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Written by James Oliphant/Silas Durand   


Dear Brother Durand: In the Gospel News of March 1st you insist that the words, “Jesus Christ was placed upon probation,” imply some kind or degree of uncertainty. You also complain of me for saying Christ “was situated to do as he pleased.”

Now, before noticing these two points, I wish to quote you in regard to the Will. First, you say, “There is a natural will and a spiritual will.” The word “will” means “choice.” So there is a natural or sinful choice, and there is a spiritual or right choice. Christians sometimes, on account of the evil nature left in them, do choose to do evil, and the same man at other times chooses to do right. You say, “When I say that it is not of our own will that we obey the Lord, I always refer to the natural will.” I do not know on what authority you hold that where men do right they do not act from their own will, or from their own, choice. Jesus said unto the man, (John, v, 6,) “Wilt thou be made whole?” which is the same as to say, Do you choose to be made whole? I do not know why we should say it was not his own choice.  So the words, “If any man will do his will,” etc., (John; vii, 17) chooses to do “his will.” In this text we have a man with a “will” or “choice” to do God’s “will.” Now this man’s choice is to do the will of God. I do not know on what principle you would say it is not the man’s choice. The fact that this choice results from his being born of God, does not deny that he chooses to do right, that I can see. When you remember that to “will” a thing is to choose that thing, your distinction between the natural will and the spiritual will would denote that an evil, unregenerate man chooses to do wrong, and the Christian man chooses to do right. But how you make out that the sinner’s choice to do wrong is his own choice, but the Christian’s choice to do right is not his own choice, I call not see. You say, “His will as a mall was pure and sinless, but it was a man’s will, and could not lead him into the terrible work and awful suffering,” etc. You seem here to regard his will as something distinct from himself, but the will of Christ was the choice of Christ, and so, although he was a man, and a pure, sinless man, he had a choice, (or will,) which was to do God’s commands. You say that “He offered himself willingly,” “He never betrayed disloyalty to God.” In this you substantially say and I contend for. He offered himself from choice: so in all his sufferings and trials he pursued the course willingly, from choice, and so did as he pleased.

I insist that if Christ, in all his sufferings and labor, did not do as he pleased, then all his sacrifices are no evidence of love to us. I understand the question in dispute between us is, “Did Jesus do as he pleased in all his life of trial and in his death? “ Your position on the subject of predestination makes it necessary for you to deny. You quote the words, “I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me;” “Even as Christ pleased not himself,” etc., and other texts of like import. In the garden he said, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.”

Dear brother, suppose you require of your own son a hard task, and he answers, “I will not please myself in this matter, but my father.” You understand him that in the absence of any command from you, he would not do it, but on account of your command, and his love and loyalty to you, he will now willingly and from choice do the thing required. Now, so in the absence of any command from God, or any interest in the elect, Jesus would not have been willing to endure the cross, but on account of his love to God, and his loyalty to him, and on account of his love for the elect, he does, most willingly, endure the cross and despise the shame, etc. His words are, “Therefore doth my Father love me because I lay down my life. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father;” John, x, 17,18, Now, this shows that the commandment of his Father was his great incentive, and on account of this commandment, and his love to God, he went to Jerusalem, and by his rebukes of the officers of the 1emple and severe reproofs of the Pharisees, he brought on himself the rage of his enemies, And although he had power to summon angels from heaven, he gave himself up to his cruel persecutors. Paul says he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Here his death is called obedience. Now, I insist that in the act of obedience, one must do as he pleases. Take away from his conduct the fact that he does as he pleases, and it is not obedience at all. So, to deny that Jesus did as he pleased, is to destroy the element of obedience in his conduct: and therefore if his behavior was that of obedience, it follows that he did as he pleased in the matter, and so was “situated to do as he pleased.”

Your position requires you to deny that Christ was obedient, or to hold that true and perfect obedience can be rendered when one is not doing as he pleases. The fact that Jesus died for us, is presented as evidence of his love to us, “Christ also loved us and hath given himself for us;” “As Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.” Scores of texts refer to his death as an evidence of love to the elect, but how could it be an evidence of love unless as he pleased in regard to it?

For a true loving mother to be situated to do as she pleases about providing for her children, would not make the well-being of her children uncertain; and, so, to admit that our Savior was, and is yet, situated to do as he pleases about his people, does not in the least endanger their safety. There are some men that I would be willing for them to do as they please about injuring my person or stealing my goods; and I trust I have faith in the Savior to say, “Thy will be done.”

You object to the words, “Placed upon probation,” because it implies “some kind or degree of uncertainty.” The word “probation” means “trial.” So, your position is, that for Christ to be put on trial would argue uncertainty as to the result. But if I can prove by the Bible, first, that Christ’s mission in the world is and was certain of fulfillment, without the least shadow of doubt or uncertainty; and, second, that Christ was tried, underwent trial---I say, if these two propositions can be proved, then you are wrong in saying that for Christ to be put on probation implies some kind or degree of uncertainty. Isa., liii, 11; “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” Titus, i, 2. Scores of texts could be cited showing that his errand was sure of fulfillment. Those saved before his advent into the world, were saved on the merits of his obedient life and death. The fact that his death and sufferings were foretold, is proof of their certainty, for the foreknowledge of an event is proof of the certainty of that event.

