Understanding The Bible
Douglas B. MacCorkle "God's Own VIPs"
CHAPTER ONE - The Summum Bonum of Bible Exposition



Chapter One




The very first thing most people seem to think of when they read Romans 8:28-32 is the Bible doctrine of election. To some of them it speaks of theological fatalism because superficially it seems to consign many people to hell. To others it speaks of theological elitism because they feed their egos on their assumed personal distinctiveness. To still others it speaks of theological fear because they feel unasserted that even as Christians they are in peril from the claims of the passage.


In the expositions of this book we will try to clarify the meaning of the text in its context. In this first chapter we want to look at what we have called the search for the supreme good -- the Summum Bonum -- from three historical positions: (1) The position of the early philosophic world on its selection of their Summum Bonum. (2) The position of the scientific world on its selection process for arriving at the survival of the fittest notion. (3) The position of the Bible on God's election principles and process.


The Greeks Philosophic Selection from among Qualified Values.


The Greeks undoubtedly had the first major think tank in history. It operated in their distinct way. The major search of the Greeks throughout their golden age of philosophy was for the Summum Bonum.


Augustine noted that they defined the Summum Bonum in 288 ways. Generally they applied the term to the goal of the human condition and conduct. It was the thing man ought to desire and which ought to be. Philosophy's big idea man was Plato. Plato's highest idea was of the supreme good. It was also to him a synonym for God. He called it the chief end of man and treated it as the one cause that draws everything to itself. For him the good is the power that preserves and supports in contrast to the evil which spoils and destroys.


It is interesting for us that Plato borrowed freely from Moses. In fact, philosophy was to the Greeks in the 5th-3rd centuries B. C. what the Mosaic Law was to the Jews from the 15th century to Christ.


Later Charmides would ask, "Can that be good which does not make men good?" Here philosophy got as close as human thought can get without divine revelation--right to the brink of a major discovery.


Today, Plato would be able to borrow from the Lord Jesus Christ Who has been made unto us wisdom, 1 Cor 1:30.


Thus is briefly introduced the first line of evidence for the process of selection by unaided mankind--in this case the election by man of the number one value among all values. There echoes in the taught believer's mind the startling words of Christ, Matt 19:17, "Why do you call Me good? There is only One good, that One is God!"

So the first line of evidence shows that unaided humanity thought formally along the lines of selectivity.


The Evolutionists' Process of Natural Selection In Nature.


The second line of evidence for the process of natural selection is usually marked from the mid-nineteenth century. Charles Robert Darwin was born the same day as President Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1809. He died in 1882. He thought he was dealing with the mystery of mysteries.


His most accepted book was Origin of the Species by Natural Selection. He applied his statement of evolutionary theory to mankind in his book Descent of Man. It was a search for the supreme mechanism of change.


He thought it was natural selection that guided all evolution. It turned out to be a "survival of the fittest theory" (so-tabbed by Herbert Spencer), but theorists do not yet know how the selection process really works. In the last analysis, man is attempting to make nature usurp the role of sovereign and creator for many millions of people. All of this has for 170 years embodied the Summum Bonum of the natural sciences.


Unfortunately strange theologians and popular speakers have applied the alleged evolutionary principles to the field of morals and ethical studies--as allowed for in Descent of Man.


The Principle of Divine Election,


In our divinely appointed grace-age the real Summum Bonum has caringly reached out to all mankind. It was set up to do this most effectively through exposition of the Word of God--the Bible. Such exposition was intended to explain the one objective GOOD (i. e. intrinsic goodness), our Lord Jesus Christ personally, and the things He works together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (recognize Rom 8:28?). Mystery of mysteries, it is a matter of the sovereign selection process of deity.


You should note that there are only three major methods, operating among men, of searching out the sources of things this late in history. The three are philosophy, science, and revelation. We have briefly introduced the first two. More will be said about the third below.


Three Great Men of Exposition.


In my lifetime, I was benefited when sitting under the expository preaching ministry of the honorees of this memorial conference at Philadelphia College of Bible. These distinguished expositors were: Drs. William Alien Dean, Ralph H. Stoll, and Frank C. Torrey all 1921 graduates of the College. They ministered very productively in Alden, Altoona, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, respectively. They were world-class expositors, defenders, and exemplars of the faith. In addition you might say they exercise a kind of spiritual climate control over Philadelphia College of Bible. They highlight a major part of its basic reason for existence and provide the torch we all can devoutly carry to the glory of our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Dean went right from PCB to Alden with the Word of God, planted a church, erected a tremendous superstructure of believers, and trained his people through exposition, reaching all ages.


