Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

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Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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Book Review: Arminian Theology – By Roger E. Olson

roger-olson-arminian-theologyLetter IIn On Liberty the Nineteenth Century British philosophy John Stuart Mill wrote that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them… he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

That is, we must not lock ourselves into echo chambers, only listening to voices that sound like our own.

Roger Olson‘s Arminian Theology is a book that I saw sitting in my library bookstore and piqued my interest, and my curiosity, mainly because I had never read a true defense of Arminian Theology – and believing the thoughts of John Stuart Mill presented above to be true – I have been feeling it my duty for quite some time to read another side of the argument. However, there is something else which should be added to the thoughts of Mill, and those are thoughts of C.S. Lewis, from his book An Experiment in Criticism where he writes that “We can never know that a piece of writing is bad unless we have begun by trying to read it if it was very good and ended up by discovering that we were paying the author an undeserved compliment.” I went into this book giving it the benefit of the doubt, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The goal of Olson’s book is, as the subtitle points out, to discuss the myths and realities of Arminian theology. He begins by giving the outline of the age-old debate, by defining his terms, and by giving a basic overview of orthodox Arminian and Calvinist positions. He then goes on to address the myths of Arminian theology, to include: Arminianism is the opposite of Calvinism; a hybrid of Arminianism and Calvinism is possible; Arminianism is not orthodox evangelicalism; the heart of Arminianism is free will; Arminian theology denies the sovereignty of God; is human-centered; is not a theology of grace; doesn’t believe in predestination; denies justification by grace alone through faith alone; and believes in the governmental theory of atonement.

Olson systematically goes through providing explanations for why each of the myths regarding Arminian theology is false, and offering sources which explain the actual Arminian position, usually to include John Welsey, Simon Episcopius, Thomas Oden, and many others (as well as Arminius himself).

One downside of this (though it does show Olson’s sincerity) is that he is often forced to point out that many of Arminianisms main proponents do believe in and teach the myths put forth, though Olson regulates these to misunderstandings of Arminiansm – still, it does mean that not all of them are really myths, or at least that Olson’s understanding of Arminianism isn’t necessary uniform without that theological group.

Overall, Olson does a good job explaining his position and clarifying the position of Arminianism, and I have to say that walked away with a better understanding of where they are coming from (though I’d still posit that there are many gaps in the argument).

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Olson’s writing is his honesty and willingness to acknowledge the weaknesses in his own system. For instance Olson can be found noting that “all caviling aside, Arminians know that their belief in libertarian freedom is a mystery (not a contradiction).” He also does well at representing his opponent’s view, and understanding why his opponents object to his system: “These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd.”

Finally, Olson also offers a very good formula to abide by when critiquing other systems. Define your terms, be able to describe you opponents view as he would before opposing it, make sure you’re not attacking a straw man, admit your own weaknesses, and avoid attributing to the opposing party things they explicitly reject. All are great advice for anybody who wants their opponents to take them seriously, and I think Olson plays by his own rules fairly well in this text.

That said, I would recommend this text to Arminians and Calvinists alike.  It is a good read, and great for clarifying the Arminian position.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The most common root of confusion in theology is misunderstanding of terms.” (p15)

-“I have concluded that appealing to Scripture alone cannot prove one side right and the other side wrong… It is largely a matter of that mystery called perspective. Philosophers have called it ‘blik.’ It is a basic way of seeing reality. We see the world as such-and-such even when proof is lacking.” (p70)

“And Arminians do not see a way to embrace divine determinism (monergism) and avoid making God the author of sin and evil.” (p98)

-“A concept that is compatible with anything and everything is empty.” (p100)

-“The free will of human beings in Arminius’s theology and in classical Arminianism is more properly denoted freed will.”

Specific Criticisms

While I am a fan of this text, it is not without its share of difficulties. On of the main ones is that Olson addresses the ‘myth’ that the heart of Arminianism is free will, and then essentially argues the opposite (one way around this criticism would be to say that he means for the heart of Arminianism to be the ‘freed will’, but this is never stated outright). Hence we find Olson continually arguing in favor of free will, especially from the standpoint that “[free will] is necessary to protect God’s reputation.” (p98) 

Another issue is that the text is mainly directing his argument against ‘high calvinism’ or hypercalvinism. Olson acknowledges early on that hypercalvinism is not the primary view within Calvinism, and yet it is hypercalvinism that most of his arguments are aimed against.

Other areas include what one might call ‘gaps in logic’. For instance, Olson says that “Thus predestination is conditional rather than unconditional; God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect.” (p35) and again, “Rather, the decisions cause God to know them.” (p188) How can an effect precede a cause? This is never addressed by Olson.

There are also instances such as these three quotations; Olson wants to make the point that humans action is necessary for salvation, but they don’t play a part, they cooperate but don’t contribute, they are a partner but play no part. “Thus salvation is conditional, not unconditional; humans play a role and are not passive or controlled by any force, internal or external.” (p37) “Cooperation does not contribute to salvation, as if God does part and humans do part; rather cooperation with grace in Arminian theology is simply nonresistance to grace.” (p36) “In salvation, God’s grace is the superior partner; human free will (nonresistance) is the lesser partner.” (p63) Frankly, I don’t think Olson makes his point clear at all.

There are various other nitpicks I have with the text, but one of the only other ones worth noting here is his statement that “Arminian belief in general redemption is not universal salvation; it is universal redemption from Adam’s sin.”(p33) My problem with this statement is that no proof text is provided to support it, and it is presumably an idea that is added on extra-biblically in the need to account for all the facts.

Book Review: All of Grace – By C.H. Spurgeon

 

Spurgeon All of Grace.pngletter-aAll of Grace was the first book of Spurgeon‘s which I ever. I read it once a few years ago and found it to be wonderful, I’ve recently read it again and found it to be just as wonderful, touching and relevant as the first time I read it.

The design of the text is one aimed at introducing an unbeliever to the gospel, as Spurgeon says in the first chapter “Reader, do you mean business in reading these pages? If so, we are agreed at the outset; but nothing short of your finding Christ and Heaven is the business aimed at here.” It is a text directed at the new or potential Christian, and yet it’s content may no doubt be enjoyed and and benefited from by the most advanced of Christians, and the reason for this is quite simply that what is presented is the gospel truth and the Christian spirit may never tire of the truths of salvation and sanctification.

The message being presented here is simply the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone. It is the message that “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” It is the message that our hope lies in Christ alone and his work upon the cross, that all our failings and our weaknesses and our lack of will for saving ourselves only further demonstrate the truth of salvation by grace, that salvation is of the Lord, and not of man. It is at once a message to not make a Christ out of our faith or our repentance, as if those things in themselves were to save us, but to rather trust in Christ alone, to trust that it is his work that saves.

The text is at once simple and profoundly deep, presenting the intricacies of theology in the plain manner of the gospel. It has all the insights of a theologian and all the comforts of a pastor, as it is primarily a pastoral (and evangelical) work. This can be seen in the ‘objections’ which Spurgeon brings up to his message, the same objections which the unbeliever or the struggling believer is bound to face:

“Many are groaning, ‘I can do nothing.’ They are not making this into an excuse, but they feel it as a daily burden. They would if they could. They can each one honestly say, ‘To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would I find not’; “I could believe that Jesus would forgive sin,” says one, “but then my trouble is that I sin again, and that I feel such awful tendencies to evil within me. As surely as a stone, if it be flung up into the air, soon comes down again to the ground, so do I, though I am sent up to heaven by earnest preaching, return again to my insensible state. Alas ! I am easily fascinated with the basilisk eyes of sin, and am thus held as under a spell, so that I cannot escape from my own folly.” I have heard another say, “I am tormented with horrible thoughts. Wherever I go, blasphemies steal in upon me. Frequently at my work a dreadful suggestion forces itself upon me, and even on my bed I am startled from my sleep by whispers of the evil one. I cannot get away from this h orrible temptation.” ; I hear another bewailing himself thus: “Oh, sir, my weakness lies in this, that I do not seem to keep long in one mind! I hear the word on a Sunday, and I am impressed; but in the week I meet with an evil companion, and my good feelings are all gone. My fellow workmen do not believe in anything, and they say such terrible things, and I do not know how to answer them, and so I find myself knocked over.

With the gospel of grace firmly presented it is each of these questions which Spurgeon turns his attention towards, answering the objections of those feel the message is too much or that they haven’t the strength or ability to obey it. These chapters I think have some of the best kernels of wisdom available regarding the Christian walk.

Simply put, this is a text for everybody. It is a text presenting the gospel to the unbeliever. It is a text for building the faith of the new believer. It is a text for redirecting the gaze of maturing Christian to the work of Christ. It is a text offering the realizations of grace and the cross which the struggling Christian needs to overcome sin. Finally, one might even say that in its simplicity it is one of the best introductions to Reformed theology that one might hope to obtain.

“Recollect the question which flashed into the mind of young Bunyan when at his sports on the green on Sunday: ‘Wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell, or wilt thou quit thy sins and go to heaven?’ That brought him to a dead stand. That is a question which every man will have to answer: for there is no going on in sin and going to heaven. That cannot be. You must quit sin or quit hope. Do you reply, ‘Yes, I am willing enough. To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would I find not. Sin masters me, and I have no strength.’ Come, then, if you have no strength, this text is still true, ‘When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.’ Can you still believe that? However other things may seem to contradict it, will you believe it? God has said it, and it is a fact; therefore, hold on to it like grim death, for your only hope lies there.”

Memorable Quotes:

-“If you will have Jesus, He has you already. If you believe on Him, I tell you you cannot go to hell; for that were to make the sacrifice of Christ of none effect… The Lord would not receive this offering on our behalf, and then condemn us to die. The Lord cannot read our pardon written in the blood of His own Son, and then smite us. That were impossible.”

-“I cannot make this change,” says one. Who said you could? The Scripture which we have quoted speaks not of what man will do, but of what God will do. It is God’s promise, and it is for Him to fulfill His own engagements. Trust in Him to fulfill His Word to you, and it will be done.”

-“Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation… Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.”

-“If Christ has died for me, ungodly as I am, without strength as I am, then I cannot live in sin any longer, but must arouse myself to love and serve Him who hath redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil which slew my best Friend. I must be holy for His sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?”

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text, it is quite simply one of the – if not the – best presentations of the gospel that I’ve read outside the gospels themselves.

Book Review: Chosen By God – By R.C. Sproul

RC Sproul Chosen By God.pngLetter TThe topic of predestination is one of those topics within Christian discussion which is both unavoidable and greatly controversial, and here in his book Chosen By God R.C. Sproul takes on the task of explaining and providing a Biblical account of salvation and the role that the choice of God plays in this.

Predestination as Sproul defines it “in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born.” 

As Sproul goes about discussing the doctrine of predestination he does so by discussing the way it is related to the sovereignty of God, man’s free will, and the fall. With this foundation laid Sproul continues to discuss the way in which these things work out practically in salvation, in bringing man from spiritual death to life (that is, rebirth). Finally, Sproul discusses the way that foreknowledge plays into this and addresses various related topics such as the extreme of double predestination, whether or not the Christian may have assurance of salvation, and different objections against the doctrine such as whether or not Christians need to evangelize or in what way Christ died for ‘the world’.

Throughout this exploration of predestination Sproul is very open and honest about his limitations and those things that cannot be accounted for; for instance Sproul states “… Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know”  and also that “I have no idea why God saves some but not all. I don’t doubt for a moment that God has the power to save all, but I know that he does not choose to save all. I don’t know why.”

Thus Sproul lets his reader know up front that there are some mysteries which the Reformed doctrine of predestination cannot answer.

Overall, Sproul offers an excellent account of the Reformed doctrine, with such wonderful explanations of salvation as “[Fallen man’s] problem, which we defined as moral inability, is that he lacks a desire for Christ. He is indisposed and disinclined toward Christ. Unless or until man is inclined to Christ, he will never receive Christ. Unless he first desires Christ, he will never receive Christ. In regeneration, God changes our hearts. He gives us a new disposition, a new inclination… If God gives us a desire for Christ we will act according to that desire.”

