Archive for the ‘Calvinism and Arminianism’ Category

Calvinism and Arminianism 40

January 20, 2015

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

A modern editor of Luther’s great work underscores this fact: ‘Whoever puts this book down without having realized that evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain.’

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 effort in this series of postings was to set forth what men believed about free-will at the time of the Reformation and among those who followed them shortly after. We live in a day where things have changed, but not just changed but are virtually in a direct contradiction to what the Reformers believed. At some point those in the modern day must wake up and realize that despite the fact that they may think of themselves as Reformed and even have the Reformed creeds, they don’t follow the Reformers in this crucial and even critical area. The Reformers thought of the bound will as at the heart of biblical Christianity and a belief in free-will was to be something other than a biblical Christian. That has changed.

In the past grace was thought of as sovereign because God was and is sovereign as opposed to being something that man could obtain by an act of his own will. Today, it appears that as long as people preach Christ in some way that they are thought to be orthodox enough. But can one preach the true Christ without preaching Him as King over His people and as One who rescues them from the dominion of darkness by His power and will alone? Can the true Christ be preached without preaching that true faith must come from Him rather than the person’s own will and power? Can the true Christ be preached apart from teaching that regeneration is His sovereign work rather than God’s response to an act of man’s free-will? Can the true Christ be preached apart from declaring that His blood alone (apart from an act of the free-will) is what cleanses from sin? Can the true Christ be preached apart from declaring that all true love comes through Him and cannot be an act of the free-will?

The state of Christianity, if it can be put that way, is far removed from the strong preaching of Christ and the sovereign grace of God as was preached during the Reformation. There is a different Gospel being preached today since the older Gospel depended on the sovereign grace of God to do all and change man from a free-will state to a state of grace. The gospel (so-called) today is one that looks to man to make a choice as if all depends on what man does. In our day we have techniques and methods of evangelism in order to get results. In the old days men preached the Gospel of God knowing that the Gospel was the power of God for salvation. Oh how things have changed from a powerful God-centeredness to a weak and inept man-centeredness.

While it seems mean to focus on Arminianism and free-will to many people today, it is actually cruel not to take a stand on the issue. If Luther was correct on the Gospel, then Arminianism is at best a serious threat to the Gospel. If Luther was not correct on the Gospel, then let us denounce him and say that he was in error. But if we are not willing to say that Luther was wrong on what the Gospel was and is, then we must be prepared to stand up by grace against the modern trends of Arminianism (if not outright Pelagianism) as wrong and even as opposed to the true Gospel of grace alone. Those who are comfortable with a blending of Reformed thought and Arminianism have yet to realize that they would be denounced by Luther as returning to the foundation of Rome. It is really that simple and it is really that clear. Many must take a stand at some point or the true Gospel that has virtually disappeared in our land in this day (as God’s judgment) will indeed disappear as the judgment of God continues.

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Calvinism and Arminianism 39

January 19, 2015

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

A modern editor of Luther’s great work underscores this fact: ‘Whoever puts this book down without having realized that evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain.’

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 doctrine of man’s depravity (when it is not taught as little more than a hindrance to man) is quite devastating to the Arminian position and shows one reason why Luther and the Reformers were so virulent in opposition to the Arminian position. The teaching of Scripture on the depravity of man shows man as dead sin sins and trespasses and by nature a child of wrath. Because of that depravity man is in entire bondage to his sinful nature as opposed to having any spiritual ability or freedom in spiritual things. Before the sovereign grace of God comes to fallen man in his bondage to sin, men are not forced by an external power to sin. Rather than that, man is free to will and to do in accordance with his nature, but that nature is a sinful nature.

This shows us that while man is free to sin which is according to his sinful nature, man is not free to do anything spiritual because he has no spiritual nature. Because man has no spiritual nature and as such cannot love God, all that man does is sinful. Because man’s real problem is a sinful nature, all that can come from that nature is sinful. This shows us that man cannot do anything really good and cannot prepare himself for grace. This is not to say that man should not flee from sin and seek the Lord to show him grace, but that man cannot prepare himself for grace.

