Mortification of Sin – A Beginning

Image result for john owenJeremiah 6, verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” This verse, in its context deals with the nation of Israel and their turning away from the commands of the Lord.  But a closer reading finds that this is chiefly directed at the leaders of the nation, those charged with teaching the nation the commands of the Lord.  Looking back at verse 13, we see that the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, condemns them all, “from the least to the greatest.”  All of them dealt falsely, there was no justice in them.  Micah 6:8 reveals that the Lord “required justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”  These were not suggestions that the nation of Israel could take or leave, they were commands that were to be obeyed.  Because the leaders in Jeremiahs time were soft on sin, the entire nation slowly fell into corruption.  Much can be said of a comparison to the times we live in.

Now, I know that some will say that we live in the age of grace and the nation of Israel was under the law and hasn’t Christ freed us from the bondage of the law? Yes He has. But if you think that the law was abolished and done away with, then I suggest that you do not know much about the holiness, righteousness and justice of the sovereign God of heaven, not to mention the fact that He doesn’t change.  Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God, through the mystery of our union with Christ, has ordained that we walk in good works.  Works that He ordained before the foundation of the world.

What are these good works?  Justice, love, mercy, humbleness, compassion, gentleness……and the list could go on and on and on.  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of God, he came to fulfill it, something we in our sinful nature could never do.  If we have been saved, truly saved, we will realize that not only do we abhor sin, but we want to fulfill the Law.  That is God writing His law on our heart!  Will you or I succeed in fulfilling God’s law?  Not in this life.  Oh, and on a side note, I have met people who have told me that they do find a way to fulfill God’s law on a regular and consistent basis.  I even had one gentleman tell me, without even batting an eye or showing any shame whatsoever, that he could go days without sinning.  Pffffff…….  That is a man who has no idea the depth of his sin, nor the holiness of God.

So, if we do know God, we will get a sense of His holiness and the depth of our sin and realize that there is a great gulf that no human could ever cross in his own works.  It is only in Christ’s absolute obedience to the entire Law of God, and his death on the cross, where Gods just wrath was poured out, to the last drop, on his Son, that the gulf that separated us from God was bridged.  Because of that perfect sacrifice, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When this “peace with God” floods our soul, it isn’t long before we realize that while we have peace with God, a battle still rages.  That battle is sin.  Unfortunately it has been my observation that many pastors, and laity as well, do nothing to look into the battle with sin.  Instead, pithy little slogans are preached, “Let go and let God,” or “it’s ok, no one is perfect,” or “just be controlled by the Spirit.” But in the end, if we truly understand the scriptures, we will understand that as a new creature, a new creation, we WILL bring forth fruit.  Using the analogy in John 15, Christ is the vine who will supply the life giving nutrients for the fruit that we will bear. Fruit will be born of us, but it will not be “our” fruit, but we will be the conduit through which Christ displays that fruit.  And at this point, it’s easy to say, “well then, sir, all I have to do is let God do the work.” Yes, you do, but Christ also said that we are to strive to enter the narrow gate in Luke 12:24.  We are to strive to overcome all sinful tendencies, which will show the world who we belong to.

Having dwelt on this for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that sin, in my own life, is a putrid, horrific thing.  And yes, I use words that put sin in a very bad light, but, since I am surrounded by nothing but sin, I cannot even begin to grasp the utter sinfulness of sin as seen from God’s perspective. Paul himself could find no worse word for sin, than sin, see Romans 7:13.  Yet, when was the last time you heard a sermon or a preacher talk about sin, and it’s sinfulness?  When did you last read the Bible and fall under conviction of the horrendous nature of the sin in your own heart when held up to the righteousness of God through His Word?  We take sin so lightly.  We “heal the wounds of the people lightly,” which was the exact same case in Jeremiahs day.

This is why I consider Owen to be so important and I have embarked on this journey. My hope is that I will better understand the holiness of God, His righteousness, His perfections, as well as see the depths of the sin my flesh wallows in and desires.  Am I saved?  Most assuredly yes!  Am I perfect?  Yes, and no…….  Perfect in that I am Justified and because of Christs active and passive obedience, I am one with Him.  But on the other hand, imperfect in this life because I am captive to this fleshly, sin craving body and have not yet been glorified, Romans 8:28-30.  Sanctification has happened, is happening, and will ultimately happen, which is another way of saying, I was saved at a point in time, I am being saved daily, and I will ultimately be saved either when Christ returns, or when I die.  So, I need the Gospel every day, every minute, every second, and I need to strive by the power of the Holy Spirit to “be killing sin, or sin will be killing me,” to paraphrase one of Owen’s most famous quotes.

