Calvinism and Arminianism 15

One of the greatest differences between the evangelical Calvinists and those they deride as “Hyper-calvinists,” is the evangelical Calvinists believe Arminians and Pelagians are otherwise sound “Christians,” and refer to them as their brothers and sisters. The Hyper-calvinists believe that as long as one is unconverted from his natural freewill state by the operation of the Spirit of God, and converted to the free grace of God by the Gospel of the grace of God, there is insufficient evidence to consider such as a “Christian,” or a “brother or sister.” This is not to say that they consign them to hell–that is not their desire, for by their own experience they understand that before that gracious divine call out of darkness, they, too, were “vessels of wrath even as others.” Arminians and Pelagians are as much in need for the gospel as any “heathen” or pagan. Calvinists would do well to “evangelize” their Arminian or Pelagian “brothers and sisters.”
To the Reformers, the crucial question was not simply, whether God justifies believers without works of Law. It was the broader question, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving them by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying them for Christ’s sake when they come to faith, but also raising them from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith. Here was the crucial issue; whether God is the author, not merely of justification, but also of faith; whether, in the last analysis, Christianity is a religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, or of self-reliance and self-effort. ‘Justification by faith only’ is a truth that needs interpretation. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia (Johnson & Packer’s intro to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

Regarding the crucial issue mentioned by Johnson and Packer in their intro to Luther’s Bondage of the Will, that is the same issue that was the contention of Luther at the Reformation with Arminianism (Rome at the time) and what the author of the first quote above is bringing up. This is so easily dismissed in the modern day as something that is not all that important. It is said that what does it matter as long as the Arminians preach Christ. But again, Roman Catholics preached Christ in some way and Luther said that this was the crucial issue in his remarks to Erasmus which is where Johnson and Packer got their information that this was a crucial issue. Can a person truly preach Christ alone where there is some of the will left in the mix? Luther would argue that one cannot. Can a person preach a true Christ alone and grace alone when they preach or allow for a free-will which contradicts Christ alone and grace alone?
Luther said that the bondage of the will must be preached in order to allow for a true and sovereign grace of God, yet people today don’t seem to see that at all. They seem to believe that grace can be sovereign and yet man have a will that is free of depravity and of grace at the same time. But again, this is the crux of the issue or it is the crucial issue. We must not let go of this and we must always be on our guard to fight against all the secret inroads against this doctrine. It is not enough to assert this in a creed or give some form of lip-service to it, this must be held from the depths of the soul and it must be defended.

So it is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether of not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation. Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us; our aim is, simply, to investigate what ability ‘free-will’ has, in what respect it is the subject of Divine action and how it stands related to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatsoever of Christianity, and shall be in worse case than any people on earth…That God’s mercy works everything, and our will works nothing, but is rather the object of Divine working, else all will not be ascribed to God. (Luther’s Reply to Erasmus)

Here are Luther’s words (translated into English) on the matter. This is the hinge on which the discussion turned. This was the crucial issue and that was to investigate what ability “free-will” had and how it was related to the grace of God. When people are ignorant of those things (whether on purpose or not) they know nothing of biblical Christianity. These words should resound in our ears and the weight of them should be upon our consciences. This is at the heart of Christianity and the heart of the Gospel and yet people are ashamed of these things today. What does that teach us about how different we are than those in the days of the Reformation? If we are ashamed of this teaching, does that mean we are ashamed of the Gospel regardless of how much we speak of doctrines having to do with Christ? Could it be that the modern Reformed person, in his anxiousness to be gracious and winsome toward Arminians and to work with them, has actually abandoned the heart of the Gospel? What would Luther say? What does it mean for God to save sinners by grace ALONE?

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