Friday, August 29, 2014

Does God Will The Salvation Of All Men? (Part 2)

Remember from our last post that Augustine appealed to God's omnipotence to defend his doctrine of Reprobation. All would be saved if God wanted them to be. He does not convert all men because he wants to show his wrath against some of them. It is the will of God both when men are saved and when they are damned.

“Why he does not teach all men the apostle explained, as far as he judged that it was to be explained, because, ‘willing to show his wrath, and to exhibit his power, he endured with much patience the vessels of wrath which were perfected for destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he has prepared for glory.’ Hence it is that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness to them that perish; but unto them that are saved it is the power of God.’ God teaches all such to come to Christ, for he wills all such to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And if he had willed to teach even those to whom the word of the cross is foolishness to come to Christ beyond all doubt these also would have come. For he neither deceives nor is deceived when he says, ‘every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me.’” (The Predestination of the Saints 14)

Note two important things: One, how often Augustine appeals to God’s power; and two, that God, almighty as He is, does not convert all men whom He undoubtedly could.

Furthermore, Augustine comments on Matthew 11:20-24 that God obviously does not will the salvation of all men, head for head, since He refused to work miracles for people who would have otherwise repented.

He writes, “Or, it is said, ‘who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that he was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, he said, would have repented if he had worked them?), but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances.” (Enchiridion 103)

Note that he is saying that God infallibly saves all who are saved but to some it is ‘not given’.

He continues, “This is the predestination of the saints, – nothing else; to wit, the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s gifts, whereby they are most certainly delivered, whoever they are that are delivered. But where are the rest left by the righteous divine judgment except in the mass of ruin, where the Tyrians and the Sidonians were left? who, moreover, might have believed if they had seen Christ’s wonderful miracles. But since it was not given to them to believe, the means of believing also were denied them… But what the Lord said of the Tyrians and Sidonians may perchance be understood in another way: that no one nevertheless comes to Christ unless it were given him, and that it is given to those who are chosen in him before the foundation of the world, he confesses beyond a doubt who hears the divine utterance… ‘To you,’ said he, ‘it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.’” (The Gift of Perseverance 35)

This shows us the mystery of Predestination, for: “Tyre and Sidon would not have been condemned, although more slightly than those cities in which, although they did not believe, wonderful works were done by Christ the Lord; because if they had been done in them, they would have repented in dust and ashes, as the utterances of the Truth declare, in which words of his the Lord Jesus shows to us the loftier mystery of predestination… But can we say that even the Tyrians and Sidonians would have refused to believe such mighty works done among them, or would not have believed them if they had been done, when the Lord himself bears witness to them that they would have repented with great humility if those signs of divine power had been done among them? And yet in the day of judgment they will be punished; although with a less punishment than those cities which would not believe the mighty works done in them.” (The Gift of Perseverance 22, 23)
There can be no doubt what Augustine’s position on the subject was. He clearly held that “all men” meant “all kinds/classes of men,” and was strictly limited to the Elect. This was not a new position. Origen read John 3:16 as saying that God so loved the Elect that He gave His Son. John of Damascus, working (we assume) independently of Augustine, read “all men” as meaning “all classes of men.” This notion was arrived at by reading verse 4 (1 Tim. 2:4) in the light of verses 1 and 2, since they clearly define who “all men” are, viz., people from all ranks and stations from kings on down to the lowliest subject.

In our previous post we looked at the teaching of Augustine of Hippo with regard to the question of whether or not God truly desires or will the salvation of all men indiscriminately. We saw that this was answered negatively. By an appeal to God’s omnipotence, Augustine argued simply, succinctly, and convincingly that were it God’s will to save everyone, all men would infallibly be saved since none can resist God’s omnipotent will. If some are not saved, it is not because they have thwarted God, but because He never intended to save them. In this post we have further demonstrated this by more extensive appeal to his writings. The next post will look at the same subject in the writings of Prosper of Aquitaine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Does God Will The Salvation Of All Men? (Part 1)

In recent years, it has become ever popular to present an explanation for the fact that not all will be saved by appealing to a split will in God. As I have already hinted at, this is a new development in Christian theology. The last two posts (John Owen in the 17th Century, and Gregory of Rimini in the 14th) have demonstrated this in a limited way, stretching back a mere 700 years. 

In the next few posts, I wish to push that time-line back and demonstrate the pedigree of the position that there is no split will in God with regard to salvation. We will begin with Augustine.

Teaching of Augustine of Hippo

Augustine clearly taught that God does not intend, wish, will, desire, or want all men to be saved. He argued that Paul should be understood as speaking of the Elect, whom God draws from all classes of men, when he writes that God “wills all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4.)

Augustine’s primary theological proof, if you will, was the omnipotence of God. By virtue of His omnipotence, God does whatever He wills. If He wanted all men to be saved, then He would obviously bring all to salvation, and none could thwart His will. Hence, if not all are saved, the answer lies in God’s will.