This inability for man to do anything good or dispose himself to do good because he was dead to spiritual things was the teaching of the Reformed and as such it became the orthodox position in the Reformed Confessions. This point should be driven home and shouted from the housetops. This is what the heart of Reformed theology is about. It denies any freedom of man to do one thing good or to prepare himself for grace and as such it was a strong and even severe denunciation of Arminian teaching on free-will. If the Reformers were correct on this, then the teaching of Arminian views on the will is in reality a return to the heart of Roman Catholic theology and is a denial of the Gospel of grace alone.

The doctrine of The Bondage of the Will as set out by Luther was indeed a doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation and apart from it there is no distinctive Reformed teaching on the Gospel. Going back to the quotes above, the teaching of free-will is a real threat to salvation and a delusion. If a person can read Luther’s book on the will and does not see or understand or believe that evangelical theology as a whole stands or falls with the bondage of the will, then that person does not understand what Luther taught that the Bible teaches. If that is true, then there is no preaching or teaching of the biblical Gospel of grace alone apart from this teaching. This doctrine is vital and must be taught if the Gospel is to be taught. This doctrine is vital to understanding the reality of the Gospel of grace alone. Apart from this doctrine being taught in its context and how it fits with the Gospel, there is no Gospel being taught. This is one reason why the Gospel has virtually disappeared in our nation in our day.

Calvinism and Arminianism 38

January 18, 2015

“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.

Calvinism and Arminianism 37

January 16, 2015

“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.

Calvinism and Arminianism 36

January 15, 2015

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

In order to protect the idol of man’s own ability and of his good will as being the cause of his own salvation, the Arminians would prefer to do away with the distinction between the external and internal call, between the noneffectual and the effectual call. They would view them as being the same, and thus recognize only one calling. The effect would then not be due to the efficacious operation of God working more in one person than in another. Instead, it would be related to the outcome; namely, that the one person obeys the call by his free will (which enables him either to respond or to reject this call) and thus be saved. Another person will despise and reject this call by the same neutral free will. Scripture, however, rebukes and refutes such foolish thoughts and demonstrates first of all that the calling is effectual unto salvation as a result of God’s purpose, “…who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28); “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:29). The actual exercise of faith in those who are called proceeds from this purpose. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).   A’Brakel

A ‘Brakel makes another point here that is very powerful. The Arminian position of the ability of man and his good/free-will being the ultimate cause of salvation is one way to preserve free-will at the expense of the effectual call of God. Notice again that the issue at hand is an issue on whether the focus is on man or on God. The issue at hand is on whether salvation rests upon the ability of man or the ability of God. The issue has to do with whether the power of God saves sinners by grace alone or whether it is the power of the free-will that salvation rests upon.

This comment by a ‘Brakel is so vital and so full of insight. When man trusts in himself rather than God, the will of man is an idol. In order to protect his great idol, man will hack and hack some more at biblical doctrine and even the doctrines of God and the Gospel. The great issues of theology are not just so much discussions over philosophy as such, but it is over whether man of God is the center of all things. The Arminian position does not make open efforts to denigrate the character of God, but it must do so in order to protect the system of free-will. The freedom of God must go if the freedom of man is to be upheld. The effectual call of God, which many think of as the same thing as regeneration, must not be held as more important than the free-will of man when man is at the center of Christian theology and life.

This has been seen in the history of the Church. The older way (that the Puritan’s used) of “evangelism” was to set people on seeking the Lord that He would have mercy on them and grant them life in regeneration. They saw that God was the center of all things and that He must make the soul alive if the soul is to be alive. They saw that God must make the first move or the soul would never come to God. The newer way is to focus on man’s ability and free-will in order that man would make the move toward God and that man must choose God.

The ultimate choice in salvation is either man or God and it must come from the free-will of man or the efficacious operation of God. It is either the case that each man’s free-will must choose for himself to be saved or the choice is for God to make to choose one and pass over others. It is either for each man to choose for himself to be saved or not to be saved or it is the choice of God to save those whom He pleases. The contrast between the man-centered way and the God-centered way has been set out in different ways, but that was to make the point with great clarity. It must be seen that these two ways are really the only two ways and that the difference is huge.

