Free Will is No Small Issue – History & Theology, Part 77

In the last BLOG we returned to the writings of John Owen to show that the issue constantly goes back to the character of God and His sovereignty over man versus the power and ability of man. Whatever is asserted about a human being is an assertion about God as well. If God is truly sovereign over each and every thing that happens, then man does not have a free-will in the Arminian sense. It is true that we can speak of a free-will if we use the term to simply mean that God does not force a human being against his or her will. But that is not how it is used when used in the theological sense by the Arminian. Every act of man is either totally dependant on permission from God or even strength of God if the act is to be spiritual. That does not allow for an act of a free-will. The fact that a human being is either a slave of sin or of righteousness does not allow for a free-will either. The devil and God are not just interested bystanders; they are the rulers over every human heart. To assert that a will is free is to assert that the human soul is free from the power of the devil and of God. That simply cannot be.

In the last BLOG I quoted a remarkable piece from John Owen. I would like to repeat that again to make the point that whatever we say about man in some way says a lot about God:

I come now to treat of that betwixt which and the Pelagian idol there is bellum aspondon, implacable hatred, absolutely destructive to the one side,–to wit, the providence of God. For this, in that notion Christianity hath hitherto embraced it, and that, in such a sense as the Arminians maintain it, can no more consist together than fire and water, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, and he that shall go to enjoin them ploughs with an ox and an ass; they must be tied together with the same ligament…wherewith the tyrant tied dead bodies to living men. This strange advancement of the clay against the potter, and not by the way of repining, and to say, “Why hast thou made me thus?” but by the way of emulation, “I will not be so, I will advance myself to the sky, to the sides of thy throne,” was heretofore unknown to the more refined Paganism.

What we must see is that to make an assertion of free-will is to make a monumental statement about God. This is the part that is so hard for people to get hold of and understand. If we defend man first and foremost, we are starting from the wrong point. We must not start our theology with man and then proceed to give God what is left. We must start with God and learn who He is from His Word. Then and only then do we move to what the Bible teaches about man. To apply this to our point at hand, then, we would go to Scripture and search it for what it teaches on the sovereignty and providence of God. Only then would we even begin to look at the freedom man has or does not have in the world governed by God and the spiritual realm as well. If we start with man and simply assume that man has free-will, we will not see the truth of who God really is because we can never get beyond our humanistic assumptions that we think must be true.

As we can see from the Owen quote there are two contradictory things in the world which cannot be reconciled. Those two are the Arminian sense of free-will and the biblical teachings of the providence of God. The battle is over who rules over humanity and in particular who rules over each human being. What we must not get away from is this assertion of John Owen in which he brings us face to face with the reality of the real issue. The real issue involved in free-will is over who God really is. This is not just a small difference that should not divide Christians; this is over the character of God. This is not just a small issue regarding a small thing that has no real influence on the Gospel, but because this issue reaches to the throne of God it also reaches to the very Gospel itself. The Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God and so whatever touches on the character of God touches on the Gospel. Whatever touches on the character of Christ touches on the Gospel of Christ. Whatever touches on the character of the Holy Spirit touches on the character of the Gospel.

Did the sinner plan salvation or did God plan it from eternity past? Did the sinner decide to send Christ to die for sinners or was that from the council within the Godhead from eternity past? Did the sinner decide for Christ to purchase the Spirit and all the benefits of Christ that the Spirit would apply or was that decided from eternity past? Do sinners have the power to overcome the slavery of sin and the bondage of the devil or are the devil and sin more powerful than sinners? Are sinners free enough and have the power to rescue themselves from the kingdom and rule of the devil and deliver themselves into the kingdom of the Beloved Son? Are sinners able to give themselves a new heart? Are sinners able to give themselves a new nature? Are sinners able to give themselves a new mind? Are sinners able to unite themselves with Christ? Are sinners able to apply the blood of Christ to themselves? Are sinners able to renew their own minds? Salvation is not just a matter of believing some facts, it is a matter of many things happening in the spiritual realm that only God can do. The issue between Arminian teaching and the Bible is not just a difference about a few facts, it is about God and His glory in the Gospel. It is a massive difference and we must come to know this.

What is going on today is that people are saying that the Gospel message is the same for the Arminian and the Calvinists. The only way that could be true is if the Calvinists have become like the Arminian or the Arminian has become like the Calvinists. If one is a historical Arminian and one is a historical Calvinist, then the message that the two have cannot be the same. There are two different views regarding God and of necessity, therefore, there are differing views regarding the Gospel. There are many nice people in the world who desire for there to be peace between these theological positions. The men may be friends and they may get along well, but the positions themselves as historically stated cannot be reconciled. Between the Arminian teaching of free-will and the biblical teaching of the providence of God, as stated above by John Owen, there is “implacable hatred, absolutely destructive to” each other and “can no more consist together than fire and water, light and darkness, Christ and Belial.” Those are strong words from the Prince of the Puritan theologians who started his theology with the doctrine of God. If we start with men or an attempt at unity with men, we will have started in the wrong place and will end with the wrong Gospel.

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