Posts Tagged ‘free will

31
Dec
16

Can Sinners Called by Grace Resist If They Want To?

We read in Mark 3:13, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” It should be clear to anyone who reads this text that coming to Jesus is an act that results from Jesus’ desire and not from theirs and that such a call is effectual in its nature. He called and they came.

Often, our non-Calvinists friends like to amuse themselves by asking whether sinners who are called by God’s grace are able to resist that call if they want to and remain in their sins. This is their banal and misguided attempt to derail the Calvinistic doctrine that has regrettably been called “Irresistible grace.”It seems the burden of their question is whether sinners are forced to act like preprogrammed robots who are unable to choose what we desire.

In reality, they are asking the wrong question. The issue is not whether sinners could resist grace if they wanted to; the issue is whether any sinner to whom God has manifested his glory [the sum of his glorious attributes] in the face of Jesus Christ, would desire to resist him. Those whose stony hearts have been made pliable by God’s grace are not forced against their wills to become followers of Christ. Instead, in effectual grace, God has graciously removed the sinner’s persistent and pervasive disposition to resist his offers of mercy in Christ. The issue is that those whom God calls no longer want to resist him.

12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

14
Feb
15

I AM THE TRUE VINE

Continue reading ‘I AM THE TRUE VINE’

20
Oct
14

Arminianism, Calvinism, and Hyper-Calvinism

What do Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists Have in Common?

Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists have a great deal in common, in that they both make the same blunders contrary to the plain teaching of the Scriptures. I am thinking of at least two links between them:

  1. Both believe responsibility and ability are inseparably linked, and
  1. Both emphasize one set of Scriptures to the total exclusion of another set of Scriptures and then base their philosophical [not theological or biblical] conclusions on that set of verses.

Consider the first set of beliefs Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists share; the belief that responsibility and ability are inseparably linked. They, of course, arrive at different conclusions because of their application of this belief and their exclusive focus on different biblical texts.

The Arminian focuses on those texts in which sinners are called on to choose one course of action or another and in which they are being held responsible for their choices. Based on his presupposition that responsibility implies ability, he concludes that sinners must have the ability to choose correctly. If there is responsibility, there must be ability.

The Hyper-Calvinist focuses on those texts that talk about the sinner’s inability to respond properly to the call of the gospel that results from his sinful rebellion against God and concludes that God could not hold sinners responsible for their unbelief. If there is no ability, there is no responsibility.

They arrive at different conclusions based on the same faulty presupposition but focused on a completely different group of texts.

The same is true with respect to those texts that express alternately God’s immutable decree to save his elect people and his genuine compassion for sinners as sinners and his expressed desire that they come to repentance. The Arminian focuses almost exclusively on those texts that speak of God’s desire to save sinners. The Hyper-Calvinist focuses exclusively on those texts that speak of God’s unshakeable decree.

 God’s “Will” Understood in Two Different Senses

It should be a matter that is beyond dispute that God has not decreed everything he has desired or declared should happen. There is no need for me to try to reinvent the wheel. Others have written on this subject much more artfully than I ever could. I would direct your attention to an excellent article by John Piper. It is titled “Are there two wills in God.” You can find it at www.desiringgod.org.

Charnock  also wrote concerning these two wills,

God doth not will [sin] directly, and by an efficacious will. He doth not directly will it, because he hath prohibited it by his law, which is a discovery of his will; so that if he should directly will sin, and directly prohibit it, he would will good and evil in the same manner, and there would be contradictions in God’s will: to will sin absolutely, is to work it (Psalm 115:3): “God hath done whatsoever he pleased.” God cannot absolutely will it, because he cannot work it. God wills good by a positive decree, because he hath decreed to effect it. He wills evil by a private decree, because he hath decreed not to give that grace which would certainly prevent it. God doth not will sin simply, for that were to approve it, but he wills it, in order to that good his wisdom will bring forth from it. He wills not sin for itself, but for the event.

The following is a rather lengthy quotation from Piper’s article:

This seems right to me, and it can be illustrated again by reflecting directly on 1 Timothy 2:4 where Paul says that God wills all persons to be saved. What are we to say of the fact that God wills something that in fact does not happen. There are two possibilities as far as I can see. One is that there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian affirms this.

