Archive for the ‘History & Theology’ Category

The “Old” Calvinism vs. Modern Intellectualism – History & Theology, Part 80

May 6, 2008

We will continue with the thought from John Owen and B.B. Warfield that theology must be God-centered first and foremost. It is possible to develop a theology from the Bible without the central thrust being the true glory of God, and all of that theology will be man-centered in some way. We can perhaps see this in two glaring errors of our day. One, we have arrived at the point in our man-centered and miserable theology by thinking that we can do things that glorify God or make Him look good. In other words, it is possible to speak a lot about doing things to the glory of God and still have a very man-centered approach to it. It can still be focused on my works and my efforts and things done in my own strength. We can give lip service to grace and still go on doing things in our own strength all the while mouthing out words that speak of the glory of God. To put it plainly, there are a lot of man-centered activities and works going on under the guise of the glory of God.

Second, we can speak much of the glory of God and do this in a way that focuses on man. We can speak of the glory of grace and the glory of salvation as if the glory of those things was because God did those things for man. We can weep about His grace at the cross and still be focused on ourselves. After all, Scripture tells us that even sinners love those who do good to them. It does not take a change of heart for a person to love (so to speak) God if they believe that He died for them and saved them from hell. It is not only possible but is perhaps the way things are done a vast majority of the time that God and His Gospel are presented. It is presented in such a way that sinners have no need to have a changed heart. This is presenting God in a man-centered way and proclaiming our own glory by mouthing that we are doing all for His glory. It is not the Gospel but is a truncated message at best.

In our day a man-centered spirit or focus has taken over. God is presented to people as if His glory is all about human beings and as if His focus is on what sinners would think is good for them. When professing Calvinists and professing Arminians agree, they are usually agreeing on principles derived from a human centered god rather than the God of Scripture who is centered upon Himself and His glory in a way that is not centered on man. God loves His glory more than all human beings who have ever been born and it is holy and loving for Him to do so. Until a human being has his or her heart changed to love God for God as He is and not just some man-centered teaching, that individual has not been reconciled to God. Even the Gospel that is presented in our day is so focused on man that a person hears nothing of the true God and does not need the true God to be saved in the man-centered way. The person evangelized continues on at enmity with the true God while thinking that s/he loves Him.

Modern Calvinism is primarily an intellectual movement in our day and has not returned to the view of God that is at the heart of historical Calvinism. A man or woman is considered a Calvinist today if s/he adheres to a certain Confession that is historically considered Calvinistic. However, a person can strictly adhere in intellectual belief to the 1689 Baptist Confession or the Westminster Confession or the Heidelberg Confession and still not be a Calvinist in reality. There is a huge difference between a person that intellectually believes in the doctrine of justification by faith alone and one that is justified by faith alone. There is a huge difference between a person that intellectually believes in the drawing grace of God and the one that has been drawn by the grace of God. There is a huge difference between the person that intellectually believes that all should be done to the glory of God and works to that end and the person who loves God and His glory so that the glory of God shines in and through that person. There is a massive difference between the person who with intellectual precision believes that Christ died on the cross for his sins and the person who sees the glory of God shining in the cross and knows that Christ died out of love for the Father first and foremost and yet has the very life and love of Christ in the soul.

Why am I going to such lengths in this? It is a cry from the heart that Calvinism today is not the biblically based theology of the past. It is a cry that Calvinism today has been hijacked by historians and theologians (not all) and has settled into following the intellect and creeds apart from the flowing of eternal life in the soul that desires God and His glory to be manifested in a God-centered way. The old Calvinism that Warfield and Owen spoke of and that was taught and loved by Edwards, Chalmers, and many others is the one that was breathed forth in proclamations with love and desire and panting for the glory of God. These were men who were caught up with the sight of God and their souls were aflame with His glory and for His glory. These were men who thought of God’s glory as being for God Himself and thought that God existed for Himself. They did not see God’s glory as focused on man, but as focused on Himself. They saw the doctrines of grace as doctrines that came from God’s focus on Himself and as an expression of His glory rather than His focus on man and that was why it was grace.

This God-centered form of Calvinism has all but disappeared which means that the true sight of God has all but disappeared. The rigid doctrinal variety is still here to some degree, but where is God in our land? Where are those who love His glory more than life? Where are those who believe from spiritual taste that His lovingkindness is better than life? Where are those that have tasted and see that the Lord is good? Where are those who desire with a love for God and His love for Himself to see His glory manifested apart from their own church growth? Until we are finished with man-centered history, theology, bible teaching, and our doctrine of God, we can see a rapid and large growth in Calvinism without a shred of spiritual life in the land. It is not doctrinal and creedal Calvinism alone that we need, but we must have truly broken hearts that desire nothing but God and His glory if we are to see true Reformation and Revival. Until that happens, we will just continue playing with our man-centered theology which in truth is opposed to the true God at its very core. A man-centered Calvinism is no better than a man-centered Arminianism and both deceive souls and are opposed to the true God. May God grant us all repentance.