Stoll was treated as the Dean of Altoona pastors and for years led them in intercessory prayer, expository preaching, and evangelical separation.


Torrey began in a Lancaster tent, was powerful in outreach, emphatic on world-wide missions, and distinctive in the application of the expounded Word. [1]


I am certain the founders of this series bore in mind that expository preaching and teaching is as essential today as it was when God through Paul ordered Timothy to preach the Word (i. e. the message).


I want to add my word of encouragement to that of the past. For each one of you, because you are born from above, will have the high privilege of explaining the Word of God to many over your lifetime.


Why Expository Preaching?

In my college homiletics class the professor claimed the absolute necessity for him to have a center aisle whenever he preached. If he had no pew leg to glue his eyes to he could not remember his sermon lines. It was even worse when he said, "If you cannot preach topically or textually, try expository preaching--where you can wander around mentally at will." His thought was, that you can when persecuted flee to the next city. No wonder he soon departed from a very brief ministry.


This is just one vivid example of those who insist in taking God on. Many appear to be ashamed to share in the "folly" expressed in 1 Cor 1:21, "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not get to know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." This refers to what appears unintelligible to human reason and contrary to all human logic--a foolish act. God's foolish act is still the preaching of the Cross along with God's explanation of it.


Isn't it notable that it was to intellectual Greece's Corinth where keen philosophic culture prevailed, that God emphasized that He was going to reach the world with preaching that explained the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Such a statement encompasses the real Summum Bonum.


How We Will Share in God's Own Vital Exposition


For the remainder of this presentation we will share in a most important portion of Scripture. First, we will listen to and check my translation of Romans 8:28-32. Second, we will go on to share in an orderly explanatory commentary on it. In our studies we will examine the passage in an exegetical manner.

28 So we know that He constantly works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called in accord with His 29 purpose. Because He predestined the ones whom He chose to be conformed to the likeness of His Son so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers,30 So God called those whom He had predestined, and also declared righteous those whom He called. Then He glorified those whom He had declared righteous. 31 What then will we respond to these things? Since God is on our side, who can stand against us? 32 He Who did not spare even His own Son but handed Him over for the benefit of all of us -- He will most certainly with Him freely give us all these things.

It will be helpful to outline the chapter context in which our passage is nested. If we follow the briefly-stated progression within the chapter it will enable us to see where the control is centered in Romans 8:

The first point to be made for v 28 is that the compound verb works together lacks a stated subject in v 28. This makes it necessary to move up to vv 26-27 in the context to identify the Holy Spirit as the antecedent and therefore the subject Who works all things together for the good of a special group of people.


The second point is that the verb of which He, the Holy Spirit, is the subject is in the present tense. This indicates a mainline work that is an intimate habit with Him. It is a work that requires deity and nothing less. His very name Spirit suggests the enthusiasm He puts into His effort.


The third point is that verse 28 must not be mishandled, as is often done. We cannot separate the three parts from one another. All things do not work together for good. All things do not work together for good to those who love God. The entire trio of parts must be taken as an integrated unit. Otherwise we cannot know that the Spirit works all things together for good.

Along the same line, we must not look outside the text for the things that the Spirit works together for our good. The five things listed in vv 29-30 are the ones to look at. This kind of exposition is distinctly paralleled in Ephesians 1:3-14. There, verse 3 is the key to the Greek paragraph. The every blessing believers have been blessed with is spelled out in vv 4-14.

The fourth point is that the verses 28-32 form a complete paragraph of thought. We may or may not yet have been taught that a sentence is not a complete unit of thought without its paragraph. This will make the term things stand out in the paragraph as being five in number: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification.

Yes, we are deep in divine secrets of election or selection - not amid some natural processes of either philosophic reasoning or scientific naturalism. So we will look on the doctrine of election as that which makes us God's Own VIPS.

The fifth point is that the questions of vv 31-32 confirm the importance of the five terms with which the Holy Spirit operates. They are factors and forces waiting to be put together by Him in our yielded lives. It is these He works together for our good. What answer or response will we give to these proffered things which the Spirit of God works so hard to bring together daily as forces to bear on our lives?

