Archive for March, 2014

A Calvinist’s deceitful attempt

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Light Bulb by fabiovaleggia - a realistically drawn light bulb with yellowish high lights.

(image courtesy openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

Why are so much heat and little light generated in the Arminian-Calvinist debates? I write as a convinced Reformed or Classical Arminian. See Roger E Olson’s description of ‘Reformed Arminianism’.

I encountered one such attempt on a Christian forum on the Internet. This was his claim: ‘It is true repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts.” JW’.[1] I thought he was using JW as referring to the Jehovah’s Witnesses so I replied accordingly, ‘But which Jesus???’[2] As it turned out, he was referring to the Christian revivalist and biblical preacher in the England, John Wesley.[3]

What to do with an isolated quote?

So here we have this one-liner, an isolated quote from John Wesley, ‘It is true repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts’ and he, a Calvinist, is asking people on the forum to respond to Wesley, an Arminian, and the content of this one sentence.

My response was, ‘When I see the citation with context and accurate referencing of where the quote came from in Wesley’s Works, then I’ll be able to reply. But I will not reply to something that has no bibliographic reference to confirm that this is from John Wesley’.[4] Before a bibliographic reference was given, I went searching online and this is what I found:[5]

He edited & censored elements of the quote [6]

Double Check Mark Clip Art

It is interesting to observe how this fellow censored Wesley’s quote by leaving out something important from John Wesley in the one-liner he gave. My search online located this as what was stated in the paragraph in context from John Wesley, which was a letter ‘To a Gentleman at Bristol. BRISTOL, January 6, 1758‘:

It is true repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself nor any of our Reformers made any scruple of calling them so (emphasis added).

In this edition of ‘The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Vol VI‘, this punctuation is provided:

It is true, repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself, nor any of our Reformers, made any scruple of calling them so (p. 98).

This online fellow was pleased to quote the one sentence by John Wesley but he didn’t mention a thing about what followed immediately in Wesley’s quote about ‘Mr Calvin himself nor any of our Reformers’ not having scruples about calling repentance and faith conditions as privileges and free gifts.

I find this to be disingenuous when he did not provide the exact statement in context where Wesley stated that Calvin and the Reformers didn’t have any scruples about calling repentance and faith, ‘conditions’ (of salvation).

In the Works of John Wesley, there is much more to this discussion than the one-liner he gave. Wesley was answering an Anglican opponent (remember, Wesley was an Anglican) and Wesley was countering the allegation that this Anglican was a promoter of justification by works. In the larger context, this is how it unfolded:

Jwesleysitting.JPG

John Wesley (image courtesy Wikipedia)

These undoubtedly are the genuine principles of the Church of England. And they are confirmed, as by our Liturgy, Articles, and Homilies, so by the whole tenor of Scripture. Therefore, till heaven and earth pass away, these truths will not pass away.

But I do not agree with the author of that tract in the spirit of the whole performance. It does not seem to breathe either that modesty or seriousness or charity which one would desire. One would not desire to hear any private person, of no great note in the Church or the world, speak as it were ex cathedra, with an air of infallibility, or at least of vast sell-sufficiency, on a point wherein men of eminence, both for piety, learning, and office, have been so greatly divided. Though my judgment is nothing altered, yet I often condemn myself for my past manner of speaking on this head. Again: I do not rejoice at observing anything light or ludicrous in an answer to so serious a paper; and much less in finding any man branded as a Papist because his doctrine in one particular instance resembles (for that is the utmost which can be proved) a doctrine of the Church of Rome. I can in no wise reconcile this to the grand rule of charity–doing to others as we would they should do to us.

Indeed, it is said, ‘Dr. T. openly defends the fundamental doctrine of Popery, justification by works’ (page 3); therefore ‘he must be a Papist’ (page 4). But here is a double mistake: for (1) whatever may be implied in some of his expressions, it is most certain Dr. T. does not openly defend justification by works; (2) this itself — justification by works — is not the fundamental doctrine of Popery, but the universality of the Romish Church and the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. And to call any one a Papist who denies these is neither charity nor justice.

I do not agree with the author in what follows: Dr. T. ‘loses sight of the truth when he talks of Christ’s having obtained for us a covenant of better hopes, and that faith and repentance are the terms of this covenant. They are not. They are the free gifts of the covenant of grace, not the terms or conditions. To say “Privileges of the covenant are the terms or conditions of it” is downright Popery.’