Also, as I blog through my study of The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, I want to mention that I am using the work that Owen originally wrote, as well as supplementing that with another book, Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  As my pastor has said about his preaching, you preach from the overflow of the sources you study, I will be using other sources to clarify and better grasp this important work of Owen.  I will try and make sure I provide citations and references to them when I use them.

 

The Double Cure

Augustus Toplady wrote:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

This “double cure” is both justification and sanctification.  Each is a separate work, yet they are inseparable because both flow from union with Christ.  From this union flows justification, which takes care of the guilt of our sin, and sanctification which takes care of the power of sin over our lives.

Brian Borgman, who I highly recommend, preaches a wonderful sermon regarding this topic which can be either watched or listened to here.

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?

Free Will or Free Grace?

Having spent a couple of weeks on the oncology and hospice floors of Emory University with family, I have been reminded yet again of the bounds and limits of a person’s will. Many folks, would have you think that the will is neutral and capable of accomplishing great feats, not the least of which is salvation. Yet the time spent at Emory has demonstrated and brought to my mind yet again one of my core beliefs concerning the bondage of the will. Contrary to popular opinion, a person’s will is neither free and certainly not the deciding factor in life’s course or destination.

Yes, we have a will. Yes, one acts according to his will. Yes, by one’s will (determination) great accomplishments have been achieved. However, everyone’s will is sinful and limited. These limitations affect all our decisions and capabilities from the lesser and mundane to the higher and spiritual.

While spending so much time on the 5th and 7th floors of Emory Hospital, I met several people. Most of the folks I met were visiting family members, often critical if not terminally ill family members. None of us (patients and/or family members) wanted to be there. The patients wanted (willed) to be well and to live. We the family did not want (will) our loved one to have cancer or to die.

The patients were receiving top notch, often cutting edge medical treatment by skillful doctors and nurses. While many of the patients were helped others could not be. Why? Was the deciding factor one’s free will? Did some by an act of their will or their loved one’s will stop death? No! Not even the best medical skills combined with the love and good will of family, staff and patient could reverse the devastating effects of the disease or prevent death.

Interestingly while at Emory I did not hear anyone touting free will as an answer for cancer or death, but I did hear folks talking about and engaging in prayer. Wonder why? Because intuitively we know that man’s will is limited and not the ultimate factor in life or death. Why do we pray and ask God for our daily bread (lesser) and the forgiveness of sins and the salvation (greater) of loved ones? Because we know that our wills are limited and that daily and eternal blessings are not the result of man’s will but God’s grace.

The Bible says, The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56). Sin is the greater, the cause of death. Death is the lesser, the result of sin. If no one can prevent death (lesser) by an act of the will, why would we imagine that the solution to sin (greater) is the will of man? Salvation and eternal life are not the results of free will, but free grace sovereignly and lovingly applied by the Great Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To God alone be the glory! Amen.

Original Blog Post Found Here.

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.

 

God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 2

Here is chapter 1 of Ernest Reisinger’s book on The Will:

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

IN the introduction I emphasized the importance of our subject and pointed out that the subject of the human will is not a new issue, but, as history teaches us, it has been a heated debate for centuries and was one of the chief issues that divided the Reformed and Roman Catholic theologians.

The question of the freedom of the will, or the power of the human will to obey God and to do that which is spiritually good, is inseparably connected to man’s sin and misery (total inability). It is also necessary to know what ability man lost by the fall and what he possessed after the fall.

An important question, then. is whether man can now, in the same way in which he separated himself from God, return to God by his own strength and ability? Can man, by his own will and in his fallen condition, accept the grace that is offered him by God, and recover himself to the position which has been lost by sin? ~n other words, can the will of man be the cause for men to do good or evil?

The Pelagian reply to this question is that so much grace is given by God and left by nature, to all men, that they can in and of themselves return to God and obey Him. The Holy Scriptures, however, teach us no such thing. Rather, the Scriptures clearly teach that no work acceptable and pleasing to God can be performed by anyone without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, all actions of the will, both good and bad, are performed freely and in no way coerced.

To put it another way, the Bible teaches that man, since the fall, in his natural corrupt state, has lost all ability of the will to do any spiritual good accompanying salvation and is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself.

The State of Innocence or The State of Creation

How great was the liberty of the will before the fall, that is, as God made Adam? The testimony of Scripture answers this question: “Truly, this only have I found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl. 7:29).