Again, since God is showing Himself to be working on our behalf, who can successfully stand against the believer? Lastly, how will God not give us all things since He has already given His own greatest gift--His Son. The latter is certainly an ultimate declaration that He spared nothing to make this all functionally ours. Listen hard to this positive side of divine election -- listen as hard as the unbelieving world listens to Darwin's process of natural selection.

The sixth point is the idea of our good as regenerate believers. Earlier we were confronted with the natural man's fabricated secrets of the natural selections of the supreme or highest good and goods.

Verse 32 tells the whole story of the real Summum Bonum in a nutshell. It has two inseparable parts: (1) God spared not His own Son -- He is the objective Summum Bonum. (2) God will also freely give us all these things -- these are the goods for those who are saved in Christ. We must not miss the import of the with Him because the good things and the Good One are made one by Him.


We have just peered into the five factors that operate under the subject of election. We would add two other important observations to our study: (1) Each of these elements falls into the category of positional truth to which experiential truth must catch up. That is, at the moment of personal salvation these five factors were set up or structured for operation. (2) Each of these five elements stands written in the Greek aorist tense and are here translated by our English past tense. [2]

There are many other related points to be made in the chapters that follow. I want now to turn our attention to this practical doctrine because it does produce practical value for all believers. To encourage, on your part, a more dimensional interest in the doctrine of election let us turn to Peter's testimony in 2 Peter 1:10-11.

10 Wherefore the rather brothers, give diligence to make your calling and election: two factors out of which you get great assurance; for if you practice these things you will never stumble. 11 For in this manner an entrance will be ministered to you out of abundance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Getting things out of our creed into our daily walk is one of the besetting problems for believers in our day. We have a compounded problem: (l) Some teachers promote application of Scripture texts without adequately explaining what is to be applied. (2) Some promote straight creedal statements without ever letting them loose in daily experience. It ought to be obvious that application must be promoted as working together with interpretation. Beyond this is the need to look carefully to the end of the remark in 2 Peter 1:11. The manner in which we get assurance into our daily experiences determines the manner of our entrance into the eternal kingdom.

Selected Background Remarks on Election

Election is no minor enterprise and must not be treated lightly. The components of election work. They are worked together for our Summum Bonum. It is a fail-proof plan when seen in the light of 1 Peter 1:1-2:

01 Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect pilgrims sown throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 chosen ones according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying of the Spirit, with a view to obedience to Jesus Christ and the application of His blood. Grace to you all and peace be multiplied.

Election, biblically conceived, covers the work of each member of the Trinity. Election does not open the door on license, looseness, or laxity.

It is not as a church leader expressed it to me one day. I had just completed an exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians at Camp of the Woods, New York. I had emphasized what the book taught about liberation from the bonds of this age, from the flesh, and from the Law of Moses. But I had spent equal time on the liberation into family status with God, into the productive freedom of the Spirit, and into the separating power of the cross of Christ. The gentleman was strolling, after dinner and conversing with me. "Isn't it wonderful that, as you said this morning, once we accept Christ as Savior we can do anything we want." When my wife and I got back to our room I asked, "Did I really make such an outlandish statement as that?" "Emphatically no," she said, "You stated just the opposite and that very plainly and powerfully."

I also sadly remember the bull sessions on Calvinism while at college. It is alright to have bull sessions as long as Romans 8:28-32 is not treated as bull--which it often is.

For what it is worth, my advice to each one is "Follow the text in its context before you start to rationalize, philosophize, psychologize, or theologize. Christ does have precedence over Calvin. Calvin can be corrected, sharpened, and modified by Scripture. Christ never!



 [1] As a former president of the College I was graciously invited by President W. Sherrill Babb to deliver a series of expositions at the Dean, Stoll, Torrey Memorial Conference in the College chapel in March of 1987. The first 6 chapters of this book give the substance of that series which was on the subject of The Summum Bonum of Expository Preaching. Had time allowed the last two chapters would have preceded the first 6 to round out the subject.


[2] Please do not confuse the points being made in this chapter with any of the formal discussions being made today on "The Five Points of Calvinism." It is just not in our purview at this time, although the writer can be called a Calvinist, modified by the Bible.

  [1] The Writings of Douglas B. MacCorkle (also see brief Biography)

Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Copyright 1968 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. Third Printing 1972. Printed by Careers With Christ Press, Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

God's Own VIPS, Copyright 1987 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc., Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

Dr. MacCorkle's Books and Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them.  No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without express permission.

Additional copies of Dr. MacCorkle's books are available from Judy Naugle, 2201 Harmony Hill Dr, Lancaster PA  17601.