The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. This is the solution that I as a Calvinist affirm along with Arminians. In other words both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvinist and Arminian answer that God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.

The difference between Calvinists and Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is. What does God will more than saving all? The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).

This is utterly crucial to see, for what it implies is that 1 Timothy 2:4 does not settle the momentous issue of God’s higher commitment which restrains him from saving all. There is no mention here of free will. Nor is there mention of sovereign, prevenient, efficacious grace. If all we had was this text we could only guess what restrains God from saving all. When free will is found in this verse it is a philosophical, metaphysical assumption not an exegetical conclusion. The assumption is that if God wills in one sense for all to be saved, then he cannot in another sense will that only some be saved. That assumption is not in the text, nor is it demanded by logic, nor is it taught in the rest of Scripture. Therefore 1 Timothy 2:4 does not settle the issue; it creates it. Both Arminians and Calvinists must look elsewhere to answer whether the gift of human self-determination or the glory of divine sovereignty is the reality that restrains God’s will to save all people (Emphasis mine).

The same can be said for all those texts that speak of God’s desire for the salvation of sinners. Those texts argue neither for the autonomy of the human will nor the sovereignty of divine grace since neither is the concern of those texts. We must look elsewhere for the answers to those issues.

Prevenient Grace-Bible Truth or Philosophical Assumption?

If one rejects those texts that teach God’s sovereign control over his universe according to his decreed will and is left only with those texts that speak of God’s sincere compassion and desire for the salvation of sinners, he is left with only two choices. One of these, as Piper has stated, neither the Calvinist nor the Arminian affirms, “that there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills.” The other choice for him must be that God has determined to leave the sinner to the inviolability of the human will. Since he finds in Scripture ample evidence that sinners are born in a state of total depravity, he must posit that God has granted to every sinner the ability to choose one way or another.  He must argue that God has given all sinners prevenient grace enabling them to “choose Christ.” When pressed for biblical texts that actually teach this concept, they will retreat to those verses that state what the Calvinist believes as strongly as they do.

Alternately, they will bring up examples of people like Cornelius, the Eunuch of Ethiopia and Lydia who seemed to have some affinity for God and the gospel prior to actually coming to faith. They might also appeal to the rich young ruler who expressed a desire for eternal life, but who went away sorrowful because he loved his riches too much.

The assumption is that these people who believed the gospel, were baptized by the Spirit, and received the Word that was taught were recipients of prevenient grace and exercised their free wills to become believers.  Another assumption is that these people were as yet unregenerate unbelievers prior to the events recorded for us in the book of Acts. Who can say all of them were not proselyte Jews who had come to faith prior to the establishment of the new covenant?  Does prevenient grace grant access to unbelievers into God’s presence apart from the work of Christ and faith in him? One gets the impression that God accepted Cornelius’ prayers and alms.  Are we to believe that God accepts and approves the prayers of unbelievers apart from Christ? I believe the Scriptures clearly teach that he will not do so.  If that assumption is correct, Cornelius must have had more than an ineffectual “prevenient grace” that enabled him to exercise his free will and make a proper choice.

The issue in Acts 10 was not the personal conversion of Cornelius to Christ.  The issue was God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the gospel chruch  as Gentiles and not as proselyte Jews.

In addition to all of this, all the people in these examples either were believers at the time or became believers.  I suspect no Calvinist would deny that God grants pre-conversion grace to his elect. The question is where is an example of a person who has received pre-conversion grace so that he is clearly as inclined to receive Christ as he is to reject him and who finally rejects him?