This is downright calling names, and no better. But it falls on a greater than Dr. T. St. Paul affirms, Jesus Christ is the Mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises; yea, and that better covenant He hath obtained for us by His own blood. And if any desire to receive the privileges which are freely given according to the tenor of this covenant, Jesus Christ Himself has marked out the way: ‘Repent, and believe the gospel.’

These, therefore, are the terms of the covenant, unless the author of it was mistaken. These are the conditions of it, unless a man can enter into the kingdom without either repenting or believing. For the word ‘condition’ means neither more nor less than something sine qua non, without which something else is not done. Now, this is the exact truth with regard to repenting and believing, without which God does not work in us ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’

It is true repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself nor any of our Reformers made any scruple of calling them so.

‘But the gospel is a revelation of grace and mercy, not a proposal of a covenant of terms and conditions’ (page 5). It is both. It is a revelation of grace and mercy to all that ‘repent and believe.’ And this the author himself owns in the following page: ‘The free grace of God applies to sinners the benefits of Christ’s atonement and righteousness by working in them repentance and faith’ (page 6). Then they are not applied without repentance and faith–that is, in plain terms, these are the conditions of that application.

I read in the next page: ‘In the gospel we have the free promises of eternal life, but not annexed to faith and repentance as works of man’ (true; they are the gift of God), ‘or the terms or conditions of the covenant.’ Yes, certainly; they are no less terms or conditions, although God works them in us.

‘But what is promised us as a free gift cannot be received upon the performance of any terms or conditions.’ Indeed it can. Our Lord said to the man born blind, ‘Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.’ Here was a plain condition to be performed, something without which he would not have received his sight. And yet his sight was a gift altogether as free as if the pool had never been mentioned.

‘But if repentance and faith are the free gifts of God, can they be the terms or conditions of our justification’ (Page 9.) Yes. Why not They are still something without which no man is or can be justified.

‘Can, then, God give that freely which He does not give but upon certain terms and conditions’ (Ibid.) Doubtless He can; as one may freely give you a sum of money on condition you stretch out your hand to receive it. It is therefore no ‘contradiction to say, We are justified freely by grace, and yet upon certain terms or conditions’ (page 10).

I cannot therefore agree that ‘we are accepted without any terms previously performed to qualify us for acceptance.’ For we are not accepted, nor are we qualified for or capable of acceptance, without repentance and faith.

‘But a man is not justified by works, but by the faith of Christ. This excludes all qualifications.’ (Page 13.) Surely it does not exclude the qualification of faith!
But St. Paul asserts, “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted to him for righteousness.”’ True; ‘to him that worketh not.’ But does God justify him that ‘believeth not’ Otherwise this text proves just the contrary to what it is brought to prove (SOURCE, emphasis added).

Wesley stated that he joined with Calvin and the Reformers in affirming that repentance and faith are conditions for entering the Christian covenant of salvation.

Are faith and repentance gifts of God?

Faith   Dynamite

(images courtesy ChristArt & ChristArt)

What is the role of God in salvation? Are responses needed by human beings or is it entirely up to God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace (the Calvinistic perspective from Charles Spurgeon)?

Thomas Oden, an Arminian, wrote that for John Wesley,

grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need of God, is the work of preparing, prevening grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own unrighteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gift of God (Oden 1994:246).

In one of his sermons, Wesley preached, ‘Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all; that is, no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and ‘with him freely giveth us all things’ (‘Free grace’, Sermon 128).

I agree with John Wesley, John Calvin, the Reformers and this Calvinist on the forum, that faith is a gift from God, but a response of faith is needed by human beings. Romans 4:4-8 affirms it,

4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (ESV).

Faith in the one who justifies is needed for salvation to be received and according to Romans 4:4, this faith is a gift from God. Against such a person, the Lord will not count his/her sin. She/he has been forgiven – through faith in the one and only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.[7]

What must I do to be saved?

Scarlet Salvation Button What did the apostle Paul say to the Philippian jailer who asked, ‘Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’ (Acts 16:30-31).

Paul did not say something like, ‘There is nothing for you to do. God does it all and you are either in or out of the kingdom, based on the deterministic unconditional election and irresistible grace of God. You have absolutely no say in whether you become a Christian or not’. That is not what Paul said, but instead: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’.

There was a similar reaction to Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost,

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38).

So the jailer had to ‘believe in the Lord Jesus’ to be saved, but we know that ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17 ESV).

The Scriptures affirm two elements in having faith in Jesus:

(1) God saves and gives faith, and

(2) There will be no faith unless a human being responds in faith to God’s offer of salvation through Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel.