The positions can be seen by this analogy (coming from a ‘Brakel). The outward call is given in preaching the Gospel. Sinners will hear the outward call and will either respond to the outward call by their free-wills or by the inner call or the effectual call of God. Scripture sets out that “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The Arminian position says (by implication) that as many who choose to believe will have eternal life. Regeneration either comes by grace alone by the effectual working of God and so man believes, or it comes when man chooses to believe and God seeing that belief regenerates the man. The difference is enormous and the difference gets at the heart of the Gospel. There appears to be no other way of holding to the Gospel of grace alone or justification by grace alone unless we hold to the efficacious grace of God working regeneration by grace alone and that regeneration producing faith rather than regeneration as coming as a result of the faith of free-will.

Calvinism and Arminianism 35

January 14, 2015

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

There is an infinite difference between the corrupt intellect of man—that is, the Arminians and other proponents of free will—and the Holy Scriptures. The question is: Does the obtaining salvation proceed from man? Is he the only and essential cause of his salvation, or is God the only essential cause and can man, being absolutely incapable, do nothing to obtain salvation? The Arminians will readily admit that God has prepared and accomplished salvation and that God has given and revealed Christ the Mediator. However, they attribute this acceptance and entering in upon that way to the good will and power of man. This could be likened to what transpires on a race track. The government has put the prize on display and has prepared the track. The acquisition of the prize, however, is contingent upon the runners themselves. Willhelmus a ‘Brakel

Willhelmus a ‘Brakel , a Dutchman from centuries past, hits at the issue in his own way. It appears that he viewed the teaching of Arminians and other proponents of free will as coming from the corrupt intellect of man and opposing the Holy Scriptures. He viewed the difference between free will and the teaching of Holy Scripture as infinite. This is important to note. This position is quite consistent with Luther and the older teaching of the Reformed. The teaching of free-will was not thought of as relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, but instead it was thought of as coming from the corrupt intellect of man and contrary to the Scriptures.
In the modern day, however, the teaching on how dangerous the idea of free-will was and is to the souls of men has been obscured and ignored and in order to be gracious and winsome it is thought of as wrong but as not all that serious. It is thought and said that as long as men preach Christ they are not far from wrong. The question, however, according to a ‘Brakel, is whether the obtaining of salvation proceeds from man as the essential cause of his own salvation or whether God is the only essential cause seeing that man is absolutely incapable of having anything to do with His salvation? This is a slightly different way of approaching the question, but surely it is a vital question that is raised.

A preacher can preach truths about Christ, but can one preach the whole truth of Christ and the Gospel of Christ unless one shows how utterly unable man is to have Christ apart from God alone obtaining salvation for man by grace alone? Can a preacher truly preach the truth of Christ if one is not preaching that man cannot obtain salvation apart from the sheer and utter grace of God alone? This is simply to say that it certainly appears that men cannot preach the Gospel of Christ alone and grace alone apart from denying the free-will of man and preaching the free-grace of God who alone can obtain salvation.A ‘Brakel says that Arminians admit that God alone has prepared and accomplished salvation. They also admit that God alone can give and reveal Christ. These are ways that men can preach Christ but fall short in preaching the Gospel of grace alone because they attribute to men that the “acceptance and entering in upon that way to the good will and power of man.” This is to say that they preach Christ in such a way that they say He has done it all but He has left it to men to accept and enter into the way of life and that they can do that by their own will and power. This indeed is why Luther said that the false idea of free-will was a threat to salvation and a delusion. The Reformers thought it was vital to set out the Gospel of grace alone as being dependent upon God alone, which is to say that the acceptance and entering in or life or salvation is in the will and power of God.
The issue, as it continues to be set forth in different ways, is whether man can apply the Gospel to himself by an act of his own will or whether God alone can apply the Gospel to man by His own will. Another way to put it is to point out that the Arminian position leaves us with men can applying the grace of God to themselves whereas the other position is God alone being able to apply grace to men. The positions are always that clear thought they are almost always muddied by someone who wants unity at the price of the Gospel. This is not an issue that is clear to most, but it is one that is vital to the Gospel of grace alone. It is not just that Christ has purchased salvation as being the Gospel, but who has the final choice and who applies it? Apart from clear thinking and making distinctions this issue will not be set out and men will be left to apply grace to themselves. But where do they obtain that grace to apply to themselves? Can grace be grace and the grace of God if men have it in their power and ability to apply it to themselves?

