower. It is noteworthy that the modern revivalist preaches hell and damnation with a strange ferocity. They preach a Christ, too, a Christ, however, who completes the task of housecleaning begun by man.
Pelagianism represents an attempt to improve upon the “hard” God of Scripture. Improve upon this God and you get a monstrosity. The men of whom Paul in his epistle to the Romans wrote tried it. But their improvement turned out to be a corruptible man, a bird, a four-footed beast, a creeping thing. Let us quote the passage: “And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). Does anyone suppose that the race of today could do any better than those heathens? Not at all. The made-over God of the Pelagian, that God who wills to save all men head for head but cannot, is a monstrosity. This is plain enough. Consider that according to the apostles of a dethroned God, the supreme reason for a sinner believing is the sinner himself, his supreme will. It means that God cannot save unto His supreme glory. His redemptive labours, therefore, being works that fall short of Himself, must be denominated sin. And a God whose works are sin is darkness. Further, the God of the apostles of a free will must destroy the wicked because of an inherent impotence to bring them to repentance, so that the perishing of the wicked spells his defeat. In a word, to deny that the electing and rejecting God is supreme is to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible, vile, and impotent man. Improve upon the God of Scripture and you get a monstrosity.
Finally, if the electing and rejecting God is not supreme, a man’s salvation depends upon his own capricious will. Though believing today, the assurance is lacking to him that he will still be cleaving unto Christ on the morrow. Even with the gates of heaven within sight, he may still plunge back into hell. The theory we expose, it is plain, renders everything uncertain. It is a theory that genders not peace but anxiety, not joy but grief, not hope but despair, not humbleness but stinking pride. How different the disposition of a man who firmly believes that the electing and rejecting God is supreme, the creative cause of his salvation, his Almighty Redeemer, Who loves him because He wills, for a reason in Himself. This man has rest for he rests in God.
Man by himself is nothing. God is all. He is supreme. His power is infinite. He saves to the uttermost a vile sinner, by himself hopelessly lost, whose only hope, therefore, is God. Knowing himself as claimed by a God of sovereign mercy, the redeemed one has peace and joy unspeakable, and he glories in the cross and will glory in God forever more.
Because He is supreme God, John the apostle hears every creature which is in heaven and in the earth and such as are in the sea and all that are in them saying, “Blessing and honor and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:13).
Preach sovereign election and rejection in and out of season, and the flock you pastor will soon be crying out the praises of God. Keep silence about this truth, and the praises of God will soon die on your own lips and on the lips of the sheep over which you have been set.
By Rev. George M. Ophoff (Minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches (1925-1962)) Published by:
Peace Protestant Reformed Church
18423 Stony Island Ave.; Lansing, IL 60438
“Because in him there is found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam” (1Kings 14:13)
Such was the testimony which the Lord gave by his prophet of young Abijah, the son of wicked Jeroboam. The father was branded even to a proverb, for his abominable wickedness. Behold, the son is recorded by the Lord for his goodness, singled out from the whole house of his father, to be blessed of his God, and to come to his grave in peace.
Children of grace, often spring from the loins of ungodly parents. The offspring of godly parents, often appear graceless. Grace is not hereditary, it is the sovereign gift of God. Parents may and ought to give good instructions, but God only makes them successful. ‘Some good thing’ would not have been found in Abijah if the Lord had not put it there. It was the will of the Lord, or because the Lord was his father, as his name Abijah signifies. God’s covenant children, though by nature children of wrath, and though in their ‘flesh’ dwells no good thing;’ yet, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, ‘they are created anew in Christ Jesus, in righteousness and true holiness, unto good works;’ and after the inward man, ‘they delight in the law of God.’ The graces of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, and the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, are evidences in time, of God’s covenant to them in Christ Jesus before time. God views the work of his new creation in the soul with delight; pronounces it GOOD, and to his own glory records the graces of his people. What comes from God leads to him.
Thus we see ‘some good thing’ found in the heart of Abijah, manifesting itself in the wicked house of Jeroboam, to the glory of Jehovah the God of Israel. Oh how highly honoured are some who are converted to God’s glory and service in the morning of youth; while the Sun of righteousness doth not arise upon others, till the sun of nature is near setting. Hath distinguishing grace made us to differ, as well from our former selves, as from others? It is all from the love of the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit. We have nothing whereof to glory in ourselves, nor over others; it is our duty to confess it with our lips, and manifest it in our lives. May it encourage us daily to walk in faith and love, ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Hebrews 10:38).
“All they that hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36)
Sadly, because all men without exception are sinners, the most fundamental factor in understanding anthropology is the Thanatos factor. With entirely non-Freudian implications, the Thanatos Syndrome is simply the natural sinful inclination to death and defilement. All men have morbidly embraced death (Romans 5:12).
At the Fall, mankind was suddenly destined for death (Jeremiah 15:2). We were all at that moment bound into a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). Scripture tells us, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).