Similarly, Sproul refutes misconceptions of Reformed theology, such as his statement that: “Calvinism does not teach and never has taught that God brings people kicking and screaming into the kingdom or has ever excluded anyone who wanted to be there… Natural man does not want Christ. He will only want Christ if God plants a desire for Christ in his heart. Once that desire is planted, those who come to Christ do not come kicking and screaming against their wills. They come because they want to come. They now desire Christ.” 

While not perfect, Sproul offers an excellent account of Reformed theology, specifically as it involves the doctrine of predestination.

Memorable Quotes:

– “For now let me say simply that, if the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair of all hope that anyone would be saved.”-33

– “The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.”-38

– “It’s not freedom that is canceled out by sovereignty; it is autonomy that cannot coexist with sovereignty… Autonomy implies absolute freedom. We are free, but there are limits to our freedoms… God is free. I am free. God is more free than I am. If my freedom runs up against God’s freedom, I lose.”-41, 42, 43

– “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order that we may believe… What the text (John 3:16) teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will receive B (everlasting life). The text says nothing, absolutely nothing, about who will ever believe.”-73

– “That we are sinners is easy to admit; that none of us even does good is a bit much. Not one person in a thousand will admit that sin is this serious… For a work to be considered good it must not only conform outwardly to the law of God, but it must be motivated inwardly by a sincere love for God.”-106, 107

– “All that God has to do to harden people’s hearts is to remove the restraints. He gives them a longer leash. Rather than restricting their human freedom, he increases it. He lets them have their own way.”-145

– “Chance is neither. It is merely a mental construct… Chance really explains nothing. It is merely a word we use as shorthand for our ignorance.”-193, 194

Specific Criticisms

As mentioned, Sproul is an excellent theologian and this book presents the Reformed doctrines in a very concise, readable, and insightful manner. Yet, it is not perfect.

– One criticism which might be offered is that Sproul doesn’t have a very strong grasp on what is actually being posited when other groups speak of free will. For instance, Sproul states that “If [Adam] was created with no desire for sin, then we must ask where that desire came from… In creation man was given an ability to sin and an ability not to sin. He chose to sin. The question is, ‘Why?'” (p.29, 30).

The very point of free will is that it is not deterministic, it is not rationalistic; that is, to ask ‘why’ is to beg the question, it is merely not a question which can be asked of free will. If there were a ‘why’, then that why would be what determined the action, not the ‘free will’ of the individual. As F.H. Jacobi puts it “Every avenue of demonstration ends up in fatalism.” To attempt to create a causal chain to prove free will is to fundamentally misunderstand what free will is said to be; to successfully ‘prove’ free will in this way would be to disprove it.

This misunderstanding perhaps presents itself when Sproul uses the analogy of a mule starving due to refusing to choose between bowls of food (p.53).

– Another criticism which might be offered is Sprouls assertion [in reference to sin] that “All that means is that God must have decided to allow it to happen”(p.31). Quite simple, this is a little ways removed from say – the Westminster Confession of Faith – which asserts that “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends…”

Part of this may be a misunderstanding due to the way that Sproul ambiguously refers to free will; often he seems to appeal to free will when he wants to explain sin, but then ultimately denies that it exists.

– Yet another criticism involves Sproul’s statement that “But we must ask the really tough question: Is there any reason that a righteous God ought to be loving toward a creature who hates him and rebels constantly against his divine authority and holiness?” (p.33). Yet, ultimately this not the question which opponents of Reformed Theology are asking; the question they are asking is why – if God created the creature in such a way to ensure the creature would hate him – how can he then hold the creature accountable for something he himself brought about.

– Two minor criticisms include the way in which Sproul creates a sort of straw man argument against the accusation of fatalism; that is, in order to rebuff predestination as fatalism he says “Fatalism literally means that the affairs of men are controlled either by whimsical sub-deities (the Fates) or more popularly by the impersonal forces of chance” (p.191). Thus, Sproul merely offers the least used definition of fatalism (or arguably, a wrong definition, as attributing affairs to chance is roughly the exact opposite of fatalism) and refutes that instead of dealing with the actual objection.

The final minor criticism is the analogy Sproul offers of a judge sentencing his own son to prison (p.196) in order to explain the way in which God laments the punishment of sinners. Yet this analogy falls short, for the judge in the analogy – presumably – did not decree, ensure, and cause (through second causes) his son to commit the crime of which he is being punished.

Minor note: At one point Sproul mistakenly refers to the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argument as ‘ad hominem’, stating that: “An ‘ad hominem’ argument is carried out by taking your opponent’s position and carrying it to its logical conclusion.” This is likely just an oversight on his part – and his editor’s – but it is still worth noting.

Book Review: A Journey in Grace – By Richard P. Belcher

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letter-a AJourney in Grace follows the progression of a young pastor as he is confronted with the question “Are You a Calvinist?” Not knowing the answer to the question, he goes out to discover whether or not he is. In his endeavor he is aided by fellow pastors, his friends, his professors and his fiance, as he slowly unravels the theology behind Calvinism as it relates to Scripture, to philosophy, to the ministry, to other denominations, and to the world at large.

Belcher does well at offering an introductory text to Reformed theology. In a short space he covers a wide degree of angles, ranging from the logic of theology to our ability to communicate truth, from common misconceptions and critiques of Calvinism to the way it has developed throughout the course of history. The author also does well at engaging the general mood of many churches in regards to the often poorly defined entity that is Calvinism.

The text covers most of the bases well in a short and fairly concise manner, especially considering that it’s written in novel form. This format makes the text especially accessible to layman and those who have had very little or only negative exposure to Calvinism, or those who find themselves daunted by more systematic and academically themed approaches. This is further enhanced by other recommended books which are littered throughout the text which give the reader some hint of where to go for more information.

All in all, it’s a good introduction in a format that one doesn’t find often. There is nothing groundbreaking to be found, but then there isn’t meant to be.

Memorable Quotes:

-“There would never be a situation where one of the elect would not want to be saved, for the regenerating power of God will grant sight, desire, power and enablement to the elect in the work of salvation.”(p128)

-“The Calvinist would say, if there is no perseverance, there is no salvation; and if there is salvation, there will be perseverance.”(p134)

-“It’s not that doing the will of the Father saves a person, but it is stating that the saved person will do the will of the Father.”(p139)

-“[The pastor] knows it is his responsibility to enter the pulpit, saturating his mind with the Word of God, and to preach it, trusting God through the Word to convict and save sinners.”(p152)

Specific Criticisms

I don’t really have any criticisms of this text. Sometimes the plot seems forced, but then it is forced, because the story is only a medium through which to offer an introduction to a system of thought. It succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is to serve as an introduction to reformed theology for layman.

Two or Three Uses? – The Law in Luther & Calvin

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Letter WWithin the realm of Christian theology there are many fiercely debated topics. One such topic is the question of the how the Law is to be understood in the Christian faith, especially in the light of the gospel and in the life of the Christian.

Taking on this task, Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin both put forth ideas of how the Law is to be understood within Christianity.

When given a cursory reading, it will be noticed that Luther put forth two different uses of the Law, whereas Calvin put forth three, a distinction which has caused a fair amount of dispute between Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this day.

In order to gain a better understanding of this doctrine is helpful to compare and contrast these two great thinkers’ views on the topic, paying careful attention to how and why they draw the distinctions that they do. For John Calvin, it will be necessary to analyze his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he lays out what he sees to be the three uses of the Law. For Martin Luther, it will be necessary to first look at his Commentary on Galatians, where he lays out what he sees to be the two primary uses of the Law; with this done, it will also be necessary to look at various other of Luther’s writings to discern whether or not he indeed limits the use of the Law to those two areas.

Because Calvin is more systematic in his approach to the topic of the uses of the Law, it will be helpful to discuss him first, and thereby gain a solid understanding of the field to be analyzed; with this done we can consider how Luther compares in his writings, both explicitly and implicitly.

John Calvin’s Three Uses of the Law

What the Law Refers To

In discussing Calvin’s uses of the Law, it is first necessary to discern what it is that Calvin refers to when he refers to the Law.

For this one may turn to the seventh chapter of the second book of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, where Calvin begins his in-depth discussion of the Law. Here Calvin states explicitly that ‘the Law’ he understands to refer to “not only the Ten Commandments, which contain a complete rule of life, but the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses.”

This definition of the Law is given in the context of pointing out that the Law is not something that exists merely as a negative, detracting from the hope of Israel for Christ. Rather, Calvin argues that this was given through Moses for the sake of ‘renewing’ the Abrahamic promises, to be seen as “types and shadows of corresponding truth.” Thus Calvin begins his discussion of the Law by pointing out that the Law is not a bad thing. Indeed, Calvin goes so far as to say in reference to the religious aspect of the Law that “the fullness of grace, of which the Jews had a foretaste in under the Law, is exhibited in Christ,” in reference to the priestly offices that they would come to inhabit.

After this ceremonial and religious aspect of the Law, Calvin goes on to discuss the more explicitly moral aspect of the Law, which serves to point out the fact that eternal life awaits perfect obedience of the Law. By this the Law serves to show that the people fall under the curse, the result of which is “despondency, confusion, and despair.” Regardless, Calvin notes, the fact that perfect obedience to the Law is nowhere to be found does not mean that the Law has therefore been given in vain, for through justification by faith the people learn to embrace the goodness offered in the gospels.

The ‘office’ of this moral law, Calvin continues, itself consists of three parts, which is where one enters fully into Calvin’s understanding of the three uses of the Law.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Mirror

In beginning his discussion on the three parts of the moral law, Calvin first points to the use of the law as it exhibits “the righteousness of God – in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God.”

Pointing out what righteousness is acceptable to God in turn convicts and condemns the people of their pride and serves as “a kind of mirror” in which “we discover any stains upon our face” such that the people will observe their own impotence, iniquity, and the curse and consequence of those. This aspect of the Law is that aspect experienced by those who are “sinners not yet regenerated.”

In continuing his defense of the Law, Calvin points out that the fact that the Law serves to only condemn does not detract from the excellence of the law, since the reason the Law is insufficient for salvation is because of our lack of obedience, and thereby not any fault in the Law itself. The Law if further not marred because God has declared that his end goal is not to “allow all to perish” but to that he might take mercy upon them by turning them to the mercy offered in Christ.

Thus, the first use of the law is that it serves as a mirror, showing mankind their iniquity and convicting them of their subsequent condemnation, and through this driving them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Curb

The second use of the Law, Calvin argues, is that through the fear of punishment that it might “curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” These individuals have their behavior curbed, Calvin argues, not because their hearts are changed or they are “inwardly moved and affected”, nor do they change their behavior in order to better please God. Rather, they are restrained through the force of “terror and shame”, terror of the punishment which will come to them if they act against the Law, and the shame which will be attached to their actions. 

This outward restraint does not lead to an inward change of heart; just the opposite, due to having to restrain themselves Calvin argues that they become even more hostile to God – the Lawgiver – more inflamed, such that they “rage and boil”, ready to break out whenever the fear of the law is gone.

In spite of the fact that this aspect of the Law doesn’t avail in changing the hearts of those who are under it, Calvin argues that it too is still a good thing. This goodness comes not from the impact of the Law upon those whom it inflames, but on the overall good of society. This is so because through restraining these individuals society’s peace is “secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion.”

Furthermore, even though the unregenerate might not be driven to holiness by this aspect of the Law, Calvin argues that it does train those who will eventually be converted in how to “bear the yoke of righteousness.”

That is, it gives them a sort of head start in what it is like to live as a Christian. Lastly, this use of the law for these individuals keeps them from “giving full scope to their passions, and thereby utterly losing all desire after righteousness.” Calvin here argues that the law keeps the yet-to-be-regenerated individual from giving in fully to their passions and thereby retaining in them at least some desire for righteousness. This is such that should God not immediately bring an individual to salvation, he may prepare them for salvation by cultivating that rightful fear which a child ought to have of their Father.

Thus, in its second use, the law serves both the good of society in restraining individuals from wicked behavior as well as cultivating in some of those individuals the discipline and fear that they should rightfully have when they eventually become children of God.