This has often been put into the language of synergism (Arminianism) vs monergism (Calvinism). John Kebbel has rightly challenged this dichotomy:

Monergism and Synergism are extra-Biblical terms coined to encapsulate Bible truth. They fail. God’s dichotomy is Works and Faith, not Monergism and Synergism. Works are bad; faith is good. Faith in Jesus is something humans do (with prevenient grace courtesy of the Holy Spirit); saving these believing humans is something God does. (Monergism Versus Synergism: Beware, Kobayashi Maru Ahead!).

Bossmanham explained:

It is often charged by Calvinists that Arminians believe that man must work with God to procure their salvation. Man must make a move toward God and then God will make a move toward them. It is often described as God meeting man half way. Is this what is taught by Arminians? Did Jacobus Arminius believe this way?

The answer is no. Arminians believe the work of salvation is started and completed by God. The Bible says in order for man to come to God, He must draw them to Himself (John 6:44). Arminians believe the initial work of salvation is done by God. God must do this, because due to the effects of sin, man’s will toward faith in Christ has been lost and destroyed. God must free the person’s will in order for them to make a conscious decision whether to accept His gift of grace or not.

God the Holy Spirit acts upon the heart of a man when that man is exposed to the grace of God. This is done through the hearing of the Gospel (Romans 10:17). God has declared as the great commission for His children to spread His gospel (Matthew 28:19) for this reason. Upon the hearing of the word, the Spirit of God calls the sinner to repent of his sins, draws the sinner to accept Christ, enables the sinner to accept Christ, and convicts the sinner of his or her sins and their need for Christ. After being enabled by the Spirit, the response of the sinner is passive. The sinner must stop resisting, repent of their sins, and place their faith in Christ. This gift, like any gift, is not irresistible. The sinner must accept the unmerited gift of God. Once this is done, following the plan of the Father, the Spirit joins the sinner to Jesus and thus begins the Savior’s relationship with the sinner (Monergism, Synergism, and Arminianism).

Conclusion

There is no salvation unless God works on the inner person (known as the heart) through prevenient grace. God does that through the proclamation of the Gospel and draws people to salvation by the Holy Spirit’s work within. However, there is a human response through faith and repentance. This is an Arminian understanding of the Scriptures as outlined above.

Works consulted

Oden T 1994. John Wesley’s scriptural Christianity: A plain exposition of his teaching on Christian doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Theology, Soteriology, ‘How can unregenerate people worship God’, cygnusx1 #697, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-70/ (Accessed 8 March 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #699.

[3] Ibid., cygnusx1 #704, http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-71/.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #711, http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-72/.

[5] The Calvinist eventually provided the bibliographic reference as, ‘Wesley, John, Works VIII, (Appeals and Minutes Wesleyan- Methodist Book –Room), 361, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. – John Wesley – Google Books. My source, http://dufreire.wordpress.com/2008/0…ntance/#_ftn29’, at ibid., cygnusx1 #718, at http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-72/.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #730, http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-73/.

[7] If you want to read his response to my lengthy quote and my further replies, see ibid., cygnusx1 #732, http://www.christianforums.com/t7806024-74/#post65145404 – and what follows.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 April 2016.

   

How could very good human beings commit the first sin?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Sticky Sin

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

In a moment of contemplation, have you ever thought on how the first human beings made by God could possibly fall into sin? Where did human wickedness start and how was it caused?

What was the condition of the first human beings whom God created? Genesis 1:31 could not be clearer: ‘And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day’ (ESV).

I got to thinking more deeply of this as a result of what a person online asked:

I’m having trouble understanding how sin and evil can exist in the first place since we know from God’s word that He did not create any of this (or am I understanding that in the wrong way). If that is the correct understanding then, and that God created everything, then how can it be that sin and evil can exist if they are not from God?[1]

Free choice not good enough

Sin Stain

(courtesy ChristArt)

My response[2] was that I find the simplest explanation is in what God did with the first human beings according to Genesis 2:17, ‘but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (ESV).

God gave human beings choice (free will). Where would we be without it? The choice of spouse, chocolate or that Toyota?

In that choice, he gave human beings the free will to obey of disobey God. They chose to disobey with the sinful consequences that followed for the whole human race. And it infected our world.

Thus, God did not create the first sin but he created human beings with the free will to obey or disobey. The consequences of disobedience were that sin entered the world.

Yes, there are times when God intervenes with judgment (e.g. Noah’s Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, etc).

God is absolutely good and his best plan for the world was to make human beings with free will to agree or disagree with Him and to give the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.

