God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 6

Here is the final chapter of Ernest Reisinger’s book on <em>The Will</em>:

Chapter Five

Related Doctrines

The doctrine we have considered in the preceding chapters (here, here, here and here) is vitally related to other key doctrines of the Bible, such as total depravity, election, and effectual calling. This was vividly brought home to me in the early 1980s when I was distributing Dr. James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology to graduates of our Southern Baptist seminaries. With each hook I enclosed a little survey sheet consisting of
four questions:

Do you believe that Dr. Boyce is biblically correct in his chapter on Effectual Calling?

Do you think his view of the Doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching?

In Chapter 28, Dr. Boyce sets forth several views of the Atonement. Which view do you believe to be the biblical view?

Please comment on Chapter 12: “The Will of God.”

One of the survey responses will illustrate my point that the doctrine of free will is vitally related to other biblical doctrines. This prudent young seminarian did not realize how profound his answers were. He said, “No, Dr. Boyce was not biblically correct on his views of election because if Boyce was correct on his view of election, man would not have a free will.” He was one hundred percent correct. If man had a free will, Boyce was wrong on his view of election. The young seminarian may have been wrong about Boyce, but he was right in his conclusion.

Three years later I received a letter from this fine young man informing me that, after much study (particularly of the first chapter of Ephesians), he had changed his view: Boyce was biblically correct on the doctrine of election and effectual calling, He now had a correct, biblical view of man’s will. (This young man is now teaching at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.) Our view of free will has a profound effect on other major doctrines of the Christian faith. Now I wish to consider the biblical doctrine of election as it relates to free will. The Bible nowhere uses the expression “free will,” but it has a lot to say about the will. For instance, John 5:40, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” In this little verse our Lord is telling us four fundamental and necessary things:

Every man is spiritually dead and dead men need life (“come to Me that you may have life”).

This life is found only in Christ (“come to Me”).

There is life in Jesus Christ only for those who come for it (one must “come”).

No one by nature ever will come (“you are not willing to come”).

This verse lays the groundwork for the blessed doctrine of unconditional election. It expresses the biblical view of the will: “You are not willing to come to Me.” Left to himself no one will come to Christ. This is the biblical teaching on free will. “You are not willing.” B.B. Warfield used to say,

“What is the use of arguing about whosoever will when we live in a world of whosoever will nots.” This universal condition of “will nots” makes the doctrine of unconditional election necessary if any one is to be saved.

The preacher might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes, he may beg you on his knees with heartfelt tears in his eyes, he might show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but still none will come unless the blessed Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. That is the practical outworkings of the bondage of the will.

“You mean that I can’t come to Christ if I will?” No, I do not mean that at all; in fact, it is as simple as this: if you will, you are welcome; but without that effectual call, who will? Did you ever meet a Christian who said, “I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?” Let me assure you that if anyone ever came without the power of the Spirit, you may be very sure he went away again without the power of the Spirit. No, every Christian must put his hands to his heart and say:

Grace tauqht my soul to pray,
And made my eyes o’er flow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

No Christian will say, “I sought God before he sought me.” Even the Arminian will sing, “0 yes! I do love Jesus because he first loved me” (1 John 4:19). The Arminian view of election is that it is conditioned upon man’s will, and he does not believe that will is limited by man’s nature.

I would like to present a clear definition of the doctrine of unconditional election as stated by J.P. Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1872—1879, 1888). His definition of unconditional election is found in his Abstract of Systematic Theology and is taken from his sermon by that title.

The theory… of [Calvinists as to election] is that God (who and not man is the one who chooses or elects) of his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation to man, nor because of any will of man), has from Eternity (the period of God’s action, not in time in which man acts), determined to save (not has actually saved, but simply determined so to do), [and to save, (not [merely] to confer gospel or church privileges upon)] a definite number of mankind (not the whole race, nor indefinitely merely some of them, nor indefinitely a certain proportionate part, but a definite number), as individuals (not the whole or a part of the race, nor of a nation, nor of a church, nor of a class, as of believers or the pious; but individuals) not for or because of any merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not for their good works, nor for their holiness nor excellence, nor their faith, nor their spiritual sanctification, although the choice is to a salvation attained through faith and sanctification; nor [for] their value to him, though their salvation tends greatly to the manifested glory of his grace): but of his own good pleasure (simply because he was pleased so to choose).8

(Boyce used the following Scripture verses in support of his position: Ephesians 1:4—6, 11; Matthew 11:25—26; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:26—30; Acts 13:48; 1 Timothy 1:9; Romans 8:28—30; 9:11-24 33; Revelation 13:8; 17:8; Ephesians 2:1—3; John 1:13, 3:3—8; 5:2 1; 6:37-65; 15:16; 17:2; James 1:18.)

This definition is clear. Dr. Boyce believed and taught unconditional election. For him this election to salvation was not based upon God’s looking into the future, seeing which men would choose Him, and then electing those men to salvation. Rather, our Baptist fathers preached the God of absolute and indisputable sovereignty, who chose His elect with nothing moving Him with respect to whom He chose except His own good pleasure and distinguishing mercy.

The doctrine of election holds a very prominent place in the Scriptures. It meets us everywhere—in both the Old and New Testaments. Everyone who believes the Bible must believe something about election. He may not have the correct meaning, hut he must believe something about it. The Arminian believes something about election, though he doesn’t believe the biblical teaching on the subject. Election, however, has one meaning.

Election does not destroy the will. Obviously, the sinner must have a will in the matter. It is absurdity to say the sinner loves, believes, etc., against his will or by compulsion. The sinner must will: he must will to take the broad way, or he must will to take the narrow way. His will is essential to all these movements of his soul. But in what state do we find his will? We find it is wholly set against the truth. Every will since the fall is entirely opposed to God and His Word. Man needs no foreign influence, no external power, to make him reject the truth; that he does by nature. He hates it with his whole heart. When a sinner then comes to receive the truth, how is this accomplished? Does he renew himself? Does he change the enmity of his will by the unaided act of his will? Does he of himself bend back his own will into the opposite direction? Does he, by a word of his own power, cause the current that had been flowing downhill to change its course and power, causing it to flow upward? Does his own will originate the change in itself and carry the change into effect? Impossible! The current would have flowed forever downward had it not been arrested in its course by something stronger than itself. The sinner’s will would have remained forever in depravity and bondage, had it not another Will, far mightier than itself, coming into contact with it, and altering both its nature and course, working in the sinner “both to will and to do.” Was the sinner willing before this other Will met his? No! Was he willing after? Yes! Then it is plain that it was God’s will, meeting and changing the sinner’s will, that made the difference. God’s will was first.

