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Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 5) Part One

In this post, I will be looking at chapter 5 of the book Grace For All edited by Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  You may find the first post of these reviews here and the previous review post here.

This chapter was written by Dr. Jack Cottrell.  I have always appreciated Dr. Cottrell.  His book on baptism is a must read as well as his commentary on Romans (one of the best Arminian commentaries on Romans in my estimation along with Dr. Vic Reasoner’s).  His book on the sovereignty of God is the best I have ever read on the subject from an Arminian view.

In this chapter Dr. Cottrell dives into the issue of conditional election.  If you are a Calvinist reading Grace For All, this will be the chapter that really gets you focused on the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism.  I know that many Calvinists love the doctrine of unconditional election and view it as the heart of the gospel.  They believe that the doctrine protects not just the sovereignty  of God but also destroys the pride of men by teaching that God alone saves for His own glory and purposes.  God, within the Calvinist system, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn based on His own choice and nothing in mankind (in other words, God doesn’t choose those who choose Him or foresee their faith but instead He chooses based on His own sovereign choice for His own glory).  Calvinists teach that God is just in choosing His elect from among the lump of sinful humanity because He could justly send us all to hell but instead He saves some for His glory and purposes that are known only to Himself (Romans 9:22-23).

Cottrell differs with such a view but he does believe the Bible teaches election.  This is important since some Arminians have tried to argue against Calvinism by saying that the Bible doesn’t even teach election.  Of course election is taught but the question becomes what does the Bible teach about election?  Does the Bible teach the Calvinist view of unconditional election to salvation or does the Bible teach something else?  Does the Bible teach that God elects the plan but not the man?  Does the Bible teach that God elects classes or does He elect individuals and how does He elect?

First, let us establish the biblical truth of election.  Cottrell shows us that the Bible teaches several elections.  We must not assume that since the Bible teaches election that it is always unto salvation or unto service.  In some cases it is both and in some cases it is just to service.  Cottrell points out that God has elected and He has elected:

  • Jesus (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18; Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6).
  • Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Acts 13:17; Romans 9:4-5) which led to Him choosing men to build up the line of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nehemiah 9:7; Romans 9:7, 13), Moses (Psalm 106:23) and David (Psalm 78:70) to carry out His purpose for Israel.  He even used Gentiles such as Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) or Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1).
  • The Church (1 Peter 2:9; 2 John 1, 13).  Just as God used individuals in His building of Israel, so He used the Apostles whom Jesus chose to build His Church (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16) along with Paul the Apostle (Galatians 1:15-16) for His purposes.  Both Israel and the Church were corporate elections with certain individuals chosen for special roles in connection with each.

Up to this point, the Calvinist probably would not take exception with what Cottrell has written.  It is his next discussion, election of individuals unto salvation that begins to show the key differences between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view.

Cottrell first shows that while a person could be chosen by God to service in Israel, this did not mean that the person was saved.  Pharaoh is a case in point.  Yet this is not the case with God’s election in the Church.  To be in the Church and chosen by God to serve the Church, one had to be saved.  God chose Paul the Apostle to serve the Church but He also called Him to service through His salvation.  In Romans 11:7 Paul shows us that one could still be among Israel and not be in the Church.  Merely to identify with the Jews was not enough to be saved.  One had to repent to be in the Church (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10).

Cottrell shows the Calvinist understanding of God’s election of people to His Church.  This election is unconditional and based on God’s divine choosing that is known only to Himself.  God has reasons why He chooses one person over the other but He has not made that known to men.  Calvinists often appeal to mystery when it comes to unconditional election and Deuteronomy 29:29.  God does not chose people based on any merit of their own nor is it based on foreseen faith or anything else mankind does.  God simply elects whom He elects and saves whom He saves by His own sovereign choice.  This choice is based on love but not because God sees something in the elect but because God, by nature, is loving and good.  Again, God could will to send all of us to hell and that would be just (Romans 5:12) but instead He chooses to save people out of sinful humanity for His glory.

Cottrell contrasts this view (unconditional election of individuals unto salvation) with a view held largely by many Arminians of class or corporate election.  This was the view of men such as Dr. H. Orton Wiley who held to corporate election.  Robert Shank holds to this view in his book Elect in the Son.  Dr. Cottrell points out the flaws of such a view by saying that the Bible speaks of people being chosen to salvation and not merely a plan.  For example, Cottrell points to Romans 8:29-30 as speaking of persons and not a plan.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 is speaking of people and not a plan.  Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 speaks of people and not a plan.  Romans 16:13 says that Rufus has been elected.  1 Peter 1:1-2 speaks of elected Christians.  Revelation 17:8 speaks of people who have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.  These are all persons and not merely a plan.