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True Calvinism – History & Theology, Part 79

May 4, 2008

We are continuing to use the basic concept from John Owen that Arminian theology has to make huge concessions and changes to the biblical teaching on the character of God to maintain their core belief of free will. It is true that this is dismissed in our day as nonsense, but this is an issue that we must think through again. While there are many people today who do not believe that there are any major differences in the various theologies and that both Arminianism and Calvinism teach the same Gospel, this was not the belief that was held years ago. Historical Arminian teaching and historical Calvinism start from differing points. Both use pretty much the same words and both use the Bible, but they do not start in the same place. It is possible for a professing Calvinist to profess to hold to the five points of Calvinism (so-called) and still start where the Arminian starts and in essence be an Arminian. The distinguishing feature of what a historical Calvinist was is not the five points of Calvinism. There is something far deeper that in fact determines what one believes about the five points.

Let me arrive at this point by using the writings of B.B Warfield:

“CALVINISM is an ambiguous term in so far as it is currently employed in two or three senses, closely related indeed, and passing insensibly into one another, but of varying latitudes of connotation. Sometimes it designates merely the individual teaching of John Calvin. Sometimes it designates, more broadly, the doctrinal system confessed by that body of Protestant Churches known historically, in distinction from the Lutheran Churches, as ‘the Reformed Churches’ (see ‘Protestantism’); but also quite commonly called ‘the Calvinistic Churches’ because the greatest scientific exposition of their faith in the Reformation age, and perhaps the most influential of any age, was given by John Calvin…For the roots of Calvinism are planted in a specific religious attitude, out of which is unfolded first a particular theology, from which springs on the one hand a special church organization, and on the other a social order, involving a given political movement. The whole outworking of Calvinism in life is thus the efflorescence of its fundamental religious consciousness, which finds its scientific statement in its theological system.”

What we want to see here is that the term “Calvinism” is used in differing ways. Indeed the term is used in an even broader way since the time of Warfield (this article I am quoting from was originally printed in 1908). This whole issue is something that should be stressed in our day. There is a basic idea of true Calvinism that one may have and yet the person may not hold to all the five points. On the other hand, one can hold to the five points without that basic idea and not be a Calvinist. Indeed the term “Calvinist” is perhaps not the best word, but then again it is hard to write history over again. I hope that anyone reading this will strive to get this point. It is utterly vital. Let us turn to Warfield again.

“Perhaps the simplest statement of it is the best: that it lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing-in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations-is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist. In Calvinism, then objectively speaking, theism comes to its rights.”

What is obvious from these quotes is that Warfield has the same starting principle as John Owen. We must start all of our thinking and all of our theology and life from the truth of who God is and from a profound apprehension of His glory. Let me make some pointed remarks at this point. According to Warfield, at least a deduction from his writings, a person can be an Arminian to some degree in theology and still be a Calvinist in what matters most, which is the religious attitude. A person can also be a Calvinist in terms of holding to the same expression or doctrinal aspects in an intellectual way that John Calvin did and still not be a Calvinist in terms of the person’s religious attitude. The heart of a God-centered Calvinism is that of a person who has seen and has engaged the living God. There are many Calvinists in terms of their doctrine today who have no idea of Calvinism in this sense. There is only one place to unite in our day and that is with people who have truly seen God and have tasted of His glory. Let me close with one more quote from Warfield.

“Whoever believes in God; whoever recognizes in the recesses of his soul his utter dependence on God; whoever in all his thought of salvation hears in his heart of hearts the echo of soli Deo Gloria of the evangelical profession-by whatever name he may call himself, or by whatever intellectual puzzles his logical understanding may be confused-Calvinism recognizes as implicitly a Calvinist, and as only requiring to permit these fundamental principles-which underlie and give its body to all true religion-to work themselves freely and fully out in thought and feeling and action, to become explicitly a Calvinist.”

We Must Start With Scripture’s View of God – History & Theology, Part 78

May 2, 2008

In the last BLOG we looked at the starting place for theology and in particular the issue of free-will. If our starting place is with mankind, we see the appearance of free-will and so we set that out as an absolute and then our doctrine of God will always have to leave room for free-will. But if we start off with a biblical study of God we will then see that He is sovereign over all things and so we adjust our doctrine of man to fit with His character. Since God is the Supreme Being in the universe, it is wise to start off with how He has revealed Himself rather than with human beings as the standard. In one very real sense the argument is over once that point is established.