Some have appealed to the example of the rich young ruler to show that a person can be given prevenient grace and yet perish in sin. Here was a young man who actually enquired about obtaining eternal life but having learned about God’s terms, went away sorrowful and unbelieving.  Certainly this proves a person can have a desire to know and love God and yet perish in his sins. In reality, it proves nothing relative to prevenient grace and free will. There are several reasons I would reject this example as any kind of evidence of prevenient grace that fell short of true conversion:

  1. We do not know if he became a believer later or not. All we know is that Jesus dealt faithfully with him so that he went away having come to understand the issues.
  2. Nothing in the text tells us he desired salvation on God’s terms. The text tells us he wanted to know how to obtain eternal life, but who doesn’t want eternal life if he can have it on his own terms?
  3. The text gives us no indication that he was as inclined to receive salvation on God’s terms as he was to reject it.

There are too many unknown factors in these examples for anyone to use them as the basis of any system of doctrine.  Still, one fact is certain. These texts teach nothing about “free will” or “prevenient grace.” As in the case of those verses that speak of God’s sincere desire to receive repenting sinners, these examples tell us nothing about whether faith was the result of free will or free grace. We must look elsewhere for the answers to those issues.

Faulty Philosophical Assumptions with No Biblical Foundation

Assumption one: The Power of Autonomous Self Determination

I have found it is usually futile to try to have an intelligent and meaningful discussion with an Arminian. The reason it is so frustrating is they tend to assume their unfounded presuppositions are actually stated in the Scriptures. Yet, their assumptions are philosophical and not drawn from biblical texts at all. For example, they insist that God, in his sovereignty, has determined that he will not violate the sinner’s free will, but where is such an idea stated in the Bible? If all they meant by “free will” is that people choose what they wish apart from external constraint, I would certainly agree that people have free will.

Calvin wrote,

In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, (a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin.

But, their idea of free will goes beyond a person’s ability to choose freely and intelligently what he or she wishes. It means sinners are equally as able to choose righteousness as they are to choose sin. They are equally as able to choose to believe in Christ as they are to reject him.  Not only do the Scriptures not teach such an idea, they teach precisely the opposite.

Assumption Two: A Divinely Caused Choice is Not A Valid Choice

In their view, if God enabled or caused a person to believe [They like the term “to choose.”] such a faith would not be genuine. When asked if obedience would be genuine if God caused it, they simply decline to answer. In Ezekiel 36:27, God plainly promises that he will “cause people to walk in his statutes and obey his laws.” That certainly implies they would not do so otherwise and that God’s work it the enabling cause of their work. If these people were left to their own wills, unchanged by divine intervention, their choices would continue to be determined by their hearts of stone. There is not slightest hint that obedience resulting from the divine activity described in verses 25-26 of this chapter would be anything less than genuine, heart-felt obedience.

Now, if the obedience God causes people to render to his laws is true obedience, why would anyone assume that if God caused obedience to the gospel it would be anything other than genuine faith?

Assumption Three: Grace Must be Resistible to be True Grace

For some reason, these people seem to be hung up on the term “irresistible grace.” It seems they imagine that Calvinists believe God takes sinners by the hair and drags them forcibly into the kingdom against their loud protestations. This, of course, is not the Calvinistic doctrine at all.  J.I. Packer was on target when he wrote, “Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist.”

The apostle Paul describes the sinner in an unregenerate state as being without the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (see-2 Cor. 4:4). In doing so, he would have his readers to understand that salvation is to be understood as seeing Christ’s glory. It is in gazing on his glory that we are transformed gradually into his likeness. Just as it was in God’s original act of creation, so it is in his act of regeneration. When God commanded the light to shine out of darkness (“and God said, ‘let there be light.’”), there was light. The apostle would have us to understand God’s act of regeneration as an act of creation. God speaks and there is light.  It should not escape our notice that he does not describe faith as a “decision” or a “choice.” I am not suggesting that in faith and repentance the sinner does not make a conscious decision to leave his idols and serve the living God. Clearly, such a response is the result of regeneration. My point is that Paul’s focus is not on the sinner’s decision or choice but on God’s regenerating activity. He does not say God has commanded the light to shine into our hearts so that we are enabled to decide whether we want to see or not. The issue is that God has commanded light to shine into our hearts and has thus thwarted Satan’s design to conceal Christ’s glory from us. The obvious question one should ask is “Who that has received the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ would wish to resist him?”