The key to understanding election, according to Cottrell, is that election is conditional and particular.  Those who meet the conditions are saved and thus become part of the elect of God.  This salvation is not unconditional (as Calvinists teach) but is conditional and particular.  God has indeed chosen the Lord Jesus to save lost humanity and Cottrell believes (as all Arminians do) that His atonement was unlimited but is applied only to those who meet the conditions of salvation.  God is sovereign and just to make conditions part of His saving.  Does this mean then that mankind saves themselves?  Of course not!  The humble sinner who repents is not saving themselves but is looking to Christ alone to save them by His grace.  Was the lost sinner in Acts 16:30 trying to earn his salvation when he asked what he must do to be saved?  Paul didn’t reply, “Nothing.  Salvation is unconditionally based on God’s sovereignty and choice.”  No.  He replied that he had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31).  Once the sinner met the condition, he was baptized (Acts 16:33-34) just as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20) and Peter preached (Acts 2:37-38).

In the next post on this chapter, we will dive into Dr. Cottrell’s understanding of how election can be individual while maintaining that it is conditional.  Cottrell rejects corporate election in favor of God’s divine foreknowledge (which is a strong Arminian view).  Others disagree of course such as many Southern Baptists who hold to corporate election.

The “Many” and the “All” of Romans 5

Dr. Jack Cottrell holds that the doctrine of original sin as taught since Augustine is not biblical.  He holds that people are born in a state of grace and are not guilty of Adam’s sin and thus are not born sinful.  He holds that all sinners will be judged by God but they will be judged for their own sins and not for the sin of Adam.  Even John Wesley acknowledged that none will be found guilty of Adam’s transgression but their own.

Romans 5 is a debated passage over the doctrine of original sin.  I would say that most orthodox scholars hold that Romans 5 teaches the doctrine of original sin or inherited sinfulness.  While Arminians are not as quick to say that all people inherit Adam’s sin, Arminianism does hold that all people inherit Adam’s sinfulness.  Thus Arminianism has held that people are born dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) because of Adam’s sin but people are not born guilty of Adam’s sin but merely the results of Adam’s sin.  Calvinists hold that people are born both depraved and inherit Adam’s sin and thus babies are guilty of sin at the moment of conception (they also explain the necessity of the virgin birth as such).

Dr. Cottrell’s analysis of Romans 5 is fascinating.  It is very extensive and would take many posts on this blog for me to work through it.  However, I just want to focus in on one issue here and that is the issue of Paul’s use of “many” and “all” in Romans 5.  For example, in Romans 5:12 we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

None deny that “all” here means all.  In Romans 5:15 Paul uses the phrase “many died through one man’s trespass” and none doubt that “many” here means all.  The problem is the end of Romans 5:15.  Let me quote the entire verse:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Now if the many at the beginning means all (v. 12) then why does the many at the end of verse 15 mean anything less than all?

The Calvinist answer is that if we make the “many” here become all (as in all) then we must hold to universalism or at best we must deny limited atonement (which cannot be done).  The all in Calvinism is “all” but the “many” in their view is only the elect.  Thus Adam’s sin brings condemnation to “all” but Jesus’ work brings salvation only to the elect or the “many.”

The Arminian answer is that Christ’s sacrifice was provided for all sinners (John 3:16) but only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  The only way to escape judgment for your sins is to place your faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Thus the “all” of Adam’s transgression comes to all and the work of Christ has been given for all.  The “many” and the “all” are used interchangeably by Paul the Apostle here in Romans 5.

Dr. Cottrell believes that the only universalism that one can derive from Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving work on the cross cancels out the work of Adam.  Thus he holds that people are not born in a state of depravity or born sinful but rather that Paul’s point is that Romans 5 is teaching that Jesus cancels out the fall of Adam.  While death is still here with us from Adam, this too, writes Cottrell, will soon be vanquished by the power of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:13-14).

He goes on to write that we now can view sin in four stages.

  1. Original Sin.  The only thing we receive from Adam’s sin now is death.  We are born in a flesh that will die.  The sin of Adam has been canceled out by the work of Christ.
  2. Original Grace.  All infants and young children are here as well as those who mentally never develop (handicapped).  While here people are in a state of salvation through the universal work of Christ until they reach an age of accountability that only God knows.
  3. Personal Sin.  This is the state people are in after reaching the age of accountability and lose the original grace into which they were born.  Those in this stage are lost because they sinned against a holy God and violated His just laws in the same way that Adam and Eve did.  Those who die here are condemned for their own sins.
  4. Personal Grace.  This is a term only for believers.  Those in Christ Jesus through faith are in a state of personal grace and are redeemed from both sin and death (John 5:24-25; 11:25-26).  Both sin and death have no power over the believer (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  However, this applies only to those who believe and is not based merely on past belief.  This is present active relationship with Christ (1 Peter 1:5).