Psalm 50:21 states the issue plainly: “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” Isaiah 40:15 is a warning for those who attempt to do that: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. 16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless. 18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?”

When we consider from Scripture that God does as He pleases in the heavens and on earth (Psa 115:3; 135:6) it would seem that those verses and many others describe the fact that God is in control of all that happens in all locations. Isaiah 46:10 is also directly to the point: “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” When we add Ephesians 1:11 to the mix, we see that God has a purpose of His will and works all things according to His will rather than man’s: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Whatever freedom a human being has, it has to be considered within the facts of the character of God as set out in Holy Scripture.

Daniel 4:35 shows us the ability of God to do as He wishes and the helplessness of man to thwart God in what He pleases: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?” This text is taking all of the inhabitants of the earth and putting them on one side of an accounting sheet and God on the other side. Then all the inhabitants of the earth are compared with God, the text tells us that they “are accounted as nothing.” The context demands that this is not just an accounting of worth, but in terms of God carrying out His will on earth. God does according to His will in the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can ward His hand off or question Him in reality. We must remember that the context of this is Nebuchadnezzar who was the mightiest king on earth at the time. God brought him down as He pleased and Nebuchadnezzar could do nothing but what pleased God and so whatever freedom he had at the moment was nothing that could prevent God from carrying out His good pleasure on and through Nebuchadnezzar.

Owen quotes Damascen who said this: “Things whereof we have any power, not to depend on providence, but on our own free will.” Owen responded to this quote and concept by saying that this was

“an opinion fitter for a hog of the Epicurus herd than for a scholar in the school of Christ. And yet this proud, prodigious error is now, though in other terms, stiffly maintained; for what do they else who ascribe such and absolute independent liberty to the will of man, that it should have in its own power every circumstance, every condition whatsoever, that belongs to the operation, so that all things required on the part of God, or otherwise, to the performance of an action being accomplished, it remaineth solely in the power of a man’s own will whether he will do it or no? which supreme and plainly divine liberty, joined with such an absolute uncontrollable power and dominion over all his actions, would exempt and free the will of man, not only from all fore-determining to the production of such and such efforts, but also from any effectual working or influence of the providence of God into the will itself, that should sustain, help, or co-operate with it in doing or willing any thing.”

What we must grasp in this is how far a simple assertion of free will goes. If man indeed has a free will, then God is not free to do as He pleases in heaven and on earth. Moral agents in the heavens and on earth would all be able to thwart the will and purposes of God and do as they please. This is, as Owen says, the idol of free will to be thrust on the throne of God. While it seems like such a small thing to say that man’s will is free in the Arminian sense, it is impossible to avoid the ramifications of what it means for God. We should shudder in horror.

Free Will is No Small Issue – History & Theology, Part 77

April 30, 2008

In the last BLOG we returned to the writings of John Owen to show that the issue constantly goes back to the character of God and His sovereignty over man versus the power and ability of man. Whatever is asserted about a human being is an assertion about God as well. If God is truly sovereign over each and every thing that happens, then man does not have a free-will in the Arminian sense. It is true that we can speak of a free-will if we use the term to simply mean that God does not force a human being against his or her will. But that is not how it is used when used in the theological sense by the Arminian. Every act of man is either totally dependant on permission from God or even strength of God if the act is to be spiritual. That does not allow for an act of a free-will. The fact that a human being is either a slave of sin or of righteousness does not allow for a free-will either. The devil and God are not just interested bystanders; they are the rulers over every human heart. To assert that a will is free is to assert that the human soul is free from the power of the devil and of God. That simply cannot be.

In the last BLOG I quoted a remarkable piece from John Owen. I would like to repeat that again to make the point that whatever we say about man in some way says a lot about God:

I come now to treat of that betwixt which and the Pelagian idol there is bellum aspondon, implacable hatred, absolutely destructive to the one side,–to wit, the providence of God. For this, in that notion Christianity hath hitherto embraced it, and that, in such a sense as the Arminians maintain it, can no more consist together than fire and water, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, and he that shall go to enjoin them ploughs with an ox and an ass; they must be tied together with the same ligament…wherewith the tyrant tied dead bodies to living men. This strange advancement of the clay against the potter, and not by the way of repining, and to say, “Why hast thou made me thus?” but by the way of emulation, “I will not be so, I will advance myself to the sky, to the sides of thy throne,” was heretofore unknown to the more refined Paganism.