Whether we know it or not, we have chosen death (Jeremiah 8:3). It has become our shepherd (Psalm 49:14). Our minds are fixed on it (Romans 8:6), our hearts pursue it (Proverbs 21:6), and our flesh is ruled by it (Romans 8:2). We dance to its cadences (Proverbs 2:18) and descend to its chambers (Proverbs 7:27).
The fact is “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18). And, all those who hate God love death (Proverbs 8:36).
It is no wonder then that abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment have always been a normal and natural part of human relations. Since the dawning of time, men have contrived ingenious diversions to satisfy their fallen passions. And child killing has always been chief among them.
Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children. Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients. Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures. Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness. Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical [contraceptives]. Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous tortures—their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies. Japanese women stood over boiling cauldrons of parricidal brews. Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disembowelling and dismembering them shortly after birth. Their collagen was then ritually harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams.
None of the great minds of the ancient world—from Plato and Aristotle to Seneca and Quintilian, from Pythagoras and Aristophanes to Livy and Cicero, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Plutarch and Euripides—disparaged child killing in any way. In fact, most of them actually recommended it. They callously discussed its various methods and procedures. They casually debated its sundry legal ramifications. They blithely tossed lives like dice.
Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were so much a part of human societies that they provided the primary leitmotif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables, and legends.
The founding of Rome was, for instance, presumed to be the happy result of the abandonment of children, [Romulus and Remus]…Oedipus was presumed to be an abandoned child who was also found by a shepherd and later rose to greatness. Ion, the eponymous monarch in ancient Greece miraculously lived through an abortion, according to tradition. Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, was supposedly a fortunate survivor of infanticide. According to Homer’s legend, Paris, whose amorous indiscretions started the Trojan War, was also a victim of abandonment. Telephus, the king of Mysia in Greece, and Habius, ruler of the Cunetes in Spain, had both been exposed as children according to various folk tales. Jupiter, the chief god of the Olympian pantheon, himself had been abandoned as a child. He, in turn, exposed his twin sons, Zethus and Amphion. Similarly, other myths related that Poseidon, Aesculapius, Hephaistos, Attis, and Cybele had all been abandoned to die.
Because they had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as natural as the spring rains for the men and women of antiquity to kill their children. It was as instinctive as the autumn harvest for them summarily to sabotage their own heritage. They saw nothing particularly cruel about despoiling the fruit of their wombs. It was woven into the very fabric of their culture. They believed that it was completely justifiable. They believed that it was just, good, and right.
But they were wrong. Dreadfully wrong.
Life is God’s gift: It is His gracious endowment upon the created order. It flows forth in generative fruitfulness. The earth is literally teeming with life (Genesis 1:20; Leviticus 11:10; 22:5; Deuteronomy 14:9). And the crowning glory of this sacred teeming is man himself (Genesis 1:26-30; Psalm 8:1-9). To violate the sanctity of this magnificent endowment is to fly in the face of all that is holy, just, and true (Jeremiah 8:1-17; Romans 8:6). To violate the sanctity of life is to invite judgment, retribution, and anathema (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). It is to solicit devastation, imprecation, and destruction (Jeremiah 21:8-10). The Apostle Paul tells us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
But the Lord God, Who is the giver of life (Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), the defender of life (Psalm 27:1), the prince of life (Acts 3:15), and the restorer of life (Ruth 4:15), did not leave men to languish hopelessly in the clutches of sin and death. He not only sent us the message of life (Acts 5:20) and the words of life (John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (John 8:12). He sent us His only begotten Son, the life of the world (Joh 6:51), to break the bonds of death (1Corinthians 15:54-56)…“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)…In Christ, God has afforded us the opportunity…to choose between fruitful and teeming life on the one hand, and barren and impoverished death on the other (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Apart from Christ, it is not possible to escape the snares of sin and death (Colossians 2:13). On the other hand, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2Corinthians 5:17). All those who hate Christ “love death” (Proverbs 8:36), while all those who receive Christ are made the sweet savour of life (2Corinthians 2:16).
The implication is clear: The pro-life movement and the Christian faith are synonymous. Where there is one, there will be the other: for one cannot be had without the other. Further, the primary conflict in temporal history always has been and always will be the struggle for life by the Church against the natural inclinations of all men everywhere.
Conclusion: Death has cast its dark shadow across the whole of human relations. Because of sin, all men flirt and flaunt shamelessly in the face of its spectre. Sadly, such impudence has led to the most grotesque concupiscence imaginable: the slaughter of innocent children. Blinded by the glare from the nefarious and insidious angel of light (2Corinthians 11:14), we stand by, paralyzed and mesmerized. Thanks be to God, there is a way of escape from these bonds of destruction. In Christ, there is hope. In Him, there is life, both temporal and eternal. In Him, there is liberty and justice. In Him, there is an antidote to the Thanatos factor. In Him, and in Him alone, there is an answer to the age-long dilemma of the dominion of death.
By George Grant: pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church, church planter, author, president of King’s Meadow Study Centre, founder of Franklin Classical School, and chancellor of New College Franklin.