Jesus described eternal life in terms of the knowledge of God.  He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). The question is how such knowledge is received. Does God give this knowledge to all by prevenient grace and leave them to them to the power of “free will”? If that were the case, why are there any that are described as not knowing God? (1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). It is not that they know him and simply have to decide if they are going to become believers or not. In reality, such knowledge is a matter of God making himself known to us. Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

Assumption Four: The Effects of Depravity Have Been Cancelled

I recently had an online conversation with an Arminian who contended that in prevenient grace God has removed the effects of total depravity [I am not suggesting that all Arminians would be so bold as to make such an assertion]. I am still waiting for him to answer what, in his view, those effects are and why the Scriptures continue to describe unbelievers as hostile rebels against God. If the effects of total depravity have been universally removed, why do those effects remain?  Paul described unbelieving Gentiles as follows:

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4: 18-19).  Notice Paul does not attribute “the ignorance that is in them” to the failure of Christians to bring them the message. Instead, he tells us their ignorance is due to the “hardness of their hearts.” Surely, this hardness of heart must be one of the effects of total depravity. Additionally, if the God removes all the effects of total depravity by granting prevenient grace, why is regeneration necessary?  All of the above are philosophical assumptions that have no biblical foundation. These assumptions are necessary to the system of those who deny God’s will of decree and either deny or ignore the biblical texts that that teach that God governs according to that decree.

Our duty is to believe the Bible in its entirety even though we find ourselves at a loss to understand the intricacies of the divine mind. A while ago I heard about a leader among the Southern Baptists who was questioned as to why the pastors under his leadership did not preach about God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners. His answer was telling and disturbing.  He did not say, “They do not teach it because they do not find it in the Scriptures.” Instead he answered, “They do not preach it because our people don’t like it very much.” Such are false shepherds and blind guides who have no business standing in a pulpit. Biblical statements regarding God’s sovereign control over all things are abundant and unequivocal. Failure to acknowledge these texts can only result from biblical ignorance, ministerial malpractice or both. I am reminded of the text in Jeremiah’s prophecy that reads,“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and  My people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30-31). On the other side of the coin, if we feel we cannot freely offer Christ to any sinner, not as an elect sinner or a sinner for whom Jesus died in particular but as a guilty sinner who is in need of God’s forgiveness, we have slipped into Hyper-Calvinism. True Calvinists affirm both God’s sovereign decree to secure the salvation of his chosen people and his published desire that sinners turn from the evil of their ways and live.  What we do not believe is that his desire to save sinners is an ineffectual wish that sinners by their libertarian free will, will somehow make the right decision. One of my favorite hymns is an invitation to sinners to come to Christ. It begins,

 “Come ye sinners poor and wretched,

Weak and wounded sick and sore.

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, joined with power.

He is able, he is willing, doubt no more.

I have often though it expressed the proper biblical balance between Arminianism on the one hand and Calvinism on the other. The Arminian proclaims a Savior who is full of pity but one who, if he has the power to save, would never exert that power lest he violate the sinner’s autonomy.  The Hyper-Calvinist proclaims a Savior who has copious power to save but precious little compassion and pity for sinners. The Calvinists proclaims a Savior who is “full of pity” that is  “joined with power.”  He is both able and willing to save. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

19
Sep
14

A Deterministic God

From time to time, people who believe in the almighty “free will” of the fallen sinner have accused me of believing in a “deterministic God.” I want to go on record here and confess that I indeed hold to such a belief. By that I do not mean that God causes and is responsible for all my actions. God is not the great puppeteer, and I am not a sock puppet. He does not need to cause me to sin since I continue to do such a good job of sinning by myself, but in his infinite wisdom he has taken even my rebellion into account and governs it so that it will ultimately bring glory to him and eternal and spiritual good to me. I am not arguing for philosophical determinism. That is not a view with which I would agree. The view I would argue for is in line with Chapter Three # 1 of The Westminster Confessionof Faith,

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

The wise man wrote in Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” This verse does not mean God causes all the evil machinations of the king. Like water, the evil designs of wicked men seek their own level. The wicked act freely, deliberately and culpably in perpetrating their evil designs, but not one of their acts falls outside God’s control. Surely Nebuchadnezzar was right when, having had his reason restored to him, he spoke these words,

Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done” (Dan. 4:34-35)?

