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.

 

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.

Assurance

PrayerAfter the article I read yesterday and posted about here, I find these articles on assurance from The Domain For Truth to be timely, informative, encouraging, and worth thinking about.  This is the 5th article on assurance and may the following scripture bless you:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Assurance of Salvation Part 5: Christians can Know that they are saved

Here are the links to the first 4 articles on assurance:

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

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

Assurance of Salvation Part 3: Perseverance means a Believer Endure

Assurance of Salvation Part 4: Objections to Perseverance of the Saints

 

Indicators You Might Apostatize

What follows is a link to a blog I read this morning.  It is mainly geared to those in professional ministry or academic pursuits, but I found it especially appealing as I often think along the same lines.  I have posted the sectional highlights below in the hopes that you will be enticed to read the article, and while it is a long read, in my opinion, one that is well worth it.  After you read it, spend some time thinking about it.

10.  Your ministry ambitions are fueled by something other than to see Christ’s Kingdom expanded.

9. You are more interested in enjoying your personal liberty than in erring on the side of personal restriction when it comes to the use of liberty.

8. You play fast and loose with Scripture.

7. When you are confronted with an interpretive difficulty, your tendency is to find fault with Scripture rather than to resolutely work through to a valid conclusion.

6. Your interpretive decisions are more likely to be influenced by popular opinion than by the grammatico-historical model of exegesis.

5. You will alter your theology based on life circumstances/experiences.

4. You will alter your theology due to relationships.

3. You stop struggling against sin.

2. You give up/replace on your devotional studies with activities.

1. You are not primarily motivated by an adoration for Christ.

The entire article can be found here and I hope you head on over and read it.

As an added bonus, there are two sermons by Brian Rickett entitled Ten Indicators That You Might Apostatize in 2013.  Here are the links to those:

Ten Indicators That You Might Apostatize in 2013 – Part 1

Ten Indicators That You Might Apostatize in 2013 – Part 2

Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology

This morning I was reading from John Frame’s latest book, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief.  I am teaching my wife about Covenant Theology and this morning we are working through the Abrahamic Covenant.  As I was finalizing my thoughts and re-reading through Frame’s work on this, one of Frame’s footnotes from this section lead me to an article from Richard Pratt that I found very interesting, historically, about Reformed Theology.  It actually dovetails nicely with another book I recently completed entitled, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive.

Here is the article:

The Scriptures were written over thousands of years, by many human authors, to meet the needs of God’s people in different times and places. Despite the diversity that resulted from these variables, biblical faith is highly unified. Behind the manifold details of Scripture is a rather simple, straightforward theological organization shaped by what Reformed theologians have called covenant theology.

Traditional Covenant Theology

While John Calvin himself acknowledged the importance of God’s covenants from time to time in his commentaries, he did not draw attention to their significance for the organization of Scripture as a whole. Yet, within one generation Reformed theologians began to see that the theology of the bible gives a central role to divine covenants. Since that time, it has been nearly impossible to separate Reformed theology from covenant theology.

The pinnacle of these early developments appeared in the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646. It expresses a way of looking at covenants that we may call traditional covenant theology. In brief, the Confession speaks of God condescending to reveal himself to humanity in two covenants: the “covenant of works” in Adam and the “covenant of grace” in Christ (WCF VII).

This traditional twofold approach to covenant theology highlights at least two central teachings of Reformed theology. On the one hand, the covenant of works draws attention to the fact that humanity’s relationship with God was based entirely on human works before Adam fell into sin. Of course, Adam failed and cast all human beings as well as the entire creation under God’s curse.

On the other hand, the covenant of grace points to the Reformed teaching that salvation for human beings and the restoration of creation has always been entirely dependent on God’s grace in Christ. From the first promise given to fallen Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, to the last chapter in Revelation there has been only one way of salvation. The Confession admits that this long history is “commonly called the covenant of grace” (WCF, emphasis mine). Note 1 below. In other words, the phrase “covenant of grace” is theological terminology and not found in the Bible, much like the word “Trinity.” Even so, the doctrine of the covenant of grace expresses the teaching of Scripture that salvation throughout the Old and New Testaments is in Christ alone.

Although the contours of this twofold approach to divine covenants have characterized Reformed theology through the centuries, covenant theology has never been static. Throughout the centuries Reformed theologians have explored different aspects of covenant theology in a variety of ways. During the second half of the last century, covenant theology made some rather dramatic advances in at least two areas that we will sketch in this article: first, covenants and the history of salvation; second covenants and personal salvation.

Covenants and Biblical History

In the first place, recent covenant theologians have explained more thoroughly the prominence of biblical covenants in biblical history by discerning their function in the kingdom of God. Reformed theology has always emphasized that in a broad sense, God is the sovereign king over all of creation. Everything has been, is and will be the kingdom of God because he is sovereign over all. Continue reading