What we must see is that to make an assertion of free-will is to make a monumental statement about God. This is the part that is so hard for people to get hold of and understand. If we defend man first and foremost, we are starting from the wrong point. We must not start our theology with man and then proceed to give God what is left. We must start with God and learn who He is from His Word. Then and only then do we move to what the Bible teaches about man. To apply this to our point at hand, then, we would go to Scripture and search it for what it teaches on the sovereignty and providence of God. Only then would we even begin to look at the freedom man has or does not have in the world governed by God and the spiritual realm as well. If we start with man and simply assume that man has free-will, we will not see the truth of who God really is because we can never get beyond our humanistic assumptions that we think must be true.

As we can see from the Owen quote there are two contradictory things in the world which cannot be reconciled. Those two are the Arminian sense of free-will and the biblical teachings of the providence of God. The battle is over who rules over humanity and in particular who rules over each human being. What we must not get away from is this assertion of John Owen in which he brings us face to face with the reality of the real issue. The real issue involved in free-will is over who God really is. This is not just a small difference that should not divide Christians; this is over the character of God. This is not just a small issue regarding a small thing that has no real influence on the Gospel, but because this issue reaches to the throne of God it also reaches to the very Gospel itself. The Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God and so whatever touches on the character of God touches on the Gospel. Whatever touches on the character of Christ touches on the Gospel of Christ. Whatever touches on the character of the Holy Spirit touches on the character of the Gospel.

Did the sinner plan salvation or did God plan it from eternity past? Did the sinner decide to send Christ to die for sinners or was that from the council within the Godhead from eternity past? Did the sinner decide for Christ to purchase the Spirit and all the benefits of Christ that the Spirit would apply or was that decided from eternity past? Do sinners have the power to overcome the slavery of sin and the bondage of the devil or are the devil and sin more powerful than sinners? Are sinners free enough and have the power to rescue themselves from the kingdom and rule of the devil and deliver themselves into the kingdom of the Beloved Son? Are sinners able to give themselves a new heart? Are sinners able to give themselves a new nature? Are sinners able to give themselves a new mind? Are sinners able to unite themselves with Christ? Are sinners able to apply the blood of Christ to themselves? Are sinners able to renew their own minds? Salvation is not just a matter of believing some facts, it is a matter of many things happening in the spiritual realm that only God can do. The issue between Arminian teaching and the Bible is not just a difference about a few facts, it is about God and His glory in the Gospel. It is a massive difference and we must come to know this.

What is going on today is that people are saying that the Gospel message is the same for the Arminian and the Calvinists. The only way that could be true is if the Calvinists have become like the Arminian or the Arminian has become like the Calvinists. If one is a historical Arminian and one is a historical Calvinist, then the message that the two have cannot be the same. There are two different views regarding God and of necessity, therefore, there are differing views regarding the Gospel. There are many nice people in the world who desire for there to be peace between these theological positions. The men may be friends and they may get along well, but the positions themselves as historically stated cannot be reconciled. Between the Arminian teaching of free-will and the biblical teaching of the providence of God, as stated above by John Owen, there is “implacable hatred, absolutely destructive to” each other and “can no more consist together than fire and water, light and darkness, Christ and Belial.” Those are strong words from the Prince of the Puritan theologians who started his theology with the doctrine of God. If we start with men or an attempt at unity with men, we will have started in the wrong place and will end with the wrong Gospel.

The Battle of Free-Will vs. God’s Sovereignty – History & Theology, Part 76

April 25, 2008

We will now, after quite a while, return to the writings of John Owen. By now we can see that one issue of the Gospel as preached in the days of the Reformation and those that followed after them for at least two centuries also focused on the application of the Gospel and did not leave it in the hands of sinners to apply it to themselves. Each Person of the Trinity was displayed in the Gospel and in saving sinners. Many of the more theologically minded Arminians and most Reformed people would laugh at anyone who said that s/he could stop God from doing what He wanted to do. But that is exactly what people are implying when they say that God’s grace cannot save a sinner unless the sinner makes a choice. They would laugh at the sinner who would say that on judgment day he would do something to apply salvation to himself, yet that is what they insist on when they say that man has free-will and by that free-will he decides to be saved or not. The issue constantly goes back to the character of God and His sovereignty over man versus the power and ability of man.