This commandment forbids that barbarous and inhuman sin of murder, the first-born of the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:48). It forbids the first branded crime that we read of, wherein natural corruption, contracted by the Fall, vented its rancor and virulence: the sin of Cain that great instance of perdition who slew his brother Abel “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1John 3:12). The murdering of another is a most heinous and black sin, a sin that God doth detect and bring to punishment, usually by some wonderful method of His providence. Murder dogs the consciences of those who are guilty of it with horrid affrights and terrors and hath sometimes extorted from them a confession of it when there hath been no other proof or evidence. The two greatest sinners that the Scripture hath set the blackest brand upon were both murderers: Cain and Judas. The one was the murderer of his brother; the other, first of his Lord and Master and then of himself.
God so infinitely hates and detests it that, although the altar was a refuge for other offenders, He would not have a murderer sheltered there. He was to be dragged from that inviolable sanctuary unto execution according to that law: “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” (Exodus 21:14). Accordingly, we read that when Joab had fled and taken hold on the horns of the altar, so that the messengers who were sent to put him to death durst not violate that holy place by shedding his blood, Solomon gave command to have him slain even there, as if the blood of a willful murderer were a very acceptable sacrifice offered up unto God (1Kings 2:28-31). Indeed, in the first prohibition of murder that we meet withal, God subjoins a very weighty reason why it should be so odious unto Him: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man, shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). So that Homicidium est Decidium: “To slaughter, a man is to stab God in effigy. “ Though the image of God’s holiness and purity be totally defaced in us since the Fall, yet every man even the most wicked and impious that lives bear some strictures of the image of God in his [mind], the freedom of his will, and his dominion over the creatures. God will have every part of His image so revered by us that He esteems him that assaults man as one who attempts to assassinate God Himself.
Murder is a crying sin. Blood is loud and clamorous. That first blood that ever was shed was heard as far as from earth to heaven: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). God will certainly hear its cry and avenge it.
But, not only he, whose hands are embrued in the blood of others but those also who are accessory are guilty of murder. As
(1) Those who command or counsel it to be done. Thus, David became guilty of the murder of innocent Uriah; and God, in drawing up his charge, accuseth him with it: “Thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2Samuel 12:9).
(2) Those who consent to murder are guilty of it. Thus Pilate, for yielding to the clamorous outcries of the Jews, “Crucify him, Crucify him” (Luke 23:21), though he washed his hands and disavowed the fact, was as much guilty as those who nailed Him to the cross.
(3) He that concealeth a murder is guilty of it. Therefore, we read that in case a man was found slain and the murderer unknown, the elders of that city were to assemble, wash their hands, and protest “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it” (Deuteronomy 21:6-7), intimating that if they had seen and concealed it, they had thereby become guilty of the murder.
(4) Those who are in authority and do not punish a murder, when committed and known, are themselves guilty of it. Thus, when Naboth was condemned to die by the wicked artifice of Jezebel although Ahab knew nothing of the contrivance until after the execution yet because he did not vindicate that innocent blood when he came to the knowledge of it, the prophet chargeth it upon him. “Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” (1Kings 21:19). The guilt lay upon him, and the punishment due to it overtook him, although we do not read that he was any otherwise guilty of it than in not punishing those who had committed it.
And those magistrates who, upon any respect whatsoever, suffer a murder to escape unpunished are said to pollute the land with blood: “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it ” (Numbers 35:31, 33).
From “A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments” in The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins, Vol. 1.
The last fifty years or so have seen a wide proliferation of new translations of the Bible. Some have hailed this proliferation as a blessing, which makes the study of Scripture easier and enriches one’s understanding of the outdated English of the King James Version (henceforth the KJV). Others, however, see it as a curse on our modern era. I am much inclined to agree with the latter.
It is interesting and significant that the proliferation of translations has paralleled various weaknesses present in the church and in modern Bible studies.
The proliferation of Bible translations has, for example, paralleled the rise of higher Biblical criticism. The adoption of higher critical methods of Bible interpretation has affected Bible translations because higher criticism has demanded the use of the defective text of Westcott and Hort, while the KJV has followed the Majority Text, a more accurate text of Scripture; the result was that new translations were prepared more in keeping with the text adopted by higher critics. Further, the attacks of higher criticism on the verbal inspiration of Scripture eroded the respect and esteem in which the Scriptures were formerly held. This has had devastating effects on Bible translations, for it opened the door to the use of the principle of dynamic equivalence as an acceptable method of Bible translation.
A powerful incentive for new translations is the money which can be made. Commercial motives of big- name publishers fuel the trend towards new translations and bring about a situation in which an updated version of the Bible has to be produced every few decades or so to keep the money flowing into the coffers of those whose only interests are to enrich themselves. If one requirement is necessary for the work of successful Bible translation it is total loyalty to the church of Christ, a burning desire to see the church flourish, and a profound commitment to the truth of God’s Word. Only the zeal of a Tyndale, a Luther, a Calvin will result in a successful translation.
All this has been a curse on our modern age and not been a blessing, as some allege. Many who take the time to compare various translations without having any standard for accuracy find the differences so great that they know not which one to accept. When people come together for Bible study, each comes with his own translation, and each presses for the meaning of the text as found in his particular version. The result is that no one knows anymore what the Bible really says.