It was God’s will that began the work and made the sinner willing. He never would have willed had not God made him willing. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” It is the power of Jehovah applied to us that makes us willing. Until that power is applied, we are unwilling. It is His hand, operating directly upon the soul, that changes its nature and its bent. Were it not for that, our unwillingness would never be removed. No outward means, no motives, would be sufficient to effect the change; for all these means and motives are rejected by the sinner. Nor does he become willing even to allow the approach or application of these means or motives until God makes him willing. To speak of his being changed by that which he rejects is as absurd as to speak of a man’s being healed by a medicine which he persists in refusing. “Can the Ethopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” (Jer. 13:23). Does God then hinder sinners from believing and willing? By no means. He hinders none. They are their own hindrance. “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Not one soul would be saved if left to his own will. But in His infinite mercy, God does not leave them to their own wills. He puts forth His mighty power on some to make them willing. Were it not for this, all would be lost, for all would reject the Savior.

But some profane objector says, “Does God make men to be damned?” Let me in a few words answer the miserable atheism of such an objection. This is precisely the argument of the Socinians, Universalists, and Deists against the existence of such a place as hell. If you speak of hell or everlasting fire to such, their answer is, “Did God make men to damn them?” And however abominable and unscriptural their notion is, it is at least consistent with their own theory. Making God to be all love and nothing else, they think it inconsistent with His love that He should allow such a place as hell in the universe. They do not believe in hell, and so they must ask such a question.

God did not make men in order to damn them. He did not make the angels “who kept not their first estate,” in order to damn them. He did not make Lucifer for the purpose of casting him out of Paradise. He did not make Judas for the purpose of sending him to his own place. God made man—every man and every thing—to glorify Himself. Every creature, man, and angel must do this, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly: actively and willingly in Heaven, or passively and unwillingly in hell. This is God’s purpose and it shall stand. God may have many other ends in creation, but this is the chief one, the ultimate one—the one which is above all the others and to which all the rest are subordinate.

In this sense, then, plainly, God did not make men either to destroy them or to save them. He made them for His own glory. If the question is asked, Did God make the devil and his angels only to damn them?, I answer, He made them for His own glory. They are lost forever, but does that prove that He made them to destroy them? He kept their companions from falling (and so they are called the “elect angels,”) while He did not keep them. But does this prove that he made them to destroy them? They fell, and in a moment they were consigned to everlasting chains. He made no effort to save them; He sent no redemption to them. But does that prove that he made them only to destroy them? If ever such an accusation could be preferred against God, it must be in the case of the angels, to whom no salvation was sent. It cannot be said of man, to whom salvation has come.

Whatever is right for God to do, it is right for him to decree. If God’s casting sinners into hell is not wrong or unjust, then His purposing to do so from all eternity cannot be wrong or unjust. So you must either deny that there is a hell or admit God’s right to leave sinners to themselves to go to their own place to dwell there forever. There is no middle way between Calvinism and Universalism.

Let me merely call your attention to two passages of Scripture which would be good for those to ponder who ask such a question:

The LORD has made all things for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom (Prov. 16:4).

The Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth…What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Rom. 9:17, 22).

Texts like these are not to be explained away or overlooked. They are part of God’s holy Word—just as much as “God is love.” And if one class of texts is to be twisted or turned away from, why not another? Let us look both in the face, and let us believe them both, whatever difficulty we may find in reconciling them. Our first duty is to believe, but there is nothing in the Bible which we need to shrink from believing. “For an empty-headed man will be wise, when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man” (Job 11:12).

Let me close this important chapter with a brief warning to those who reject and speak against the blessed doctrine of election:

It is not wise to make derogatory remarks about what is in the Bible, whether you understand it or not.

It is not wise to reject what the Bible teaches on any subject, especially if you have not studied what the Bible says about it.

It is not wise to make a hobby out of any one doctrine. Although this doctrine is of vital importance, it is only one doctrine and must not be separated from all Christian truth.

It is not wise to reject any doctrine because it has been abused and misused. All the key doctrines have been perverted.

If it were not for election, your will would take you to hell. You can only get rid of election by getting rid of the Bible. My foremost reason for believing in election is because it is clearly and plainly taught in the Bible.

What Election is Not

Election is not salvation but unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29, 30).

Election is not exclusive of means (2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:5, 13; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:2).

Election is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 9:18—24). Fame, wealth, wisdom, position, etc., did not cause God to have respect for some and thus elect them (Job 34:19). All being ungodly, none could have been saved had he not shown grace to some.

Election is not “salvation regardless,” but unto salvation through the redemption of Christ, applied by the Spirit through the gospel (John 6:37; Rom. 10:17; 1 Thess. 1:4—5; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Acts 13:48).

Election is not opposed to the gospel, but the gospel is a means in accomplishing election’s purpose (see Scriptures already cited).

Election is not an enemy of righteousness, but through its appointed means it causes those once ungodly to live godly (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:4—10).

Election is not based on unforeseen faith or works, but it produces faith and works. (Rom. 9:11—16; 11:5, 6; Phil. 1:6; 1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:840; Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 3:5; Rom. 12:3; Eph. 4:7; Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25.

Election does not shut the door of salvation but opens that door for all those who come to Christ (John 6:37, 44, 63; 10:9; 14:6).

Election is not a hindrance to gospel preaching, but it assures the gospel of success (Isa. 55:11; John 10:27; 6:37, 45; 17:20, 21; Acts 15:14; 16:14; 18:27; 2 Tim. 2:9, 10).

Election is not of the Jews only (Rom. 9:24; 11:5—8, 11, 12, 25; John 11:52).

Election is not merely to service but to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Election is not fatalism but is the work of God (1 Thess. 1:4; Rom. 8:28, 30).

Election does not destroy man’s so-called “free will.” The will of man is his desire, wish or choice. His choice is sin (John 3:19, 20; 5:40; 3:11; 2:2, 3; 4:17—19; Jer. 17:9; 13:23; etc.). Man “freely”chooses sin, and by God’s grace, the elect freely choose Christ (Ps. 65:4; 110:3; John 6:44, 65; Acts 13:48). Lazarus “freely” rotted, but at the word of Christ, he “freely” came forth (John 11); and so do the elect of God.

Election is not anti-missionary but gives the foundation for missions (John 6:37; 17:20, 21; 2 Tim. 2:10; Isa. 55:11; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15).

Election does not destroy the responsibility of man. Men are responsible with whatever light they have, be it conscience (Rom. 2:15), nature (Rom. 1:19—20), written law (Rom. 2:17—27), or the gospel (Mark 16:15—16). Man’s inability to do righteousness no more frees him from responsibility than does Satan’s inability to do righteousness.

