Monthly Archives: May 2016

Something old: Rom. 9:18 and Isaac Penington


A thorny issue in Cambridge Botanical Garden

Isaac Penington was mayor of London in the 17th Century. His step daughter married William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania now an American state. He was a great teacher and associate of George Fox, in the Society of Friends and intensely engaged in the study and opening up of the scriptures ( ).

He wrote a postscript to an article




( )

He believed his understanding of Romans 9:18 had changed and that what he formerly taught ran counter to God’s nature.

The scripture is, speaking of God,

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

(Romans 9:18, English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK))

He writes:

Now many apprehend from this scripture, as I also formerly did, that God hath chosen out a certain number of persons on whom he will have mercy, and save by Jesus Christ the Lord; and that he hath passed over the rest, so that they were never intended to have any benefit by Christ’s death as to their eternal salvation. This the wisdom of man, from the letter of the scripture and many other places, may easily apprehend and strongly reason for. But as the Lord openeth the mind, and men come to a sense of his nature and Spirit, and his intent in sending his Son, and receive the key which openeth the truth as it is in Jesus, they will easily see that this is contrary to God’s nature, and his intent in sending his Son, and the universal covenant of light and life, and the manifest testimony of the Scriptures.

His argument that God has not created some to perish runs over four points.

  1. God’s nature is love and he does not need misery to make him happy.
  2. The Father sent the Son to save all mankind.
  3. The covenant of light and life is universal.
  4. Scripture teaches clearly that it is God’s will that none should perish.

Then he develops the argument, at the end of which he writes:

 But that God hath determined to harden any, without giving them a day of mercy; or that it is God’s will and determinate counsel that men should reject the day of his mercy and precious invitation, that they might be hardened by him and perish; this is not God’s truth, but men’s misapprehensions upon true words, gathering meanings therefrom in their own wisdom, and not waiting upon God till he cause the true light to shine in them, and thereby give them the true knowledge and understanding.

He then presents the good news of salvation in Christ.

What I enjoy in this is that here is a puritan thinker who thinks and presents the truth without fear. He was imprisoned for his thoughts and for meeting. He also has the courage to admit in the article that there things he does not understand, that there are other understandings, but he rests on the plain reading of the scripture and the work of the Spirit. He is also prophetic in his assessment that men read the scriptures, gather meanings and miss the true knowledge. Why not read the whole article for yourself…

There is a Scripture now openeth in me, as it hath often done, and it hath been very sweet to my taste; but I have not had freedom to give it forth to others, as at this time it is with me to do: it is that scripture Rom. 9:18. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”


Now many apprehend from this scripture, as I also formerly did, that God hath chosen out a certain number of persons on whom he will have mercy, and save by Jesus Christ the Lord; and that he hath passed over the rest, so that they were never intended to have any benefit by Christ’s death as to their eternal salvation. This the wisdom of man, from the letter of the scripture and many other places, may easily apprehend and strongly reason for. But as the Lord openeth the mind, and men come to a sense of his nature and Spirit, and his intent in sending his Son, and receive the key which openeth the truth as it is in Jesus, they will easily see that this is contrary to God’s nature, and his intent in sending his Son, and the universal covenant of light and life, and the manifest testimony of the Scriptures.

First, As touching the nature of God. His nature is love; love to all his creatures. He would not have it go ill with any of them. He needeth not their misery to make himself happy. His nature is to love, to bless, to save; not to destroy or cut off, nor to afflict or grieve the children of men; not to hurt either the body or soul of any: he preserveth man and beast. Psal. 36:6.

Secondly, As touching his sending his Son. He sent him in his love to mankind, to save mankind. His love was not to a few only; but he loved all his creatures, he loved all lost souls, and he sent his Son to save them all. He gave him light to enlighten them all, and he gave him life to quicken them all; only he dispenseth this in different ways, according to the infinite wisdom and good pleasure of his Father.

So that, Thirdly, The covenant of light and life as universal, and nigh all mankind, by which the darkest parts and corners of the earth are at some times enlightened, and feel somewhat of the quickening life. For the life is the light of men, and the <274> light comes from the life, and is a quick, piercing, quickening light, conveying warmth and life, yea, living virtue into the darkest hearts, as it moves and finds entertainment in them.