Some translations are so inaccurate that they become a tool of falsehood rather than an instrument of growing in the knowledge of the truth. Satan has perhaps no better weapon to destroy the church than a poor and inaccurate translation of the Bible. By means of this subtle weapon, Satan succeeds in leaving people with the impression that they actually have the Word of God when, in fact, they do not. Satan’s delusions are subtle and effective.
It is not my purpose in this pamphlet to debate the question of the relative worth of the KJV on the basis of a comparison with existing translations. This would necessarily involve a careful study and evaluation of such translations, something done adequately in other books and pamphlets. Nor is it my purpose to defend the KJV as a translation without fault or blemish, itself infallibly inspired. Some have defended that proposition, but, as a college professor used to warn us: “A bad argument for the truth does more harm than a good argument against it.” The KJV has its faults. Conceivably there is room for improvement.
My purpose is more limited. I want the people of God to consider why the KJV has maintained itself as the translation of preference in countless churches, homes, and schools for over four hundred years. I suggest that there is a good reason for this continuous popularity of the KJV; we ought not to ignore such a reason in our pressing quest for something better. In short, the KJV is still, without argument, the most accurate and the most readable translation that exists today. Further, it is the one translation that conveys better than any other the reverence and solemnity that one ought to have in his soul as he comes to the Bible to be instructed at the feet of Christ. Its weaknesses are few and minor in comparison with its strengths. The burning question is: Can any
translation, given the sad state of affairs in today’s church world, genuinely improve on the KJV? It is my personal conviction that the answer is an emphatic No.
The Occasion for the Preparation of the KJV
A brief survey of the history of the translation of the KJV will give us some idea of why this translation is as accurate as it is.
The immediate occasion for a new translation of the Bible is part of the warp and woof of the history of the Reformation in the British Isles.
The Reformation in England, because it was an attempt to change the existing Roman Catholic Church to a Protestant denomination, never was as complete a Reformation as took place, for example, in Geneva under John Calvin. The resulting church in England was known as the Church of England, or, more briefly, the Anglican Church in which reformation was never completed.
Within that denomination were two parties struggling for ascendancy. The one party avidly supported Anglicanism, even though, especially in church government and liturgy, it retained a great deal of Catholicism. The other party, called the Puritan party, wanted more extensive reformation in church government and liturgy, which would bring the church more into conformity with the Holy Scriptures.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth, fondly known as “Good Queen Bess,” the house of Tudor came to an end. The one with the strongest claim to the English throne was James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of the Scots. He was a Stuart. Characteristic of the Stuart kings was the firm conviction that a king was answerable to God alone, and the way to maintain such a lofty position was to be the head of a national church. In fact, the Stuarts were convinced that to maintain themselves in power, not only was a national church necessary, but also a church structured after the pattern of the Church of England – that is, a church with the same clerical hierarchy as Rome minus the pope. “No bishop, no king,” was the way James VI put it.
In Scotland James engaged in a long struggle with Presbyterianism, although he seemed, frequently for purposes of self-interest, to be sympathetic with Presbyterian ideals, which were fundamentally the same as the ideals of the Puritan party in England. In England, James found an ecclesiastical situation more to his liking. However, on his way south to London to be crowned James I of England, he was besieged by embassies from the Puritan party and from the Church of England, each seeking his favour in the hopes that he would support their ecclesiastical position. He could not help but come to London with a sense of the deep divisions within the Church of England. These divisions he hoped to heal.
Soon after his coronation, James I called a meeting of Puritan representatives and Anglican prelates to discuss ways and means to bridge the chasm. In the course of the discussions, rather off-handedly and without much thought, one of the Puritan divines suggested a new translation of the Bible as a way to bring unity to the divided church.
Strangely, although James obviously favoured the Anglican party, he adopted this proposal to prepare a new translation. His reasons, however, were his own. It was not as if there was a need for a translation of the English Bible, for there were many good translations. The work of translation had begun with Tyndale’s superb translation. It had continued with Matthew’s Bible, the Coverdale translation, the Bishops’ Bible and the Genevan Bible. In fact, the Genevan Bible was widely used in England and was greatly loved.
But James hated the Genevan Bible. It had been prepared in Geneva under Calvin’s influence, and it contained marginal notations to help in understanding the text. But it also included marginal notations that tended to deny the divine right of kings, something dear to the heart of James I. James saw a new translation as a way to supplant the Genevan Bible and get a new translation into common usage.
The Mechanics of Translation
James made preparations for a new translation by authorizing the formation of a translating committee, and he set down rules that he required the committee to follow.
The committee itself was composed of between fifty and fifty-four men almost all chosen from the professorial staff of Cambridge and Oxford Universities. Most of them were Anglicans; only three or four were Puritans. But they were men of vast learning, almost without exception of great skill in ancient languages. One of the translators, Launcelot Andrews, knew 15 modern languages as well as Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Semitic, Syriac, Chaldean, and Arabic. Another spent 16 hours a day studying Greek. And they were men dedicated to the welfare of the church.