Election does not make God unjust. His blessing of a great number of unworthy sinners with salvation is no injustice to the rest of the unworthy sinners. If a government pardons one convict, is it injustice to the rest? (1 Thess. 5:9)

Election does not discourage convicted sinners but welcomes them to Christ. “Let him who thirsts come” (Rev. 22:17). The God who saves is the God who has elected men unto salvation. He is the same God who invites.

Election does not discourage prayer. To the contrary, it drives us to God, for He it is who alone can save. True prayer is the Spirit’s prompting; and thus will be in harmony with God’s will (Rom. 8:28).

Election is not of man. Some say, “God votes, the devil votes, and man votes.” The Bible teaches that election is not of the devil and man but “of God” (1 Thess. 1:4; John 10:16; 1 John 4:10, 19).

Election is not of reason but of revelation. At first itdoes not appeal to man’s reason; but when man accepts God’s Word, it is seen to be the only thing that could be “reasonable” (Matt. 20:15).

Unbelievably, many people do not know that election is in the Bible. Worse yet, the biblical teaching on the subject has been very little discussed, taught, or preached. Someone once must have thought it important because it is in our Baptist Faith and Messaqe: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.”9

It is not only in our Articles of Faith, but we sing it in many of our hymns—the second stanza of “The Church’s One Foundation” begins “Elect from every nation…”

More importantly, it is in the Bible; and if only one point is made in this chapter, let it be that everyone who believes the Bible must believe in election.

God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 5

Chapter Four

Free Will and the Antinomy

In the last chapter we considered free will and free agency. It is important not to confuse the two. Free will and free agency are not the same thing. Man is a free, moral agent, but he does not have a free will; his will is limited by his nature.

In this chapter I wish to address a question that is logically raised when serious thought is given to our subject. The question comes in different forms, but at the bottom are God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

In the study of man’s will, the question is usually asked like this: How can a person be a free and responsible agent if his actions have been foreordained from all eternity? This is a logical question indeed.

To put the question another way, How can an action be known to God before it takes place and yet be freely performed by a free, moral agent?

The 121 Westminster divines were aware of this question and they addressed it with candor when they drafted their Confession. They said, “God has freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” That is divine sovereignty.  They immediately added, “Yet so as to thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offended to the will of the creature, nor is the liberty of contingency of the second cause taken away, but rather, established,”

Sometimes the question comes in this form:  Is not God unjust to require what men do not have the ability to perform?  I answer:

Yes, God is unjust, unless He first gave the ability to perform what He requires.

Yes, God is unjust, unless man, by his own will, brought this inability upon himself.

Yes, God is unjust in requiring that which man cannot perform, unless such a requirement which is impossible to meet is designed to lead him to acknowledge and deplore his inability.

This is the real problem with the multitude of efforts by those who come running on the scene of human turmoil with this sentimental pity for man in his present condition. They immediately begin to charge God with being unjust.

When we see sickness, death, war, pain, murder, rape, robbery, and lawlessness we ask, “How did this come about?” The answer is: Sin! Sin! Sin! Man’s sin! How did the prodigal son come to feeding pigs? By living in sin!

If I believed that God made man like he is, and then condemned him for what he is, I would curse God and die—such a God would be a monster. But instead, “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl. 7:29; emphasis mine).

Who but God can fully comprehend how an action that was known of God before it was done can be freely performed by man? However, our inability to understand how something should actually come to be is not sufficient ground for affirming that it cannot be.

It should not surprise us or discourage us that there is divine foreknowledge of all human actions on the one hand
and free agency on the other hand.

We have a similar problem with God’s commanding men to do what they do not have the will or ability to do since they must act in accordance with their nature. For example, when God commanded Lazarus to “come forth from the grave,” he was dead and did not have the ability to obey or respond to our Lord’s command—unless God did
something for him.

Another example is the poor man in the gospels who had been powerless for thirty-eight years and had no native ability to obey our Lord’s command to “take up your bed and walk.” The power came from the one who gave the command.

We are considering in this chapter these two truths: (1) Man is a free agent and is responsible for his actions; (2) Man’s actions are foreknown by an omniscient God. Both of these truths are clearly set out in the Holy Scripture many times in the same verse. For example, in Acts 2:23 we read, “Him [Christ], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (emphasis mine).

This verse clearly teaches that the crucifixion of our Lord was planned, predicted, and determined before it happened and all the devils in hell or men on earth could not keep Jesus from the cross—it was determined by a sovereign God. Yet at the same time, wicked men—acting freely—were charged with this wicked act.

In Acts 4:24—30, God puts these two truths side by side without apology or explanation. Here this apparent contradiction and seeming conflict is expressed in a prayer.

“So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: “Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.” For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

Peter and John were in prison when they prayed this prayer. Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were said to be carrying out what God had purposed and determined was to be done before it was actually done.

In the first truth we see that Cod is one hundred percent sovereign in planning and determining. At the same time the verse teaches that wicked men are one hundred percent responsible for their wicked deeds.

If we examine these two truths separately, we will conclude that from Genesis to Revelation the Bible teaches that the God of the Bible is one hundred percent sovereign—sovereign in creation, sovereign in redemption, and sovereign in providence—and that from Genesis to Revelation the Bible teaches that man is one hundred percent responsible for his sin. Therefore, we have no alternative but to believe both are true, even though with our finite minds we cannot reconcile them or harmonize them.

When Charles Haddon Spurgeon was asked to reconcile these truths—God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility— he said, “I never try to reconcile friends—they are both in the Bible.”

Antinomy

There is one word that gives us the biblical picture of these two truths—antinomy. J.I. Packer taught me the meaning of that word in his wonderful, helpful book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. More than any other, this book has helped me get a biblical view of evangelism. Let Dr. Packer define antinomy:

All theological topics contain pitfalls for the unwary, for God’s truth is never quite what man would have expected; and our present subject is more treacherous than most. This is because in thinking it through we have to deal with an antinomy in the biblical revelation, and in such circumstances our finite, fallen minds are more than ordinarily apt to go astray.

What is an antinomy? The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary.” For our purposes, however, this definition is not quite accurate; the opening words should read “an appearance of contradiction.” For the whole point of an antinomy—in theology, at any rate—is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incom-patibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together. Let me give an example. Modern physics faces an aritinomy, in this sense, in its study of light. There is cogent evidence to show that light consists of waves, and equally cogent evidence to show that it consists of particles. It is not apparent how light can be both waves and particles, but the evidence is there, and so neither view can be ruled out in favor of the other. Neither, however, can be reduced to the other or explained in terms of the other; the two seemingly incompatible positions must be held together, and both must be treated as true. Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy minds, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.

