JTTH: How Sweet and Aweful is the Place (Part Three)

Last time we didn’t get through unpacking this hymn, so I said we’d pick up on the fourth verse. However, I maybe should have clarified that we would only do the fourth verse. Yes, this hymn is taking more time to get through than I originally thought it would, but there’s just so much here and I don’t want to miss any of it. It’s important for us to understand exactly what we sing, because it shows us what we believe.

So, to ensure that we actually get all the way through it in this post, let’s go ahead and take a look at the fourth verse of How Sweet and Aweful is the Place.

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast

That sweetly drew us in

Else we had still refused to taste

And perished in our sin

Remember the second and third verses of this song that we looked at last time? In them, the Christian is basically asking God why He chose to save them rather than the thousands of others that are still outside of His kingdom.

Well, this verse has the answer to that question: His love. God loves His people, so He saves them (Ephesians 1:4-5). It’s as simple as that.

And then again, it’s not so simple, because we can’t talk about God loving and saving believers without addressing two other major questions. These are 1) Why do certain people believe and 2) What about the millions of others who never do?

The answers to those questions, while similarly simple to draw from Scripture, are often a whole lot harder for many people to swallow, so we’re going to spend this whole post on them. (Just bear with me for a while–like I said, I like to try to touch on at least everything.)

When dealing with these questions (as with all others), we have to turn to the Scriptures, in which are contained the answers for every difficulty we may have. Let’s begin with Acts 13:48.

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.                                              

Acts 13:48

Did you catch that? Who does the Spirit-inspired Word say believed the gospel? As many as had been appointed to eternal life.

Now, I’m no expert on words (I do use them a lot, but that doesn’t seem to count), but even a simple dictionary study will tell you that “appointed” doesn’t mean “volunteered.” Contrary to what Arminians would say, our trusting in Christ for salvation is not the motivation for His saving us; it is our response to His saving us. God the Father chooses us before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9:23) to be ransomed from darkness and sin by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:5; Hebrews 10:11-14) and regenerated by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). As the lyrical theologian Shai Linne has written, “The Father chooses them; the Son gets bruised for them; the Spirit renews them and produces fruit in them.”[1]

The Scriptures are more than clear than mankind is dead in sin. Our federal head Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, and with one disobedient act plunged all his posterity (i.e., all of humanity) into depravity. Born with our souls dead and unfeeling to the things of God, every man, woman, and child on this earth (before regeneration) is unholy and unable to be holy of our own accord. We’re not sinners because we sin—we sin because we’re sinners. We can’t do right because we aren’t right.

This does not mean that man does not have a will. Rather, it means that his will is so corrupt that he can only will to do evil. To use an illustration taken from one of my pastor’s sermons, it’s not like we’re chained into the chair of sin, stuck in it and held against our will: we love sitting in it. We wouldn’t get up if the roof was burning down on top of us. We love the chair, and our love for it becomes the very chains that bind us to it. Paul Washer has said it this way: “Men cannot come to God because they will not come to God, and they will not come to God because they hate Him.”[2]

At first (at least to some), God punishing men because they cannot obey His Law might seem similar to someone picking on a blind man because he can’t read.[3] However, this is not the case at all. Men are held responsible for their own moral inability because they are responsible for their own moral inability. To quote Brother Washer again,

“Upon hearing of such a doctrine [the doctrine of total depravity or moral inability], one may ask, “How is man responsible before God when he is unable to do anything that God commands?” The answer is very important. If man did not love or obey God because he lacked the mental faculties to do so or was somehow physically restrained, then it would be unfair for God to hold him accountable—he would be a victim. However, this is not the case with man. His inability is moral and stems from his hostility toward God. Man is unable to love God because he hates God. He is unable to obey God because [h]e disdains [H]is commands. He is unable to please God because he does not hold the glory and good pleasure of God to be a worthy goal. Man is not a victim but a culprit. He cannot because he will not. His corruption and enmity toward God are so great that he would rather suffer eternal punishment than acknowledge God to be God and submit to His sovereignty.                                                                    

For this reason, moral inability may also be called willing hostility. The relationship between Joseph and his brothers best illustrates this truth: “But when his [Joseph’s] brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Gen. 37:4) The text states that Joseph’s brothers could not speak to him on friendly terms. It was not because they lacked the physical ability to speak but because their hatred toward him was so great that they were unwilling to be friendly to him. In the same way, fallen man’s hostility toward God is so great he cannot bring himself to love God or to submit to His commands.”[4]       

That was a long quote, but a good one, especially when it comes to helping us understand our own pre-regenerate (degenerate) state.

