Thursday, 20 November 2014

And If A Sparrow

 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.  And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.  And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.  Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him. And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him. So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me? And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly. But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me. And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. (Acts 23:11-24)

Q. What was the will of God concerning Paul at this time?
A. That he was not to  fear because he was to bear witness for God at Rome.
Q. Did God fulfil His will?
A. Ultimately, He did.
Q. Did any try to interfere with the will of God in this matter?
A. Yes – 40 men took a vow that they would not eat until they had killed Paul.
Q. How did they hope to achieve this?
A. By having the Jews ask the chief captain to produce the prisoner under the pretence of questioning him further and thus leaving him exposed to the danger.
Q. Was this desire of these cut throats wicked?
A. Yes.
Q. Wherein?
A. Because they sought to murder Paul through lying means and had they did so, then they would frustrated the righteous decree of God that he would bear witness at Rome.
Q. Was their opposition in this matter pre-ordained of God?
A.  Yes.
Q. Why would God ordain such an event as this?
A. For a number of reasons, not least, to show the lengths wicked sinners who oppose the gospel will go. Again, to show that His will is invincible and that He can deliver His people in the most extreme circumstances through the use both of weak and strong means.
Q. Did God put it in the heart of these wicked to so plan this murder?
A. It would be much more accurate to say that He drew it out of their wicked heart (wherein all evil thoughts originate) and made good use of it for His own glory.
Q. How did He achieve this?
A. By hardening their heart to give vent to such wickedness.
Q. How would God have so hardened their heart?
A. By withdrawing His restraining grace from them through which they had ceased to have been (up to that point) a danger both to themselves and others.
Q. Does this not mean that God authored their crime or was implicit in it?
A. No. The use of the word ‘grace’ indicates that He is under no obligation to bestow it and at perfect liberty to withdraw it as He sees fit. The guilt of the crime belongs solely to those perpetrated it i.e. the gang of cut throats. 
Q. Did God tempt them to sin at this time by so withdrawing this restraining grace?
A. No, God cannot be tempted. Neither does He tempt any man. (James 1:13)
Q. Did God control or direct their wickedness at this time?
A. Only in the sense that He restrained it from going further than it suited His own holy ends.
Q. Did God influence other hearts in this whole dramatic episode?
A. Yes. He positively influenced and enabled Paul’s nephew and the captain for good i.e. to see that Paul would remain unharmed.
Q. How did he do this?
A. By giving them courage and wisdom to thwart the plans of the wicked.
Q. Did this involve any operation of God upon their hearts?
A. Yes. He increased the grace already given by removing any fear or discouragement that probably would have existed in the circumstances. Removing it at least to the point where they decided to take positive action to save the prisoner.
Q. Did God at any time so control the wills either of the wicked or the good in this operation that it could be said that they were mere puppets?
A. No. Working in the will and influencing it does not rob either the wicked or good of their liberty to follow the dictates of their heart.
Q. To whom does any blame belong in this passage?
A. Solely to the wicked whose evil hearts moved them to willingly engage in the above crime.
Q. To whom is any praise due in the above scene?
A. Ultimately to God, who so wisely and justly arranged the circumstances that enabled Paul to escape the plans of wicked men.
Q. Is any credit due to Paul’s nephew and the chief captain?
A. Under God, there is in that they were faithful, as free moral agents, to their God given duty to seek means to preserve life.
Q. Any last words on this subject?
A. Yes. Any argument against Calvinism that ignores or seeks to tamper with the Calvinist fundamental of the freedom of man’s will (i.e. to follow the  dictates of his own heart) is based either on ignorance or (worse again) mischief and doomed to wallow in its own failure.


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