It appears, therefore, that an antinomy is not the same thing as a paradox. A paradox is a figure of speech, a play on words. It is a form of statement that seems to unite two opposite ideas, or to deny something by the very terms in which it is asserted. Many truths about the Christian life can be expressed as paradoxes. A Prayer Book collect, for instance, declares that God’s “service is perfect freedom”: man goes free through becoming a slave. Paul states various paradoxes of his own Christian experience: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…having nothing, and yet possessing all things”; “when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 6:10, 12:10). The point of a paradox, however, is that what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the facts, but the words. The contradiction is verbal, but not real, and a little thought shows how it can be eliminated and the same idea expressed in non-paradoxical form. In other words a paradox is always dispensable. Look at the examples quoted. The Prayer Book might have said that those who serve God are free from sin’s dominion. In 2 Cor. 6:10, 12:10 Paul might have said that sorrow at circumstances, and joy in God, are constantly combined in his experience, and that, though he owns no property, has no bank balance, there is a sense in which everything belongs to him, because he is Christ’s, and Christ is Lord of all. Again, in 2 Cor. 12:10, he might have said that the Lord strengthens him most when he is most conscious of his natural infirmity. Such non-paradoxical forms of speech are clumsy and dull beside the paradoxes which they would replace, but they express precisely the same meaning. For a paradox is merely a matter of how you use words; the employment of paradox is an arresting trick of speech, but it does not imply even an appearance of contradiction in the facts that you are describing.

Also it should be noted that a paradox is always comprehensible. A speaker or writer casts his ideas into paradoxes in order to make them memorable and provoke thought about them. But the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox, otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless. An incomprehensible paradox could not be distinguished from a mere contradiction in terms. Sheer paradox would thus have to be written off as sheer nonsense.

By contrast, however, an antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible. It is not a figure of speech, but an observed relation between two statements of fact. It is not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by the facts themselves. It is unavoidable, and it is insoluble. We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.

What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other (such deductions would, for that very reason, be certainly unsound). Use each within the limits of its own sphere of reference (i.e., the area delimited by the evidence from which the principle has been drawn). Note what connections exist between the two truths and their two frames of reference, and teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence, remembering that reality itself has proved actually to contain them both. This is how antinomies must be handled, whether in nature or in Scripture. This, as I understand it, is how modern physics deals with the problem of light, and this is how Christians have to deal with the antinomies of biblical teaching.

The particular antinomy which concerns us here is the apparent opposition between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, or (putting it more biblically) between what God does as King and what He does as Judge. Scripture teaches that, as King, He orders and controls all things, human actions among them, in accordance with His own eternal purpose. Scripture also teaches that, as Judge, He holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action he pursues. Thus hearers of the gospel are responsible for their reaction; if they reject the good news, they are guilty of unbelief. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed.” Again, Paul, entrusted with the gospel, is responsible for preaching it; if he neglects his commission, he is penalized for unfaithfulness. “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true. It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other. Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent. God’s sovereignty is a reality, and man’s responsibility is a reality too. This is the revealed antinomy in terms of which we have to do our thinking about divine command and free-will.

To our finite minds, of course, the thing is inexplicable. It sounds like a contradiction, and our first reaction is to complain that it is absurd. Paul notices this complaint in Rornans 9: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why does he [God] yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19). If, as our Lord, God orders all our actions, how can it be reasonable or right for Him to act also as our Judge, and condemn our shortcomings? Observe how Paul replies. He does not attempt to demonstrate the propriety of God’s action; instead, he rebukes the spirit of the question. “Nay but, 0 man, who are thou that repliest against God?” What the objector has to learn is that he, a creature and a sinner, has not right whatsoever to find fault with the revealed ways of God. Creatures are not entitled to register complaints about their Creator.7

This incomprehensible antinomy—God’s will, man’s will, and free will—occupies a large part of God’s truth. Does this subject have a message for ministers and Christians in this day of doctrinal indifference and ignorance? It most certainly does.

Many evangelicals today have a lot of semi-Pelagianism in their blood. They believe man really isn’t all that bad. Certainly he isn’t totally depraved—he can choose to do good because his nature is good.

An understanding of the bondage of the will would produce some radical changes in the common approach to preaching in general and to evangelistic preaching in particular. As has been shown previously, man’s will is a slave to his nature. He cannot decide something or choose to do something that is alien to his nature. This concept would have a profound effect on many departments of theology as well as pastoral work. It is good for us to remember that the bondage of the will was a central theme at the foundation of the Protestant Reformation and thus at the center of all that occurred then in evangelism, preaching, holy living, and organizational restructuring.

Do we not stand in urgent need of teaching that humbles man, strengthens faith, and glorifies God?

God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 4

 

Chapter Three

Free Will and Free Agency

In the last two chapters (Chapter 1 Chapter 2) we have considered free will and man’s four-fold state. A brief summary will be helpful as we continue:

Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well pleasing to God; but that state was mutable, or changeable, so that he was able to fall from it.

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has entirely lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; therefore, as a natural man, being altogether averse to that good, and dead in sin, he is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself or to prepare himself for salvation.

When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin, and by His grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet, by reason of his remaining corruption, he also wills that which is evil.

The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only. Any study of the will of man is incomplete without some explanation of the difference between free will and free agency. I am using free as meaning “independent, sovereign, autonomous,” that is, “not subject to the rule or control of another.”

An agent is “one who acts, performs an act, or has power to act—a moving force.”

Man is a free moral agent, but he does not have a free will. Man is only free to act according to his nature, and he was born with a sinful nature (see Ps. 5 1:5).

One does not pursue the study of free will and free agency very far until he comes head on with an apparent contradiction (note well, I said “apparent”). We must, in all candor, acknowledge these apparent contradictions. They deserve some serious, thoughtful consideration. For example, we must address God’s commands and man’s inability—God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

God’s Commands and Man’s Inability

The gospel command—”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”—is addressed by divine authority to every creature, and therefore it is the duty of every man to obey it. There are some who deny this upon the grounds that man does not have the spiritual ability to believe in Jesus. However, it is altogether an error to imagine that the measure of the sinner’s moral ability is the measure of his duty.

There are many things which men ought to do which they have now lost the moral and spiritual (though not the physical) power to do. A man ought to be chaste; but if he has been so long immoral that he cannot restrain his passions, he is not therefore free from the obligation. It is the duty of a debtor to pay his debts; but if he has been such a spendthrift that he has brought himself into hopeless poverty, he is not exonerated from his debts on account of his inability to pay.