Does God reign in the world or does He not? Does God reign over each and every sinner or does He not? Is God sovereign over every molecule or not? Has God decreed from all eternity what should come to pass or is He something like an interested but somewhat involved bystander? What is at the heart of the free-will teaching? It is that there is this little part of man that is not under the sovereign rule of God. It is that man determines what he wants to happen and brings it to pass either by his own power or with God’s help. The sinner is saying and the Arminian theologian is using the Bible (logically derived from their position) to support the contention that man’s will has power apart from God and God is not sovereign over that part of man. Hear John Owen on this subject:

I come now to treat of that betwixt which and the Pelagian idol there is bellum aspondon, implacable hatred, absolutely destructive to the one side,–to wit, the providence of God. For this, in that notion Christianity hath hitherto embraced it, and that, in such a sense as the Arminians maintain it, can no more consist together than fire and water, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, and he that shall go to enjoin them ploughs with an ox and an ass; they must be tied together with the same ligament…wherewith the tyrant tied dead bodies to living men. This strange advancement of the clay against the potter, and not by the way of repining, and to say, “Why hast thou made me thus?” but by the way of emulation, “I will not be so, I will advance myself to the sky, to the sides of thy throne,” was heretofore unknown to the more refined Paganism.

Now, that their proud, God-opposing errors may the better appear, according to my former method, I will plainly show what the Scripture teacheth us concerning the providence, with what is agreeable and right to Christian reason, not what is dictated by tumultuating affections. Providence is a word which, in its proper significations, may seem to comprehend all the actions of God that outwardly are of him, that have any respect unto his creatures, all his works that are not ad intra, essentially belonging unto the Deity. Now, because God “worketh all things according to his decree, or the counsel of his will,” (Eph 1:11), for whatsoever he doth now it pleased him from the beginning. Ps cxv; seeing , also, that known unto God are all his works from eternity; therefore, three things concerning his providence are considerable:–1. His decree or purpose, whereby he hath disposed all things in order, and appointed them for certain ends, which he hath fore-ordained. 2. His prescience, whereby he certainly foreknoweth all things that shall come to pass. 3. His temporal operation, or working in time, –“My Father worketh hitherto,” John v. 17,–whereby he actually executeth all his good pleasure.

What Owen is showing, as stated in the heading for this chapter, is that “the providence of God in governing the world diversely” is “thrust from this pre-eminence by the Arminian idol of free-will.” As in the first Owen quote from above, there is war between man’s free-will (as necessitated by Arminian teaching) and the providence of God. We must begin with God and determine the power of the will after we see the truth of what Scripture teaches about God. We must not begin with the freedom of the will and then determine what crumbs of power we will leave for God. Does God work all things “according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11) or is each person free to act according to his own will as he pleases? Is God the God that Scripture sets out who “is in the heavens” and “does whatever He pleases” (Psa 115:3) or does man do as he pleases? What does Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man on earth in his time have to say about this: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ (Daniel 4:35).

Owen is surely correct in this that the real battle is between the free-will of man and the sovereignty of God. There can be no such thing as free-will in the Arminian sense if Ephesians 1:11, Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:35 and many other verses are true. The issue must be looked at in terms of who God is first, not man. Humanity either searches Scripture to find out the true character of God and then who man really is or humanity desires certain things within the darkness of its fallen nature and tries to make God into its own image. As no human being is free to choose to be free from being under the dominion of God or the devil, so no human being can possibly make a choice in absolute freedom. Every choice a human being makes is either for God or against Him. Everything a human being does is out of love for God or at enmity with Him. Everything the human being does is an expression of the human attempt to be free from God or the human submitting to God and asking for grace to be full of Him. Every choice the human being makes is according to the chief love of his or her life. It is not until the will is freed by God from the dominion of the evil one is the soul free to love God from the love of God that is put in the soul by God. Free-will in the Arminian sense is not conducive to true humility and the working of God in the soul, but will always resist the work of God since it always looks to its own illusionary freedom of which there is none.

What about God’s Love for Sinners? – History & Theology, Part 75

April 23, 2008

We have been wading through some hard teaching while looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. While this is not a common subject and certainly not a popular one, it is a very needful one. It is at the root of creation and the Gospel. In the last few BLOGS we have been looking at the most avoided chapter in Scripture. That chapter is Romans 9. The teaching in that chapter, as we have said before, is not hard to understand though it is very hard to swallow. Can it be that God’s motive in saving sinners is as simple as Romans 9:23 sets it out to be? “To make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” That is what the text says. In doing so it wipes out any hope that we might have in a free-will having anything to do with salvation since God is moved to save from motives found in Himself and not in man. In fact, the context of Romans 9 takes pains to show that it is not what man wills or does, but it is the will and pleasure of God.