Three Uses of the Law: As a Rule of Life

In his commentary Calvin notes that there is a tendency for theologians to relegate the entire use of the law to the increase of transgressions as presented in Galatians 3:19. He goes on to note that Paul speaks of the law as profitable for doctrine and notes that “the definition here given of the use of the law is not complete, and those who refuse to make any other acknowledgment in favor of the law do wrong.”

Following his discussion of the uses of the law as a tool for turning people toward reliance on God and as a tool for curbing behavior which would be harmful to society, Calvin turns toward what he refers to as the ‘principal use’ of the Law, and what is known in theology at large as simply ‘the third use of the Law’.

This use of the Law differs from the previous two uses in that while the first two uses of the Law apply – in Calvin’s system – primarily to the unregenerate, this third use is the Law as it is applied to the regenerate, to believers who are already following God.

In speaking of this use of the Law, Calvin begins by pointing out that believers already have the Law written on their hearts along with a desire to obey God. In light of this state of believers Calvin says that there are still two different ways that the Law can be useful for them. The first of these ways is that the Law is still the “best instruction for enabling them daily to learn… what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.”

That is to say, study of the Law increases the wisdom of the believer in regards to what the will of God for them is. The second of these ways is that through meditating on the Law, Calvin asserts that the believer will be further motivated toward obedience and further drawn away from the temptation of sin; this can perhaps be best summed up in Calvin’s statement that “If it cannot be denied that [the Law] contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it.”

In this the Law no longer serves to condemn the believer – even though they still cannot live up to it – but it points believers toward the goal to which we strive and exhorts them in this task, exhorts them in the task of working towards perfection as a rule of life.

From what has been observed it can be seen that Calvin allotted three uses to the Law. Firstly, it serves as a mirror to show us our unrighteousness and drive us toward dependence on God. Secondly, it serves as a curb to keep those who wish to do evil in check through fear of the punishments associated with the Law. Thirdly, it serves as a rule of life for believers to follow, instructing them in the will of God which they seek to follow.

One of the areas of note here is that in Calvin’s approach to understanding the different ways in which the Law operates, he places a great emphasis on the the Law as it applies to the unregenerate versus the Law as it applies to the regenerate. Thus, the first use applies to the nonbeliever, to drive them toward God. Similarly the second use applies to the nonbeliever, to curb their wicked desires. The third, contrary to these, applies to the believer, giving them a guide to Christian living.

Martin Luther’s Two Uses of the Law

While Calvin is very systematic in his approach to the Law, Luther is somewhat more sporadic and – indeed – pastoral and periodic, addressing his concerns more in response to a given issue rather than developing out each of his ideas in strict logical fashion.

For this reason it is necessary to look at a variety of Luther’s works, centering around his Commentary on Galatians, in which he presents his case for the two different uses of the Law.

Law and Gospel; Active and Passive Righteousness; Sinner and Saint

In looking at Martin Luther’s use of the Law, it is helpful to see how it is that he relates the one notion of the Law to the other of the Gospel, what he calls the active righteousness of the one to the passive righteousness of the other.

Luther begins his Commentary on Galatians with a discussion of the various types of righteousness. After a brief mention of the civil righteousness of abiding by the laws of the state and the ceremonial righteousness of the manners taught by parents, Luther enters into a discussion of the righteousness of the Law – as exemplified in the Ten Commandments – and the righteousness of faith.

These latter two types of righteousness differ from one another in that the righteousness of the Law is what Luther refers to as an active righteousness, a righteousness which actively seeks to fulfill God’s Law. Luther notes this active righteousness as being in vain, through which “sin is made exceedingly sinful.”

In realizing the vainness of this active righteousness, the person then turns to embrace the passive righteousness of Christ. Thus, the unbeliever is to oppressed with the Law until they are “thirsting for comfort”, at which time the Law is removed and the Gospel is placed before them. In turn, Luther argues, both Law and Gospel are necessary, but “both must be kept within their bounds” where the righteousness of the Law applies to the ‘old man’ and the righteousness of faith to the ‘new man’.

This notion is imperative to properly understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law, for the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ does not merely refer to the unregenerate and the regenerate.

Rather, the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ exist both within the believer, hence Luther states that “a Christian man is both righteous and sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.” In the same way he asserts: “both these continue whilst we here live. The flesh is accused… bruised by the active righteousness of the law; but the spirit reigneth, rejoiced and is saved by this passive and Christian righteousness.”

Further on in his commentary he builds upon this notion, asserting that though he commits sins, these do not plague his conscience since he knows he is in Christ; instead he directs the chastisement of his sins towards his body, making the point that the Law cannot touch the conscience, though it may be directed towards the flesh.

It is only with this dual nature of man in mind that one may move on to understand the way that Luther appropriates the Law.

Two Uses of the Law: The Civil Use

When it comes time for Luther to discuss the nature of the Law in a more systematic manner, he states that there is a double use of the law. This first use, he argues, is the civil use. The civil use, simply put, is that the law is given in order to restrain sin. This restraint of sin does not lead to righteousness; rather, the very fact that there are sin to be restrained is signal that the individual is unrighteous, for it is only person who is prone to sin who needs to be threatened against sinning. Thus, this first use of the Law is “to bridle the wicked.” For this purpose there have been created governments and civil ordinances, ready to bind the person who acts against the law. While this use of the law does not produce salvation, it does provide for the public peace and “the preservation of all things.”

Two Uses of the Law: The Spiritual Use

Following his discussion of the civil use of the law in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther then turns to discuss what he calls the ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ use of the Law.

This use of the Law, as Luther argues, is that it is used in order to reveal to man his sin and his contempt of God, and in turn reveal the judgment and wrath which the man deserves from God. This use, Luther argues, is “the proper and the principal use of the law.”

The purpose of the law is thereby to terrify, to “rend in pieces that beast which is called the opinion of righteousness.” That is, the purpose of the law is to defeat the pride of the individual, to reveal sin, and to make the individual feel the burden of the law so that they might despair.

This use of the law Luther connects with God’s work at Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, which “brought that holy people into such a knowledge of their own misery, that they were thrown down even to death…” On top of this use of acting as a mirror, one finds in Luther’s other writings that he is willing to connect the law driving the individual “to despair of himself” with the result that it causes them “to seek the help which he does not find in himself elsewhere.”

Other Uses of the Law in Luther

It is noteworthy that in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther only points to two uses of the Law. Yet, if one looks to his other writings, a larger picture begins to appear. Thus, in  Against the Heavenly Prophetsone may find Luther writing of the five different articles of the Christian faith. The first is the law of God, the second the gospel. The third article is what Luther calls ‘judgment’, which is “the work of putting to death the old man”, and it is followed by the fourth article of “love toward the neighbor”, and a fifth article to “ proclaim the law and its works” to the “crude masses” such that they will “know what works of the law they are to do and what works ought to be left undone”; yet these works are not put before the Christian “as if one through them were upright or a sinner.”

Luther does not answer directly here the question of how one is to put to death the old man, or where one might look to discern what it is to love one’s neighbor, yet in his Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors he gets closer to doing so, stating that the “third element” of Christian life is “the doing of good works”; works which include “to be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder… [etc].” Here Luther lays out at least four of the ten commandments as the ‘doing of good works’ which is an element of Christian life.

One may also turn to the most practical area of Luther’s writings, his catechisms.

Here Luther’s addresses the Ten Commandments in the life of the Christian, instructing his readers that they should not act contrary to the Commandments, that God promises blessings to those who keep the Commandments, and that Christians should “gladly do according to His commandments.”

In his Larger Catechism he then states that the one who knows perfectly the Ten Commandments will be able to “counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.” He later follows this statement up with the assertion that the Ten Commandments are “the true channel through which all good works must flow,” that doing these works will result in God’s blessing, and that “everyone is to make them his daily habit in all circumstances.”

Yet in contrast to this there is also the idea present in Luther’s Concerning the Letter and the Spirit that since the Christian “lives in the Spirit as the law demands; indeed, he no longer needs any law to teach him, for he knows it now by heart… there no teaching or law is needed; everything happens as it should happen.”

In figuring out how these apparent works of the law can be present in the Christian life of good works, it is necessary to see a further distinction Luther makes in his writings. In his Lectures on Romans, Luther makes the point that ‘the works of the Law’ are those that take place at the urging of the law, while the works of faith are those done “solely for the love of God.”

Thus, it could be argued that for Luther the same act could be either a work of the law or a work of faith, depending on the motivation for the act; “thus we gain a genuine desire for the law, and then everything is done with willing hearts, and not in fear.”

In light of this it is not incongruent for Luther to utter statements such as the one that the Christian should call upon God “according to the second commandment.”

Similarly, when Luther adamantly asserts that there is not teaching of the law and no need for the law, it seems that this should be read firstly to mean that there is no teaching of the law-as-condemning-force.

Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to demonstrate that when Luther talks of the Christian not needing the Law to teach him due to him knowing it by heart, he seems to be speaking more idealistically, of the ideal Christian.

In all of these other writings of Luther it may be observed then: (1)  adhering to the law works nothing for justification; (2) yet there are good works to be done by the Christian, and that these ‘good works’ include acts synonymous with certain commandments of the Law, for indeed, the heart has been changed to naturally act out the Law; (3) that the Christian should abide by the Ten Commandments, which will result in his being blessed by God; (4) that it is the motivation behind these acts that distinguish them from being ‘works of the law’, such that when done for the glory of God it is no longer law but faith.

In summing up his view on the two different uses of the law Luther states that “the law is good and profitable, but in his own proper use; which is, first to bridle civil transgressions, and then to reveal and to increase spiritual transgressions.”

The Law, for Luther, is primarily a light, but one that shows only sin and death. The Gospel, on the other hand, is a light which shows the mercy of God in Christ.

There are various noteworthy aspects to understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law. One of these aspects is the way in which Luther’s second use of the law is already contained in his first use of the law. As he said, the first use is to bridle the wicked, and the very fact that they need a bridle demonstrates that they are wicked, at least in a general way. The second use, then, narrows down this general demonstration of wickedness to terrify and convict the individual. This restriction and conviction is the extent of the Law for Luther.

Rather than go any further than this, where the Law ends for Luther, the Gospel may begin. The Law makes the individual despair so that the Gospel may come and give hope, the active righteousness of trying to live up to the law is replaced with the passive righteousness of Christ.

Most noteworthy in Luther’s understanding of the Law is that his primary focus is upon the old man verses the new man.

This is important because both the old man and the new man exist in the person of the believer. Thus, when the old man causes the individual to sin, the Law points to that sin in the life of the believer, but it doesn’t convict, for then the righteousness of Christ – the Gospel – is there to cover the sin. Yet in this it can be noted that the Law does still exist in the life of the believer for Luther, as he says: “among Christians we must use the law spiritually, as is said above, to reveal sin.”

In the writings of Luther as a whole it was observed that Luther does – in practice – use the law for more than merely keeping the wicked in check and revealing sin. He also seemed to promote good works as a Christian – works of faith – which were synonymous in content with the works of the Law, with the difference that they were done not out of the fear of the condemnation of the Law, but out of love for God and the desire to be blessed. In desiring to do these good works Luther advises the believer to meditate on the Ten Commandments, the same Ten Commandments he also equated with the righteousness of the Law.

Thus it might be observed that while in some instances Luther seems to clearly reject out of hand the use of the law in the life of the Christian, it seems that this may be in large a semantic error of Luther simply refusing to refer to this use of the law as a guide as a use of the ‘law’, for he desired to equate this with faith rather than Law.

In contrast to this it might be contended that “love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved” and that because the new man does not need the Law as an instruction, for the Law is written on his heart and he will act this out naturally and spontaneously; yet, Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to assume that the Christian can get instruction in good works from the law, and it is simply that fact that when discussing this facet Luther refrains from referring to it as the law.

Comparing & Contrasting Luther and Calvin

In comparing and contrasting Luther and Calvin there are many things which can be discussed. Perhaps the best place to start with this is to figure out where the two thinkers agree.

The first use of the Law that Luther put forward was what he called the civic use, which was noted as serving the purpose of bridling sin for the good of the society through the fear of the law. In the same way Calvin’s second use of the Law was that it served the purpose of curbing sin for the good of society through the fear of the law. In this use of the law Luther and Calvin seem to be in full agreement; there is only the relatively minor difference in how Luther points out that this use indicates the wickedness of man, whereas Calvin points out that this use serves the dual purpose of further inflaming the wickedness of man and training those who do not yet believe.