It is needless to say more on this point, as we agree that his coming into the world, and his faithfulness, obedience, suffering and death, burial, resurrection, ascension and intercession; His love to his elect people; their preservation, both naturally and spiritually,  their certain  and unfailing development in time; their calling by the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit; their quickening, regeneration and universal perseverance and preservation through grace to glory; their resurrection and eternal salvation in the world to come---in all these things we agree that certainty, and not chance, prevails. So, it is only necessary to show from God’s Word that Christ was tried, which I will now do.

 “Behold I lay in Zion, for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone,” etc. This stone was the Savior. Paul says, “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” So, this precious corner-stone laid in Zion was Jesus Christ, and was TRIED.” For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” Tempted, here, means tried. “For we have not an high priest which can not be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” So, he was tried at every point, and in every way, and yet did not sin. Peter says, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” This shows that Christ’s sufferings were his trials: it also shows that his people pass through trials. “When the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread;” “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple.” In all this he was tried. Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the earth, and in all this he sinned not. When Satan came to Adam he found a weak point and Adam fell, but not so with Jesus when exposed to the same tempter: there was no vulnerable point about him.

Jesus says, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me;” “But that the world may know that I love the Father.” The devil tried him and found nothing---nothing to work on. He was tried with hunger; the kingdoms of the world were placed before him; the bitterest death was one of his trials. In many places we read of our Savior being tempted.  (Tried.)

He is the “tried” stone. Satan, as the tempter, came to him and found nothing in him---no weak or vulnerable place---but found him a pure, sinless, holy being, amidst all his trials. So the Bible does abundantly teach that he was tried; and to be tried is to be put on probation.

You urge that for him to be put on trial argues some kind or degree of uncertainty. This depends entirely on one thing: If there is a “degree of uncertainty” about his being infinitely holy, then his being put on trial would be attended with the same degree of uncertainty that exists as to his being infinitely holy. But if it were true that he was an infinitely holy being, then to place him on trial would not be attended with a “kind or degree of uncertainty.”

The trial was to manifest his perfection---”That the world may know that I love the Father.” For some reason it is proper for the world to know that Jesus loved the Father, and so in all his sufferings and trials he proved it to be so, and proved himself to be absolutely holy. Let us suppose a bridge, on which we hope to escape from ruin, is to be tried. This trial is not to make the bridge safe, but to prove that it is so---not to him that provided it, but to them who are in need of it. So, the trial of Christ was not that God might know of his infinite purity, but that we might see in all his trials, evidences of his holiness, of his love to us, and evidence that he possesses every perfection necessary to our eternal salvation, So when we say he was put on trial, (probation,) we do not intimate that there is uncertainty as to the result.

You, no doubt, admit that God’s people are a tried people---have “trials of cruel mockings;” that their faith is tried as gold in the fire---tried with “fiery trials.” And yet you do not think there is uncertainty as to the final result, but you feel sure that each and every one of them will in the end be safe. So, then, if certainty is consistent with the trial of God’s people, why is not certainty consistent with the fact that Jesus was tried?

I will notice one more expression in your article: “I do not say the Lord bears the same attitude to sin as to holiness.” Wherein does his attitude to sin differ from his attitude to holiness? No doubt you admit that God’s attitude to holiness is causative, and so his predestination of holiness is causative. I think our brethren all admit this, and if you would explain wherein God’s attitude to sin differs from his attitude to holiness, we might find ourselves all agreed. One of the meanings of “permit” is “to suffer without giving authority.” Perhaps in this sense you would admit that God’s attitude to sin is PERMISSIVE. We read, “So I gave them up to their own heart’s lusts, and they walked in their own counsels;” “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts;” “For this cause God gave them up to vile affections;” “God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” These sentences do not denote that God caused, or led them to sin, but rather that he gave them up to it. If this is your idea we are agreed. The expression “Unlimited predestination of all things,” implies that sin is unlimitedly predestinated, and so it involves the idea that there are no limits or restriction or modification in God’s attitude to sin.

His purpose concerning holiness is causative, directive; it bounds, controls, etc. His purposes concerning sin are not in all respects the same. I think if you would tell us carefully wherein God’s attitude to sin differs from his attitude to holiness, possibly our difference would, in a large measure, disappear. I think our people would all agree that God’s purposes concerning sin are such as to exclude all uncertainty from the entire universe, and yet not such as would, in the least, apologize for sin, or excuse either saint or sinner for their transgressions. We insist that the same words used to define God’s purposes concerning holiness should not be used to express his purposes concerning sin. So the words, “Unlimited predestination of all things,” we reject, because it uses the same word to express God’s attitude to sin that it uses to express his attitude to holiness. And so, now, if you do not believe that God’s attitude to sin is the same as his attitude to holiness, what hinders you from uniting with us in opposing such expressions as “Unlimited or absolute predestination of all things?” We contend for some distinction between God’s purposes concerning sin and his purposes of holiness. I am truly glad that you believe there is some distinction. I esteem it a sweet privilege to exchange views in a brotherly way with my brethren. I do not see why harm should come of it.

Affectionately,  J. H. OLIPHANT.


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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