In the following chapter, Daniel reminds Belshazzar, whose knees were knocking together because he had seen the handwriting on the wall, of what had happened to his father, Nebuchadnezzar, because of the arrogance of his heart. He does not tell him that his father had simply lost his throne and his reason while God looked on passively. God dethroned him and left him in a miserable state until he was sufficiently humbled. In Daniel’s words,

. . . until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored (Dan. 5:21-23).

After Joseph’s brothers had perpetrated their wickedness in faking his death and selling him into Egyptian slavery, God, in his sovereign providence, raised him to a place of prominence and power in the Egyptian government. The day came when they stood before him begging for food. They feared that he would hate them and seek revenge. Instead, we read these words,

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:19-20). He did not say God merely permitted your evil actions, but “God meant it [the evil you intended to do to me]” for good.

You intended evil and you are guilty. God will judge you for your intentions and your actions, but he intended and is bringing to pass something different from what you had in mind. Hear Job’s words. After having experienced what was perhaps the worst day of his life, looking past all the second causes such as Satan, the Sabeans, the fire, the Chaldeans, and the great wind, he said, “‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:21-22). Though God employed second causes to accomplish his will for his servant, it was he who was the prime mover. Job acknowledges that God was the giver of all these blessings and that he had the right to take them away. It should be clear, even to a casual observer, that these men believed God was no passive observer who occasionally intervenes to change the course of history. Jesus said, “not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father” (see Matt. 10:29). God’s providence extends to the minutest details. In Romans 9:20-24, Paul has described God as the sovereign potter who has the right to dispose of his creatures as he will. Just as the potter has the right to make of a lump of clay anything he wishes, so God has the right to do with us as he wills. In Romans 11:36 Paul writes, “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” These passages are only a small sampling of those we could have cited to show that “the LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalms 103:19). CREEDAL STATEMENTS Though creedal statements are not authoritative, it might be helpful to read what some who have gone before us have written on this subject. Belgic Confession-Article 13

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly. We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits. This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground20 without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will. For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.

Philadelphia Confession of Faith Chapter 3 Of God’s Decree

1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken way, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. (Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5) 2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Chapter 5–of God’s Providence

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. (Heb. 1:3; Job 38:11; Isa. 46:10, 11; Ps. 135:6; Matt. 10:29-31; Eph. 1;11) 2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Acts 2:23; Prov. 16:33; Gen. 8:22) 3. God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. (Acts 27:31, 44; Isa. 55:10, 11; Hosea 1:7; Rom. 4:19-21; Dan. 3:27) 4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

London Baptist Confession 1644 III. That God hath decreed in himself from everlasting touching all things, effectually to work and dispose them according to the counsel of his own will, to the glory of his Name; in which decree appeareth his wisdom, constancy, truth, and faithfulness; Wisdom is that whereby he contrives all things; Constancy is that whereby the decree of God remains always immutable; Truth is that whereby he declares that alone which he hath decreed, and though his sayings may seem to sound sometimes another thing, yet the sense of them doth always agree with the decree; Faithfulness is that whereby he effects that he hath decreed, as he hath decreed. And touching his creature man, God had in Christ before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, foreordained some men to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of his grace, leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his Justice. God’s Sovereignty or Human Autonomy God’s sovereignty and human free agency are not incompatible. There is no dispute about the fact that people are able to freely choose what they wish. The issue of free will is another matter. I recently heard a well-known Pastor say, “Most of the time when people talk about free will, what they really mean is human autonomy.” I believe he was right. To deny the doctrine of God’s sovereign control over all his creatures in favor of human automomy is not only a serious theological error but an act of arrogant treason against the king. A.W. Pink wrote,

. . .there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on this throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, His creatures gnash their teeth, . . .for God on His throne is not the God they love (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 33).

James wrote,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13-17).