Let me add here in closing that Dr. Cottrell would not label his view as Pelagian.  He would actually label it “pre-Augustinian.”  He holds that his view was held by most of the early Church Fathers before Augustine and his debates with Pelagius.  It was only after Pelagius that the Roman Catholic Church adopted the original sin view and the Western Church began to teach that people are born universally condemned for Adam’s sin.  The problem with the original sin view is that many believe that they can’t turn from their sins (since they are born sinful and this is the best they can hope to do) and thus they continue in their sins despite the preaching of the gospel to them.  Many Christians likewise hold that even if saved by the work of Christ from sin, they still must live a life of sin.  I heard a radio preacher just yesterday describing himself as a “miserable sinner” and he went on to say that this was the best he could do and hope for in this life.

I rejoice that the atonement of Christ is a great work from God!  While I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from those who hold to Cottrell’s view about why children sin, I do agree that the work of Christ is for all.  Christ shed His blood so that all can be saved.  I also agree that each person will be judged for their sins and not the sin of Adam.

Wesley preached:

Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north;” I will do my own will and pleasure, independently on that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without ever blushing upon the account, without either fear or shame. Ask the man, “Why did you do this?” He answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will;” that is, in effect, because the devil and I agreed; because Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle. The will of God, mean time, is not in his thoughts, is not considered in the least degree.

We sin because we want to sin!  We sin because we are children of the devil (John 8:44).  Jesus called people “evil” (Luke 11:13) and He said that out of the heart comes evil (Matthew 15:19).  However, Jesus did say that some people are good and others evil (Matthew 12:35).

In reality, we need Christ.  That is the bottom line.  All sinners need Christ.  All saints need Christ.  We need to exalt the Lord Jesus to every nation and to every sinner.  Jesus is our only hope!

Eight Steps to Glory from Jack Cottrell

The following comes from Dr. Jack Cottrell’s text, The Faith Once For Allon which he briefly speaks on the God’s faithfulness in regard to our salvation.  He mentions the “eight steps to glory” from Romans 5:1-11.  I truly enjoy Romans 5:1-11 much and have often sat meditating on these precious verses.

Dr. Cottrell’s eight steps to glory are:

  1. The eternal, infinite love of God, which provides –
  2. The saving work of Jesus Christ, which is the object of –
  3. Our faith, through which we have access to –
  4. The grace of God, which includes –
  5. Justification (forgiveness), which gives us –
  6. Peace with God (reconciliation), which results in –
  7. Hope (assurance of salvation), which results in –
  8. Joy, in anticipation of the glory of God!


Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/20/2014 at 11:34 AM

How Does One “Fall from Grace”? From Jack Cottrell

In Dr. Jack Cottrell’s systematic theology text, The Faith Once For All, he concludes that the Bible teaches conditional security of the believer rather than unconditional security of the believer.  His point is not only that we are justified through faith (Romans 5:1) but we remain justified by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  One then falls from grace when faith in the blood of Jesus dies.  Thus the call of the New Testament is to continue in the faith (Colossians 1:21-23), to keep our faith despite what we may face in this world (1 Peter 1:3-9), to keep our faith in Jesus until the very end (2 Peter 1:10-11) and to remain steadfast in Christ Jesus (Jude 21).  The promises of God regarding our assurance of our salvation are precious to the child of God and we must trust them (Romans 8:38-39) but to ignore the warning passages of Scripture in favor of “security” passages would pit Scripture against Scripture.  We should accept both as truthful.

Dr. Cottrell lists three ways in which we fall from grace.  I will cite them with limited comments.

1.  Faith may be put to death through an act of spiritual suicide (spiritual, not physical).  This happens by a deliberate decision to stop believing in Christ and His saving work, thus renouncing the Christian faith.  This seems to be the focus of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:6-19; 4:1-23; 5:8-9; 6:4-20; 10:19-39; 11:13-15; 12:1-29).

2.  A second way faith may die is through slow starvation (spiritual, not physical).  When we fail to add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5) and when we fail to abide in the teachings of the Christ (John 8:31-32) or fellowship of the saints (Acts 2:42), our faith can become weak and left alone, can die from starvation.  This would be the dead faith of James 2:26.  If we fail to extend our roots (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21), we can fall away.

