Calvinism and Arminianism 17

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).

It appears hard for modern people attending local churches to think of the bondage of the will or the utter inability of the will as being important for the Gospel. Instead of that, people seem to think that we must have unity to make the Gospel more powerful (in some way) and that our being gracious and winsome is more important than the twin truths of the deadness of man in sin and the sovereign grace of God to make alive those whom He pleases. But once again we must point to how Luther thought of this as a crucial issue.

The doctrine of sovereign grace is at the center of the deadness of the will and also of justification. If man is truly dead in sins and trespasses, then the will is not free and God must will to make man alive and that can only be done by His sovereign grace. The one who is spiritually dead must be made spiritually alive in order to have Christ as a spiritually dead person cannot make a spiritual decision. This shows us that the faith which sinners must have can only come to them by grace alone. A person is not declared just by God because the person comes up with faith, but the sovereign grace of God makes dead sinners alive and gives them faith. A person that has faith has Christ and a person that has Christ is a justified person on the basis of Christ.

The deadness of sinners in sin and the sovereign grace of God are vital issues in justification. We must see this and we must bow in submission to God in this matter instead of trusting in our own reason and our own hearts. The sinner that continues to look to self for a work of any kind (and that includes faith, perhaps especially of faith) is not one that is looking to Christ alone. The sinner that is looking to a free-will for an exercise of faith that God will respond to and save that sinner is not a sinner that is looking to the sovereign grace of God (the only kind of grace there is) in Christ alone.

Did Christ suffer for all of His people’s sins? Did Christ leave one sin that He did not suffer for? Did Christ die for His people’s sin of unbelief or leave it to them to overcome by their own will? Sinners are to look to Christ alone for all things and they are to look to Him for faith that comes by grace as well. Did Christ provide a perfect righteousness for His people or not? Did Christ leave sinners just one righteous act (coming up with faith on their own) to work up? Of course that is absurd as well. There is nothing left for the sinner to do in terms of the Gospel. Christ either purchased faith for sinners or He did not. But if He did not, then sinners not only have to come up with a spiritual faith on their own while dead in sins and trespasses, but their salvation then depends on them.

How vital this issue is when it is looked at and thought about. How vital this issue is seen to be when God opens blind eyes to see the inability of man and the ability of God. How vital this issue is seen to be when we see that God saves by grace and grace alone and that one work of the free-will is a work that attempts to add to grace. How we must learn to behold the glory of a free-grace rather than a free-will! How we must learn to behold the glory of God’s freedom to save the worst of sinners rather than trying to distinguish ourselves! How we must learn to behold the glory of the sovereignty of God rather than our thinking we are sovereign over ourselves! The doctrine of free-will strikes at the sovereignty of God, the finished work of Christ, the applying work of the Spirit; the depravity of man and the glory of His free grace in Christ by the Spirit. This teaching on free-will is an attack on the Gospel of grace alone and men must wake up to this in the modern day and understand that the free-will is what we are saved from.

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