Calvinism and Arminianism 34

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences” (Luther).

Have we not grown used to an Erasmian brand of preaching from our pulpits—a message that rests on the same shallow synergistic conceptions which Luther refuted, picturing God and man approaching each other almost on equal terms, each having his own contribution to make to man’s salvation and each depending on the dutiful co-operation of the other for the attainment of that end?—as if God exists for man’s convenience, rather than man for God’s glory? Is it not true, conversely, that it is rare to-day to hear proclaimed the diagnosis of our predicament which Luther—and Scripture—put forward: that man is hopeless and helpless in sin, fast bound in Satan’s slavery, at enmity with God, blind and dead to the things of the Spirit? And hence, how rarely do we hear faith spoken of as Scripture depicts it—as it is expressed in the cry of self-committal with which the contrite heart, humbled to see its need and made conscious of its own utter helplessness even to trust, casts itself in the God-given confidence of self-despair upon the mercy of Jesus Christ—‘Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!’ Can we deny the essential rightness of Luther’s exegesis of the texts? And if not, dare we ignore the implications of his exposition? (Johnson and Packer’s introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

While Johnson and Packer in the introduction to the 1957 edition of Luther’s Bondage of the Will thought that the preaching in their day was described as men picturing God and man approaching each other on almost equal terms, I am afraid that we are far worse than that today. We are past the idea that salvation depends on man and God co-operating in the matter, but now we seem to put all the stress on man to make that choice. Where are the men who are like the souls in the Reformation who preached a clear Gospel on which all depended on God? Where are the men in our day who preach a message of grace alone and tell sinners that God must save them if they are to be saved? Where are the men in our day who will tell sinners that they are dead in sins and trespasses and that they have no ability to save themselves and can do nothing but sin? If men will not preach those things, they either don’t know them or don’t believe them. If men believe them, they must preach them.

If it is the case that the predicament of man was as Luther said the Scripture says it is, then men are helpless in their sin without any hope or power of extricating themselves. If Luther was correct, then men are at enmity with God and are blind and dead to the things of the Spirit. If men are like that, then it is cruel and horribly immoral to tell them that they can just believe the Gospel and they will be saved. If men are truly in that predicament, then how can we be so light and easy in the things of God as we treat them as if they did have power to do something about their predicament? If men are truly dead in sins and trespasses, then how can we not preach as Luther did that they must be made alive and that sovereign grace alone must save them?

How repugnant it is to hear men prattle on in our day as if God existed for the convenience of man who could save himself by one act or choice of the will. How contrary to Scripture to hear men urging others to exercise their faith as if they had faith residing in them to exercise! Man has no contribution to make to his salvation other than the sin he needs to be saved from. Man has no acts of the will he can offer up and he can do nothing to put God under obligation to save him. Not only can man not do anything to put God under some form of obligation, but man can do nothing but sin in all the good that he does. What can a man who can do nothing but sin do in order to co-operate with God in salvation?

This Erasmian preaching must stop if the Gospel of grace alone is to be preached. The things that the Reformers (Luther especially) fought against so strongly are once again being preached in our day and that from professing Reformed pulpits. God is supreme in all things and our preaching must set that forth with clarity to the dead souls of men and to true believers as well. We must make clear that terrible condition that men are in and that salvation required the bloody cross where Jesus the Son of God suffered and died. We must make it clear to men that they have no ability to choose God because they hate Him and are at enmity with Him. The only reason that we can give a man that God will save him is if God chooses to show him grace to the glory of His own name. Men must be stripped of all their ability and righteousness that they may look to Christ alone to give them His ability and righteousness. Away with all of this easy preaching and back to the old style of man’s inability and God’s grace.

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