The attitude James describes here is an arrogant insistence on human autonomy. It describes intentions that are honorable in themselves. Hard work with a profit motive is not a bad thing. The problem is a failure to acknowledge that whether we live or die, succeed or fail is dependent on God’s will, not ours. “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7). We cannot even guarantee that we will live until tomorrow, much less continue a year. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live.” Our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes. If memory serves, it was Matthew Henry who wrote, “Man proposes; God disposes.” There is nothing wrong with making plans, but we must be ever aware that our plans are subject to God’s plan. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall. . .do this or that.” James tells us that failure to acknowledge God’s sovereign control in all things is arrogant boasting and all such boasting is evil. If we know to thus acknowledge him as the sovereign potter but do not do it, for us it is sin. As I have read these verses in James about this arrogant denial of God’s control over all things, it has brought to mind the famous poem by Wm. Henley titled “Invictus (Unconquerable).” Perhaps motivated by his bitterness over having lost a leg due to tuberculosis, he wrote the following,

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Early in the 20th century, a little known poet named Dorothea Day, wrote a poem titled, “Conquered.” This is the confession that should be echoed by every child of God.

Out of the light that dazzles me,

Bright as the sun from pole to pole,

I thank the God I know to be,

For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,

I would not wince nor cry aloud.

Under the rule which men call chance,

My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears,

That Life with Him and His the Aid,

That, spite the menace of the years, Keeps, and will keep me unafraid.

I have no fear though straight the gate:

He cleared from punishment the scroll.

Christ is the Master of my fate!

Christ is the Captain of my soul!

08
Sep
14

Where Have All The Thinkers Gone?

I have known a few Southern Baptist pastors who have had their heads screwed on properly in regard to sound theology. Thanks to the efforts of Ernie Reisinger, Tom Ascol et.al. their tribe is increasing. Still, there are those in the SBC who call themselves “traditionalists” who imagine they have found a middle road between Calvinism and Arminianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Pelagianism.

According to their own statement, if they are not actually Pelagians, they would at least fall on the Pelagian side of Arminianism. Even the original Arminians did not believe sinners are born with a “free will.” They agreed with the Calvinists that sinners are born in a state of total depravity. They did believe God gives prevenient grace to all without exception, enabling all to accept Christ or reject him. I have yet to hear anyone venture a guess as to when God grants this supposed ability. There are a number of mysteries that surround this teaching that no one seems to wish to address. I would like to pose several questions that need to be answered before the discussion between Calvinists and Traditionals (hereafter referred to as TSB’s) can progress to a meaningful conclusion. The following are a few of them:

1. How do TSB’s define “free will?” Do they merely mean that sinners act freely in making their choices, or to they mean a person is able to choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is thoroughly averse? Do they mean a person’s nature has no bearing on his choices? If a will is to be truly free, it cannot be affected by anything, even nature.

2. If “prevenient [preceding] grace” cancels the effects of inherited depravity, does it essentially place the sinner in a state of neutrality? If so, are the recipient’s desire’s equally balanced between an affinity toward sin and hostility toward God and an affinity toward righteousness and love toward God? If so, what tips the balance? How can one ever make a decisive choice if his desires are absolutely contradictory but equally balanced?

3. In receiving this divine favor, has the sinner already received all the enabling God intends to give him? If he is left in such a state, could his condition be described as anything other than a dissociative disorder?

4. These people believe “Fallen man inherits a sinful nature.” This is part of the “O” in their acrostic “POINSETTIA.” When does that nature cease to be sinful and begin to be neutral? At what point is “free will” granted to the sinner? If it is granted at birth, why do biblical writers describe the unregenerate as rebels against God? If it is granted when a person hears the gospel, how can it be universal since all do not hear the gospel?

5. If God is not totally without control in his universe, could he not have caused that all would hear the gospel? In Acts 16:6-10, we learn that Paul and his companions tried to go into Bithynia to preach the gospel, but the Spirit did not allow them to go, sending them to Macedonia instead. Given the assumptions of the TBS’s, one would have to assume a God of love would see to it that every creature under heaven would hear the gospel? If he could have assured a universal proclamation of the gospel and didn’t, is he not being unfair? I speak as a fool.

