Election and Free Choice Balanced
25At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure.
27"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Jesus had just finished denouncing the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (see Matt. 11:20-24). Those cities had not repented, despite the fact that Jesus performed most of His miracles in them. They were denounced, in effect, for not, in the exercise of their will, responding to the ministry of Jesus. Here, Jesus begins by praising God for selectively revealing the greatness of the Gospel: "At that time Jesus said, ĎI praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasureí" (vss. 25-26). This section of the Bible, including the denunciation of the cities in verses 20 through 24, and continuing through the end of the chapter, deals "with three things about which there has been great disputing: namely, the responsibility of man, the sovereign election of God, and the free invitations of the Gospel. They are all here in happy combination" [Spurgeon, 140].
After reading that Jesus denounced the cities that did not repent, and then, in the very next verses, reading that Jesus, who is all-knowing, praises God for hiding "these things from the wise and learned", one might well ask: "How could Jesus denounce the cities, when God hid these things from them?" This, my friends, is the mystery of election. I may disappoint you by not giving a complete answer to this question, but it is my sincere belief that it is impossible for our limited human minds to fully comprehend Godís mystery of election. Why has God chosen to reveal Himself to me, and chosen to hide Himself from my neighbor? This is, indeed, a vexing question. Am I any better than my neighbor? Both of us are sinners, so why has God chosen me? Donít get me wrong, though. I praise God greatly for choosing me!
It is my belief that the best way to deal with questions concerning the mystery of election is to let God be God, and man be man. It is Godís job to take care of election; it is manís job to respond to the good news of the Gospel. God is a just, righteous, all-knowing, all-loving God. He will make the correct choices. From manís point of view, though, we have a choice to make: to respond to the Gospel message and turn to Jesus, or alternatively, to reject the Gospel message. As a man, I have no control over Godís choices. However, as a man, and a Christian, I have been given the command, by the Lord Jesus Himself, to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:18). The apostle Paul knew of and accepted Godís sovereignty in election, but this did not stop him from preaching the Gospel wherever he went. Again, let God be God, and man be man. God will be God, and reveal Himself to whom He chooses. I, as a man, praise God for His wise choices, and pray that He would also choose my neighbor.
Jesus praises God for His choice in election: "At that time Jesus said, ĎI praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasureí" (vss. 25-26). Jesus implicitly states the reason that God has the right to choose whom He will: God is "Lord of heaven and earth." If you do not like the doctrine of election, well, as Paul says: "Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?" (Rom. 9:20).
At the time Jesus was speaking, those who were rejecting His message, "especially the religious teachers and other leading men, were wise and intelligent, well acquainted with many aspects of religious truth. It seemed strange that they should fail to comprehend and appreciate Christís teachings, which were understood and received by the lowly and comparatively ignorantÖ Jesus not only submits to this state of things, but He recognizes the propriety of it, and gives thanks for it" [Broadus, 251]. Jesus is praising God for the specific reason that oneís wisdom and knowledge on earth does not give one a leg up in being chosen by God. If anything (and this is implied in the passage), worldly wisdom hinders one from responding to the Gospel. "Intelligent and reflecting men frequently overlook the simple beauty and perfect fitness of the plan of salvation, which is plain enough to those who are consciously and confessedly weak, and who gladly receive the Lordís teachings without cavil or difficulty" [Broadus, 251]. One of the great things about the Gospel is its simplicity: the wise and learned have no advantage in understanding its truths. The Gospel can be understood by the most uneducated of us, by the poorest of us, by those of any nation and culture. No one has an advantage. All are on equal ground. This is something we can praise God for, just as Jesus does. "Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure."
Jesus goes on to boldly proclaim His own role in election: "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (vs. 27). We have mentioned that in chapters 11 and 12, Matthew is presenting episodes where Jesus asserts His authority as the Son of God. Here is an astounding example. No mere man, unless he was a blasphemous fraud, could make such a statement. Jesus is stating here that He Himself has supreme and final choice over who knows God. Jesus is unequivocal about this: "All things have been committed to me", and "Öno one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (vs. 27). All who know God, have come to Him through Jesus Christ. No one comes to God except those who have come through Jesus Christ. The Bible is consistent in this teaching. John succinctly, and completely, summarizes: "And this is the testimony [that God has given about His son]: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:11-12).
For our part, our access to God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul teaches: "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (Rom. 5:1-2). So now we have come full circle, for we started by speaking of Godís sovereignty in election, but now we speak of faith. Does the doctrine of salvation by faith nullify the doctrine of election? Not at all, for the doctrine of Godís sovereignty in election is presented clearly, as in this chapter, even at times alongside the doctrine of salvation by faith. Does the doctrine of election nullify the doctrine of salvation by faith? It must not, for we are told many times in the Bible that our salvation comes by faith, that we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to receive Godís gift of salvation.
Some men preach what they call Calvinism. In their view, the will of men (and thus, the faith of men) has no role in their salvation. They put at odds faith and election. But even John Calvin would not subscribe to this sort of Calvinism. John Calvin wrote the following on Jesusí statement in verse 27: "The meaning therefore is that life is opened up to us in Christ Himself, so that none will be partaker of it but he who enters by the gate of faith. And so we see that He joins faith and the eternal predestination of God. Foolish people contrast these two as if they were contraries. Although our salvation is always hidden in God, yet Christ is the conduit through whom it flows to us and is received by our faith, so that it is firm and certain in our hearts. Therefore we must not swerve from Christ if we do not want to reject the salvation offered to us" [Calvin, 23-24].
Faith and election are not at odds, but they mysteriously and simultaneously work together. As I said, I do not believe that our puny brains can fully understand how they work together. Jesus, though, understood, for right after He said that no one comes to the Father except those "to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him", He made an invitation for us to freely, by our will, come to Him by faith: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (vs. 28). What a blessing this invitation is! Yes, "all things have been committed to [Jesus]" and "no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him", yet Jesus shows by this invitation that He is more than willing to impart the knowledge of God to us. We just need to "come to Him."
Note well whom Jesus invites. "He does not address those who feel themselves righteous and worthy: He addresses Ďall that labour and are heavy laden.íóIt is a wide description: it comprises multitudes in this weary world" [Ryle, 118]. Who does not feel "weary and burdened" by this life? Jesus makes a beautiful promise, here, to those who come to Him: "I will give you rest." God has seen to it that we, in this life, will not find rest for our souls, until we accept Christís invitation, and find rest in Him.
When we come to Him, we will need to take off the yoke of the world, so that we may "take His yoke upon us" (vs. 28). But we need not fear His yoke, for He is "gentle and humble in heart", and under His yoke, we will "find rest for our souls." "No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ; no doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought: but the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross. Compared to the service of the world and sin, compared to the yoke of Jewish ceremonies, and the bondage of human superstition, Christís service is in the highest sense easy and light" [Ryle, 120].