The committee was divided into six sub-committees, two of which met in Cambridge, two in Oxford, and two in Westminster Abbey, London. Each was assigned a portion of Scripture and the Old Testament Apocrypha, and within the sub-committees, each individual was assigned a smaller portion.
When an individual had completed his assignment, he gave his work to his sub-committee, which went over the work meticulously. When the sub-committee had completed a given section, the translation was sent to the members of the other sub-committees. These men, in turn, studied the translation for accuracy, felicity of expression, and readability. Their sub-committees also met to evaluate the work, and their conclusions were sent to the original committee.
When the whole translation was completed, twelve men, two from each group, were chosen to go over the whole translation to make the translation uniform, accurate, and readable. And when they had finished the work, two men were assigned to go over the whole translation once more to make final corrections and to polish the finished product. In these last meetings, one of the men would read aloud to test the translation for readability.
Finally, after all this, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest cleric in the Church of England, made twelve or fourteen additional changes.
The work was carefully and meticulously done to assure, by cross-checking, the best translation possible.
The Rules Governing the Work
The rules by which the committees laboured are interesting and important. The king himself had a hand in drawing them up and he approved the final list. There were many such rules; we mention here a few of the most important.
The first rule was that the new translation might not be a new translation in the sense that the translators were to start from scratch as it were. The men were instructed to retain the older translations insofar as it was in keeping with accuracy. This was made easier by the fact that the preceding translations had, in general, been built upon preceding translations: Matthew’s Bible on Tyndale; Coverdale’s Bible on Matthew’s; The Bishops’ Bible on Coverdale, etc. Each translation was, for the most part, an improvement of the one preceding, and each one was more accurate.
We have an indication in this of the almost unbelievable accuracy of William Tyndale’s work. His labours both as a translator and as a theologian have not been properly recognized. The magnificence of his work is only enhanced by a consideration of the fact that he did most of his work as a fugitive from Roman Catholic persecution as he fled from place to place on the continent of Europe. His work was smuggled into England in bales of cotton. He died a martyr’s death, the victim of Roman Catholic perfidy. Some have estimated that the KJV is more than half that of Tyndale.
Such a rule as the king insisted on necessarily guaranteed an accuracy that is difficult to surpass. It is, in fact, so accurate that God’s people may be sure that when they hold the KJV in their hands and turn to it in their devotions, they have fully the Word of God. No doubt needs to enter their minds.
Two other characteristics of the new translation that the king commanded the translators to incorporate into the translation were readability and understandability. We cannot appreciate fully the significance of these qualifications.
The translation was prepared at a time when books were still very costly. Some homes could afford only one book, and that book would be the Bible. From it, many would be educated, and in it many would learn, haltingly and painfully, to read. Further, James wanted the Bible to replace the Genevan translation, and that required that it be a Bible read in the churches every Lord’s Day and, in fact, in many instances, every day. It was the only “literature” many people ever heard. It was for the uneducated and illiterate (of which there were many) their only contact with the printed word. James, and rightly so, wanted a Bible which was easy to read, easy to listen to, easy to memorize, and easy to understand. These demands of the king were primarily responsible for the rhythm, the cadence, the simplicity, and the beauty of the KJV.
Miles Smith, one of the translators, put it this way: Our task was “to deliver God’s book to God’s people in a tongue which they could understand.” Bruce Metzger, himself inclined to higher criticism, has said of the KJV, “It cut through the verbiage and said what is meant by force and in the fewest possible words.”
The Success of the Translation
The KJV was a startling success. It had the “wisdom, grace and beauty of previous translations, and possessed an eloquence which even unbelievers are forced to acknowledge.” H. L. Mencken has said this about the KJV:
It is the most beautiful of all the translations of the Bible, indeed, it is probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world. …Many learned but misguided men have sought to produce translations that should be mathematically accurate and in the plain speech of every day. But the AV (Authorized Version, another name for the KJV) has never yielded to any of them, for it is palpably and overwhelmingly better than they are. …Its English is extraordinarily simple, pure, eloquent and lovely. It is a mine of lordly and incomparable poetry at once the most stirring and the most touching ever heard of.
In speaking of the requirements laid down by James, Alistair McGrath says, in what is almost an oxymoron: “It attained literary elegance by choosing to avoid it.” And Gustavus S. Paine, in speaking of the readability of the KJV, says,
Rhythm in the days of King James was important not merely as a source of pleasure to the ear, but as an aid to the mind. Generations to come would learn to read by puzzling out vs. in the Bible that for many families would be the whole library. But at the time of translation, a Bible ‘appointed to be read in the churches’ was made to be listened to and remembered. Its rhythms were important as a prompting to the memory.
From every viewpoint, the KJV is a masterpiece of translation. It is very accurate. Its “readability” is superb. It is understandable to the people in the pew, young and old alike. It is sublime and creates a sense of reverence conducive to worship. It is written in beautiful cadences and rhythms that made it nearly singable and easy to memorize. It is ideally suited to use in the church and in the home. It evokes emotions in keeping with the nature of the text. It is still difficult (after having read it uncountable times) to read the story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brethren without tears blinding one’s eyes. And who can read Isaiah 53 with a deadpan face and indifferent heart?