But have a guess what? Judgment day is coming:

I’m looking forward to God’s Parousia. I think many in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, China, etc are also looking for the same.
God is the ultimate ‘winner’? Are you saved and do you love Him with all your being?

How would this woman respond to such a view? She wrote:

I understand that part very clearly, yet where did the sin come from? Where did the consequences of disobedience come from? Is there something outside of God then? I think there might almost have to be if unbelievers are in eternity cut off from Christ. Or is that annihilationism? (Which I think is probably not biblical).

I know our disobedience to God’s revealed will is what caused the entrance of sin into the world for we had the free will to obey God or to disobey Him. Yet that the consequence happened sounds like there is some force outside of God–which He has control over of course–yet that there is still some thing which exists outside of God, which He did not create. That is the part that I can’t understand.

(Rationalizing it further makes it sounds as though free will in itself is a power separate from God–almost that this is the source of the sin, though now there is this force which is not from God existing of itself somehow. Yet obviously free will can’t entirely be sinful all the time since when God condescends with the gift of faith to His chosen they come to Him of their own free will).[3]

An internal free act of revolt [4]

Sinful Behaviour

(courtesy ChristArt)

I have to admit that this person posed what is a legitimate and penetrating question. I consider it one of the substantive difficulties in understanding the Fall into sin by two ‘very good’ human beings. How could a ‘very good’ human being Fall and commit the first sin?

I’ve discussed free will, but how did it happen? God placed something in the constitution of the good first human beings that, in the purposes of God, would be used by human beings to trigger this first sin.

Theologian W G T Shedd put it this way:

The first sin of Adam was twofold: (a) Internal ; (b) External. The internal part of it was the originating and starting of a wrong inclination. The external part of it was the exertion of a wrong volition prompted by the wrong inclination. Adam first inclined to self instead of God, as
the ultimate end. He became an idolater, and ” worshipped and served the creature more than the creator,” Rom. 1 : 25. Then, in order to gratify this new inclination, he reached forth his hand and ate of the forbidden fruit. ” Our first parents fell into open disobedience, because already they were secretly corrupted ; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil inclination (voluntas) preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil inclination but pride? And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end.

Shedd then added,

The internal part of Adam’s first sin was the principal part of it. It was the real commencement of sin in man. It was the origination from nothing, of a sinful disposition in the human will. There was no previous sinful disposition to prompt it, or to produce it. When Adam inclined

away from God to the creature, he exercised an act of pure self-determination. He began sinning by a real beginning, analogous to that by which matter begins to be from nothing. In endowing Adam with a mutable holiness, God made it possible, but not necessary, for Adam to originate a sinful inclination, and thereby expel a holy one. The

finite will can fall from holiness to sin, if it is not ” kept from falling ” (Jude 24) by God’s special grace, because it is finite. The finite is the mutable, by the very definition (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol 2, pp. 169, 171).

But how did this sinful disposition become a part of Adam’s nature? I do not believe that God put the motives into the first human beings to lead them to sin because that would make God responsible for sin and, therefore, human beings would be exempt from guilt. We need to understand that God’s grace was not removed from Adam in the fall into sin.

I don’t think this first sin was based on the power of choice as that would not explain how a good human being would make an ungodly choice.

I do not have a definitive explanation of how a depraved condition arose, but we know it did happen and the only explanation that is satisfactory for me is that the first human beings were given an internal mechanism that enabled them by free action to revolt against God.

Augustus Strong points in this direction:

Reason therefore, has no other recourse than to accept the Scripture doctrine that sin originated in man’s free act of revolt from God — the act of a will which, though inclined toward God, was not yet confirmed in virtue and was still capable of a contrary choice. The original possession of such power to the contrary seems to be the necessary condition of probation and moral development. Yet the exercise of this power in a sinful direction can never be explained upon grounds of reason, since sin is essentially unreason. It is an act of wicked arbitrariness, the only motive is the desire to depart from God and to render self-supreme (Systematic theology, Part 5, ch 1).

Conclusion

I am grateful for this provocative and challenging question that has caused me to think more deeply of how the first sin originated. Reason cannot explain it. But it seems to have originated in the God-given freedom to human beings by which a person could – in the purposes of God – choose to continue with obedience to God or be in revolt against God.

It originated in the unseen human heart – the inner part of human beings – but it was autonomous with the human individual. As a result it was communicated to all human beings.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Hamartiology, ‘God did not create sin’, dhh712 #61, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7606059-7/#post65112277 (Accessed 2 March 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #62.

[3] Ibid., dhh712 #63.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #64.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.