Calvinism and Arminianism 37

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

The subject of free-will is, as it were, the connecting link between the doctrines of original sin and of divine grace—between man’s natural condition as fallen, involved in guilt and depravity, and the way in which they are restored to favor, to holiness, and happiness… And regarding the subject in this light, they [the Reformers] were unanimous in asserting it as a doctrine of Scripture, that the will of man is in entire bondage with respect to spiritual things, because of his depravity,—that fallen man, antecedently to the operation of divine grace, while perfectly free to will and to do evil, has no freedom of will by which he can do anything really good, or dispose or prepare himself for turning from sin and for receiving the grace of God. This was the doctrine of all the Reformers,–it is embodied in all the Reformed Confessions,–and is fully and explicitly set forth in the Confession of our own Church; and this, and this alone, is what the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions mean when, upon scriptural grounds, they deny to men, as they are, all freedom or liberty of will,–when they assert the entire servitude or bondage of the will of unrenewed men in reference to anything spiritually good.         William Cunningham

William Cunningham wrote quite a bit on the history of theology. He wrote a book on the theology of the Reformers and the Reformation and he wrote a book on the History of Theology. These volumes are masterful, precise, and very helpful. Notice how Cunningham writes about these issues and how he sets them out and shows how they are connected. This is what seems to escape so many in the modern day as they strive to be gracious and winsome in the pursuit of unity. One cannot have a correct theology all the way down and then have an anomaly of some sort with the doctrine of free-will. The doctrine of free-will cannot be held apart from having corresponding and correlating views of depravity and of how divine grace brings salvation to souls.

The doctrine of free-will is only consistent with a view of man and sin as man not being totally fallen and of man as not being in bondage and under the dominion of sin. The will cannot be thought of as free if the will of man is in bondage to sin and man cannot do one thing good. The will cannot be thought of as free as long as man absolutely and utterly needs grace to do anything good. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity are those doctrines that are just below the surface of the water in which the doctrine of free-will is the tip of the iceberg. Free-will is not a doctrine that stands alone, but instead it is built on other doctrines. While it is true that some who hold to free-will will use the same language as others regarding the doctrine of total depravity, they do not mean the same thing or they would see how inconsistent their view is with the doctrine of total depravity.

The doctrine of free-will is also unable to stand apart from the way in which men are enabled to stand before God blameless and with joy. The doctrine of free-will cannot consistently insist that the will is free of grace (as a true free-will must be) and still say that the soul is saved by grace alone. The doctrine of free-will cannot insist that the will is free of grace and yet hold to sovereign grace since sovereign grace does the choosing and not the free-will. It is God alone who can give grace to sinners and it is not sinners who can give themselves grace. It is God alone who can reconcile sinners to Himself rather than having sinners reconcile themselves to God.

The doctrine of free-will puts the stress on the power and ability of man while the doctrine of the will in bondage puts the stress on the power and ability of God to save helpless sinners who have no power to do one good thing or assist in their own salvation. The glorious doctrine of God saving sinners by grace alone to His glory alone can only shine with free and sovereign grace. The doctrine of man having a free-will and making a choice to save himself has the stress being put on man to make the final choice and as such the glory is taken (stolen) by man. We cannot have the teaching of free-will and the teaching of free-grace exist together in any way that is consistent. We will inevitably move toward consistency with our true doctrine of the will regardless of what creed we think we hold to. If men would only search their hearts and find out what they really love and what their real views concerning the will are multitudes would see (if God opened their eyes) that they are Pelagians in practice if not in theory as well. Oh how important this doctrine is and how important it is to see that Arminianism is at war with the Gospel and the professing Reformed who wish unity with Arminians have Reformed doctrine that is at best only skin deep. This is also to say that the Gospel they preach is not deeply Reformed (at best) either.

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