Two examples of the power and beauty of the KJV in comparison with earlier translations used by the KJV translators will illustrate the point that the KJV is a masterpiece.
In the Bishops’ Bible, the Twenty-third Psalm began: “God is my shepherd, therefore I can lose nothing; he will cause me to repose myself in pastures full of grass, and he will lead me unto calm waters.” In the hands of the King James men, this became: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”
The Geneva Bible translated the last verse as, “Doubtless kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall remain a long season in the house of the Lord.” How much more gripping are the words of the KJV: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The unforgettable seventh verse of the thirty-eighth chapter of Job had already gone through a remarkably subtle evolution. In Coverdale, it read: “When the morning stars gave me praise, and when all the angels of God rejoiced.” Matthew’s Bible (and after it, the Bishops’ Bible) had: “When the morning stars praised me together, all the children of God rejoiced triumphantly.” In the Geneva Bible, the language was heightened: “When the stars of the morning praised me together, and all the children of God rejoiced.” But the rapturous phrasing of the King James Version surpassed them all. “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”
Is the KJV too Archaic for Use?
One of the chief objections to our continued use of the KJV is its archaic language. It is filled with words, so it is said, that could be understood when it was prepared, but are no longer used in contemporary English. This is a barrier to its use among us, especially in teaching children and doing the important work of evangelism. The result of so many archaisms is that the Bible has largely become a mysterious book, the contents of which are hidden from today’s readers by outdated and obscure language.
All the arguments for new translations finally come down to that one argument. Is that objection valid?
If the objection is valid, this would indeed be serious, for if the Bible can no longer be understood, its purpose has come to an end. The result of such a development would be that the Word of God, which the saints need for their spiritual life, would be beyond their reach, placed on an inaccessible shelf too high to be reached.
We must take this objection seriously, for the Bible is necessary for the life of the people of God, the work of the church, and the instruction of future generations. God accomplishes His work of salvation sovereignly by the Spirit of Christ in the hearts of the elect. But the Spirit never works apart from the Word of the Scriptures. If those Scriptures are inaccessible to God’s people, because of archaisms which make the Word difficult, if not impossible, to understand, that would be a barrier to the salvation of the saints.
The argument has a certain force and carries a measure of validity. Everyone with any knowledge of the KJV knows that there are indeed words that are no longer used in contemporary English, and that some words have taken a meaning quite different from what they had in the days when the KJV was prepared. We may not ignore the argument.
Nevertheless, two questions must be asked and answered. Are the archaisms in the KJV a serious barrier to the understandability of the KJV? And do these archaisms warrant a new translation? These two questions are related to each other.
Before one gives a yes or no answer to those questions, one must consider some crucial characteristics of Scripture.
Scripture itself testifies to the fact that there are passages in God’s Word that are difficult to understand. Peter tells those to whom he writes that in Paul’s writings there “are some things hard to be understood” (II Peter 3:16). Everyone knows that the prophets contain many difficult passages, which require much study if one is to penetrate into their meaning. Frequently passages of Scripture are distorted by the efforts of misguided translators to make these passages “understandable” to the modern 21st-century man, but in doing so their meaning is distorted beyond recognition.
Furthermore, in an important sense, the meaning of the Scriptures is not accessible to everyone. The Scriptures are God’s Word, written to the church, and intended to be God’s revelation to His covenant people of the mysteries of God’s eternal purpose in Christ. Although from a certain formal point of view everyone who reads the Scriptures can understand what he reads, Luther was right when he said that the Scriptures are a closed book to anyone who comes to them without the Spirit who works faith in God’s people. Luther understood what many today seem not to understand. Only the one who comes to Scripture in a Spirit-worked humility, saying in his heart: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” is capable of understanding what the Scriptures say.
The point is important. When one possesses the Spirit of Christ and comes to learn the will of God, the Scriptures are open to him. When one lacks faith, the Scriptures are closed to him. To attempt to “open” the Scriptures to the unbeliever by a different translation is an exercise in futility.
The church has confessed, since the time of the Reformation, that one attribute of Scripture is its perspicuity. By this, the church has meant that anyone who comes in faith to God’s Word can understand what the Scriptures mean. Neither age nor education makes a difference; the Scriptures are open to the little child on his mother’s knee as well as to the PhD in theology.
But the perspicuity of Scripture has never been understood to imply that Scripture is shallow. Scripture is not like a shallow pool on a concrete parking lot after a brief shower, in which one can see the pavement beneath the pool. Scripture is like a deep pool, utterly clear, into which one looks, but can never see the bottom.
The point is worth emphasizing.
The Scriptures do not cater to modern man with his ten-second attention span, his inability to think clearly about almost everything, his need to have any knowledge given in TV-size bits, and his easy slide into boredom and ennui if any prolonged concentration is required.