3.  The third way that faith may die is through strangulation by sin.  Romans 8:13 is clear that if we are controlled by our flesh, we will die.  We are not to abide in sin since we have been freed from it through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-4).  We must guard against sin overtaking us again (2 Peter 2:20).  The grace of God has been given to us to help us overcome sin and not abide in it (Titus 2:11-12).  Sin only leads to death (James 1:12-15).

In conclusion, Dr. Cottrell believes that the promise of God is to keep us (1 Peter 1:5) but the disciple of Jesus must also make an effort through personal responsibility to remain faithful to the Lord.  I have met people who claimed to be “once saved, always saved” despite 1 John 2:3-6 being true of them.  Sadly, the Church often has erred on the issue of assurance by either teaching that a person is secure no matter what (unconditional) or they have erred in teaching that just one sin will cause you to “lose your salvation.”  Both are wrong.  We must be balanced biblically on this issue.

Romans 9: The Issue of God’s Faithfulness

In my previous post on Romans 9, I noted that Dr. Jack Cottrell believes the primary emphasis is upon the faithfulness of God.  Is God faithful to His promises to Israel?  Did God fail to bring about His promises to Israel?  Paul’s answer in Romans 9-11 is  a clear no!  God is faithful!

Dr. Cottrell writes,

The real focus of these chapters is not upon predestination as such, justification as such, or Israel as such. The focus is rather upon God himself (see Wright, Climax, 235). Specifically, the theme is the faithfulness of God. True, Israel figures heavily in this discussion. In fact, it is God’s dealings with Israel that give rise to the question of his faithfulness. Has God been faithful to his chosen people? Has he kept his promises to them (9:6a)? Has he been fair to them? Because of Israel’s involvement here one could probably say, as does Dunn, that “the true theme of chaps. 9–11 is God and Israel” (2:520). More specifically, though, it is God himself; and more specifically still, his faithfulness. As Piper says (Justification, 19), “What is at stake ultimately in these chapters is not the fate of Israel . . . . Ultimately God’s own trustworthiness is at stake.” Cranfield entitles this section, “The Unbelief of Men and the Faithfulness of God” (2:445).

What, specifically, has raised this issue? Two things: The Jews’ rejection of the gospel, and God’s consequent rejection of the Jews. First, it was a simple historical fact that most of the nation of Israel did not accept Jesus as the expected Messiah; they rejected the gospel of grace. Stott declares that in 9–11 “the dominant theme is Jewish unbelief, together with the problems which it raised” (262). I disagree that it is the dominant theme, but I agree that it helped to raise the problem that does dominate this section.

Second, it was also a fact that God rejected his people (9:3), the nation of Israel as a whole, when they rejected him. That is, he rejected them with respect to salvation. This fact in particular raised the issue of God’s faithfulness. After all, God himself had chosen the Jews and showered them with covenant promises and covenant blessings. Is he now going back on his word? Piper speaks of “the tension between God’s word and the fate of Israel” (Justification, 19). This indeed is a “key tension” (Moo, 548), and it raises what Godet calls “the greatest enigma in history: the rejection of the elect people” (336). “How, at a given point in time, can God reject those whom He has elected?” (337).

So how has God shown Himself faithful to the Jews?  Paul shows us in Romans 9 that God has shown Himself faithful through His divine choosing of the Jews to service and to salvation.  I will cover these in the next post.

Romans 9: The Debate Begins

Romans 9 has been a tipping point for many Calvinists.  I know of two Calvinists who both were once Arminians.  In fact, one was an Arminian evangelist who preached against Calvinism for many years.  Both, however, are now converted Calvinists.  Both speak of becoming a Calvinist as if they are just now born again.  Both speak of God opening their eyes to the doctrines of grace.  One of these men says that he was converted because of the doctrine of total depravity for if mankind is indeed sinful then only God can rescue us in our sins and deadness.  The other was converted after reading and then re-reading Romans 9.  He said that he could not escape from the issue of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation and election in Romans 9.  Like R.C. Sproul before him, he surrendered his head but not his heart but today he too is a full-blown five point Calvinist.  Both men now claim to be Reformed Baptists (and both are charismatics).

Romans 9 is a bed rock chapter for Calvinism.  As I have written before, I know of some Calvinists who read Romans 9 on a regular basis because it gives them strength to see Calvinism in the Bible.  To Calvinists, Romans 9 is a powerful chapter that demonstrates Calvinism.  Yes they will argue that from Genesis to Revelation, election is seen in the Bible but if you ask for specific verses about election, Romans 9 is one of the hallmark texts.

Arminians must answer this challenge.  It is, of course, foolish to suppose that Arminians do not have an exegetical reason for rejecting Calvinism.  I reject Calvinism not because I “hate the sovereignty of God” nor “to exalt free will as my idol” but rather I reject Calvinism because I see it rejected in Scripture.