The second use of the Law put forth by Luther was what he called the spiritual use. In this way the law was used to terrify and convict people of their sin, to reveal their sin to them as in a mirror. Furthermore, whereas in his Commentary on Galatians he left the second use at that, in his Freedom of the Christian Luther alluded to the fact that this despair drives the individual somewhere besides themselves. In like manner, Calvin’s first use of the law was that of a mirror. This mirror shows people their unrighteousness and convicts them of their impending condemnation, and through this drives them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

While this second set of uses for the law by Luther and Calvin, both serving as mirrors, seem to be identical, there is an important distinction to note. This distinction is that – for Calvin – this mirror’s purpose rests in convicting the unbeliever, the unregenerate. Calvin’s mirror seems to only be for the unregenerate man prior to his conversion. In contrast to this, Luther’s mirror is ever present.

This is because rather than focusing on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction, Luther focuses on the old/new man distinction, and this is a distinction which stays with the believer even after regeneration.

Therefore, while Calvin’s mirror is used by the individual prior to conversion, Luther’s mirror is used by the individual both before and after conversion, a fact which will be important when analyzing the different ways the two thinkers apply the law in the believer’s life.

With this in mind, one may then turn to the third use of the Law as presented by Calvin.

It was noted that for Calvin, this use was the one in which the law served to instruct and guide the believer after conversion, increases the believer’s wisdom in regards to the will of God. With regeneration, the individual is able to make the move from using the Law as a mirror to using it as a guide.

Luther would have been unable to follow Calvin here for a variety of reasons.

Firstly – as has been noted – Luther’s focus was not on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction. Because for Luther the old man is always there with the new man – and because the mirror applies to the old man – the individual is never fully able to put the mirror down.

Thus, for Luther, when the Law comes up it necessarily comes up as that mirror.

Because the old man is always present in the life of the individual, the Law must always serve the purpose of driving that old man to despair, that he might find relief in the Gospel.

This sharp Law/Gospel distinction is important for understanding Luther in that whereas Calvin was comfortable placing a close connection between the Law revealing sin and in turn driving the individual toward Christ (and thereby having the Gospel implicit in the Law), Luther drew a much sharper distinction between Law and Gospel; thus for Luther the most the Law could do in revealing sin was drive the individual away from themselves, he doesn’t take the next step with Calvin in asserting that it drives them to Christ.

Rather that asserting that the Law drives the unbeliever to Christ, Luther prefers to speak of the move in terms of the Law driving them solely to despair and then the Gospel coming in as a balm and a comfort.

Thus, not only does Luther have an old/new man focus over against Calvin’s regenerate/unregenerate distinction, but Luther also has a much sharper separation of the law from the gospel than Calvin.

Yet, Luther also has a stronger connection between them in another sense, for in Luther both the law and the gospel are ever present and presented together.

The old man is always present, and therefore the law must always be there to terrify, and at the same time the gospel always be there to comfort. When talking of the Christian as a whole, Luther still has a place for the law, which is, for condemning the works of the old man in the body of the believer. He does not expel the law from the life of the believer, but he takes care when referring to ‘the law’ to refer to it in exclusive reference to the old man.

While asserting that Luther cannot follow Calvin into Calvin’s formulation of the third use of the Law due to the differing angles at which each thinker is approaching the Christian system, Luther does have his own variety of this.

Whereas Calvin’s third use is the Law applied to the regenerate man, Luther’s ‘third use’ might be said to be the Law applied the ‘new man’ (though as noted above Luther would not use that language).

While this sort of use was not discussed systematically by Luther, it is implied in various of his writings. In this it was observed Luther suggesting that knowledge of the Ten Commandments made one able to make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters, that good works flowed from them, good works which would cause God to bless the individual.

Yet, while a position such as Calvin’s this might seem to roughly fit the criteria of his third use of the law, the distinction for Luther was that – at least semantically – these are not uses of the law. A use of the law for Luther would have been something that was necessarily done under compulsion, and therefore incompatible with good works or the faith of the Christian. Rather, these same works are works of faith – not works of law – even when they are centered around the same principles as the ‘law’.

 

In light of this analysis, it might be stated that while Calvin and Luther do have some genuine differences in their approaches to way the Law is to be used, much of this difference can be attributed to viewing the same truths from different angles and with different foci; this is to be expected, for these men existed within space and time and were reacting against their own given environments.

Though a detail of biographies was outside the scope of this study, it might be noted – for instance – that Luther was much more closely tied to his reaction against the abuses of Rome, and this reaction shaped how he focuses his theology.

On top of this difference of foci, Luther and Calvin are also separated by what it is often the hardest bridge to cross in theology, the bridge of semantics.

To a large extent the approaches taken by Luther and Calvin to the Law have the same result and are getting at the same points, but using different categories and different terminology which makes the similarities difficult to see.

Thus, Calvin uses the Law as a guide for believers, whereas Luther also in practice uses that same Law as a guide, but is careful not to refer to it in that manner due to way that he has defined ‘Law’ in his understanding; it is simply incongruent for Luther to imagine applying the term ‘Law’ to something utilized by the new man, for the Law to him can only apply to the old man.

Yet, there are still differences here, and these differences do affect the way Christians go about their lives. The way in which Luther keeps the mirror of the Law at hand, and in turn the comfort of the Gospel, has the practical result of constantly driving the individual back to the Cross for their comfort.

This can be a helpful attitude to take when dealing with sin; and yet it can also be helpful to have a guide to aid one in avoiding sin and for instructing one in how to live a life pleasing to God. Calvin’s focus is more helpful in addressing this aspect of the Law.

Thus, it can be asserted that neither John Calvin nor Martin Luther is necessarily ‘correct’ in this matter.

When they discuss the uses of the Law they are seemingly discussing the same matter, but they are discussing it in very different manners for different reasons, with different foci and different terminology. Neither has the perfect system, and neither has a defunct system; rather, each has a system which is helpful and unhelpful in turn, true and false in differing ways.

In looking back over these various uses, it can be found that they all have some legitimacy. The civic use of the law found in both Luther and Calvin is viable in either context. Calvin’s first use of the law is helpful for bringing the unbeliever to faith, and yet as it is used in Luther, it also serves a use in the life of the believer, continuing to drive them to Christ and the rest that He provides, as well as subdue the flesh; Calvin can be corrected by Luther here, in that the mirror may still have a use after conversion. Finally, with Christ as the goal, Luther may be corrected by Calvin in noting that it can be helpful for the Christian to gain wisdom of God’s will through the study of the law.

FATQ: Will There Be Free Will In Heaven?

freewill.pngLetter Today’s Frequently Asked Theology Question is: Will there be free will in heaven? If so, is there a chance anyone in heaven will ever sin? Adam and Eve communed with God and yet sinned, so how probable is it that millions of people with free will can refrain for all eternity?

The answer to this question depends a lot on what we mean when we say ‘free will.’ In general there are two different things we can mean:

1) “I can choose whatever I want” – Libertarian Free Will

Firstly there is what we might call the libertarian free will. The idea of libertarian free will asserts that a will is free when it is unbiased and completely unbound by any causality. This will is not determined by human nature, the environment, the will of God, or even our own desires (the will is the source of desires, not vis versa). These things may exert influence on the will, but they do not ultimately determine its choices.

The will is free in this sense when it has no decisive influences skewing it one way or the other. It has ultimate self-determination. It has the capacity to do anything, good or bad, left or right, chocolate or vanilla.

It is this notion of free will that is usually at the center of debates concerning determinism, of whether free will can coexist with the sovereignty of God or whether we are truly free if God knows the future, and it is this notion of free will that Jonathan Edwards dissects in his book The Freedom of the Will.

Part of Edwards’ argument is that this notion of the free will is counter-intuitive, that it just doesn’t make sense. As he explains, this notion of the free will “rests on the supposition that out of several possible courses of action the will actually chooses one rather than another at the same time that it is perfectly indifferent – perfectly evenly balanced between them – which is just say that the mind has a preference at the same time that it has no preference.” Edwards’ point is that we cannot say that the will has no preference and also say that it chooses, because the act of choosing implies a preference. The will, then, is determined by something; it is not free in this sense.

Rather than speaking of the will being free, Edwards posits that we should speak of the agent being free. The will is not self-determining, but is determined by the acting agent, by the person, by “the willing spirit.” The question, then, is whether the spirit is free, and what determines the preferences of the spirit.

2) “For freedom Christ has set us free” – Christian Free Will.

There is then a more Augustinian/Calvinistic – and I would argue, Pauline – notion of ‘free will’ which asserts that the libertarian notion of a free will is imaginary (or at most, only ever existed in Adam & Eve). Here the will is always biased one way or the other, towards sin or towards righteousness; the will is biased because the spirit is biased.

Whether or not the will is free, in this sense, depends on what the will is biased towards. If the will is biased towards evil, then it is not free. It is a slave to sin. If the will is biased towards righteousness, then that is when it is ‘free’, free from its slavery to sin.

In the biblical model it must be said that the will always has desires, and a will that has a desire or propensity to choose evil is not free.

The freedom of the will is thus about propensity first, not capacity. Capacity comes second, in that propensity determines capacity. A will that has a propensity to good is incapable of doing evil, and vis versa.

A ‘free will’ in biblical categories is thus a will that has been set free from its slavery to sin and which is now biased towards serving God. At present our wills are only partially free, for we are still mortifying sin. Upon glorification (that is, in the new heavens and new earth) our wills will be fully free, that is, fully biased towards righteousness. In this sense it is better to talk about a “freed will” than a “free will.” The will has been freed from its bondage to sin.

Thus, contrary to the notion of the libertarian free will where the will is the source of desires, in the biblical understanding the desires are the sources of the will. It is the heart and the spirit that ultimately matter.

Our wills will be free in that they will have no desire towards sin and therefore no capability of sinning. A will that still held the capacity to sin would be a will that still held the propensity to sin, and as such it would not be free.

Thus I would follow Augustine‘s model as laid out in his Enchiridionwhich is further explained by Thomas Boston in his Human Nature in its Fourfold State. Commenting on these four states of mankind Augustine states that “the first is before the law, the second is under the law, the third is under grace, and the fourth is in full and perfect peace.”

These four states are therefore: (1) before the Fall, where we were ‘able to sin and able not to sin’; (2) after the Fall, where we are ‘not able not to sin’; (3) regenerate man, where we are ‘able not to sin’; and (4) glorified man, where we are ‘unable to sin’.

The new earth is not a return to the seemingly unbiased state of Adam, but it is a state better than his, a state where we are fully free from any temptation or desire to sin and fully desirous of glorifying God. When you have been fully made new by God – ie, glorified – such that your only desire is to glorify Him, then sin will be by definition impossible.

So far as the Scriptures are concerned, it is only this freedom – the freedom of the will from sin – that has any meaningfulness when speaking of the will. John Piper puts it well when he says that “instead of speaking of the will as free or not, I prefer to speak of people as free or not, because that is the way the Bible does… Christians are free from the bondage to sin and from the oppressive demand of having to perform our own salvation.”

It is therefore not so much that there will be no opportunity to sin, but that there will be no propensity to sin and therefore a lack of capacity for sin, and it is this lack – replaced with a desire to glorify God – that will make our wills truly free.

[For a discussion of how the libertarian notion of free will might coincide with the Christian faith in the amoral sphere (ie, regarding actions that lack a moral character), check out Sovereignty and Contingency in Christianity.]

 

A Defense of Calvinism — C.H. Spurgeon

spurgeon

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.

It is a great thing to begin the Christian life by believing good solid doctrine. Some people have received twenty different “gospels” in as many years; how many more they will accept before they get to their journey’s end, it would be difficult to predict. I thank God that He early taught me the gospel, and I have been so perfectly satisfied with it, that I do not want to know any other. Constant change of creed is sure loss. If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples. When people are always shifting their doctrinal principles, they are not likely to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God. It is good for young believers to begin with a firm hold upon those great fundamental doctrines which the Lord has taught in His Word.