The point is that we shouldn’t really be asking why some are saved and others aren’t. The question we should be asking is why are any of us saved? Because if we were left to ourselves, none of us would be saved—not a single one.

A great picture of salvation is found in Genesis chapters 6-8. This account of Noah and the Great Flood is a perfect illustration of this mind-blowing doctrine that we see throughout all of Scripture—the doctrine of election.

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

…Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds. So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life. Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him.

…The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.

Genesis 6:5, 11-12; 7:13-16, 20-23

The Scripture makes it obvious that by the time of Noah, the depraved descendants of Adam were already perpetrating their sinfulness without shame. The “earth was filled with violence” and the whole world “was corrupt in the sight of God.” Mankind was manifesting the results of Adam’s sin, and as God had promised Adam years before, there would be consequences for sin. The Flood was the consequence for that generation.

So that God sent a deluge to destroy nearly all life on earth isn’t what’s so perplexing about this biblical event. It’s not surprising that millions of rebellious and sinful people drowned beneath the waters of God’s holy wrath.

What’s mind-blowing is that Noah and his family didn’t.

Look at that verse again: God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” All flesh. That includes Noah and his family.

We have to remember that when God sent the Flood upon the earth, He didn’t put the good people on the Ark and leave the bad people outside to drown. Because there were no good people, in the Ark or outside of it! Yes, sinful people died because of the Flood—but there were sinful people who were saved from it, too! As a matter of fact, every single person on the Ark was sinful! Noah wasn’t holy. Neither was any other member of his family. No man, then or now, is righteous enough to escape the judgement of God by their own merit. That means that since the Flood was a judgement for sin, everyone should have died in it, including the eight people who were on the Ark.

But they didn’t. Noah and his wife, and his sons and their wives, were saved from the waters of judgement by the Ark that God provided. Salvation didn’t come through their own works or because of their own righteousness—God accomplished this saving work so that His name would be greatly praised. Sound familiar?

God doesn’t save us because we’re worth it. He saves us because He’s worth it. Our salvation is a side effect of His glorifying His own holy name. He’s not obligated to save any of us. If He were to send us all to hell this very instant, He would be right in doing so. He would be just. He would be holy. He would even be loving. But to glorify His wisdom and power, God planned from eternity past to save wretched sinners by the blood of His Son, who would die on the cross at Calvary, drink the cup of divine wrath that men so justly deserved, and satisfy the justice of God for those sinners, forever. Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1-6) because Christ has taken that condemnation away. No wrath remains for us if we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, and all those who do so, whom God draws to Himself through the Son, most assuredly will be saved.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

John 6:37

This is why we can sing praise to God for His choosing to save some, even though His choosing means that some are left to their own paths of destruction: because He is holy and just, both in saving and condemning. His immutable (unchanging) character remains perfectly holy, perfectly loving, perfectly just, in all of His deeds.

And we who are saved can sing this praise to God for another reason: We know that if it weren’t for His choosing to save us, we wouldn’t be saved. Not only that, but we couldn’t be saved. If God had not, in His sovereign pleasure, reached down, taken us from our graves, and breathed new life into us, we would still be right there, decaying in our own depravity and lost in our own lawlessness. We would still be clinging to that wretched chair of sin, preferring to go to hell with it rather than let it go, if Christ had not opened our blinded eyes and revealed to us both the judgement that was coming and His great sacrifice that could save us. That’s why we can sing about this wonderful act of God, and that’s why we should sing about it, to rejoice in His salvation and to bring glory to His name.

Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

1 Chronicles 16:23-24


[1] Shai Linne, https://youtu.be/hZ_jFO2VzRQ.

[2] https://graceuntothehearers.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/paul-washer-election.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] Washer, The Gospel’s Power and Message, pg. 119.

This is the fourth installment in the Journey Through the Hymns series. A new installment will be posted each Wednesday until the series’ completion.

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