His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:25)
“Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD” (2:12). They abused the worshipers and the offerings they brought, and committed fornication with the women who served. When Eli their father rebuked them, they did not listen. What is the explanation for sin? What is the power that hardens the heart? The Bible says that Eli’s son did not heed the warning, because it was God’s will to kill them. They could not listen, and they could not repent, because God decided that they would remain in wickedness so that he could punish them according to his own justice.
Eli’s rebuke was a declaration of God’s righteous standard. He indicated that his sons had transgressed and appealed to them to change their ways. But God’s wish or decree was for them to continue in their transgression of his own standard, so that he would continue in his plan to destroy them. Likewise, the preaching of the gospel is a declaration of truth. It includes a statement of God’s command or moral precept that all men should repent, but it does not suggest that it is God’s wish or decree that all men would do so.
Even before the creation of the world, God had conceived in his mind some for salvation and some for damnation, and throughout history he would directly create them to become what he has designed them to be. When we announce the Lord Jesus to all men and women, we declare that it is God’s command or moral precept that all of them ought to believe in him. This draws a clear line that differentiates the true and the false, the right and the wrong, but it does not indicate God’s wish for specific individuals, as to whether he wishes for one to believe the true or whether he wishes for one to cling to the wrong.
God’s wish is a separate matter. Some people will believe what we preach. All men and women ought to believe, but these individuals believe because God wishes for them to be saved. Then, some people will reject what we preach. All men and women ought to believe, but these individuals reject the message because God wishes for them to be damned. He wishes to kill them and punish them, and torture them in hell forever. This is the Bible’s explanation for the different responses.
Non-Christians detest this doctrine, and most Christians attempt to castrate it. The theologians who seem to declare the doctrine most forcefully nevertheless introduce foreign concepts and assumptions into their expositions so as to make God’s sovereignty “compatible” with man’s own decision or freedom. Or they say that there is an apparent contradiction and call it an unsolvable mystery. The Bible anticipates this reluctance to accept the truth and has a detractor ask, “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
If a man sins because God causes him to sin, then how can God blame and punish this man for his sins? And if a man rejects the gospel because God causes him to reject the gospel, then how can God blame and punish this man for rejecting the gospel? Christians and non-Christians agree that God is wrong in this. Whereas non-Christians ridicule the doctrine, Christians try to invent excuses for God. The fact that the Christians make up excuses indicates that their basic assumptions about justice and the rights of God are the same as the non-Christians.
However, both the Christians and the non-Christians are wrong. The Bible denies that there is a problem to be solved at all. It acknowledges that God is the one who causes men to commit sins and causes them to reject the gospel, and God is the one who then blames and punishes them. In response to the complaint, it notes that a man who challenges this does not know his place. Again, the same applies to anyone who claims to be a Christian but who responds to the complaint as if there is some merit to it, as if the standard of justice inherit in it needs to be satisfied. All of them – the non-Christians, the unbelievers, the theologians – do not know their place. The Bible answers that God is within his rights to do whatever he wants. If he wants to cause a man to sin and to refuse to repent, and then punish him for it, he has the right to do this.
The doctrine teaches us what attitude to take when we consider our salvation and our ministry. If you have received grace, and if you have believed on the gospel of Jesus Christ, do not think that in yourself you were more righteous or intelligent than the sinners that refuse to believe. You were not better than they, but God was better to you than he is to them. Then, when you preach the gospel and warn people about divine judgment, do not despair if they refuse to listen. God’s will is not subverted. His desire is always carried out. He ensures that they reject your preaching, because he has decided to increase their guilt and damn them to hell.
Even as those who claim to be Christians reject my preaching, I know that it is because they are in fact non-Christians, and God is exposing them, or if their case is not so severe, it is because God has decided to maintain a measure of rebellion in them and to limit their reward. Therefore, I continue in peace and confidence, knowing that God’s will is always done through my work. “Yes, Lord, do whatever you wish with the people. Have mercy on whom you wish to have mercy, so that they may receive your gifts and blessings. And harden whom you wish to harden, so that they may be punished.”