Why, if I believed what some preach about the temporary, trumpery salvation which only lasts for a time, I would scarcely be at all grateful for it; but when I know that those whom God saves He saves with an everlasting salvation, when I know that He gives to them an everlasting righteousness, when I know that He settles them on an everlasting foundation of everlasting love, and that He will bring them to His everlasting kingdom, oh, then I do wonder, and I am astonished that such a blessing as this should ever have been given to me!

“Pause, my soul! adore, and wonder!
Ask, ‘Oh, why such love to me?’
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s family:
Hallelujah!
Thanks, eternal thanks, to Thee

I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrine of free-will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrines of sovereign grace. Sometimes, when I see some of the worst characters in the street, I feel as if my heart must burst forth in tears of gratitude that God has never let me act as they have done! I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone.

I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. Looking back on my past life, I can see that the dawning of it all was of God; of God effectively. I took no torch with which to light the sun, but the sun enlightened me. I did not commence my spiritual life-no, I rather kicked, and struggled against the things of the Spirit: when He drew me, for a time I did not run after Him: there was a natural hatred in my soul of everything holy and good. Wooings were lost upon me-warnings were cast to the wind- thunders were despised; and as for the whispers of His love, they were rejected as being less than nothing and vanity. But, sure I am, I can say now, speaking on behalf of myself, “He only is my salvation.” It was He who turned my heart, and brought me down on my knees before Him. I can in very deed, say with Doddridge and Toplady-

“Grace taught my soul to pray,

And made my eyes o’erflow.”

and coming to this moment, I can add-

“Tis grace has kept me to this day,

And will not let me go.”

Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul-when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man-that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment- I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

I once attended a service where the text happened to be, “He shall choose our inheritance for us;” and the good man who occupied the pulpit was more than a little of an Arminian. Therefore, when he commenced, he said, “This passage refers entirely to our temporal inheritance, it has nothing whatever to do with our everlasting destiny, for,” said he, “we do not want Christ to choose for us in the matter of Heaven or hell. It is so plain and easy, that every man who has a grain of common sense will choose Heaven, and any person would know better than to choose hell. We have no need of any superior intelligence, or any greater Being, to choose Heaven or hell for us. It is left to our own free- will, and we have enough wisdom given us, sufficiently correct means to judge for ourselves,” and therefore, as he very logically inferred, there was no necessity for Jesus Christ, or anyone, to make a choice for us. We could choose the inheritance for ourselves without any assistance. “Ah!” I thought, “but, my good brother, it may be very true that we could, but I think we should want something more than common sense before we should choose aright.”

First, let me ask, must we not all of us admit an over-ruling Providence, and the appointment of Jehovah’s hand, as to the means whereby we came into this world? Those men who think that, afterwards, we are left to our own free-will to choose this one or the other to direct our steps, must admit that our entrance into the world was not of our own will, but that God had then to choose for us. What circumstances were those in our power which led us to elect certain persons to be our parents? Had we anything to do with it? Did not God Himself appoint our parents, native place, and friends? Could He not have caused me to be born with the skin of the Hottentot, brought forth by a filthy mother who would nurse me in her “kraal,” and teach me to bow down to Pagan gods, quite as easily as to have given me a pious mother, who would each morning and night bend her knee in prayer on my behalf? Or, might He not, if He had pleased have given me some profligate to have been my parent, from whose lips I might have early heard fearful, filthy, and obscene language? Might He not have placed me where I should have had a drunken father, who would have immured me in a very dungeon of ignorance, and brought me up in the chains of crime? Was it not God’s Providence that I had so happy a lot, that both my parents were His children, and endeavoured to train me up in the fear of the Lord?

John Newton used to tell a whimsical story, and laugh at it, too, of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.” I am sure it is true in my case; I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine. I recollect an Arminian brother telling me that he had read the Scriptures through a score or more times, and could never find the doctrine of election in them. He added that he was sure he would have done so if it had been there, for he read the Word on his knees. I said to him, “I think you read the Bible in a very uncomfortable posture, and if you had read it in your easy chair, you would have been more likely to understand it. Pray, by all means, and the more, the better, but it is a piece of superstition to think there is anything in the posture in which a man puts himself for reading: and as to reading through the Bible twenty times without having found anything about the doctrine of election, the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through it at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of the meaning of the Scriptures.”

If it would be marvelous to see one river leap up from the earth full-grown, what would it be to gaze upon a vast spring from which all the rivers of the earth should at once come bubbling up, a million of them born at a birth? What a vision would it be! Who can conceive it. And yet the love of God is that fountain, from which all the rivers of mercy, which have ever gladdened our race-all the rivers of grace in time, and of glory hereafter-take their rise. My soul, stand thou at that sacred fountain-head, and adore and magnify, for ever and ever, God, even our Father, who hath loved us! In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long ere the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being-when the ether was not fanned by an angel’s wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone-even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world-even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Then, in the fulness of time, He purchased me with His blood; He let His heart run out in one deep gaping wound for me long ere I loved Him. Yea, when He first came to me, did I not spurn Him? When He knocked at the door, and asked for entrance, did I not drive Him away, and do despite to Ms grace? Ah, I can remember that I full often did so until, at last, by the power of His effectual grace, He said, “I must, I will come in;” and then He turned my heart, and made me love Him. But even till now I should have resisted Him, had it not been for His grace. Well, then since He purchased me when I was dead in sins, does it not follow, as a consequence necessary and logical, that He must have loved me first? Did my Saviour die for me because I believed on Him? No; I was not then in existence; I had then no being. Could the Saviour, therefore, have died because I had faith, when I myself was not yet born? Could that have been possible? Could that have been the origin of the Saviour’s love towards me? Oh! no; my Saviour died for me long before I believed. “But,” says someone, “He foresaw that you would have faith; and, therefore, He loved you.” What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself) No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, “I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.”

I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing. If God enters into covenant with unfallen man, man is so insignificant a creature that it must be an act of gracious condescension on the Lord’s part; but if God enters into covenant with sinful man, he is then so offensive a creature that it must be, on God’s part, an act of pure, free, rich, sovereign grace. When the Lord entered into covenant with me, I am sure that it was all of grace, nothing else but grace. When I remember what a den of unclean beasts and birds my heart was, and how strong was my unrenewed will, how obstinate and rebellious against the sovereignty of the Divine rule, I always feel inclined to take the very lowest room in my Father’s house, and when I enter Heaven, it will be to go among the less than the least of all saints, and with the chief of sinners.

The late lamented Mr. Denham has put, at the foot of his portrait, a most admirable text, “Salvation is of the Lord.” That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it.

If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.”

What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ-the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.

I have my own Private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

“If ever it should come to pass,

That sheep of Christ might fall away,

My fickle, feeble soul, alas!

Would fall a thousand times a day”

If one dear saint of God had perished, so might all; if one of the covenant ones be lost, so may all be; and then there is no gospel promise true, but the Bible is a lie, and there is nothing in it worth my acceptance. I will be an infidel at once when I can believe that a saint of God can ever fall finally. If God hath loved me once, then He will love me for ever. God has a mastermind; He arranged everything in His gigantic intellect long before He did it; and once having settled it, He never alters it, ‘This shall be done,” saith He, and the iron hand of destiny marks it down, and it is brought to pass. “This is My purpose,” and it stands, nor can earth or hell alter it. “This is My decree,” saith He, “promulgate it, ye holy angels; rend it down from the gate of Heaven, ye devils, if ye can; but ye cannot alter the decree, it shall stand for ever.” God altereth not His plans; why should He? He is Almighty, and therefore can perform His pleasure. Why should He? He is the All-wise, and therefore cannot have planned wrongly. Why should He? He is the everlasting God, and therefore cannot die before His plan is accomplished. Why should He change? Ye worthless atoms of earth, ephemera of a day, ye creeping insects upon this bay-leaf of existence, ye may change your plans, but He shall never, never change His. Has He told me that His plan is to save me? If so, I am for ever safe.

“My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase;

Impress’d on His heart it remains,

In marks of indelible grace.”

I do not know how some people, whobelieve that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. It must be a very commendable thing in them to be able to get through a day without despair. f I did not believe the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, I think I should be of all men the most miserable, because I should lack any ground of comfort. I could not say, whatever state of heart I came into, that I should be like a well- spring of water, whose stream fails not; I should rather have to take the comparison of an intermittent spring, that might stop on a sudden, or a reservoir, which I had no reason to expect would always be full. I believe that the happiest of Christians and the truest of Christians are those who never dare to doubt God, but who take His Word simply as it stands, and believe it, and ask no questions, just feeling assured that if God has said it, it will be so. I bear my willing testimony that I have no reason, nor even the shadow of a reason, to doubt my Lord, and I challenge Heaven, and earth, and hell, to bring any proof that God is untrue. From the depths of hell I call the fiends, and from this earth I call the tried and afflicted believers, and to Heaven I appeal, and challenge the long experience of the blood-washed host, and there is not to be found in the three realms a single person who can bear witness to one fact which can disprove the faithfulness of God, or weaken Ms claim to be trusted by His servants. There are many things that may or may not happen, but this I know shall happen-

“He shall present my soul,

Unblemish’d and complete,

Before the glory of His face,

With joys divinely great”

All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God. The promises of man may be broken-many of them are made to be broken-but the promises of God shall all be fulfilled. He is a promise-maker, but He never was a promise- breaker; He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of His people shall prove it to be so. This is my grateful, personal confidence, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me”-unworthy me, lost and ruined me. He will yet save me; and-

“I, among the blood-wash’d throng,

Shall wave the palm, and wear the crown,

And shout loud victory”

I go to a land which the plough of earth hath never upturned, where it is greener than earth’s best pastures, and richer than her most abundant harvests ever saw. I go to a building of more gorgeous architecture than man hath ever builded; it is not of mortal design; it is “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.” All I shall know and enjoy in Heaven, will be given to me by the Lord, and I shall say, when at last I appear before Him-

“Grace all the work shall crown

Through everlasting days;

It lays in Heaven the topmost stone,

And well deserves the praise”

I know there are some who think it necessary to their system of theology to limit the merit of the blood of Jesus: if my theological system needed such a limitation, I would cast it to the winds. I cannot, I dare not allow the thought to find a lodging in my mind, it seems so near akin to blasphemy. In Christ’s finished work I see an ocean of merit; my plummet finds no bottom, my eye discovers no shore. There must be sufficient efficacy in the blood of Christ, if God had so willed it, to have saved not only all in this world, but all in ten thousand worlds, had they transgressed their Maker’s law. Once admit infinity into the matter, and limit is out of the question. Having a Divine Person for an offering, it is not consistent to conceive of limited value; bound and measure are terms inapplicable to the Divine sacrifice. The intent of the Divine purpose fixes the application of the infinite offering, but does not change it into a finite work. Think of the numbers upon whom God has bestowed His grace already. Think of the countless hosts in Heaven: if thou wert introduced there to-day, thou wouldst find it as easy to tell the stars, or the sands of the sea, as to count the multitudes that are before the throne even now. They have come from the East, and from the West, from the North, and from the South, and they are sitting down with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob in the Kingdom of God; and beside those in Heaven, think of the saved ones on earth. Blessed be God, His elect on earth are to be counted by millions, I believe, and the days are coming, brighter days than these, when there shall be multitudes upon multitudes brought to know the Saviour, and to rejoice in Him. The Father’s love is not for a few only, but for an exceeding great company. “A great multitude, which no man could number,” will be found in Heaven. A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone can tell the multitude of His redeemed. I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre- eminence,” and Icannot conceive how He could have the pre- eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise. Moreover, I have never read that there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! Then there are already in Heaven unnumbered myriads of the spirits of just men made perfect-the redeemed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues up till now; and there are better times coming, when the religion of Christ shall be universal; when-

“He shall reign from pole to pole,
With illimitable sway,”

when whole kingdoms shall bow down before Him, and nations shall be born in a day, and in the thousand years of the great millennial state there will be enough saved to make up all the deficiencies of the thousands of years that have gone before. Christ shall be Master everywhere, and His praise shall be sounded in every land. Christ shall have the pre-eminence at last; His train shall be far larger than that which shall attend the chariot of the grim monarch of hell.
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer- I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.” I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

I do not think I differ from any of my Hyper-Calvinistic brethren in what I do believe, but I differ from them in what they do not believe. I do not hold any less than they do, but I hold a little more, and, I think, a little more of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Not only are there a few cardinal doctrines, by which we can steer our ship North, South, East, or West, but as we study the Word, we shall begin to learn something about the North-west and North-east, and all else that lies between the four cardinal points. The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. For instance, I read in one Book of the Bible, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

It is often said that the doctrines we believe have a tendency to lead us to sin. I have heard it asserted most positively, that those high doctrines which we love, and which we find in the Scriptures, are licentious ones. I do not know who will have the hardihood to make that assertion, when they consider that the holiest of men have been believers in them. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitefield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace; or what will he say of the Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing, but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they as the orthodox.