In this state of innocence, Adam had a mind enlightened with the perfect knowledge of God and a will yielding entire obedience to God by its own voluntary act and inclination. Yet this will was not so confirmed in this knowledge and obedience that it might not fall by its own free exercise, if the appearance of any good were presented for the purpose of deceiving and effecting a fall. In other words, the will of man was free to choose good and evil. It might continue to stand in good, being preserved by God; or it might also incline and fall over to evil, if forsaken by God. Adam had a copy of God’s law written on his heart. As a key is fitted to all the wards of a lock and can open it, so Adam had power suited to all God’s commandments and could obey them perfectly.

Pelagianism, Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, and present day Finneyism all have this one thing in common: they all teach man’s will is neutral—that it is still free to choose either good or evil. But the Scriptures teach that by his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability of will for any spiritual good accompanying salvation. Therefore, as a natural man, altogether averse to good and dead in sin, he is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself or to prepare himself for salvation.

The Calvinist does not believe that the will is neutral, but rather, what the Bible teaches: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Paul, Augustine, and Calvin have as their starting point the fact that all mankind sinned in Adam and that all men, therefore, are “without excuse” (Rom. 2:1).

This doctrine of total inability, which declares that men are dead in sin and are therefore unable to choose any good leading to salvation, does not teach (1) that all men are equally bad, (2) that any man is as bad as he could be, (3) that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, (4) that human nature is evil in itself, (5) that man’s spirit is inactive, or (6) that the body is dead.

It does teach, however, that fallen man, while unable to perform what is good, is never compelled to sin. Instead, he does so by his own depraved will—he wills to sin.

The State of Nature or The State of Degeneration

In his natural corrupt state, man freely chooses evil, without any compulsion or constraint upon his will. Indeed he cannot do otherwise, being under the bondage of sin. When Adam sinned, he and all his posterity fell into this state of nature and were corrupted. He will stay in this state unless he is recovered by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where you are if you have not been converted (“born again”).

The biblical description of this state of nature is as follows:

  • The sinfulness of man’s natural state: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
  • The misery of man’s natural state: “We.. .were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Eph. 2:3).
  • Man’s utter inability to recover himself “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

In this unregenerate, fallen state, man has no ability to do anything spiritually good. Man is a slave; he is in Satan’s prison house and does not have the key to get out. Second Timothy 2:24—26 says, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance , so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (emphasis mine).

In this unregenerate state, men are spiritually blind and cannot see, spiritually deaf and cannot hear, and what is worse, they are dead in trespasses and sins. But there is a God in heaven who can open blind eyes, who can unstop deaf ears, and, bless His holy name, who can and does raise the dead.

How does God influence the will of man? He presents objects or circumstances to the understanding, and through these, effectually moves and inclines the will. Therefore, although they choose that which God wills, they do it nevertheless from their own deliberation and choice and therefore act freely. So men may be said to act freely, not when they disregard every form of government and restraint, but rather when they act with deliberation and when the will chooses or rejects objects by its own free exercise, even though it may be excited and controlled by someone else (God).

If some of you think this is a little heavy, let me give you a little illustration that sets forth how God changes the “willer.” I remember hearing an old country preacher pick his guitar and sing a kind of “hillbilly” song, and though he may not have understood it, that song clearly sets forth a great theological truth, that is, that God makes man willing. I call it:

The Hornet Song

When the Canaanites hardened their hearts against God,
And grieved Him because of their sin,
God sent along hornets to bring them to terms,
And to help His own people to win.

If a nest of live hornets were brought to this room,
And the creatures allowed to go free,
You would not need urging to make yourself scarce,
You’d want to get out, don’t you see!

They would not lay hold and by force of their strength,
Throw you out of the window, oh, no!
They would not compel you to go against your will,
But they would just make you willing to go.

When Jonah was sent to the work of the Lord,
The outlook was not very bright.
He never had done such a hard thing before,
So he backed and ran off from the fight.

Now, the Lord sent a great fish to swallow him up,
The story I am sure you all know.
God did not compel him to go against his will,
But He just made him willing to go.

CHORUS:

God does not compel us to go, oh, no!
He never compels us to go.
God does not compel us to go against our will,
But He just makes us willing to go.

This song is teaching the truth found in the Psalms: “Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in Your courts” (65:4); “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power” (110:3 KJV).