There is, however, another side to the issue. There are verses that speak of the love of God for sinners in salvation. Romans 9 does not deny that God loves sinners, but it should provoke us to consider that we might not understand much of what His love really is. If God is motivated to save based on His own glory as Romans 9 teaches, then we must deal with what His love really means. Ephesians 5:1 is a good place to start: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

These are wonderful verses, but we have to keep in mind that they do not and cannot contradict Romans 3 and 9. There can be no contradiction between the fact that God saves to display His glory of mercy and He has love for sinners. In fact, there can be no true mercy apart from love and no love apart from mercy. The Old Testament speaks of His lovingkindness and His mercy over and over. So Christ is said here to have loved us and died for us. But what does that mean? Does it mean that God’s love was primarily for human beings so that He did not love His Son as much as sinners in sending Him to die for sinners? There is an important distinction we must make to show what the true love of God really is. 1. There is what is called the love of God which is thought of as affections He has for someone or something. In other words, it is thought of as feelings God has for people and so He did something as a result of those feeling. 2. There is, however, another way to look at what God’s love is. His love is that which He is within His triune Being. When God loves Himself He loves Himself as triune. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and that is part of what it means for God to love Himself. The Father could never love anyone more than the Son and the Son could never love anyone more than the Father. In fact, all love that the Father or the Son has must come from a love that they have for each other. This is consistent with the Greatest Commandments in which we are told that the Second Greatest Commandment “The second is like it” (Mat 22:39) is referring to the first. In other words, one cannot keep the second without keeping the first. This is like God who is the source of all true love and cannot love another who is not part of Himself in some way.

This is a vital distinction. If love is affection only and God had affections for the world, then it is clear that this is far different than Him having love for Himself and loving another by sharing His love for Himself with the other. If God’s love is for Himself and He exists in triune love for Himself, then His grace is found in setting His love on a person out of His love for Himself. If God saves sinners apart from love for Himself, then He is an idolater. If God saves sinners apart from giving Himself who is love, then He has not really saved them. But if God who is love itself gives Himself to sinners then that is true salvation and His motives are from Himself and so it is all of grace. This way of thinking is backwards to those who are used to thinking that God’s love for them is that He thinks of them and has joy in them and has affection for them. That is simply reading into the Bible and the character of God what passes in our modern day as human love. It is a humanistic way of thinking.

Notice from Ephesians 5:1-2 that while Christ loved “us” He also gave Himself as a sacrifice to the Father. It is because He loved the Father that He gave Himself as the outshining of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) to shine out the glory of God. God’s mercy and love are seen in that He shines their glory in giving Himself to sinners and setting His love on sinners. It is not that He has feelings for sinners and waits for them to do something so that He can save them, but that He is motivated within Himself to give Himself to sinners and share His love for Himself with them. His love is seen in sending Christ to die for sinners to remove the guilt of their sin so that He might dwell in them and manifest His love in and through them. Doing all for His glory and loving sinners is not a contradiction at all. Instead it shows us that His motive in salvation is Himself and not an act of a human free-will.

God’s Glory is His Motive – History & Theology, Part 74

April 21, 2008

In the past several BLOGS we have been looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. The purpose again is to see the Gospel of grace alone and how it is connected with historical Augustinian theology and not Arminianism. Historical Augustinian theology stresses the will and choice of God while Arminian theology stresses that man must make a choice of his free-will. A will that is truly free is a will that is free from grace and that shows that the Arminian position denies (at least by implication) in reality the teaching of grace alone. The motive of God in saving sinners must be from Himself if salvation is to be all of grace.

Romans 9:17ff – For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISEDYOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

While it is hard on human pride and self-sufficiency, the Scripture declares without apology or shame that God raised and then hardened Pharaoh according to His will and pleasure. We can see that people would argue that the fault is with God and that God made them sin (v. 19). But Paul simply tells them (so to speak) to shut up and look to who they are and who God is. Human beings are nothing but clay and God has the right to mold them as He pleases. Will we as bits of clay argue with the Potter and tell Him that He is unjust in what He does with us? Who do we think we are to argue with God? Surely, then, the motives of God can be seen in this picture. It is not looking at one piece of clay over another because of what is in the clay itself, but according to His own will and pleasure He will do what He will with the clay. Who are we to argue with what the infinite God will do with us especially since He does so according to perfect justice. God’s motive in making one lump of clay into a holy vessel is from Himself and not of the will of the lump of clay. His glory is of a far greater reason than anything found in the creature. This text is driving that point home to us. The glory of God is the standard by which all things are to be judged.

The next verses (vv. 22-24) are indeed very hard to swallow for all who believe in Democracy of any kind. In the United States we believe, at least that is what people state, that the only fair thing is for each person to have equal opportunity and equal rights. But that is not what these verses tell us about God and His dealings with human beings. Underneath the Arminian view of free-will is that of fairness. It is said that it is only fair if God leaves it up to the human will to decide. But of course underneath that view is a denial of the teaching of Scripture that all human beings are born dead in their sins and trespasses. No one will choose God because down deep they hate Him and are opposed to Him in reality. What if God endures with much patience vessels of wrath prepared (fully trained, equipped, fitted) for destruction? What if God does that? Are we going to charge Him with wrong for doing that? Can we charge Him with wrong with doing what He wants with vessels of clay? Paul is driving this point home to us. We must not turn our heads and run from this, but instead deal with Scripture honestly.