Calvinism and Arminianism 34

January 12, 2015

“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.

Calvinism and Arminianism 33

January 11, 2015

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

These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth? (Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

If the teaching of free-will is indeed a danger and threat to the true Gospel, then why don’t we hear these things in our day? If we don’t teach the Bondage of the Will and the inability of man to obtain grace or merit anything but the wrath of God by himself, then in reality we are teaching men the doctrine of free-will because they will believe that unless we teach them differently. What right do we have to call ourselves and think of ourselves as Reformed if we don’t take this doctrine seriously? If we take the doctrine of the Bondage of the Will lightly or indifferently, then we have no right to think of ourselves as Reformed and as children of the Reformation. If we refuse to preach on this doctrine and to stress this doctrine in our preaching and teaching, we have no right to think of ourselves as Reformed or as children of the Reformation. Without this doctrine as primary in what we do we are in reality nothing but practical Arminians (if not practical Pelagians).

The Reformers thought of this as so central to the Gospel that they would not have recognized much of the modern professing Church as anything but that which was close to Rome in all reality. As the quote above says, we have become more like Erasmus in our day than Luther. We want to be gracious and winsome more than we want to stress this great truth of the Gospel of God and of His grace alone. We want to be liked and to have positions in the denominations more than we want to preach the Gospel of grace alone. As long as we can be nice about these things, we can retain our positions of prominence in the denominations, we can build huge buildings in our names, and we can write and sell books that sound wise and learned.

In our day doctrinal differences are minimized for the sake of peace in churches and denominations. That is a fine thing to do with minor issues, but it is to be a traitor to the Gospel if we give this up. There is only one and true peace and that is peace with God and then based on that having peace with people, but today we will throw out a doctrine that is at the heart of the Gospel (the will) in order to get along in the churches and to get along in our denominations. When we do that, however, we may not fight as much in the churches and the denominations but we don’t have peace with God. That is also to choose men over God and is an act of idolatry.

Luther stated that this was his most important work and that all of his other writings (except his work on the catechism) could be burned. That should show us how important he thought this work was. If his book, The Bondage of the Will, does indeed set out what he believed about salvation (and the other Reformers as well), then it is a work that we need to pay close attention to. But if it does set out the truth of salvation, then what does it say about our day when we no longer teach what it did and does? Do we think that some appearance of unity in a denomination or a church is better to have than the truth of the Gospel? Do we really think that God desires an appearance of unity more than the truth of the Gospel? Well, ministers say, I would be fired if I preached that. Is it better in the eyes of God to preach a false Gospel and stay or preach the true Gospel and be fired?

It is far better to preach Christ and the truth of the Gospel of grace alone and be fired than it is to preach another gospel and fall under the condemnation that Paul spoke of concerning those who preached another gospel. If we are too afraid to preach the Gospel of grace alone, then how can we say that we truly believe it ourselves? If we will not tell men and women that they cannot help themselves and they need grace alone, then do the ministers believe that themselves? The judgment of God has fallen upon the churches in our land.

Calvinism and Arminianism 32

January 10, 2015

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

Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant to this concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin and has nothing himself unless it is given him from heaven. Belgic Confession

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)

While the doctrine of the will is thought to be a secondary issue of minor importance in our day, at the time of the Reformation it was thought to be a primary issue. It was an issue of vital importance. The issue of free-will in the realm of salvation was repugnant to the writers of the Belgic Confession, and to Luther it was a matter of the highest degree necessary to know how our will operates in matters pertaining to salvation. As he said in the quote above, “this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us.” Remember that he was speaking to Erasmus who was Roman Catholic, but one that desired peace and unity. Erasmus was a scholar and did not like these battles and wanted unity in the Church. But Luther knew the importance of the issue and would not let Erasmus off the hook. He pressed this issue home and pressed it home relentlessly.
In our own day we have few (seemingly) who see this as a vital issue. The professing Church is full of men like Erasmus, but we have none who are like Luther. We can say that God must raise men like Luther up and give him His Spirit to stand as he did against the world and professing Church of that day. It is very true that there was and will be only one Luther, but the point is that we must each stand in our own way. We must not be ashamed of the great doctrines of Christ and the Gospel. Either Christ saves sinners wholly or there is part of them that does not need saved (the free-will) and something is left for them to do. Either Christ saves sinners by grace alone or there is something left for them to do. We must press these issues on the souls of men and women if we are to be faithful to the Gospel. But again, there are many nice men in the ministry in our day who are like Erasmus and they will not press these issues home to the soul.
If Luther really and truly believed that the doctrine of the will was the crucial issue and it was of the highest degree necessary to know how our will operates in the things of salvation, then he was either right or wrong. Since there is an eternal Gospel and no other, if he was right then his position is right now. We must either say from the heart that Luther was wrong or we must say from the heart that he was right. But if Luther was right, then we need to press these things home to the souls and consciences of sinners too.