Every man ought to believe that which is true, but if his mind has become so depraved that he loves a lie and will not receive the truth, is he therefore excused?

If the law of God is to be lowered according to the moral condition of sinners, we would have a law graduated upon a sliding scale to suit the degrees of human sinfulness. In fact, the worst man would then be under the least law and become consequently the least guilty. God’s requirements would be of a variable quantity, and, in truth, we would be under no rule at all.

The command of Christ stands good, however bad men may be; and when lie commands all men everywhere to repent, they are required to repent, whether their sinfulness renders it impossible for them to he willing to do so or not. In every case, it is man’s duty to do what God bids him.

But, one may ask, how can a person be a free and responsible agent if his actions have been foreordained from eternity? Again, a free and responsible agent means an intelligent person who acts with rational self-determination. Foreordination means that from eternity past God has made certain the actual course of events which take place in the life of every person and in the realm of nature.

It is important to note at the outset that the true solution of this difficult question respecting the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man is not to be found in denying the sovereignty of God; neither is it found in denying the responsibility of man. The same God who has ordained the events has ordained human liberty and human responsibility in the midst of these events. The Bible teaches that it is just as important to assert the true validity of the secondary agent (man) as it is to assert the ultimate validity of the final cause (God).

One can readily see that we have as our solution either fatalism on the one hand, or the intelligent plan and purpose of an almighty, personal God on the other. The Bible clearly teaches that God has a plan and that He has the wisdom and power to execute that plan.

Pelagianism denies human depravity, the necessity of efficacious grace, and exalts the human will above the divine will. Pelagians do not believe in the imputation of Adam’s sin. By denying man’s sinfulness, Pelagianism lifts up man’s will and opens the door for the Arminian belief that man freely, on his own, chooses God. Therefore, Pelagianism is the mother of Arminianism; in fact, “Arminianism” can be traced back to a time twelve hundred years before Arminius was born.

A quote from Robert Shaw’s Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith will put the Arminian and the Calvinistic views of free will in perspective:

The decision of most of the points in controversy between Calvinists and Arminians, as President Edwards has observed, depends on the determination of the question—Wherein consists that freedom of will which is requisite to moral agency? According to Arminians three things belong to the freedom of the will:—1. That the will has a self-determining power, or a certain sovereignty over itself, and its own acts, whereby it determines its own volitions. 2. A state of indifference, or that equilibrium, whereby the will is without all antecedent bias, and left entirely free from any prepossessing inclination to one side or the other. 3. That the volitions, or acts of the will, are contingent, not only as opposed to all constraint, but to all necessity, or any fixed and certain connection with some previous ground or reason of their existence. Calvinists, on the other hand, contend that a power in the will to determine its own determinations, is either unmeaning, or supposes, contrary to the first principles of philosophy, something to arise without a cause; that the idea of the soul exerting an act of choice of preference, while, at the same time, the will is in a perfect equilibrium, or state of indifference, is full of absurdity and self-contradiction; and that, as nothing can ever come to pass without a cause, the acts of the will are never contingent, or without necessity—understanding by necessity, a necessity of consequence, or an infallible connection with something foregoing. According to Calvinists, the liberty of a moral agent consists in the power of acting according to his choice; and those actions are free which are performed without any external compulsion or restraint, in consequence of the determination of his own mind. “The necessity of man’s willing and acting in conformity to his apprehensions and disposition, is, in their opinion, fully consistent with all the liberty which can belong to a rational nature. The infinite Being necessarily wills and acts according to the absolute perfection of his nature, yet with the highest liberty. Angels necessarily will and act according to the perfection of their natures, yet with full liberty; for this sort of necessity is so far from interfering with liberty of will, that the perfection of the will’s liberty lies in such a necessity. The very essence of its liberty lies in acting consciously, choosing or refusing without any external compulsion or constraint, but according to inward principles of rational apprehension and natural disposition.”

Thus the Arminian and the Calvinist differ on their qualifying conditions of what makes up a free will. The Calvinist believes the man is free to choose and act in accordance with his nature. The Arminian, with his Pelagian roots denying moral depravity, believes that the will can make choices which are completely untainted by his nature and thus has a “free will.” In contrast, the Calvinist believes man is a free agent—free to act according to his own nature.

Free agency is not to be confused with “free will.” Because of the fall, men have lost their ability—the will—to obey God, but they are just as responsible to God to obey perfectly His commands. Thus Spurgeon could say, “I dread more than anything your being left to your own free will.” Arminianism, alongside hyper-Calvinisrn, argues that sinners cannot be required to do what they are not able to do, namely, to believe in Christ for salvation, since the ability to believe belongs only to the elect and is only given at a time determined by the Spirit of God. They say, “For a preacher to call all his hearers to immediate repentance and faith is to deny both human depravity and sovereign grace.” So they say.

Spurgeon says this on the implications of free will:

According to the free will scheme, the Lord intends good, but he must wait like a lackey on his own creature to know what his intention is; God willeth good and would do it but he cannot because he has an unwilling man who will not have God’s good thing carried into effect. What do ye, sirs, but drag the Eternal from his throne and lift up into it that fallen creature, man; for man, according to that theory, nods and his nod is destiny. You must have a destiny somewhere; it must either be as God wills or as man wills. If it be as God wills, then Jehovah sits as sovereign upon his throne of glory, and all hosts obey him, and the world is safe; if not God, then you put man there to say, “I will,” or “I will not; if I will it, I will enter heaven; if I will it, I will despise the grace of God; if I will it, I will conquer the Holy Spirit, for I am stronger than God and stronger than omnipotence; if I will it, I will make the blood of Christ of no effect, for I am mightier than the blood, mightier than the blood of the Son of God himself; though God make his purpose, yet will I laugh at his purpose; it shall be my purpose that shall make his purpose stand or fall.” Why, sirs, if this be not atheism, it is idolatry; it is putting man where God should be; and I shrink with solemn awe and horror from that doctrine which makes the grandest of God’s works—the salvation of man—to be dependent upon the will of his creature whether it shall be accomplished or not. Glory I can and must in my text in its fullest sense. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16).

Our Lord’s mission was not to save all whom He addressed; it was to save out of them as many as His Father gave Him: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (John 6:37).

O unconverted man, your will is no place on which to fix your hope—the will cannot set itself free. Only God can set the prisoner free.

God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 3

Here is chapter two of Ernest Reisinger’s book on The Will:

Free Will and Man’s Four-fold State
(Part Two)

In this chapter, we will continue to consider free will and man’s four-fold state. In the last chapter, we considered man’s will in the state of innocence and man’s will in the state of degeneration (his unregenerate state).