What can the will do in the state of sin with reference to good? Some strength still remains in the unregenerate to do some civil good, such as, exercising justice and temperance. He can do acts of mercy and charity. He can abstain from theft and homicide. Some heathens have some virtue; however, they cannot do spiritual or supernatural good—pleasing and acceptable to God. Even “the plowing of the wicked [is] sin” (Prov. 2 1:4). The unregenerate has no strength for heavenly things—either in his intellect or will—from which the free will arises.

The unregenerate cannot do any spiritual good because he is spiritually dead: he must first be made alive by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

This state of depravity is proof of how we are born into this world since the fall. Man is not born neutral. He is born with a sinful nature. Parents should have no difficulty in believing that children are born with something other than a neutral nature. Parents do not find it necessary to teach their little children to lie. They soon learn what the Bible has to say about the inclinations with which their children are born. “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). Parents do not have to teach their children to get angry—we have all seen children get very angry before they can talk or walk—and according to our Lord’s teaching, anger is the mother of murder. (Matt. 5:21—22.)

Children are not sinners because they sin; they sin because they are born sinners—it is in their nature. This underscores the fact that the will, in this state, can only act according to its nature. It is true they are free but only free to act according to their nature. We are not free to fly because we do not have the nature of a bird. A sheep will not eat garbage like a hog. Why? Not because the sheep does not have a mouth and teeth but because of its nature. A hog will not eat grass like a sheep for the same reason: not because it is not free, but because it is free only to act according to its nature. So it is with the freedom of the will in the state of depravity—men are only free to act according to their nature.

Our Lord makes this point very clear when He states that a tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 12:33—37). Our Lord’s illustration of free will here will assist us in understanding a very important but controversial subject. (Walter Chantry of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has an excellent exposition of this passage entitled Mans Will Free—yet Bound.)

We also see this truth in the most pessimistic verse in all the Bible in which Jesus says to a crowd who are in the state of nature: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”(John 5:40) “You are not willing”—this is the will in the state of nature.

The unwilling in this state must be made willing by a mighty power outside themselves—by the power of the Holy Spirit. Man’s will is not his hope. “Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

The Spirit of God declares that:

  • every imagination of man’s heart from infancy is evil (Gen. 6:5; 8:2 1)
  • there is none righteous, none that understands, none that seeks after God (Ps. 14:3; Rom 3:10—11)
  • all are useless, corrupt, void of the fear of God, full of fraud, bitterness, and all kinds of iniquity, and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3)
  • the carnal mind is enmity against God and does not even leave us the power of thinking a good thought (Rom. 8:7; 2 Cor. 3:5)

Therefore, we maintain with Augustine that man, by making a bad use of free will, lost both himself and it. Since the will is overcome by the corruption into which it fell, man’s fallen, depraved will has no real liberty. No will is free which is subject to lusts which conquer and enchain it.

In like manner, God declares that it is His own work to renew the heart (Ps. 51:10), out of stone to make it flesh (Ezek. 11:19), to write His law on the heart and put it in the inward parts (Jer. 3 1:33), to make us to walk in His precepts (Ezek. 11:20), to give both good will and the results of it (Phil. 2:13), to put the fear of His name into our hearts, that we may never withdraw from it (Jer. 32:39), and in fine, to finish the work which He has begun in us until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6).

From this we conclude, again with Augustine, that:

  • the children of God are actuated by His Spirit to do whatever is to be done
  • they are drawn by Him, out of an unwilling state to be made willing
  • since the fall it is owing only to the grace of God that man draws near to Him
  • it is owing only to the same grace that God does not withdraw or recede from him
  • we know that no good thing which is our own can be found in our will
  • by the magnitude of the first sin, we lost the freedom of the will to believe in God and live holy lives
  • therefore “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs”—not because we ought not to will and to run, but because God effects both the willing and the running.

A Calvinist does not believe that God’s decision to save man by a decree leaves man passive or inert. Rather, the very opposite takes place! The covenant of grace does not kill man—it does not regard him as a tin can or a piece of wood or a robot. It takes possession of the man, it lays hold of his whole being, with all his faculties, and his power of soul and body—for time and eternity.

God’s sovereign grace does not annihilate man’s will: it overcomes his unwillingness. It does not destroy his will but frees it from sin. It does not stifle or obliterate his conscience but sets it free from darkness. Grace regenerates and re-creates man in his entirety, and in renewing him, causes him to love and consecrate himself to God freely.

In the next chapter we will consider man’s will in his regenerate state, that is, the state of grace; and also man’s will in the glorified state in which man will be both freely and necessarily good—both perfect and happy.