Lastly, As for the testimony of the Scriptures, it is very clear that God would have none to perish. “All souls are mine,” saith the Lord. Ezek. 18:4. “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” ver. 32. And again, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” chap. 33:11. I have sent my light to enlighten all men, and turn all men, and I would have all men receive it, and be turned by it. I have showed every man what is good, and what I the Lord require of him; and I would have every man answer the manifestation of my light and Spirit in him. Do ye not read God’s charge against the whole earth, Isai. 24:5. that they had transgressed the law, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant? Why, then they all had the law, had the ordinance, had the everlasting covenant; and for this cause it is that the curse and judgment comes upon them, ver. 6. So that this was the condemnation from the beginning, and this is the condemnation still, “that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Men are not condemned for want of light from Christ Jesus; but because they do not believe in and obey that light which they have from him; because they believe in the darkness, believe in the dark spirit, believe in the dark power, which riseth up against the ministration of light in the heart, and do not believe in that which is given of God to discover and work it out. What should I multiply scriptures for? That common scripture is absolutely undeniable (as the Lord opens the heart unto the simplicity of truth, and keeps it out of the subtle, enchanting wisdom), John 3:16-17. “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. For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world, through him, might be saved.” What can be more naked and plain than these words of Christ, who knew the very heart of God in this particular, and plainly declares what it is, even not to condemn, not to destroy, but to save men from condemnation and destruction? And would Christ have so <275> affectionately wept over Jerusalem, had he known it to be his Father’s will and determinate counsel that they should have perished, and not have been gathered and saved by him? I shall add but one place more, where the apostle (who knew God’s counsel, and understood the mystery of election and reprobation, and had the mind of Christ) saith expressly, that “God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:4. What words can be spoken more plain and full? And let people mind that these words are far plainer and easier to be understood than those scriptures which treat of election and reprobation; which is a deep mystery; and men must come to a growth in the truth, before they can receive that capacity which is necessary towards the understanding of them. But to open the thing a little, as it is now in my heart.

There hath been a three-fold dispensation of God to mankind. A dispensation of the law to the Jews; a dispensation of the gospel (or promise, which was as well before the law as after it) to the called Jews and Gentiles; and a secret, hidden dispensation of the mystery of grace, of the mystery of life and salvation, which the apostle calls the mystery hid in the Gentiles. Coloss. 1:27. For somewhat of God, somewhat of the nature and Spirit of Christ, the souls of all mankind have had near them, to enlighten them, and to turn them from Satan’s power to God; though it hath not been a thing known to them, but a mystery hid in them.

Now that God did cast off any Jew under the law, or any whom he visits with the grace and power of the gospel, from a mere absolute will in himself, because he would destroy them and have them perish, to show forth the praise of his justice, and his absolute sovereignty, this the true sense of life in me denies; but all have a visit of that which saves heartily and in true good-will from God; and he that is turned to that which God hath sent to turn him, shall be owned and saved thereby. He that believeth in the truth, in the light, in the Word nigh, even in the very lowest appearance of it (for the lowest appearance is the same thing in nature with the highest, and the grace is saving in its very lowest appearance, as well as in its highest), shall be saved thereby.

Now mark: God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s <276> light, God’s Spirit, God’s power, &c. is his own, and he may do with his own what he pleaseth. Now it being by this that he strives, converts, and saves; and it being in his own will and good pleasure how long he will strive and contend to save; it lieth therefore absolutely in him, even in his own will, what he will do in this kind. He may take advantage against rebellious man, and cut him off when he will; and again, he may strive and raise true sense in a man’s heart, and give repentance, and pardon his transgressions, as long as he pleaseth; yea, he may so change a man’s heart, and so create him anew in Christ Jesus, and so bring him into unity with the pure seed, and to that estate in the seed, as that he may have assurance he shall never be utterly cast off; but that though he should sin, and transgress the holy law of God’s Spirit, his iniquity shall be chastised with stripes, and his soul recovered and brought back thereby, but not utterly rejected by the Lord. Now it being thus, hath not God mercy on whom he will? And doth not he harden as he pleaseth? Did not God give up the Jews to hardness, after much striving with them? Did not God give up the Gentiles to hardness, and to vain imaginations concerning the true God, after they had rejected a measure of the true knowledge? Rom. 1:21. Have not the vessels of wrath, who are fitted to destruction, a day of much longsuffering first? Rom. 9:22. Had not the old world, who were fitted for that destruction of the flood, a long day of patience and forbearance from God, his Spirit reproving of them, and striving with them? To what end did God forbear them, and cause his spirit to strive with them? Was it not to lead them to repentance, that thereby they might have avoided that destruction, which, by their rebellion and stiffness of spirit against God’s good and tender Spirit, they were fitted for, and exposed to? See Rom. 2:4. So for Cain, how tenderly did God deal with him! how uprightly did God seek his good! Would not God have had him come to a true sense and repentance? Would not God have had him believed and offered in the faith, and been accepted as his brother was? And for Pharaoh, God indeed was against that nature and spirit in him which oppressed Israel; but would not the Lord have had him denied and turned from that nature and spirit, and let Israel go? God would have no man do evil, <277> and bring upon himself destruction; though in his just judgment he is many times provoked to give men up to that which leadeth into and hardeneth in evil. So not only Pharaoh, but Israel also, was given up to their own hearts’ lusts, when they would none of the Lord, nor hearken to his counsel. Psa. 81:12. But saith the Lord, oh that it had been otherwise! “Oh! that my people had hearkened unto me!” &c. it should then have been otherwise with them, ver. 13. &c.