The State of Grace or The State of Regeneration

In this state the person is both a saint and a sinner at the same time. In this third state the free power of choice belongs to a man as a regenerate person, but his will is not yet perfected as it will be in the glorified state.

In this state of grace, the will no longer uses its liberty openly for doing that which is evil, as it did before regeneration. Now the will chooses both—partly the good and partly the evil.

In this state of regeneration, there is freedom from the love of sin and from the dominion of sin.  “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14).  Our Lord said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Zacharias Ursinus, in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, gives us an excellent exposition on the will of man in the state of grace:

The regenerate man does that which is good, because the Holy Spirit, by his special grace, has renovated the nature of man through the Word of God—has kindled new light and knowledge in the understanding, and has awakened in the heart and will such new desires and inclinations, as are in harmony with the divine law; and because the Holy Spirit effectually inclines the will to do those things which are in accordance with this knowledge, and with these desires and inclinations. It is in this way that the will recovers both the power of willing that which is acceptable to God, and the use of this power, so that it commences to obey God according to these declarations of his word: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart.” “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” (Deut. 30:6, Exod. 36:26, 2 Cor. 3:17, 1 John 3:9) The reasons, on account of which the will in this third degree chooses and does in part both the good and the evil, are the following:

1. Because the mind and will of those who are regenerated, are not fully perfectly renewed in this life. There are many remains of depravity which cleave to the best of men, as long as they continue in the flesh, so that the works which they perform are imperfect, and defiled with sin. “I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” (Rom. 7:18)

2. Because those who are regenerated are not always governed by the Holy Spirit; but are sometimes forsaken of God for a season, that he may thus either try, or humble them. Yet, although they are thus left to themselves for a time, they do not finally perish, for God, in his own time and way, calls them to repentance. “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” “0 Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear. Return, for thy servant’s sake.” (Ps. 5 1:13, Isa. 63:17)

In short, after regeneration, there is a proneness to choose partly the good, and partly the evil. There is a proneness to the good, because the mind and will being illuminated and changed, begin, in some measure, to be turned to the good, and to commence new obedience. There is a proneness to the evil, because the saints are only imperfectly renewed in this life—retain many infirmities and evil desires, on account of original sin, which still cleaves to them. Hence the good works which they perform are not perfectly good.

Therefore, in this state of grace, the regenerated believer freely chooses good, yet that good is mixed with evil because of his remaining sin. Using his freedom to perfectly choose good will only come under the fourth state.

The State of Glorification or The State of Perfect Regeneration

In this state of perfect and glorious liberty, the will of man will be perfectly restored and perfectly regenerated. Another quote from Ursinus will be helpful.

In this state, the will of man will be free to choose only the good, and not the evil. This will be the highest degree, or the perfect liberty of the human will, when we shall obey God fully and forever. In this state we shall not only not sin, but we will abhor it above every thing else; yea, we shall then no longer be able to sin. In proof of this we may adduce the following reasons: First, the perfect knowledge of God will then shine in the mind, while there will be the strongest and most ardent desire of the will and heart to obey God; so that there will be no room left for ignorance or doubt, or the least contempt of God.

Secondly, in the life to come, the saints will never be forsaken, but will be constantly and forever ruled by the Holy Spirit, so that it will not be possible for them to deviate in the smallest respect from that which is right. Hence it is said: “They are as the angels of God in heaven.” “We shall be like him.” (Matt. 22:30, 1 John 3:3) The good angels are inclined only to that which is good, because they are good; just as the bad angels, on the other hand, are inclined to that which is evil, because they are evil. But we shall be like the good angels. Our condition will, therefore, be one of far greater excellence than that of Adam before the fall. Adam was, indeed, perfectly conformed to God; but he had the power to will both the good and the evil; and therefore, with all his gifts, he had a certain infirmity, viz: the possibility to fall from God, and to lose his gifts. He was changeably good. But we shall not be able to will any thing but the good. Just as the wicked are inclined and led to do evil only, because they are wicked; so we shall be inclined to that which is good, and love and choose it alone, because we shall be unchangeably good. We shall then be so fully established in righteousness and conformity to God, that it will not be possible for us to fall from him; yes, it will then be impossible for us to will any thing that is evil, because we shall be preserved by divine grace in that state of perfect liberty in which the will will choose the good only.

From these things which we have now said in relation to human freedom, it is manifestly a foul slander to say that we take away the liberty of the will. And although those who are renewed and glorified will not be able to will any thing but the good, after their glorification; yet their power of choice will then be free to a much greater extent than it now is; for God, also, cannot will any thing but the good, and yet he possesses perfect freedom of will. So on the other hand, we do not take away the power of choice from the ungodly, or such as are unregenerated, when we affirm that they are not able to will any thing but that which is evil; for they will and choose the evil freely—yea, most freely. Their will is inclined and carried with the greatest impetuosity, to evil only; because they continually retain in their hearts, hatred to God. Hence, all the works which they perform of an external moral character, are evil in the sight of God, as we have already shown in our remarks upon the doctrine of sin.

There are six things related to this Eternal State:

  1. Death: “For I know that You will bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23).
  2. The Difference between the righteous and the wicked in their death: “The wicked is banished in his wickedness, but the righteous has a refuge in his death” (Prov. 14:32).
  3. The resurrection: “Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28—29).
  4. The general judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed…’ [but] to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed…’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:31—34, 41, 46).
  5. The kingdom of heaven: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt. 25:34).
  6. Hell: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matt. 25:41)

It can be seen that the Bible teaches that man has no ability to save himself, and indeed, has lost the power that Adam had to choose to do good.  He is perfectly free to choose and act in accordance with his own nature, just as the glorified man will freely choose to please God in all things.   For now men have no power to please God without having his nature radically changed by the Holy Spirit.  Our methods and message of evangelism should be greatly impacted by this fact.  It is all so vitally important to the Christian faith.

 

Assurance

PrayerI started attending church in 1982 on a regular basis.  Before that, I would only attend when my parents made me go, and what is funny about that is we only attended at Easter, I can’t remember once going at Christmas time, so I guess you could say we were just annual Christians (can you guess which geographical area I’m from). But in all the years I went to church regularly, I can’t tell you how many times I walked down to the altar and re-dedicated my life.  I had no assurance of my salvation!  When I could “feel” God, I knew I was saved, but when the heavens were closed and my prayers seemed to be unheard, salvation was so far away.