We have gone back to the old school; we can trace our descent from the apostles. It is that vein of free-grace, running through the sermonizing of Baptists, which has saved us as a denomination. Were it not for that, we should not stand where we are today. We can run a golden line up to Jesus Christ Himself, through a holy succession of mighty fathers, who all held these glorious truths; and we can ask concerning them, “Where will you find holier and better men in the world?” No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God. Those who have called it “a licentious doctrine” did not know anything at all about it. Poor ignorant things, they little knew that their own vile stuff was the most licentious doctrine under Heaven. If they knew the grace of God in truth, they would soon see that there was no preservative from lying like a knowledge that we are elect of God from the foundation of the world. There is nothing like a belief in my eternal perseverance, and the immutability of my Father’s affection, which can keep me near to Him from a motive of simple gratitude. Nothing makes a man so virtuous as belief of the truth. A lying doctrine will soon beget a lying practice. A man cannot have an erroneous belief without by-and-by having an erroneous life. I believe the one thing naturally begets the other.

Of all men, those have the most disinterested piety, the sublimest reverence, the most ardent devotion, who believe that they are saved by grace, without works, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

Christians should take heed, and see that it always is so, lest by any means Christ should be crucified afresh, and put to an open shame.

 


Spurgeon.pngC.H. Spurgeon

C.H. Spurgeon was an influential British pastor in the Reformed Baptist tradition during the 19th Century. Often referred to as the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Spurgeon was known for his oratory skill and powerful sermons. He was also a prolific writer whose works included not only sermons but also commentaries, devotionals, poetry, and hymns.

 

The Holy Spirit in the Reformed Tradition

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Letter WWhat is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and Christian theology according the Reformed tradition? If the stereotypes are to be believed, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much of a place in the Reformed church; the Holy Spirit, it seems, is only for those of a more charismatic or Pentecostal flavor. Perhaps the stereotypes are to be believed, after all, the Westminster Confession of Faith doesn’t even have a section on the Holy Spirit.

So where is the Holy Spirit in the Reformed church?

In his book The Christian Faith Michael Horton makes the point that “in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent.” When referring to salvation, it might be said that the Father works in His people through an eternal decree by choosing them in Christ before the foundation of the world; that the Son works in His people by procuring for them a righteous standing before God; that the Spirit works in His people by applying to them that which the work of Christ procured.

The thing here being decreed, procured and applied might simply be called union with Christ, the pivotal element of salvation. There is thus a central theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man: the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit imparts it. Thus once one understands the work of the Father and the Son, it is important to note that without the Spirit applying this work to the individual the endeavor is in vain. But what does that mean, and how does that work?

In light of this Trinitarian nature, the Reformed doctrine of the Spirit can be best seen by first looking at the Holy Spirit as a member of the Triune God, by then looking at salvation in itself, and finally by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to this salvation. Because we want to be faithful to both the Scriptures and to the historic Christian faith, it is necessary to see what the Scriptures say on the matter, how the historic Christian church has addressed the issue, and how present theologians wrestle with it in the contemporary context.

The Person of the Holy Spirit

Within many Protestant circles the person of the Holy Spirit is often either given so much emphasis so as to overshadow the other members of the Trinity, or else the Spirit is forgotten by the wayside, with the chief focus of Christianity being placed upon the providence of the Father or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. In order to have a balanced theology, it is necessary to focus upon and understand the work of the Trinity in all its parts, neglecting none, for the work of each person of the Trinity is imperative if the Gospel is to have any effect.

As was noted above, it is said in Christian orthodoxy that the Spirit – along with the Father and the Son – is God. Perhaps the place in Scripture where this is most evident is in Matthew 28:19 where the command is given to go and make disciples “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This verse is important because it places the Holy Spirit in the same category as the Father and the Son. Still further, this is not a doctrine that is extrapolated from a single verse standing alone, but rather it can be found throughout Scripture: one may find Scripture that to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God (Acts 5:3-4); that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), which is elsewhere called “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16); that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6); that He is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). Thus it can be seen that the Holy Spirit is one with God.

It is also important to realize in this that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, and not merely a force. That the Holy Spirit is indeed a person can be realized in passages where the Spirit is said to grieved (Eph 4:30), where He speaks (Heb 3:7), has a will (Acts 15:28), is able to guide us in truth (John 16:13), and where He intercedes for us to the Father (Rom 8:27). This final verse also demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is also a distinct person of the Trinity, given that He intercedes to the Father.

In looking at the person of the Holy Spirit, one may also look at the way the Holy Spirit acts apart from salvation. For instance the Spirit can be seen in creation (Gen 1:2), coming upon individuals in order to have them do something (Jdgs 6:34), inspiring Scripture (Acts 1:16), and even leading Christ into temptation (Mark 1:12). Even just in looking at the person of the Holy Spirit and the way He works outside salvation on can see the theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man, indeed, while any contact that God makes with man is a gracious contact this can be seen most readily in the inspiration of Scripture, by which God has spoken to us. These truths guard against a number of false teachings in the Church. The primary of these are the various heresies surrounding the Trinity, such as modalism, for the Holy Spirit is both truly God and yet a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Salvation

In speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit as applying the works of the Father and of the Son, it is important to know what the Holy Spirit is applying.

In speaking of salvation, the pattern most often used to describe the process is the ordo salutis. In Protestantism this is laid out as election, predestination, calling, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, sanctification, and glorification. Overall, the thing being worked at here might be said to be union with Christ, indeed as A.W.Pink puts it “Our union with Christ is the grand hinge on which everything turns.” Or as it is stated by Sinclair Ferguson “the forgiveness of sins is not received in a vacuum, but in union with Christ.” Michael Horton makes note in turn that “justification is the judicial ground of a union with Christ that also yields renewal and sanctification” such that the Scriptures “call believers to become more and more of what they already are in Christ.”

Thus, union with Christ is the pivotal part of what salvation is, for it is in being unified with Christ that we are saved. It is into union with and conformity to Christ that we are elected and predestined (Rom 8:29), which we are called into, by which we are justified by having Christ’s righteousness be credited as ours, it is this conformity and this temporal realizing of our union with Christ which constitutes our sanctification, and it is the consummation of this union which is our glorification. Thus, salvation might be said to be the total work – from our election to our glorification – of the Trinitarian God in bringing us into union with Christ.

As has been stated, union with Christ is the pivotal element of this salvation but it is also made up of many facets (such can be seen through the ordo salutis). Yet even beyond the many facets of the ordo salutis, salvation can be seen in a number of different lights. For instance, on the one hand salvation is legal standing; because of our union with Christ, God does see our own debt but rather sees the credit of Christ accounted to us.

On another hand salvation is a relational standing; we are placed into communion and fellowship with God – and thereby into the relationship of the Father and the Son – through our union with Christ. In yet another, the union itself is a corporate one, for it is the church as a group that makes up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), not any one individual. While it is always important to keep the communal aspect of salvation in view that we might not slip into individualism, it is also important to note that the focus is still a personal one, for the believer can be saved without the church as a visible institution.

With this corporate aspect, it is found that God only decrees his election upon a certain group of people, that is, those who believe upon His Son as their Savior (John 3:16). Yet those who believe are those who are decreed by God the Father as His elect, indeed in Acts 13:48 it is read that “when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Therefore while all have sinned and are justly deserving condemnation (Rom 3:23), God only chooses some in his mercy to receive this salvation, as is stated by John Owen:

Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ… Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.

Given that none are deserving of this salvation, it is still only through the utmost grace of the Trinitarian God that it is dispensed. Salvation is the sinners escape from the just condemnation of their sins, and this is accomplished according to the decree of the Father and made possible by the sacrifice of the Son who is able to fully satisfy the debt owed by us and bring us into the fellowship of the Trinity; yet as John Calvin notes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, to communicate the blessing of Christ to us he must dwell in us such that “teachers would cry aloud to no purpose, did not Christ, the internal teacher, by means of his Spirit, draw to himself those who are given to him of the Father.” Thus, for all of the realized and actual effects of salvation upon the sinner, one must speak of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Salvation

In following with the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism, as the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is given to the elect of mankind so that through faith they are made to share in Christ. As was stated above, the Father is the source of this grace, the Son the mediator, and the Spirit the perfecting agent; or similarly, that the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit secures or applies it.

For the purposes of analyzing the work of the Holy Spirit directly related to the individual, the sections of the ordo salutis in view are conversion through glorification: as is stated by Calvin “For the Spirit does not merely originate faith, but gradually increases it, until by its means He conducts us into the heavenly kingdom.” Thus, salvation for the purposes here begins with the conversion of the sinner to faith in Christ. ‘Conversion’ here is perhaps a poor term to refer to the originating of faith and repentance – indeed, many Christians are raised in the faith of Jesus Christ, and therefore they have no marked point of conversion. Regardless, whether faith is brought about from childhood or whether the individual comes to it later in life, this faith is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are saved through faith (Eph 2:8), and this faith – as noted by Calvin – originates in the Holy Spirit. Or as it is stated in the Westminster Confession: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts…” Or as is stated in Scripture “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor 12:3). In this faith we share with Christ in his death and resurrection (Col 2:12) and are placed into union with Him.

While the Holy Spirit is active in bringing us into this union with Christ, the instrument for bringing about this union is the proclamation of the Gospel. This is perhaps made most apparent in Romans 10:14-15 where Paul asks:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Thus the proclamation of the gospel is the instrument which the Holy Spirit uses to bring the elect into faith in Christ. This faith is accompanied by repentance, thus we are called to “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). It is important to note here, however, that it is not the faith nor the repentance in and of themselves which truly save us, but rather it is the object of our faith, hence: “It is not the quality of faith itself, but of the person it apprehends, that makes it the sufficient means of receiving both our justification and sanctification.” It is also important – as was mentioned earlier – that this faith is given only to the elect, and does depend for its application upon the will of man, indeed: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16). It is because of this truth that John Owen can say that while salvation is bestowed conditionally, faith – which is the condition – is absolutely procured. The will of man is fallen and must be changed in order to produce faith; free will is properly the will that has been freed from its state of sin to be able to choose the things of God, thus “by his grace alone, [God] enables [man] freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”

By sharing in this union which we are brought into by the Holy Spirit, we are justified. Yet we are not merely given a legal pardon through our union with Christ, only to be left in the reality of our sins. Rather “God does what he declares. When he pronounces someone righteous in Christ, he immediately begins also to conform that person to Christ.”

The Father declares us righteous due to our union with Christ, and we are brought into this union by the Spirit, yet even further than this the Spirit works to actually conform us to that image of Christ and to rid our selves of the pollution and corruption of sin. That is, we are sanctified. This is just as much wrought in man as the other areas of salvation, as is stated by the Westminster Divines, by the indwelling of the Word and the Spirit “the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they are more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces…”

The Westminster Confession here introduces two different aspects of sanctification, dying to sin and living to Christ, and in this we can see the more day-to-day out-workings of our union with Christ. These two facets can be seen in Scripture in such verses as Galatians 5:24 that “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” and in Colossians 1:10-11 that we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Yet even these good works are not fully our own, for we were “created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10) so much that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

So God will bring this good work to completion, and the works that we do have been prepared for us beforehand. In becoming more and more who we are in Christ, in being unified with him and being conformed to his image, we put to death sin and walk in holiness, and both of these are worked in us through the workings of the Holy Spirit, not of our own will or our own strength. Because it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own we can have assurance that we will persevere and not fall away from the faith; indeed, He who began a good work will finish it, and again “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Because it is the work of the Triune God we can be sure that it will not fail and we will be brought into glorification: the Father has not failed in his decree, the Son has not failed in his work on the cross but was raised from the dead for the remission of sins, and so the Holy Spirit has not and will not fail in his work of applying these benefits to the sinners and of brining them into the union of Christ into which they are predestined.