Why did God do this? “To make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” There is a lot to be said at this point, but let us focus in on our main point in this discussion. What is God’s motive in saving sinners and showing them mercy from this text? We don’t have to guess at His motive as the text sets it out for us. God shows mercy in order to make known the riches of His glory. Why did Paul use the phrase “vessels of mercy” here? It is the same word he uses in verse 21 where the potter has a right over the clay, to make one vessel for honorable use and another for common use. It is also the same word used for vessels of wrath in verse 22. God’s motive cannot be said to be moved or influenced in any way by the free-will of a human being. His motive is to make known the riches of His glory. In this way salvation is by grace alone.

Grace Alone Should be Our Cry – History & Theology, Part 73

April 17, 2008

I the past several blogs we have been looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. In the last two BLOGS we have looked at Romans 9:6-16. In this BLOG I would like to look at Romans 9:22-23. The purpose again is to see the Gospel of grace alone and how it is connected with historical Augustinian theology and not Arminianism. Historical Augustinian theology stresses the will and choice of God while Arminian theology stresses that man must make a choice of his free-will. A will that is truly free is a will that is free from grace and that shows that the Arminian position denies (at least by implication) in reality the teaching of grace alone. The motive of God in saving sinners must be from Himself if salvation is to be all of grace.

Romans 9:17 – For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Earlier in Romans we have seen how Paul stresses the fact that salvation is from God’s mercy and compassion and specifically not of the will and acts of man. We have seen how God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born. As twins they had the same parents and same bloodline, so the choice is surely seen to be the choice of God and not of themselves. This shows that God’s motive had to be of Himself rather than one of the boys. Paul knows that people will argue that God is not fair about this and he began to rebut that charge by simply saying that God is not unjust. It is one thing to argue that the doctrine of election is unfair, but it is quite another to argue that it is unjust. Those are two separate arguments. To be fair means to be equal. To be just means to treat one by a standard of justice that is morally good.

What standard of justice will we use against God? Paul goes on with his argument that God raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of demonstrating His power through him and that His name would be proclaimed throughout the earth. In other words, the motive of God in raising Pharaoh to that high and exalted position was to exalt God. We know that the book of Exodus speaks several times of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Now if God raised Pharaoh up for God’s purposes and hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His own purposes, what can we say to that? Was God unjust for a judicial hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? No, for He has mercy on whom He will have mercy and the contrast to that is that He will harden whom He will harden. All are born dead in sin and God has the absolute right and an absolute just right to harden a sinners heart if He so pleases. He also has the right to show mercy as He pleases.

Without question at this point if we are looking at this text and interpreting it according to the character of God, we can see that mercy is a sovereign act of God and He shows it according to Himself. God’s motive in showing mercy is not in human beings, but is exclusively in Himself. He acts according to what He desires in displaying His power and glory not according to the will of humans. This is so hard to human pride and self-sufficiency. Not only can I not work enough for salvation, I cannot earn one thing for salvation. Not only can I not work one thing for salvation, I cannot will one thing for salvation. It all depends on the mercy of God. Where does that leave the sinner? It leaves us all at the foot of the cross asking God for a broken heart that has no trust in the works or will of self. It leaves us in the hands of God knowing that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy rather than have motives to save because sinners have just a bit of free-will that they exercise. Oh how we value human freedom at the expense of the glory of God. How we value the right of human choices over the right of God to choose and our rights and choices that we sacrifice God’s choices at the altar of self-love. We so value our own choices that we are willing to denigrate the Gospel of grace alone to keep them. Grace alone should be our cry!

Faith Gives Up on Self – History & Theology, Part 72

April 14, 2008

In the last blog we looked at Romans 9:6-12 in looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. Let me repeat from last time that Romans 9 is hard for people to deal with because it deals with issues from the perspective of God who is centered upon Himself and not man. Romans 9 is not hard to understand, but it is very hard for a human-centered person to submit to such a thorough God-centered passage.

Romans 9:6 – But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, 11 so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

In Romans 9:6-12 we see with utter clarity that God chose Isaac to be born as a child of promise and then from Isaac and Rebekah Jacob was the child of promise. Ironically enough, though not found in this text but Genesis, Abraham wanted a son by the slave woman Hagar to be the child of promise rather than Isaac. Then Isaac favored Esau rather than Jacob. But God chose Isaac over his father’s wishes and then Jacob over his father’s wishes. When that is taken into consideration, along with God’s choosing before Jacob or Esau had done anything good or bad or had made any choices, God was the One who made the choices according to His own pleasures and motives. The natural human heart, especially in America where everything must be equal, cries out that this is not fair. Notice in verse 14 that Paul anticipates the objection and deals with it in a straightforward manner.