Then, about 4 1/2 years ago, during a casual conversation with an associate minister of the church my family and I attended, the topic turned to God’s sovereignty.  I had heard the word, I had even heard preachers teach on what it meant for God to be sovereign, but it’s fullness never really registered in my mind.  This time, however, something changed.  I actually started thinking about what it meant for God to be sovereign.  This lead me to start thinking about His absolute sovereignty.  After just a week or two of dwelling on the ramifications of what it meant for God to be absolutely sovereign, the Word of God opened up to me in an unexpected way.  I started seeing God’s sovereignty in scripture like I had never seen before.  I read Jonah 2:9b where the Word says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

Like a floodgate being opened, the truth of the doctrines of God’s marvelous grace came flooding into my life.  For the very first time, I had complete assurance in the salvation of my Lord and God.  What had only weeks before been a heart of stone, was now a regenerated heart of flesh that had a new found desire to serve God.

It has not been without struggles because what happened to me caused me to leave the church my family and I attended, the friends we had, to find a church where the doctrines of grace where taught.  It caused a rift with some members of my family which is still there today.  I praise God that my wife saw the change and was inquisitive enough to ask questions of me and I was able to take her to the Word of God and show her the scripture that had so transformed my life.  Her life too was changed and it is amazing to see the transforming power of God in her life too.

I say all of this because I know it is possible to have assurance of one’s salvation.  I know it is possible because I have experienced it and watched it in my wife and with my own mother, both of whom I was also able to talk to and open the Word to.  Now, lest you think that I think it was me that lead them to Christ, rest assured that I am a firm believer that salvation truly does belong to the Lord, I was just the instrument that God used to speak His Word’s into their lives. So, I want to share a website that has embarked on a series entitled:  Assurance of Salvation.  To this point, there are only two entries in the series, but they are definitely worth looking at.

Part 1 – Assurance of Salvation: Why study on the topic of Christian assurance?

Part 2 – Assurance of Salvation: Foundation for Perseverance of the Saints.

Head on over to The Domain For Truth website and check these articles out.

And a huge UhRah! to SlimJim.

Does the Doctrine of Unconditional election make God a “respecter of persons”?

This is taken from the Monergism website.

 

The charge we often hear from those who reject God’s unconditional election is that it makes God a respecter of persons. As is the case with most protests against unconditional election it is important to point out that this is a moral rather than exegetical argument.  And if this is the basis for their rejecting the doctrine of salvation by grace ALONE, rather than appealing directly to the Scriptures which repeatedly declare unconditional election (Eph 1:3,4; Rom 9), then one is basing their theological future on shaky ground…

Nonetheless I still think it is important to face up to this charge to see if it has any validity. To do this we need to understand how the Bible the “respecter of persons” and then let it interpret itself as to what it actually means, and then determine whether or not God would be guilty of it if unconditional election were true. Below is a wide sampling of its occurrence in the Scripture:

“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” (Leviticus 19: 15 KJV)

“Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” (Deuteronomy 16: 19 KJV)

“For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means,
that his banished be not expelled from him.” (II Samuel 14: 14 KJV)

“Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.” (II Chronicles 19: 7 KJV)

“These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.” (Proverbs 24: 23 KJV)

“To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.” (Proverbs 28: 21 KJV)

“And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” (I Peter 1: 17 KJV)

“God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10: 34)

“For there is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2: 11)

“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” (James 2: 1-9 KJV)

Here we have multiple instances of this phrase in both the Old and New Testament. So what are these passages talking about? They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus ‘respecter of persons’ means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.

So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No. By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us. God does not stand to gain from currying anyone’s favor … even those who are in high positions … because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen “in Christ” not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.

I want you to notice, however, the last quote from the apostle James that I offered above. In the midst of his commands to be a respecter of persons it asks: “…Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?” James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world … i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves… S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. It is therefore not something God is looking for in people but a lack of something. So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons. God is showing mercy to him who does not deserve mercy and the poor recognizes this fact. The Apostle Paul also says the same thing: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” And then in the next line, Paul emphasizes God unconditional grace: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”. Notice Paul here even makes this a matter of boasting whether one acknowledges that salvation is of Christ alone.

Let’s take this a step further: it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God’s decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it. The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16). If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God’s criteria in order to be chosen.

It is most ironic that those bringing this charge are the very ones who make God a respect or of persons by making God’s love and election “conditional”. It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him. In synergism God’s love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition… i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn’t that favoritism? This conditional love is quite different than the love we expect from parents in everyday life. Consider, do you love your children because they do something for you? No, of course not. Don’t you still love them even when they do something wrong? Of course. As an example, if your child rebelled against you and made you angry then soon after ran out into oncoming traffic would you run out to save him? or would you wait until he used his own will to prove his love to you first? No as a parent who loved their child you would run out to MAKE CERTAIN your child was not hit by a car regardless of the ebbs and flows of your relationship with him. Your love for him and your choice to save him are based on unconditional love. In fact we would consider the parent who first determined the love of their child as a condition to save them most unloving and cursed.

It is important that we further draw out these every day analogies to show how unreasonable this charge against unconditional election is. Consider the very world we live in. In God’s perfect wisdom and because of the fall, for His own sovereign good purposes, some people are born into better families, richer countries, healthier bodies, better times, better conditions, more intelligence, etc. Others are born into AIDS, starvation and poverty. We see these “unfair” situations all around us. Does God have nothing to do with where people are born? Did people born into starvation have any say in the matter? Frankly I do not see the Arminian shaking his fist at God for being unfair here. Yet these conditions we see in the world are there because it is part of God’s judgement due to the fall. Further, everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.

Next, let us consider the example of Jesus himself in Scripture. Jesus chose a specific time and place to come to earth and reveal himself and not other times. He healed some and not others. He raised Lazarus, his friend, but not everyone. There were other families in the world that were just as sad as Lazarus’ family…many of them just faithful, just as godly.  According to human unaided reason, Jesus singling Lazarus out for resurrection this might appear to show partiality or favoritism. Jesus actually had to power to raise people from the dead and you would think that if this was the case he would help EVERY family which experienced the death of a loved one. This would not be too hard for him. But Jesus did not do so.

By defining favoritism the way Arminians do you would think that Jesus would go around healing everyone, raising everyone, and making no distinctions and divisions whatsoever. Or, you would think he would at least give everyone the choice to have their loved ones raised. But the Jesus presented in the Bible is obviously not the Jesus of Arminianism or Universalism. He’s a Jesus who chooses to bring certain people to life and leave others in their own rebellion. Matt 11:27 says, “…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.”

Again Jesus himself plainly teaches that he makes distinctions again in Matt 20:1-16 in the parable of Laborers in the Vineyard when He gives full wages to the laborers who worked an hour. He concludes, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” Does this sound like the picture of God painted by Arminians.