Secondarily, Augustine cited passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 11:20-24, where God refused to do miracles in certain places, the result of which would have been belief in the inhabitants.

So how should Paul be understood when he says that Go wills all men to be saved? Augustine offers 4 ways in which this may be understood:

  • The predestined Elect 
  • All who are saved are not saved except by His will 
  • All kinds of men will be saved 
  • God makes us wish all men to be saved, and thus to pray for and preach to them
But the core of the whole issue is simply that God does not want all men to be saved but only the elect.

Augustine explained as follows:

“And so that which is said ‘God wills all men to be saved’ though he is unwilling that so many be saved, is said for this reason: that all who are saved, are not saved except by his will.’ (Epistle 217)

He further states, “And what is written, that ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of man is among them. Just as it was said to the Pharisees, ‘Ye tithe every herb;’ where the expression is only to be understood of every herb that they had, for they did not tithe every herb which was found throughout the whole earth. According to the same manner of speaking, it was said, ‘even as I also please all men in all things.’ For did he who said this please also the multitude of his persecutors? But he pleased every kind of men that assembled in the Church of Christ, whether they were already established therein, or were to be introduced into it.” (Rebuke and Grace 44)

Again, he asserts, “That, therefore, in our ignorance of who shall be saved, God commands us to will that all to whom we preach this peace may be saved, and himself works this in us by diffusing that love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us, – may also thus be understood, that God ‘wills all men to be saved’, because he makes us to will this; just as ‘he sent the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father;’ that is, making us to cry, Abba, Father. Because, concerning that same Spirit, he says in another place, ‘we have received the Spirit of adoption, in whom we cry, Abba, Father!’ We therefore cry, but he is said to cry who makes us to cry. If, then, Scripture rightly said that the Spirit was crying by whom we are made to cry, it rightly also says that God wills, when by him we are made to will.” (Rebuke and Grace 47)

God is omnipotent, mind you; therefore none can resist His will to save them. Based on this Biblical observation, Augustine argued that God plainly does not will to save everyone, otherwise everyone, without exception, would be saved. God omnipotence implies that He does whatever He wants. Scripture therefore affirms, God ‘hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth’ (Psalm 135:6.) God’s will is, by definition, mightier than man’s. So, if men are not saved, it is not because their weaker will overcame God’s mightier will.

So Augustine says, “Hence we must inquire in what sense is said of God what the apostle has mostly truly said: ‘who will have all men to be saved.’ For, as a matter of fact, not all, nor even a majority, are saved: so that it would seem that what God wills is not done, man’s will interfering with, and hindering the will of God. When we ask the reason why all men are not saved, the ordinary answer is: ‘because men themselves are not willing.’ This indeed cannot be said of infants, for it is not in their power either to will or not to will. But if we could attribute to their will the childish movements they make at baptism, when they make all the resistance they can, we should say that even they are not willing to be saved. Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together? But even though she was unwilling, he gathered together as many of her children as he wished: for he does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth.’’ (Enchiridion 97)

Augustine seems to assert that we may understand 1 Timothy 2:4 anyway we want, provided we don’t understand it as saying that God wills the salvation of every single individual. This is because everything God wills is necessarily accomplished. 

So he says, “Accordingly, when we hear and read in scripture that he ‘will have all men to be saved,’ although we know well that all men are not saved, we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the scripture, ‘who will have all men to be saved,’ as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will, but that no man is saved apart from his will; and that, therefore, we should pray him to will our salvation, because if he will it, it must necessarily be accomplished. And it was of prayer to God that the apostle was speaking when he used this expression. And on the same principle we interpret the expression in the Gospel: ‘the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:’ not that there is no man who is not enlightened, but that no man is enlightened except by him. Or, it is said, ‘who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that he was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, he said, would have repented if he had worked them?), but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances, – kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through his only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them? For the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever he may will. Now the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be made for all men, and had especially added, ‘for kings, and for all that are in authority,’ who might be supposed, in the pride and pomp of worldly station, to shrink from the humility of the Christian faith. Then saying, ‘for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,’ that is, that prayers should be made for such as these, he immediately adds, as if to remove any ground of despair, ‘who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ God, then, in his great condescension has judged it good to grant to the prayers of the humble the salvation of the exalted; and assuredly we have many examples of this. Our Lord, too, makes use of the same mode of speech in the Gospel, when he says to the Pharisees: ‘ye tithe mint, and rue, and every herb.’ For the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the inhabitants of other lands. As, then, in this place we must understand by ‘every herb,’ every kind of herbs, so in the former passage we may understand by ‘all men,’ every sort of men. And we may interpret it in any other way we please, so long as we are not compelled to believe that the omnipotent God has willed anything to be done which was not done: for setting aside all ambiguities, if ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth,’ as the psalmist sings of him, he certainly did not will to do anything that he hath not done.” (Enchiridion 103)

Men may be hard-hearted and inflexible, yet God converts whomever He wills, and none can resist His will. At the end of the day, it is a question of who is omnipotent, God or man. Augustine sides with Scripture.