So that God of himself doth not desire the destruction of his creature; nor doth he desire to harden them, or to give them up to a deluding spirit, that they might be damned; but men first refuse the truth, and turn from it, or let it go; not receiving it in the love of it, or not liking to retain the knowledge of it (which is death to the man’s corrupt nature, spirit, will, and wisdom, and such a cross and yoke as he is in no wise willing to bear); and then the Lord, in his just judgment, gives them up to the deceitfulness of sin, to be hardened by it. Now this liveth in God’s own breast when and to whom to do it, according to his own will, and according to his own wisdom and counsel; so that it may be truly and properly said, “he hath mercy and compassion on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth.” But that God hath determined to harden any, without giving them a day of mercy; or that it is God’s will and determinate counsel that men should reject the day of his mercy and precious invitation, that they might be hardened by him and perish; this is not God’s truth, but men’s misapprehensions upon true words, gathering meanings therefrom in their own wisdom, and not waiting upon God till he cause the true light to shine in them, and thereby give them the true knowledge and understanding.

Therefore, since there is such mercy in God towards all, and he hath given all men a day of visitation, greater or lesser; yea, since of late he hath caused his light to shine forth, and given this age such a visitation as many ages have not had, oh! let men take heed how they close their eyes, stop their ears, and harden their hearts against it, lest they provoke God to give them up to their own imaginary, conceited, fleshly comprehensive knowledge of the letter, and so seal them up in that hardness of heart and deadness of spirit which they first gave themselves up to. <278> For the letter, without the Spirit, killeth; and so doth all literal knowledge: and there needs no greater curse from God (it will sufficiently avenge the cause of his reproached light, and holy covenant of life in Christ Jesus, now abundantly revealed and made manifest) than to close men’s eyes, and stop their ears, and harden their hearts (in their literal knowledge and practices) from beholding and partaking of the precious life and virtue of the holy and living ministration in Christ Jesus the Lord, wherewith God visiteth and redeemeth his people.

Indeed the physician is come inwardly and spiritually, and he inwardly heals and restoreth his people, faithfully seeking after the sick, the distressed, the broken, the wounded; pouring oil into their wounds, and healing them. But there are some who are so sound and whole in their notional apprehensions and practices, that they have no need of the physician, and them the physician passeth by, as unworthy of him, and whom he intendeth shall have no share with him. “Ephraim is joined to idols” (he is well, he hath enough, he hath no need of me) “let him alone,” saith the Lord. I will pour out the choice virtue of my spiritual life and redeeming power among my gathered sheep and lambs, who have need thereof, and will rejoice therein. These will know my voice; these will justify the appearance of my Spirit and power; these love the savor of my anointing and precious ointment, which runs down from the head upon all the living body, and these shall have it. These understand how I have mercy on whom I will, and whom I will I harden; and it is my will to have mercy on these my once greatly distressed ones, and to destroy (inwardly to destroy, oh, who knows what that means!) the fat and the strong, and to feed them with judgment. Oh that men did know to whom the mercy and to whom the judgment belongs! To the wisdom of the flesh, to the wise comprehenders of the things of God after the flesh, is the judgment: to the poor, to the distressed, to the broken in spirit (not to them that are at ease in the literal knowledge, but to the mourners in Zion after the holy God, and his living power and righteousness), is the everlasting gospel, the mercy, the love, the peace, the binding up, the redemption which is by Christ Jesus, the living Minister in the holy sanctuary of our God.