Paul does not worry about what is fair, which is what humans think is important, but he deals with what is just. Paul says that in no way (may it never be) is there injustice with God. He then goes to Exodus 33 and 34 where God revealed Himself to Moses and simply says that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. This is an answer that does not beat around the bush and it also does not leave any room for equivocation. Paul did not argue about the fairness aspect, he simply says that it is not unjust of God. Since God is God, the showing of mercy and compassion are decided by Him.

Just to be sure there is no mistake in the matter, Paul goes on to state the other side of the issue in v. 16. Again he makes a statement that is very hard to misunderstand unless people want to misunderstand it. He states that it does not depend on the man who wills/wishes/chooses or runs (activity). He specifically states in this part that it does not depend on man’s will. The Arminian position depends on the will of man to some degree. This text says that it does not depend on the will of man. Instead of depending on the will or efforts of man, salvation depends totally on the mercy of God. We can see that the words of this text are not hard to understand, but they are very hard for proud and self-sufficient people to submit to. There is nothing in man at all that would move or give God a motive to save him. When speaking about this personally, each of us rebel at that thought the first time we hear it if not forever. But until we give up the thought that there is anything that I can do or will to move God to save me, I will never stop trusting in myself alone and trust in Christ alone for salvation. The motive of God in salvation simply shows another aspect of grace alone. God’s motive must be Himself or it will be from a human being and that destroys His choice and His grace. The Gospel is the good news that God saves sinners based on His mercy and compassion and there is nothing they need to do of themselves to be saved. They must give up on all of their own willing and working and with brokenness ask God to give them a new heart. Faith is not the act of the will, it is having no faith in self and my will in order to receive grace alone.

God’s Motives Made Clear in Romans 9 – History & Theology, Part 71

April 12, 2008

I the past several blogs we have been looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. We have gone from Ephesians 1:5-14 to Isaiah and Ezekiel. In the last post we looked at Romans 3:23-27. Today we will focus on one passage from Romans 9. Let me just say at the outset that the reason Romans 9 is so hard for people to deal with is that it deals with issues from the perspective of God, Who is centered upon Himself and not man. When a human being who is centered upon self and full of religious humanism reads Romans 9, it is hard to swallow and so it is said to be hard and mysterious. The main thought of Romans chapter 9 is not hard to understand. But it is very hard to submit to such a thoroughly God-centered passage.

Romans 9:6 – But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, 11 so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

This is a shocking passage when we read it from a human-centered viewpoint. What can it mean in reference to the children of the promise? The Israelites were children according to the flesh or according to who their parents were. Isaac was a child that was from the promise of God and in some way a supernatural conception. The text tells us without equivocation that not all of physical Israel were of true Israel. Why is that? It is because it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but it is the children of the promise. This is a tremendous revelation of the promises and purposes of God. Paul then shows through the example Jacob and Esau how that works out in reality. It was before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born that God had already made a choice and it had nothing to do with the choice of the twins. Let me repeat the thought of that sentence by putting it in a different way. According to the text Isaac was a child of promise. The next generation was born to Isaac’s wife Rebekah. Jacob was the child of promise and Esau was the child of the flesh. Before they were born God had made a choice and Jacob was the child of promise rather than Esau.

People can try to explain this away by saying that it referred to nations or other things, but we must be honest with this text and ourselves. There is nothing within Jacob that made him the child of promise and there was no act of his that was foreseen by God that made him a child of promise. In fact, the text tells us that this was all so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand. We must wrestle with this point and try to get at the heart of it. What were the motives of God that are expressed in this text? What were some things listed that could not have been the motives of God? God’s motive is seen in v. 11 where we see He did it this way so that His purpose of choice would stand and it would not be by works. We simply must see the ramifications for this in context of our series on Augustinian versus Arminian theology. Augustinianism teaches that salvation is by God’s choice and work. Arminianism teaches that salvation is by the choice of man and by at least one work of the free-will. Our text is specifically against the Arminian view. It states that salvation is by God’s choice and not by the works of men.

As we look at the text above, surely it can be seen that God’s motives in saving sinners are from Himself rather than the act of a human will. We can argue about these things and draw out many fine points from philosophy, psychology and common sense, but the text says what it says in its own context. The only motive for the salvation of human beings given in the text is God’s motive of Himself. Salvation is all of grace and nothing of works.