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Salvation Defending Against Heresy

Because of these truths of Scripture a great number of heresies and false teachings are guarded against, many of which are still present in the contemporary context. Because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the will of man, the false teaching of Arminianism is guarded against. Because salvation is brought about by faith through the working of the Spirit and not by the good works of the individual (which are themselves also fruit of the Spirit), the false teaching of legalism is guarded against, that we must perfectly live up a given set of laws – indeed, Christ did this because we could not. Because the Holy Spirit is actively at work in those to whom he brings faith, the false teaching of antinomianism is guarded against, claiming that it doesn’t matter what the Christian does and opening up the possibility of being a carnal Christian. Similarly, because it is the work of God, the false teaching that one can lose their salvation after acquiring it is guarded against, for as has been stated none will pluck us out of His hand.

Regarding the contemporary context, perhaps the greatest heresy which is guarded against by the truths of the Holy Spirit is the great pessimism that comes with postmodernism. Pessimism, for one, that we as Christians can truly change; pessimism, for the second, as to whether we can even know God at all. Again, because salvation is the work of God, and because the real sanctification of the individual is a part of this salvation, we can be assured that we will truly be changed, that we are not left in total depravity throughout our mortal lives. Because it is the Holy Spirit – God himself – who has inspired Scripture and has decided in his grace to communicate with man, we can be assured that we can indeed know God in our finite way as much as God chooses to reveal himself. Furthermore, because the Spirit has inspired the Scriptures we can rest assured that the truth of them is not founded in any individual, which thereby guards against the great subjectivism of postmodernism; because this is the only Word which the Spirit is inspired, the pluralism of the contemporary world is also guarded against.

The mere fact that He has chosen to reveal himself is in itself gracious, and because He is God he will not fail in this endeavor and we can truly know him. Not only has God given us is Word in the form of the Holy Scriptures, but the Holy Spirit himself works in us to have faith and knowledge of this.

The Practical Effects of Spirit’s Work & Salvation

Just as these truths regarding the Holy Spirit and salvation guard against a number of false teachings within the church, so they are also of great practical benefit to the believer. As Horton claims “the gospel is the answer not only to our guilt and condemnation but to our corruption and slavery to sin.” Freedom from guilt and slavery to sin are in themselves supremely practical things; no longer must we dwell in the shame of our sin but we can look with joy upon the grace that has been decreed for us by the Father, wrought for us by Christ, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are truly enabled and made by the Holy Spirit to be free from the tyranny of sin in our lives. This union with Christ is incredibly comforting and liberating, as John Bunyan put it upon realizing this truth: “Now did my chains fall off my legs; indeed I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away…”

A personal, practical, and real change is brought about in the believer’s life due to these truths, and because we do not have to rely upon our own strength but may see ourselves joined with Christ we may be kept from despair. Because the Holy Spirit is God he will not fail, and because he will not fail we will without a doubt be changed, that we will be graciously saved according to the decree of the Father that was worked out by the Son and is being applied by the Spirit.

In the same way that these truths affect our own personal assurance and growth, they also affect that of our ministry. We are called to preach the word, and the word is an instrument for the bringing of faith, yet because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer we can be assured that so long as we faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ that the Holy Spirit will do His gracious work. Thus it does not rest upon us in our own power of person, on our own eloquence, or on our own power of reason, to convince people to believe the gospel. A great weight is therefore taken off of the minister and they are able to distinguish their actual mission from the perversion that tends to turn the church into a cult of personality.

Just as we can have hope for real change in our lives, we can call our congregations to this change. We can hold them accountable for their sins when they fall into the habit of the carnal Christian and assure them that the Holy Spirit will work in them for their sanctification. The Trinitarian God is working out His grace to man: the Father has ordained it, the Son has procured it, and the Spirit is actively imparting it for our salvation.

Sovereignty and Contingency in Christianity

waiting1Few themes have been discussed as frequently throughout history as that of fate and free will. The topic in itself seems innocent enough, yet whenever it is discussed all of the rest of philosophy and theology inevitably gets pulled up into it. It is caught up in questions of ethics, of the relation between God and evil, of human responsibility, of salvation and of the sovereignty of God – questions of whether mankind has some semblance of control over his destiny or is merely a machine.

When discussed in the context of Christianity, the discussion often turns to the question of divine foreknowledge, on which there is no shortage of views (some of the more common being open-theism, simple-foreknowledge, Molinism, and the Reformed view).

As we wade through these views it must be noted that each argument accounts for certain aspects while neglecting others. Thus:

  • the Open-Theist claims the issue is over the content of reality but allows for some determined events; yet having any determined events at all falls into the same inability to explain the interaction between freedom and foreknowledge that plagues every view.
  • the Simple-Foreknowledge view – where God elects those he foreknew – only succeeds in making election and predestination meaningless and redundant when placed beside of foreknowledge; that is, election and predestination become words without content.
  • Molinism, rather than having God as puppet-master, makes him the great manipulator, rigging circumstances and the environment so that people will do as he wills; while this may help answer logical problems, it fails to address the moral dynamic of the dilemma.
  • the Reformed view is often the most honest in addressing its own deficiency, with authors such as Paul Helm stating that “we cannot at present see how these parts cohere, that we cannot demonstrate their consistency.” Yet even Helm requires the individual to redefine their view of the will before presenting the mystery; that is, Helm answers the question, but does so by changing what the words in play mean (and thereby bordering on the fallacy of equivocation).

Regardless of whether one goes down the road of the Arminian or that of the Calvinist, the Molinist or the Open-Theist, eventually a certain impassible fog will be reached that the thinker will be forced to resign to mystery.

However, rather than find that each road has its own fog at some point in the distance, would we be justified in simply marking the mystery at the outset? As G.K. Chesterton says, the Christian “has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.”

Before resigning ourselves to mystery, however, we must take into account a variety of factors, factors such as the limits of reason, the notions of divine foreknowledge and free will, and the impact of Scripture on the topic. Objections to the position as well as its practical out-workings must also be addressed.

The topic can be narrowed before proceeding. So while it is necessary to discuss the human will, the related question of whether man may freely choose good or evil is a matter of election, which is a distinct discussion (for even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil, this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary – rather, he may in this instance be freely and contingently choosing between things which are evil; this biased yet contingent freedom would still offer up the philosophical problems offered in the discussion of foreknowledge and preserve God’s sovereignty in salvation).

Indeed, it is not necessary for us to consider the fallen will of man at all – in appealing to the Garden we do away with the problem of the fallen will altogether. Thus it can be found for one in the writings of Augustine: “For it was by the evil use of his free will that man destroyed both it and himself.” Anthony Hoekema reflects this saying: “Though man had been created with true freedom, they lost that freedom when they fell into sin.” It is with the free will as present in the Garden which must be contended, regardless of what sort of will is present today.

It will suffice to say that it was present once, for if such a free will ever was present then the same issues arise as if it were present today.

With the scope narrowed one may begin to consider the will in itself, but in doing so one must take into account the limits of reason. We must ask whether our faculty of reason even has the capability of answering this question sufficiently; as C.H. Spurgeon wrote in regards to fore-ordination and human responsibility, “it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.” The solution from the Reformed perspective is a theory called compatibilism. This is accomplished through defining ‘free will’ not in the manner of libertarian free will but rather in offering a view similar to what James Smith calls ‘positive free will’, this is a ‘free will’ where “freedom isn’t just the ability to choose, but the ability to choose well, to choose rightly.” However, this in itself does not liberate the Reformed perspective from its difficulties, for supposing that Adam had the ability to choose either rightly or wrongly it must still be explained how he came to choose wrongly, especially if God is the ultimate cause of his actions. Furthermore, this only succeeds in taking a dilemma between the interaction of sovereignty and free will and moving it back, making it into a dilemma between sovereignty and responsibility.

As noted, the Reformed tradition has the advantage of acknowledging this relationship as one of the mysteries of God. Yet, the simple-foreknowledge position also acknowledges mystery in its system. As Roger Olson states: “Arminians know that their belief in libertarian freedom is a mystery.” The Reformed tradition acknowledges a mystery between sovereignty and responsibility, the Arminian tradition acknowledges a mystery within libertarian freedom itself. Olson acknowledges both of these mysteries, but prefers his own because he feels it saves God from being the author of evil. One position he rejects, however, is the position that the will is determined but free, for this “begs further explanation.”

From the outside it might be contended that both the Reformed and Arminian options “beg further explanation.” Perhaps it should be stated that the relationship between divine sovereignty and free will is the mystery. G.K. Chesterton has already been quoted as sharing a view similar to this; Jerry Bridges puts forth the same idea, stating that “while the Bible asserts both God’s sovereignty and people’s freedom and moral responsibility, it never attempts to explain their relationship.” Such a placement of the mystery may also be seen by Anthony Hoekema, who states “To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered from my lips, I utter them,” and goes on to say that “denial of either side of this paradox will fail to do justice to the biblical picture.”

Regardless of which road one goes down eventually an impassible fog is reached that is deemed a mystery, the goal therefore may be to state the mystery at the outset.

If the justification of placing the mystery at the point suggested is to be addressed, the nature of the human understanding of the will must be addressed. In order to address the human understanding of the will it is necessary first to address human understanding in itself. It is noted by G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy that “It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind,” and again that “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”

One begins to see an initial problem at the very outset of analyzing the will. This problem is brought up by John Kemeny in stating that humans “are part of the universe about which we make predictions.” Not only is there the problem of the mind attempting to reckon up itself, and the problem of being part of the system which is being analyzed, but there are further problems in the very nature of the analysis.

From what very little may be said of the mind, it may be asserted that it is the nature of the mind in analysis to look for causal connections, indeed, logic and science can operate by no other method – but when this is the method it cannot help but lead to determinism. The idea is put forth by such thinkers as Paul Roubiczek, who states “[Determinism] is the natural outcome of the scientific method; it is bound to work in the direction of establishing causality,” and again that “As the method is designed to disclose necessity, freedom can never be proved in this way.” That is to say, reason and the scientific method must necessarily look for causes, and can only operate in the language of cause and effect, therefore they are incompetent to discuss something that is posited as having no set cause (free will).

Not only can the mind only search for causality, but as David Hunt has noted, we lack “an adequate theory of causation… we don’t really understand what is going on when one thing causes another.” F.H. Jacobi offers the most concise statement, simply that “Every avenue of demonstration ends up in fatalism.” 

However, while thinkers such as Roubiczek appeal to experience to solve the problem that reason cannot solve, Jacobi appeals to revelation, stating: “every proof presupposes something already proven, the principle of which is Revelation.” It is held that the mind is distinctly unqualified for rationalizing the advanced and technical causalities (or lack thereof) of its own nature, because not only does this amount to attempting to measure the system of measuring, but also because the process itself is built on seeking necessity and causality and is therefore supremely ill-equipped for analyzing something deemed contingent.

There is in fact no shortage of precedent for placing these things outside the nature of human reason. The writings of Immanuel Kant provide one sort of justification for this limit to human reason, stating that the conflict of these dogmatic doctrines are such that “no one assertion can establish superiority over another” due to each having “grounds that are just as valid and necessary.” This dynamic is pointed out by Ronald Nash in his book The Word of God and the Mind of Man, stating “[According to Kant] all who attempt to extend reason beyond its limits become involved in absurdities and contradictions and become prone to the disease of skepticism.”

One need not share Kant’s system as a whole to recognize his argument when it comes to the antinomies he presents, one of which is causality versus freedom. H.G. Wells attempted to account for this discrepancy in his essay The Scepticism of the Instrument, by positing that “various terms in our reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different planes.” The comparison made by Wells was one between the world of an atom and the world humans normally experience, where the rules of the different worlds cannot be made to coincide. Here, he said, the instrument – the mind – fails. Yet where Kant posited that the answer cannot be known at all, and Wells explained it through analogy to science, the Christian may take the view that such truths are revelational, and “the revelation of God in Christ would not have been guaranteed to those who followed unless He completed it in an adequate medium of transmission.” Both the Arminian and the Calvinist recognize limits to knowledge when they acknowledge mysteries in their systems, the point here is simply to place the mystery at the beginning rather than within the woodworks of a grand system.