Reflection from a Week in April 2016

I have written, thought and spoken a lot of my belief in God’s gift to us of a sovereign will. I think I believe it is this free gift to us – God’s grace to us – that makes us humans in the image of God. Our sovereign free will is God’s image in us, a principal of grace. God has perfect free will. What we contend for and call our free will is truly slavery; slavery to guilt and shame; slavery to the drives of our lusts and desires.


Audley End Hot House Display

It has been said that joy craves eternity and others say that eternity is to be found in the moment, living the moment to the full. I am sure there is some truth in this. This is always expressed in the context of our ability to choose. But how do we effect this choice. Is the fact of our faith in our own will in reality binding us to a law, and this in fact is the source of our sin in turning from the grace set in each of us. We are not who we are created to be; sin then is not living as those who are sovereign by God’s will but by a principle of law, the knowledge of good and evil.

Is the existence of law the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Law is the masking of our created godliness; a denying of the gift of grace within all of us. What does it mean in Genesis 3:22…”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for ever.” And in Genesis 11:6… “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

Is God jealous for his deity? Why then had he made man in his own image? Isn’t becoming more like God progress?

I wonder if, given that God is supremely good and named as Love, it’s the truth that the sovereignty of our own will is only evil if it is not the perfect expression of the perfect will of God. It is a grasping of who we are made to be in our own will on our own terms.

Adam’s grasping after and taking of the apple asserted his will, not the will of God. Adam creates a morality not inherent in the grace of human sovereignty but in knowledge; in the death and curse of the law, creating a law; in judgement: this is good- this is evil. It is this principle of death Christ destroys, crushing under his foot.

Could it be that in Christ, the exact image and revelation of God, we see the law and its curse nailed to a Cross, the awful expression of Jesus’ living the life expressing, “Your will, not mine” to God his Father? The Cross is a powerful undoing of the power of the law, redeeming the grace within us.

I wonder if the story of the Bible is God’s revelation of the absolute value of his image in us. We measure our freedom in our ability to choose, but could it be that God is leading us to a place where we live from that inner place of sovereign grace.

I return again to the absurdity of this story. It begins in the very act of creation where we measure our being by the ultimate Being, God, and in the despair of sin we cry out, “Why did you create me for such suffering? Is that Justice?” Through Noah we see God’s commitment to humanity; to bear the pain of creation.

It continues in Abraham where God’s promised one is demanded as a sacrifice – a call from God to break all laws. A Call from God to have faith in God to be a god who he is not – a child killer – demanding what he has himself forbidden. Is the deep lesson here that all morality is within us and is perfected in trusting in the grace within us – our only source of Joy and Delight is being in communion with God’s perfect will? Is God saying in this that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling that we are to realise; that which is within us, beyond what we can conceive as being good and evil, beyond what we can conceive as being God.

By pushing beyond our own judgement, we become who we are created to be; who Abraham is – our father in faith – and discover who God is. God is revealed. And then the incarnation, life and death of Christ – God on the cross with all its manifold meaning presents itself. What is the outcome? We stand in the presence of the living God and partake in his deity, living in communion with the Spirit through grace.


Audley End a Riot of Tulips


It is a strange place to be where our high conception of God’s sovereignty makes God less than he is. We come to believe that God has destined everyone’s ultimate destiny and created us either for damnation or glory as an act of his sovereign will. Our freedom is to choose the course of our lives which in some mysterious way only confirms God’s un-resistible grace choice of us. We proclaim God to have known us from the beginning, conceived us in love and given us sanctity by knitting us together in our mother’s womb but, for the praise of his glory, he has created some whose unchangeable destiny is to suffer eternal conscious torment.

Anyone who counters this doctrine is called filthy and described as baying like animals.

But this idea of being destined for eternal punishment is abhorrent. For people who come to know God but accept this theory, they become what they dismiss – Universalists, believing all are saved- all are created for glory and in their heart of hearts they believe this but speak something else. We all deserve eternal punishment but some are chosen not by merit but for the glory of God’s grace.  In believing this I confess one thing with my mouth and hope the contrary becoming double minded and ineffective in proclaiming Christ as good news. When this movement of thought focusses on mission and service, it somehow grasps at assurance through works; the very works it denies are effective. God is truly only satisfied in Christ – his whole delight in humanity is not in works but in faith. So faith transforms itself into works that give us the solace, that we are elect.

