“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” —Romans 8:32
“Is everyone invited, or just a few?” If you have ever felt left out by the lack of an invitation, then you’ve seen a slight glimpse into Wesley’s contempt for predestination. It is one thing, however, to be left out by the lack of an invitation, and quite another thing to be punished for not responding to an invitation you never really received in the first place. Wesley had a problem with the notion that God eternally decreed, before a person was even born, some to be eternally saved, and some to suffer eternal damnation, without ever being offered a choice. Where is the justice in that?
The character of God becomes distorted if humankind is not offered a choice. It paints a picture of God more as a bully and a tyrant rather than a dispenser of grace. This distorted picture seems more like the god of Moloch who required a child to be sacrificed over a temporary flame, in Wesley’s estimation. “You represent God as worse than the devil,” Wesley refutes, “more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by Scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil?” Such a view of God overturns “all his attributes at once.” If grace (love) is not “FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL” then justice itself is distorted.
God’s grace and justice are interwoven with human liberty.
If our own eternal destiny is already etched in stone, and if there are no consequences for our actions, then what motive or obligation does anyone have to do good? Why feed and clothe the poor? What advice or exhortation can one give if the pages have been written? Is not the labor of preaching, therefore, in vain? As G.K. Chesterton once mused, without choice, no one would be able to say “thank you” for passing the mustard.1
God’s grace that is “free for all” makes justice equitable. If grace is not for everyone, then justice is for no one. We talk a lot about justice these days, but I’m concerned by our lack of equitable grace. We are quick to see the shortcomings, failures, and even sins of our neighbor as more brutal than our own. Yet it is the combination of grace and justice that makes us all accountable for our own actions. If we can see justice and love as interwoven within our own choices, perhaps we would be more open to extend grace. Perhaps we would even see that we are all equally undeserving of God’s grace and should give thanks for it.
H. Gordon Smith III is senior pastor at Frankfort First Church of the Nazarene in Frankfort, Indiana, USA.
1. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 30.
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Please note: All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of original publication but may have since changed.
Written for Coffee Break.