One may turn from looking at the mind of man to looking at divine foreknowledge and the mind of God, yet difficulties will still be found. Just as Chesterton wrote that the mind cannot look at its own light, Cornelius Van Til points out that as one doesn’t use a candle to discover the light of the sun, but the reverse, so “we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason” for “it is reason itself that learns its proper function from Scripture.” And again, “man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation.”

Divine foreknowledge, therefore, like the nature of the free will, seem outside the scrutiny of reason. Rather, the mind of man must rely on revelation across the board in this area of knowledge – as it is said by Jonathan Edwards “Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end.”

It has been posited thus far that the mind is not qualified to analyze itself without falling into contradiction, both because it is its own light and because it is part of the system it is analyzing, as well as the point that the mind in its mechanisms is only capable of searching out causality, which inevitably leads its workings in the direction of determinism.

Furthermore it has been posited that not only can the mind not reckon up itself, but there are also limits or bounds to what it can reckon outside of itself without ending in contradiction. The workings of the divine mind are noted as being one of these areas outside the limits of reason, for just as the mind cannot analyze its own light, neither can it analyze the light that supplies its light.

This leaves the thinker with only revelation to depend on, with experience potentially acting as a route of verification. For Roubiczek, as mentioned above, this is one avenue which is available, fortheories prove to be of no excuse; in spite of them, responsibility remains; we still feel responsible and insist that man ought to feel responsible.” It is this feeling which must be accounted for in his system, and thereby brings him to the notion of free will. The end point of this train of thought is that the thinker is not justified in moving down any of the roads presented to him and is therefore justified in declaring the mystery outright.

With this justification established one other point must be made regarding arguments for and against free will or determinism. When divine foreknowledge is brought into discussion, the first question inevitably tends to be what effect this has on free will, for if God knows what we are going to do, then how can we be free in doing it?

This objection as regards foreknowledge in particular may be met, even if one cannot explain the relationship between sovereignty and freedom or the nature of freedom in and of itself. One way in which this may be accomplished is the route taken by Augustine, stating that “For when He has foreknowledge of our will, it is going to be the will that He has foreknown,” and continuing “Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. Therefore, God also has knowledge of our power over it.” Thus it might be properly said along with A.W. Pink that “It is persons God is said to ‘foreknow,’ not the actions of those person.” Although he does technically know the actions as well, that is secondary to his knowledge of humans as willed people.

Another way in which this objection might be met is by pointing out the tautology of it. People hear that “what will be will be” and in turn believe that this truism demonstrates some fact or fatalism. As A.J. Ayer points out “It does not follow, however, that the event is necessitated in any but this purely verbal way.” The recognition of this tautology does not prove any real fatalism, for it may be stated just as easily that our actions “too, indeed, are what they are and their consequences will be what they will be.” According to Ayer this sort of ‘fate’ is reduced to the triviality of ‘if a statement is true it is true’.

A truism proves nothing, especially one which may be stated both ways; what will be will be, and our actions will have their effects.

The position presented has no problem dealing with the above objection, nor is it toppled into the same corner as Reformed positions often are of implicating God in evil. To borrow a term from H.G. Wells, on the one plane the position may appeal to the freedom of the will as the source of evil, that is, something within man rather than something distinctly put there by God. On the other plane the position may appeal to the same sort of presupposition that is used by Reformed theologians such as Jonathan Edwards or Gordon Clark.

This sort of apologetic makes the goodness or evilness of an act dependent not upon the cause but upon the nature of the act. Thus Edwards states that “to have a virtuous heart, is to have a heart that favors virtue,” or “that which makes vice hateful, is its hateful nature.” This view is compatible with the view presented, for as was noted towards the beginning, even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary; he may be freely willing between evil things.

Apart from discussing the acts of men, it also discusses the acts of God. According to Scripture, God cannot sin. This is true on the one hand because the “law that defines sin envisages human conditions and has no relevance to a sovereign Creator” and on the other hand because “whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it.” As is echoed in Van Til, “God makes the facts what they are to be.”

Good and evil are defined as what they are in relation to God. There is no standard of good and evil above God, just as there is not scale of being to which God belongs – God is the ultimate. Things are good or evil, sinful or not, because He deems them as such, and being the Creator He has full rights over all of creation to do with as He wills.

Thus we may see many times in Scripture God effectively causing individuals to sin – ie, Exodus 9:12 where he hardens Pharaoh’s heart or Acts 4:27-28 where it is said that Herod and Pilate acted on their own wills but in doing so acted as God’s will had decided beforehand. God’s action in ordaining the actions of people is seen all throughout the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 20:4 or Judges 12:3 where it is said that the Lord fights the enemies of his people and gives his people victory. How else could God giving victory work out in practice other than God directly controlling the individuals involved in the battle, either causing his people to fight exceptionally well or the enemy to fight poorly.

God’s will is thus seen as the overarching force throughout the entirety of both the Old and New Testaments, and yet God is not culpable in any sin, for the chief reason that it is God that defines what it is to sin. Yet it is this notion which is so offensive to the unbelieving mind, and thus might be seen as the original sin – that is, man attempting to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; yet that standard is not up to man.

Still, the Reformed apologetic presented here still seems troubled, for if the will of God is compatible with doing anything and everything, then the goodness seems arbitrary – if something is compatible with everything then it lacks distinction. This sort of Reformed apologetic also falls into the hole of affirming that the present state of affairs is the best of all possible worlds, simply on account that it is the way that God made it.

Yet this notion not only fails to do justice to human experience with sin in the world, but it also fails to even account for the biblical datum. It fails to account for the fact that the world is ‘cursed’ in Genesis 3:17, that it is said to be “subjected to futility” in Romans 8:20, or the very fact that Christ needed to be sent; none of this makes any sort of sense if the world has been perfect or the best possible world at any point post-fall. If one looks to Augustine he notes that God has arranged His designs such that “the good will of the Omnipotent might not be made void by the evil will of man, but might be fulfilled in spite of it.” This position clearly acknowledges God’s will being accomplished in spite of the will of man, a state which would not be necessary if the will of man was exactly what God willed it to be.

Placing the mystery between free will and sovereignty provides an explanation other than that the entire drama of human history is nothing more than a marionette show where the puppet-master deems some actions of the marionettes good and others evil – the Reformed apologetic may free God from technically being implicated in evil, but it also reduces the relationship between God and the world to something similar to a child arbitrarily deeming one of his toys the good guy and another the bad guy. It is only if some part is truly played by the humans this problem is avoided.

A final defense for this position – or any position positing an unqualified free will – might be made against the traditional Reformed perspective as seen in Jonathan Edwards that “the will itself is not an agent that has a will; the power of choosing itself has not a power of choosing.” It is held that the individual cannot choose differently than what their will is biased towards, for that would be to will otherwise than one wills, and therefore end in contradiction. Firstly, it must be remembered that the mind cannot reckon up itself, and that it may only work causally, and is therefore inept to discover any contingency in the will to begin with. Secondly, one might also look to the consciousness as a sort of template to work off of. For just as the individual is conscious, so is the individual aware of that consciousness – there is, as it were, a consciousness behind the consciousness. So too, perhaps, might there be a will behind the will. It will be agreed with the Reformers that “people cannot want to want God,” but as has already been discussed the fallen will does not of necessity lack contingency.

It was noted in the introduction that it is not necessary in discussing the matter of God’s foreknowledge to bring election into the matter, for in dealing with God’s foreknowledge versus the freedom of the will one need only account for the initial state of the Garden, in which election was not necessary. It is held that if God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty were compatible with the truly free will of Adam, then it is also compatible with any sort of fallen or pseudo-free will which might be posited to humanity today (that is, a will which is inherently biased away from God); bias towards evil does not negate contingency in and of itself, for it does not of necessity determine how that will is used, only that it is not used for the glory of God.

It is with this view of the will in mind that the discussion may be turned towards matters of election and the practicalities of the view being held, for even if for theoretical purposes the discussion need only deal with the fall, for practical purposes it must move beyond that in order to bring relevance to the everyday life of the Christian.

As regards the salvation of men, the typical Reformed perspective is maintained. As it is stated by A.W. Pink, God “‘foreknows’ because He has elected.” Or as it is stated by the Westminster Divines “Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners… not for anything wrought in them, or done by them.” Or most pointedly, as it is put by Paul in Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This is compatible with a will which is biased-but-contingent, for all that is maintained is that the fallen will cannot work for the glory of God unless God renews that will to a place where it is biased but contingent towards the things of God rather than away from; thus, the will is seen as freely determining between the things of God rather than mechanically responding to individual impulses as they are supplies by God.

Perhaps the most practical aspect of this position as it relates to the average believer is that it is free to give the believer the assurance that “all things work together for good to those who love God” and it might be said along with Augustine that God’s will shall be accomplished in spite of humanity, rather than that God’s will shall be fulfilled because he is the cause of all that is perceived as being wrong with the world but on the grand and secret scale isn’t ultimately wrong because it’s the way God planned it.

Furthermore, this position does not ask the believer to seek out one certain ‘will of God’ for their lives or force them to wonder whether any one action (assuming the action isn’t sinful) is in line with the specific will of God; rather than seek out some specific will, it simply asks that the believer to do whatever they do for the glory of God. Thus when the believer pursues a certain course of action and that course of action turns out badly, they may not accuse God of having led them poorly, or be accused of having discerned God’s will poorly, for on this position the will of God for man is general rather than specific. Man may still make mistakes while being within the will of God, for it is not necessarily a specific course of actions that is being called for, but only a heart that glorifies God in whatever it does.

This means that it is not as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this or He did not’. God calls us to glorify him, the manner of which is left primarily up to man. Were the calling of the ministry as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this specific thing’ then statements such as James’ warning about becoming teachers would be to no point, for then James would be warning them to consider whether or not to follow the will of God – but surely the will of God should be followed without question were it so specific. It is therefore maintained that people are within the will of God so long as they are doing whatever they do for the glory of God, but sinful humanity being what it is, even if one is within the general will of God the endeavor may be prone to setbacks; though with Augustine, God will work in spite of humanity.

Although there are many different perspectives on the doctrine of divine foreknowledge and how it relates to humanity, none manage to account for all the facts and each must appeal to some sort of mystery. The position has been maintained that one is justified in declaring this mystery at the outset, rather than following the thought of any particular view only to push the mystery deeper into the folds of the system.

This has been shown by analyzing the limits and inadequacies of the human mind, both in reckoning up itself and in reckoning up the things of God, and its distinct inability to seek out something contingent. It has been shown that this position is not without adherents; bits of it can be found in Chesterton, Hoekema and Augustine.

It has finally been shown its ability to meet the common objections to the doctrine of foreknowledge as well as those of fatalism, and also to be practically applicable for the believer in that it does not back them into the corner of concluding that regardless of the state of the world that this is the best possible world and allows them to avoid the pitfalls of trying to discern some specific will for their life apart from simply glorifying God, which as the Westminster Divines state “is the chief and highest end of man.”

That a strict system is not arrived at should not discourage the believer. Individuals naturally desire to reduce mystery to a system, for systems give them control whereas mysteries force them to trust – as Dr. Larry Crabb notes, with a system “we’re in danger of placing more faith in a manageable plan with predictable results than in God.” It is again with this in mind that is asserted that one might simply declare the mystery at the outset. This is not to say that no area of theology can be explored, that no answers or truths can be attained; truths are posited: the truth that God knows the future exhaustively, that he is completely sovereign, but also that man is fallen but free – not free to love God unless God renews him, but free from necessity, contingently free to choose either how to sin or how to glorify God. This freedom must be taken as a first principle or not at all, and it is held that objections against it as a first principle fail to deliver for the reasons stated above – that is, simply, the mind is insufficient to make the judgment against free will, but experience asserts its presence in spite of all ‘rationality’.