6. If a sinner has the ability to love God, choose to obey his commandments, believe the gospel etc., why does he need to be regenerated at all?

The TSB’s have made a list of statements they with which they seem to assume Calvinists would disagree. Indeed, we would disagree with many of them, but much of their propensity to get their panties in a wad is based on their misunderstanding or misrepresentation of our beliefs.

Such people as Norman Geisler should be intelligent enough and careful enough to avoid the making brain dead statements. Yet, much of what he and others say in regard to this controversy has little to do with the real issues. He states that Jesus died for all sinners. Does he mean Jesus death is of sufficient value to save any and all who will believe? Does he mean we are warranted to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for sinners to every sinner with which we come in contact? Does he mean it was God’s intention in sending his Son to save sinners who had already perished in unbelief before Jesus died? He should be informed well enough to understand that the issue in the controversy over the atonement is not whether any sinner who believed would be saved by Christ’s death. It is whether Jesus’ death was effective in redeeming all God had intended to save.

The truth is that his problem is not with limited atonement, but with the sovereignty of God in salvation. The issue is whether salvation is all of God and all of grace or a cooperative effort between God and the sinner.

All he says is a misrepresentation of our beliefs. For him to claim Calvinists do not believe in the eternal security of the believer betrays one of two things about him. Either his scholarship is not to be trusted since he clearly has not investigated our beliefs adequately, or after having investigated our views, he has deliberately misrepresented what we believe.

Of course, we believe in the eternal security of the true believer in Christ. What we do not believe is the eternal security of everyone who has made a profession of faith. We believe “once saved, always saved,” but one must be once saved to be always saved.

I challenge some of these people to engage in a discussion of these issues. Please attempt an answer to some of these questions? Learn the real issues, and then confront them. Don’t spend your time burning straw men.

30
Aug
13

The Sovereignty of “Free Will”

I recently visited another blog that seems to be dedicated to bashing Calvinists and what these people perceive to be “spiritual abuse.” Please understand I am not suggesting that abuse does not occur in churches,even in Calvinistic churches, or that such abuse should not be addressed and remedied. I would suggest that the way to deal with the problem is not to deny truth, but to examine the ways in which truth is being applied improperly.

The young lady to whose blog I am referring and those who comment there, by and large, do not understand this method of problem solving. Their ultimate M.O. is to deny the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, then to elevate “free will” to a position of sovereignty. By “free will,” they seem to mean [It is virtually impossible to get any of them to define “free will.”] not merely that people act freely and voluntarily, but that sinners are autonomous. They reject any God who impinges on man’s autonomy.

The owner of the blog recently posted an article explaining why she would have trouble believing in and loving John Calvin’s God. The following is a portion of that post. It concerns two young ladies who were abused as children and their commiseration over that abuse. The premise of the post was that a person who has been abused by an earthly father has greater difficulty trusting God than a person who had the privilege of being nourished by a loving father. It is not my purpose here to talk about the degree to which our life experiences will affect our trust level. Instead, my purpose is to declare that human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist. If one insists that the human will is deterministic and autonomous, then one must be an atheist. Human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist.

She wrote:

Please imagine being in the shoes of someone abused. Imagine the picture of a God who chooses whom He elects – there is no rhyme or reason. The dad who raised me chose which children he liked. He didn’t choose me. He said in words that he loved me. He showed me off as his trophy prize when I played the piano well for company. But when the company left, I could have been beaten for a “wrong look.” It sure sounds like my father was playing favorites to me. Did God also choose to let me get abused and not my siblings?

I’m sorry, I cannot allow my brain to go back to that. That is hell – – – every day coming home from school wondering if this would be the day that he’d explode. What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.

Do you sense both the physical and heavenly father chaos I have experienced? It’s hell. Do you see why hell might seem preferable than heaven – – if I have to acknowledge that this God, the One who sent Jesus to die for me, actually chose for me to be abandoned, rejected, and beaten by both of my earthly fathers? I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?