John Piper sees Romans 9 as teaching God’s unconditional election.  He penned a book entitled, The Justification of God, in which Piper argues that the point of Romans 9:1-23 (he shouldn’t have stopped with verse 23 because his book might not have been penned) is that God is just in His divine choosing in election.  Piper argues that unconditional election of people to salvation is clearly the theme of Romans 9:1-23.  Had Piper completed his exegesis down to Romans 9:30-33 he would have to admit that the point is clearly God’s choosing of national Israel and a remnant of grace that has accepted His gospel by grace.

Ironically, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,

“for anyone to exalt predestination as the main theme in this section is almost to be guilty of blasphemy.”

Dr. Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book on Romans, states that Romans 9-11 has seven major themes attached to it.  This is what makes our job difficult with regard to an exegesis of Romans 9.  These seven themes, according to Cottrell, are:

a) The Nation of Israel. From beginning to end this section is dominated by references to ethnic or physical Israel, the Jews as a nation, those whom Paul calls “my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (9:3-4). Paul makes several points about their role in God’s plan (9:4-5,22-23; 11:11-15,25-32), their historical destiny (11:1,11-15,25-32), and their salvation (9:30–10:3; 10:16-21; 11:7-32).

b) God’s Faithfulness. Another subject introduced near the beginning of this section is the faithfulness of God, specifically, whether God has been faithful to his word concerning his people Israel (9:6a). Has he kept his promises to them? Has he been and is he being fair in his dealings with them? “Is God unjust?” (9:14). See also 9:19; 11:29.

c) The Remnant. Another key subject is the distinction between Israel as a whole and remnant Israel: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6b). Membership in the former is determined by physical birth, but the latter is defined in spiritual terms as determined by God. See 9:23-29; 11:2-7. A key idea is stated in 9:27: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” This is the “remnant chosen by grace” (11:5).

d) God’s Sovereignty in Election. “God’s purpose in election” is another important theme (9:11), especially his sovereignty in making the choices that he does. “For who resists his will?” (9:19). He has the same sort of sovereign authority that a potter has over his clay (9:21). See also 9:15-23; 11:5-10,28-29.

e) The Gentiles. Paul also raises the question of the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles. God’s elect, he says, are drawn “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” (9:24). See 9:24-31. How the two are related dominates chapter 11 (vv. 11-32).

f) Law and Grace. We are not surprised that the main subject in chs. 1–8, law and grace, comes to the surface again in 9:30-31 as the key to the question of why God saves some and rejects others. A major part of ch. 10 (vv. 3-17) is the point that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by law or works of law. See also 11:6,20,23.

g) The Church. A final theme, discussed in 11:17-24, is the church. Though the word “church” itself is not used, this is clearly the point. The specific issue in this section is the relation between the church and Israel.

Romans 9 is not to be lifted up out of the context of the book of Romans.  The key verse for Romans is found in 1:16-17 where Paul writes,

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The righteous shall live by faith.  Paul defends this view throughout the book of Romans by showing that our salvation is by grace through faith.  Paul contrasts salvation by works with salvation by faith in Romans 4.  He shows us that we are justified before God by faith (Romans 5:1).  This salvation produces sanctification by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4).  As we live by the Spirit, the Spirit helps us toward glorification (Romans 8:29-30).  As we abide in Christ through faith, we have the assurance of our salvation and our entire sanctification (Romans 8:37-39).  Paul now turns to the issue of the Jews since he knows that the Jews will argue that they are saved by being a Jew.  This had been an issue even with John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-10) and with the Lord Jesus (John 8:31-47).  The Jews believed themselves to be the special people of God which they were as Paul the Apostle shows in Romans 9:1-5 (though Piper struggles to show that salvation is included in these promises and blessings).  The Jews were indeed the chosen people of God (Genesis 25:22-23; Deuteronomy 7:6) but this does not mean that all the Jews were saved by virtue of being Jewish.  Paul is going to show that God has the right to choose to save the Gentiles just as He saves the believing Jews based on faith (Romans 3:25-31).  Paul will even prove that God has always had a remnant even among the disobedient Jews (Romans 11:1-5).  Paul will argue that it is indeed God’s sovereignty that allows Him to do this but it is not based on the hidden mystery of Calvinistic election but upon the grace of God in salvation that is free to all, both Jews and Gentiles.

Cottrell then makes an excellent case in his commentary on Romans that the main purpose of Romans 9 is the faithfulness of God.  This will be the theme I will take up next, to show that God is faithful to His promises despite the unbelief of many of the Jews.

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