Calvinism and Arminianism 38

“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

The Gospel of grace alone and justification by grace alone through faith alone are built on the twin doctrines of the depravity of man (inability) and the sovereign grace of God. When people evangelize as if men have free-wills, they are evangelizing was if men were not truly fallen and as if grace was not sovereign. When men are evangelized as if they have free-wills, men will naturally think that they have the power and ability to choose Christ just as they are and they will not look to grace alone to save them. When preachers preach to men as if they had the power to make a choice and avail themselves of the grace of God as they please, it is not preaching to men as they are which is dead in sins and trespasses and in absolute and utter need of sovereign grace. This point must be stressed over and over again in order for men to see that they have no ability and that they cannot look to self for any spiritual help, but instead they need to be saved by grace alone which is sovereign grace.

But again, Cunningham points out that the Reformers were unanimous that the Scriptures taught “that the will of man is in entire bondage with respect to spiritual things.” The Gospel of grace alone as the Reformers taught can only be taught with any consistency with the background that the Reformers taught it with and that is that the will of man is in entire bondage in spiritual things. Once again we must take pains with our own wicked hearts that want to deceive us in these things. If the Reformers were correct about the will of man being in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then that is the truth of what man is. We cannot soften this if Scripture teaches it. We cannot water it down if Scripture teaches it. If men are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then our preaching and teaching must approach men with that teaching guiding us.

If men are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then we err greatly if we try to get them to believe spiritual things before they are born again and become spiritual men. If they are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then men must be taught about their bondage before they can understand their dire predicament. If they are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then this is the truth of man and it must be taught so that men will understand the nature of grace that it will take to save them. If they are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things, then men must not be told that their will is free and all they have to do is to make a choice or pray a prayer to be saved. Salvation is far beyond the reach of any man and it is not in the power and ability of man to do one thing that will save him.

It is because men are in entire bondage regarding spiritual things that men must have God out of sheer grace to make them alive. Men must arrive at the point of seeing their utter inability and bondage in spiritual things in order that they will not look to themselves or any ability in themselves as a means or way of salvation. It is only when men are broken from all hope in themselves and their own abilities and wills that they will look to grace alone for salvation. Until men see and feel in their hearts their entire bondage regarding spiritual things they will look to themselves because they are full of self and pride until they are broken from self and that reliance upon self. This is such a vital teaching that the Reformers were in agreement with and yet in our day this teaching is ignored and smoothed over as a rough spot on the road. However, that is because in our day the Gospel is virtually lost.

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