Surely it is almost self-evident that it is vital to souls to know whether their will has the power and ability to do something in the realm of salvation or whether the power and ability is all of God’s to show at He mere pleasure. This seems so obvious that it almost seems silly to repeat, but since it is the case in our day that these things are not talked about (at least in the practical realm) and as such are not stressed to those who are concerned about their souls. As Luther said, if we know nothing of these things we will not know nothing of Christianity. If we don’t teach the people in the pew these things, they will not know anything of Christianity. But then again, if the ministers have not been taught these things they presently know nothing of true Christianity even if they are highly educated in religious things. If we don’t know that God’s will works all things by grace alone and our will is not free to apply grace to ourselves, then we know nothing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ no matter how orthodox we are in our knowledge of Christ. If we are not willing to press home to souls their inability in obtain grace and God’s sovereignty to give grace as He pleases, we will not preach the glorious Gospel of grace alone and we are not Reformed in any real meaning of the word. How we need to be awakened to these things!

Calvinism and Arminianism 31

January 9, 2015

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

Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who deny the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought). Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other (Johnson and Packer’s introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

Using the analogy of the tip of the iceberg, we have looked at (to some degree) how the doctrine of free-will collides with free-grace. They collide, not only because they are directly contradictory, but because the beliefs that support them and are inextricably intertwined with them collide beneath the surface where people are not looking. Luther said (as in quote above) that “This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences.” The reason he said that was not only that he believed it, but because of all the other beliefs that one must hold to when one holds to free-will.

One of the main beliefs that a person must hold to if a person holds to free-will is that a person is not dead in sin and is not utterly helpless in the bondage of sin. Rome denied that and taught that men could come to the Church (Roman Catholicism) and use their system to obtain grace and then have an enabling grace to do works and as such there was a form of salvation. The doctrines of the will are always linked to the depth of depravity and inability and the doctrines of how men receive grace and what kind of grace they receive. Once a person denies the Reformation doctrine that men are dead in sin and have no ability at all in the spiritual realm, it becomes a question as to how much freedom they have and how that freedom can be exercised in obtaining grace.

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. William Cunningham

As Cunningham shows, the will is the place where the doctrines of original sin (depravity and ability or inability) and of divine grace meet. What one believes about the will has necessary implications for what one believes about depravity and the degree of that and of the nature of grace. What one believes about the will has a necessary connection to other vital doctrines. One can even trace what one believes about the will to the doctrine of justification. This is, once again, an effort to point to the vital nature of the doctrine of the will and the dangers inherent in the doctrine of “free-will.” Whether one holds to the bondage of the will or free-will has enormous consequences for other doctrines and the well-being of the soul. These must not be diminished or laughed off by saying that at least those who hold the different doctrines are preaching the same Christ. I would argue that the doctrine of the will has a great influence on how people preach Christ.

If the minister believes that he is preaching to men with free-will and all that they have to do is make a choice or pray a prayer to be saved, the minister will preach to those men in a way as if it all depended upon them and their choice. Christ will be preached in a way that will enable men to make a choice. But if the minister truly believes that men are dead in sin and unable to make some choice that will lead to their salvation, he will preach Christ in such a way to get men to look to Christ alone. That minister will preach to men in such a way as to get them to look away from their own wills and choices and look to grace alone. When a man professes to be Reformed and yet preaches to men as if they had free-wills, that man is not truly Reformed. The bondage of the will is a necessary teaching to the freeness of grace in the Gospel and getting men to look to grace rather than self.