In the end the Bible teaches that God chooses to have mercy on some ill-deserving people out of the entire mass of ill-deserving people. God is not obligated, in any sense, to save anyone because none are his children by nature, but by grace when He mercifully adopts them into his family. The others are rebelling against him and reject him, so he leaves them to their own desire. God is all wise and always conspires with his own wisdom in choosing to do what he does.  By definition God’s choices are always good, even if you cannot see it.  If God doesn’t satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it? Well, most of us don’t explain all the good reasons we have for what we do to our own child. Am I therefore immoral? There’s several answers I could give that my child would not understand. On what basis do you think you could understand any God-justifying reason there is?

God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so?  The Arminian would have us think so. But to say so is to profoundly misapprehend the nature of who God is.  We know God is always good, so if he wills something to be so, it is right irrespective of whether you understand.

Next, consider your own life and how you think you should treat others. Is it is okay to treat your children any differently than you neighbors or do you treat them exactly the same?

The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people’s of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, or because he earned God’s favor, but because God chooses to. He saves the poor, the wretched and the sinners of the earth according to his sovereign good pleasure in Christ.

How Can God Be Fair If Man Has No Choice? – Repost

Answer: What the Bible teaches, and I hope you would agree, is more important than our feelings about the way we think things should be. And perhaps to your surprise, Calvinists would agree with you that the Bible teaches that everyone has a choice, BUT because men love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19, 20) are naturally hostile to God and think all spiritual truth to be foolish (1 Cor 2:14) they will CHOOSE willingly to reject him. God is not coercing anyone to reject him. We (all of us) do so voluntarily. God would therefore be just if he chose to save no one and leave everyone to their own boasted free will. But instead God is merciful and chooses to save many ill-deserving folk out of the mass of ill-deserving folk on the earth. As soon as you think God is somehow obligated to save you then your salvation is no longer of mercy. So men receive one of two things in this world, justice or mercy, but no one receives injustice. If anyone is in hell it is because they deserved it and chose to go there willingly. Left to ourselves that is what we all would choose and deserve. That is why we need grace to believe. Our own hearts are hard as stone. God must change our hearts if we are to believe (Deut 30:6, Ezek 26:36; John 6:63, 65) and that is what the bible teaches. Are you saying that a man can come to faith in Jesus of his own free will apart from grace? Where do you find this in the Scripture?

Original found here.

What is Man?

Paul WasherI recently had the opportunity to listen to two sermons by Paul Washer on the book of Ephesians.  As usual, they have challenged me to rethink how I think about God and who He is.  I’ve included a partial transcript I made of the second sermon.  I’ve included the audio files of both sermons and you can listen to them by clicking on the links provided at the bottom of this page.

From Ephesians 1, Part 2:

When does God get scandalous for man?  When does God become scandalous for man?  When we talk about His love? No.  When we talk about His mercy? No.  When do people get angry when we talk about God?  When we talk about His righteousness.  Now think about that.  When you say that God is righteous, men get angry.  Now why would men get angry at the idea of a righteous God?  Because man is not righteous.

What is the great scandal about the Law of God?  When I’m speaking, especially at universities, I hear people say all the time – “I don’t want to hear about the Law of God!”  “Why, I ask?”  “Because it suppresses me, it oppresses me and holds me down.”  I had a student actually stand up and say that one time.  I asked him, in front of the entire audience, please explain to me which law is oppressive?  Which one do you hate?  Is it ‘love your neighbor as yourself?’  Is it ‘you shall not lie or bare false witness?’  Is it ‘you shall not commit adultery and steal another mans wife or that you should not reduce another human being to an object to be used for your sexual pleasure?’  Exactly which law is it that oppresses you  and if God’s law does oppress you, then what does that say about you?

You see, the reason why men are hostile towards God is this, God is good, and men are not.  When we talk about this mass of humanity we are talking about a mass of people given over to corruption, hostile towards God and hostile towards His law.  But also we are talking about a humanity that loves evil and refuses reconciliation.  Now think about that, a humanity that not just loves evil, but a humanity that refuses reconciliation. 

Humanity cannot come to God.  Men cannot come to God on their own.  When I say that people respond, “Well, if men cannot come to God on their own, then God is wrong in judging them in the same way we would be wrong for judging a man who was blind for not being able to read a sign on the road.  What do you mean, man cannot come to God?”  I mean that because Jesus said that. But what is the explanation and why is such a man held guilty?  Man cannot come to God because man will not come to God and he will not come to God because he hates Him.  He hates Him because He is good.

Have you ever seen an old lady whose face is etched with bitterness and you say to her, “Ma’am, you must forgive your husband.”  She responds, “I cannot forgive him.”  Now, she speaks the same language as her husband and they live in the same house.  She is not saying she cannot, she is saying she will not and why will she not?  Because of her hostility towards her husband.

What about a political prisoner who is in chains?  The king comes down to the dungeon and says, “I will throw open the door, all you have to do is bow your knee to me and acknowledge my sovereignty.”  The prisoner leaps up, grabs the door, slams it closed and says “I would rather rot in prison than bow my knee to you.”

That is man.

Jesus said this in John 3:19-20:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Light came into the world.  I’m always hearing people say that if the believers would just live like Jesus then people would be converted.  No, you would have a lot of believers crucified.  Jesus came into the world and what did the world do?  They crucified him!  Why?  He gives us the reason: 

…that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Jesus said in John 6:44:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

In John 6:65:

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

I want to read a paragraph that I have written here in my notes to make myself as clear as possible.

When the scriptures speak about election, it is not in the context of a mass of humanity victimized by the devil, that wants to be saved, but lacks the faculties to do so.  That is the way, a lot of times, men are presented; victims.  No that is not the context.  The context is this.  It is in the context of a mass of humanity that is morally corrupt, hostile towards God, that rejects every offer of redemption and that would rather spend an eternity given over to corruption and the misery’s of hell than to be subject to God in heaven.

One of the reasons why certain people have so much difficulty with election and they have so much difficulty with hell is because they think man is good, that there is something good in man that wants God.  There is a little spark, there is a little something, there’s got to be some goodness in there somewhere.  Therefore they say hell is immoral, how could God throw man in hell?  What you need to understand is that that is not true.  Hell is moral because man is immoral.  The only reason they may look a little moral in the context of present society is because the grace of God is restraining their evil.  But if God where to pull back, man would become monsters of iniquity.  So every time you see some vile crime that comes out on the local news, or some atrocity committed by some government that is beyond the mind to comprehend, realize that that is you apart from the grace of God.

Ephesians 1, Part 1

Ephesians 1, Part 2