Finally, Oasis’ words articulated so powerfully what I have felt. She speaks so well for me here:

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me believe that God loves me, if he was the man behind the curtain the entire time. I have cried so many tears over the concept. If any part of him, on any level, wanted those abusers to destroy me in the way they did, then I conclude that GOD DOES NOT LOVE ME. And if this is true, then my sorrow will never end, because my God is no more.

Please understand I do not in any way wish to depreciate the pain these young ladies have felt or the psychological scars that have been left by the abuse they have suffered. I am simply asserting that the answer is not to deny plainly revealed biblical truth. In reality, my problem is probably not so much with these young ladies’ blasphemous comments as with others who see nothing wrong with what they have written and in fact applaud them for their statements. Perhaps the rational ability of these young ladies has been so twisted and clouded by their emotional pain they can no longer reason properly. Those who have failed to correct them should be ashamed of themselves for becoming complicit in their blasphemy.

Virtually every statement in this post is a denial of some biblically revealed truth about God.

1. It assumes God is an arbitrary tyrant like her father who “flies off the handle” without provocation and whose choices are random “there is no rhyme or reason.”

2. It assumes God can’t be trusted when he tells us he loves us. If God allows us to be treated in a way we feel is “unfair,” then it is inconceivable that he could love us. Thus, it denies both God’s love and his faithfulness to fulfill his clearly revealed promises.

3. It makes our experience, not the revealed Word, the arbiter of what is good and evil, right and wrong. If it feels bad to me, it can’t be right. It must not have felt right to Joseph to have been sold into slavery by his brothers, but he said to them later on, “I am in the place God wants me to be”. It must not have felt good to Job to lose, in a single day, everything he owned , except for his nagging wife and three so called friends, yet he said, “The LORD has given, The Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” “Shall we receive good from the LORD’S hand and shall we not receive evil?” Lest we think Job was mistaken in his assessment of the reality, the LORD says to Satan, “you have moved ME against him.” The kind of thinking reflected in this post assumes if God allows [much less ordains] such adversities to occur, he must not be a good God and he must not love us.

4. It denies both God’s omniscience and his sovereign plan. She writes: “I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?” Perhaps I have misunderstand the point of her question, but it seems to me the answer she expects from her readers is “No, of course not!” Of course, the alternative is that those events took God completely by surprise and he is blundering through with no plan as to how human events will unfold.

5. Her words give the impression that God has not made clear to us what he requires of us and what will please him. “What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.” Even after she has “believed in her heart,” she can’t trust God to be true to his promises.

6. It fails to take into account that the “man” she would rather have had standing behind the curtain [her description of God] and would have delivered her had he not been the God Calvin believed in, did nothing to give her relief. Neither the “god” she imagines, nor the God Calvin believed in stopped the abuse. Since no God intervened to stop the abuse, and any God deserving of our love would not have allowed it to continue, the only conclusion at which she can arrive is that God does not exist. What she is really saying is that the only God who would be deserving of her love is a God who is impotent, blind, and groping about to find his way, since he has no plan. Or if he does have a plan, it is a plan that can change with the circumstances and may be thwarted by the sovereign will of man. Yet, even this impotent, blind and groping God did not come from behind the curtain to help her. Perhaps he was so blind he could not see what was occurring. Does she really mean she could only love a God who couldn’t see the abuse coming? How could one trust a god who was clueless about what would occur in the future, in this case her abuse, and had no plan to bring good out of evil, could not have done anything about it if he wanted to because he didn’t want to violate the sinners autonomous will, or alternately, could have done something to stop the abuse but, for some unexplained reason, did nothing.

What she needs to understand is that the God Calvin believed in, the one who has revealed himself in the Word of God, hates the abuse she suffered even more than she does. That he has ordained all that occurs in our lives does not mean he has caused it to occur or that he calls it good.

Additionally, the God she seems to have rejected is a God who controls all things for the good of his people and is able to bring ultimate good to his people out of the most horrendous and painful circumstances of life.

As well-meaning as he may be, her “god” is an impotent bystander whose heart grieves over the fallen creation but has no ability to bring sinners to salvation or bring abusers like those who abused her to judgment. This “god” of hers wanted to help, but he just couldn’t intervene because he has no control in the universe. In her world, “free will” is sovereign.