In his book, What is Faith? J. Gresham Machen makes the following point:
“Many persons…seem to have a notion that modern Christians must be addressed always in words of one syllable, and that in religion we must abandon the scientific precision of language. …In pursuance of this tendency we have had presented to us recently various translations of the Bible which reduce the Word of God more or less thoroughly to the language of the modern street, or which, as the matter was put recently in my hearing by an intelligent layman, “take all the religion out of the New Testament.” But the whole tendency, we for our part think, ought to be resisted. Back of it all seems to lie the strange assumption that modern men, particularly modern university men, can never by any chance learn anything; they do not understand the theological terminology which appears in such richness in the Bible, and that is regarded as the end of the matter; apparently it does not occur to anyone that possibly they might with profit acquire the knowledge of Biblical terminology which now they lack. But I for my part am by no means ready to acquiesce. I am perfectly ready, indeed, to agree that the Bible and the modern man ought to be brought together. But what is not always observed is that there are two ways of attaining that end. One way is to bring the Bible down to the level of the modern man, but the other way is to bring the modern man up to the level of the Bible (emphasis mine). I am inclined to advocate the latter way.”
Scripture is meant to be studied. One comes to its meaning through pondering its truths, meditating on its words and sentences, and concentrating on the wealth of its thought.
It is not true that little children, still unable to read, are incapable of understanding Scripture in the measure of their own intellectual development. What child who understands the basics of the English language cannot understand Genesis 1 – and usually better than those who try to twist it to include heretical evolutionary teachings? And what child cannot understand the sober and simple, yet totally profound story of the birth of God in Christ in a manger in Bethlehem?
But the more one studies and meditates upon Scripture, the more one understands its riches and truths. The more accustomed one’s eyes become in peering into Scripture’s depths, the more deeply one can see into it. And yet, after a lifetime of study, even learning all that the church in earlier millennia have said about God’s Word, one only penetrates about two inches into the great depths of God’s revelation of Himself in all His wonderful works and ways.
If these things are not remembered and we come to Scripture as we do to a first-grade reading book, we have no right to blame our inability to understand it on the use of some archaisms. The fault lies with us.
The archaisms of Scripture are relatively few in number. They are easily explainable or understandable to one who is willing to take the time to look them up in a good dictionary. And parents can easily teach the meaning of them to their children when the family is together for family devotions, or when the children are memorizing parts of Scripture.
When a small child lisps the words of Psalm 23, usually one of the first chapters parents teach their children, is it so difficult to tell these children the meaning of verse 1? “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” “The Lord cares for me as a shepherd cares for his sheep. I will never lack anything in all my life, cared for by Jehovah God.”
The Timeless English of the KJV
While Scripture does have in it archaisms, the real question is not: How difficult is the KJV to understand? The real question is: Why is the KJV so easy to understand seeing it was prepared almost four hundred years ago? If one would compare the plays of Shakespeare, written only a few decades earlier, with the KJV, one will be astounded at the difference in the English. It is extremely difficult to read Macbeth without the help of some translation aids.
God, in His providence, brought into being the KJV at a propitious time in England’s history. Up to this time, England had no real English language. Anglo-Saxon invaders from Germany and the Lowlands had affected the early language of the Celts. Scandinavian Norsemen had invaded England, settled in it, and brought their own peculiar language to the country. William the Conqueror had imported French and all but made French the language of diplomacy and commerce. The English spoken in the fields and cottages was different in different parts of the country and was not that of the nobility. It was hard for one Englishman to understand another from a different part of the country.
But at the time of King James, England was emerging as a world power in its own right. It was coming to a national consciousness, which tended to unify the country. It was becoming a force to be reckoned with in commerce. Its navy ruled the seas. The sun never set on its many colonies. A language spoken nationwide was needed. A uniform English language, which was slowly developing, became, because of the unique development of the English language, the most expressive and influential language in all Europe. It had a depth and range that no other language possessed.
The KJV played a major role in attaining a countrywide and standard English. The translators not only prepared a translation that helped standardize the language, but the translators moulded and shaped a standard language, and thus became, in part, the creators of modern English. Luther did much the same with his German translation of the Bible, and the Statenvertaling of the Synod of Dordt had the same effect on Dutch.
In addition to the shaping of modern English by the new translation, the translators made the Bible understandable by all in England because they used English words instead of Latin words about 92% of the time. Latin words are still and cold, rigid and feelingless. English words, of Anglo-Saxon origin, are homey and earthy, expressive and forceful, the language of the people rather than the university.
It is because of these providential workings of God that a version was prepared that can rightly be said to be in “timeless English.” Undoubtedly this is the reason why so many words and expressions of the KJV have entered our everyday language. One need only think of such expressions as “to lick the dust” (Psalm 72:9), “sour grapes” (Ezekiel 18:2), “the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20), “from time to time” (Ezekiel 4:10).
One scholar wrote about the Hebrew:
“The [KJV] is an almost literal translation of the Masoretic text and is thus on every page replete with Hebrew idioms. The fact that Bible English has to a marvellous extent shaped our speech, giving peculiar connotations to many words and sanctioning strange constructions, is not any less patent. The [KJV] has been – it can be said without any fear of being charged with exaggeration– the most powerful factor in the history of English literature. Though the constructions encountered in the [KJV] are oftentimes so harsh that they seem almost barbarous, we should certainly have been the poorer without it.”