For me the error is in trying to understand the Cross from the perspective of judgement and not on the realisation of grace, resurrecting the very principle the Cross destroys. Our election in Christ is because of our original grace. Our alienation from God, from the beginning, is because we choose law and reject grace, preferring a principle of morality over the work of grace of the indwelling Spirit.

Any reading of the Bible calls us to intimacy with God, not the comfort of our own theories. By appealing to God as a judge we make God unjust and, in our hearts, fear his justice, secretly denying God the power to judge, if we think it through. This idol of our theory of God’s sovereignty saps our humanity and our very words are tinged with a monstrous intent. We become a mouthpiece of a god who is not God. We do not find Christ in the Bible. We cry out to the god of our own conceiving, “Where is the justice!” We have made an attribute of God our idol.


Audley End Potting Shed

I heard a thing that was strange to me – the idea that on the cross we see that violence does not succeed. The cross says to the principalities and powers, all your vengeance, all your cruelty, all your measure for measure is defeated. Your vindictive acts – your solutions to all problems, killing, maiming, shaming – are defeated. The hypocrisy of the accusers and cruelty of the oppressors are exposed and defeated. Nothing separates us from the love of God, because on the cross, Father, Son and Spirit defeat death and even the wrath of God- his judgement on sin doesn’t extinguish the light of life.

I realised the urgency of Paul in his letters. I became aware that his message was to persevere in the face of accusation and oppression because of the cross and, no, you are not defeated! All because of your faith in the Cross… In all circumstances believe and hold to the Way and trust in Christ’s righteousness as your righteousness.


Audley End Hot House Furnace

We live in a universe of time, gravity, chance and attrition. The light of life pierces this darkness. Light and life are attributes of our God, creator of a system where everything decays, where entropy dissipates and light brings new life into a system.

None of this has a moral character but God is God and he knows good and evil we are told. Our existence as bearers of God’s sovereign image, and in some way, the principalities and powers, makes the universe a moral universe. We are created from the beginning to walk with God, to know his voice and to serve in light and life, stewarding the gift of creation. And it was good – it is very good. This is our original blessing.

The revelation of God in the Bible is our Ararat, our Moriah, our Red Sea, the Incarnation, the Transfiguration, Calvary, Ascension and Pentecost – all beautiful. Personal.

Suffering is with us as is sovereignty and we are called to trust, to realise the original blessing in faith and know the sovereign power of our creation – to heal the sick, raise the dead and live free.


Audley End Cloud Hedge

When Jesus declares the blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… “ I wonder if we are slightly bemused – being poor in any way is not a blessing.

I wonder if the message is a glimpse of God’s view of suffering. We are all blessed. We are blessed in our being and God’s assured blessing works through all these troubles. Truly in creation we are good – God knows us from the beginning. Those who would marginalise and reject the lowly, the mourning, the peace makers, basically the losers in society, need to hear and see that all bear God’s blessing. The beginning is God’s blessing.

We are created in the image of God and in Christ we see the exact image of God though human like us. Christ is God and God is Father, Spirit and Son. God draws us into himself so that we know him because we are like him. Jesus humbled himself on the Cross and our troubled circumstances are given meaning in his suffering.

God himself takes the wrath and curse upon himself and dies in our place. Our faith is that his victory over death- his suffering and death – brings victory in our lives as he walks free from the last and greatest enemy, death. We follow and are made free to live, alive in the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit, dwelling in us- abiding within us – enabling us to live the good and perfect will of the Father. This is freewill in deed, to know and live from the perfect will of God; Christ within is our hope of glory.

God wants us to break through – he wants us to realise the blessing of creation – we are good. We are very good. God empowers us to put down sin and put on his righteousness turning away from our wilfulness and with Jesus, proclaim the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus; Father! Your will not mine!

We do well to study this, meditate upon this and listen to God in prayer. To pray at all times and in every way so that we can know and live the perfect will of the Father.

This is how we stand assured before the unapproachable light of God. This is how our weakness becomes strength. Truly, truly, truly, we are blessed.