It is forgotten that if the church needs a translation of the Bible in contemporary English idiom, the church will have to re-translate the Bible every generation or so. The English of today is not the English of tomorrow – surely not in our polyglot society. The timeless English of the KJV in a new contemporary translation is cast into the mould of the ever-changing English of today’s marketplace. No wonder that a major publisher of the Bible, aware that a relatively recent translation of Scripture is no longer contemporary, now is on the verge of publishing a “contemporary translation” that is “gender neutral.” It makes one ponder whether contemporary English is not a destruction of Scripture.
The simple fact of the matter is that the KJV is not difficult to understand. Nor is it a deterrent in the work of evangelism. Anyone who has worked in any evangelistic labours knows that the problem is not the inability to understand. Even when Muslims are the objects of evangelism, no real problem exists. As one expounds the Scriptures and sets forth the great truths of redemption in Christ, explanation of words is always a necessary part of the work. Is it any more difficult to explain to people, unacquainted with the Bible, the meaning of “want” in Psalm 23:1 than the meaning of justification in Romans 5:1? It is obvious that it is not.
Ideally, to prepare a good translation in English, the whole church of Christ in our land ought to be involved. The whole church of the British Isles was involved in and benefited by a new translation, for the Church of England was the only denomination in existence at the time the translation was done. Whatever we may think of a national church, in God’s providence the whole of the nation was a part of the work of the preparation of the KJV.
That brings up the question of whether the church today is spiritually and doctrinally capable of preparing such a translation. Translators are biased. They cannot help but be biased. They must be biased – for the truth of God’s Word. Their own doctrinal commitment will enter into and influence the work. Witness the doctrinal weakness (if not doctrinal heresy) of modern translations. It is necessary for the production of a good translation that the church as a whole be committed to the doctrines of Scripture and of the traditions of the true church. And it is necessary that translators be men wholly committed to the welfare of the church and the truth of God’s Word.
This was true in England. The whole Church of England, a national church embracing all the citizens, were united on the basis of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, a basically Calvinistic creed. This gave a uniformity of doctrine throughout the entire country that is no longer characteristic of our own land or the British Isles. Today the proliferation of denominations and splinter groups would make such a translation impossible, and any cooperative effort would be stymied by the differing biases of the translators.
In other words, the church of today is simply not strong enough to produce a translation that is accurate and useful.
The proliferation of translations in our day has added to the great confusion that exists in the churches concerning what Scripture teaches. When, for example, at a Bible Study, people come with four or five translations, only confusion results. One says, “My NIV translates the verse this way.” Another chimes in: “My NEB translates the verse this way.” And yet another, “But the KJV reads differently.” No one knows anymore what the Bible teaches. No one can decide. Is it not far preferable in the church, in the home, and in the school to use one translation, which has been recognized as accurate for over four hundred years? God’s people ought to know that when they turn to the KJV they may be assured they will discover in it the Word of God. No one would dare to say that for all the years the church has used the KJV the church has possessed a faulty Word of God.
The KJV has become so much a part of our heritage that its language is embedded in the creeds, the liturgy, and the tradition of the church. A new translation of the Bible would require new translations of our creeds, our Psalter, and our liturgical forms. The 1912 Presbyterian Psalter is so permeated with the language of the KJV that a revision would almost be necessary.
Worship (whether in the school, the home or the church) must have a uniformity of language about it. This uniformity ought to be the language of the Bible which forms the heart of all the liturgy of the church. It is an anomaly when the language of Scripture differs from the language of the liturgy – an anomaly that will not long be tolerated. A new translation will almost inevitably spawn a desire for revisions in the whole liturgy of the church. In fact, one wonders sometimes if the clamour for a new translation is not deliberately raised to do away with our present creeds and liturgy. The fact is that in churches where new translations have been adopted, frequently new liturgical forms are next on the agenda, new hymns are introduced into the songbooks, and new creeds are written. It seems as if the argument for a contemporary translation soon results in a plea for contemporary ways of worship and confessing the faith of the church.
The church possesses a long tradition of sacred music that goes back to the Reformation. While much of this is not and cannot be used in the corporate worship of the church, it is an important part of the heritage of the church. But it has woven into its warp and woof the KJV. One need only thinks of Handel’s Messiah, to realize what would happen to this rich and beautiful musical tradition, if the KJV were abandoned.
It is but a short time before the Lord returns. For four centuries the KJV has served the church well. Would it not be to the church’s advantage to retain such a precious tradition in the little time that remains? One thing we know. When persecution comes, our Bibles will be taken from us and the only Word of God we shall retain is that which we have memorized and hid in our hearts. What easier translation is there to memorize than the rolling cadences of our KJV? It is the Bible for us and our children.
By Prof. Herman Hanko – (Retired Professor of New Testament and Church History in the Protestant Reformed Seminary).
Peace Protestant Reformed Church18423 Stony Island Ave. • Lansing, IL 60438 (PRC Web page – http://www.prca.org)