“If faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith…Nor can we possibly, without extreme absurdity, maintain that there previously existed in any man the good merit of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his stony heart, when all the while this very heart of stone signifies nothing else than a will of the hardest kind and such as is absolutely inflexible against God? For where a good will precedes, there is, of course, no longer a heart of stone.’ (Grace and Free Will 29, 30)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gregory of Rimini, A True Augustinian in the 14th Century

Gregory of Rimini 1300 – 1358, was one of the great scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages. He was a devout Augustinian, holding as his contemporary Thomas Bradwardine, Augustine’s doctrine of Double Predestination. 

Gregory claimed that not only do the predestined play no causal role in the salvation, but neither do the reprobate contribute to their damnation. In short, there is no reason either for one person's salvation or for another person's damnation except the inscrutable will of God: we do not know why some are saved and others damned. This, after all, Gregory believed, was the theory of Paul and of Augustine.

Gregory unabashedly affirms double predestination, as did Augustine. Moreover, he holds a clearly Supralapsarian viewpoint. He defines predestination as election to eternal life and reprobation as the refusal of eternal life. They are eternally willed by God, and it rests with God’s mercy whether a man is saved or not. 

This means that salvation and reprobation are independent of any action on the part of those elected or damned, either through the actions they may perform or through God’s foreknowledge of how their natural powers will be used, for good or ill. And secondly, it means that in the way in which God wills election or damnation His motive lies entirely with His will.

Gregory presents the fact that God acts as He wills: there are no nuances to be discerned in His election of one and His damnation of another other than the fact that He has willed it. God, far from loving all mankind and desiring the salvation of all men, deliberately discriminated among them, choosing to elect some and to damn others. He is not a respecter of persons when it comes to dealing with those who are in sin, for He renounces and punishes all in iniquity.

Central to Gregory’s view is his exegesis upon 1 Timothy 1:2, 4: God ‘will have all men to be saved.’ Gregory’s reading makes no attempt to reconcile God’s will to predestine all men with His reprobation of many. In his eyes ‘all’ did not mean literally every man, but men of every different sort and condition, as John of Damascus expounded it, 'of all kinds of men, not all men individually, embracing high and low, rich and poor, men and women, a conspectus of mankind, but not all men.'

In Gregory's theology, predestination is independent from any other consideration than God’s will. The whole cause of predestination lies in God’s will. Divine election is to be understood as God’s free acceptance of one person over another. It is therefore arbitrary and without any criterion save God’s will to bestow mercy upon some and not on others. All that can be said is that a man is justified because he is elected and not the other way around. 

Neither salvation nor damnation has a cause beyond God’s willing. His decision would have been fitting wherever His choice had lain, for what God wills is its own raison d’être. It is a doctrine without extenuation or qualification. Gregory makes no attempt to mitigate God’s initial refusal to save all men. He places the onus of reprobation squarely upon God’s free refusal to bestow His mercy. Anticipating the objections this doctrine is likely to raise, he reminds us what Paul replied to the opponents of his day who bristled at said doctrine: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

John Owen on the Unevangelized

"... we absolutely deny that there is any saving mercy of God towards them (the unevangelized heathen) revealed in the Scripture, which should give us the least intimation of their attaining everlasting happiness. For, not to consider the corruption and universal disability of nature to do anything that is good ('without Christ we can do nothing,' John 15:5), nor yet the sinfulness of their best works and actions, the 'sacrifice of the wicked being an abomination unto the LORD,' Proverbs 15:8 ('Evil trees cannot bring forth good fruit; men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles,' Matthew 7:16-17);—the word of God is plain, that 'without faith it is impossible to please God,' Hebrews 11:6; that 'he that believeth not is condemned,' Mark 16:16; that no nation or person can be blessed but in the Seed of Abraham, Genesis 12:3. And the 'blessing of Abraham' comes upon the Gentiles only 'through Jesus Christ,' Galatians 3:14. He is 'the way, the truth, and the life,' John 14:6. 'None cometh to the Father but by him.' He is the 'door,' by which those that do not enter are 'without,' with 'dogs and idolaters,' Revelation 22:15. So that 'other foundation' of blessedness 'can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,' I Corinthians 3:11. In brief, do but compare these two places of St. Paul, Romans 8:30, where he showeth that none are glorified but those that are called; and Romans 10:14-15, where he declares that all calling is instrumentally by the preaching of the word and gospel; and it will evidently appear that no salvation can be granted unto them on whom the Lord hath so far poured out his indignation as to deprive them of the knowledge of the sole means thereof, Christ Jesus. And to those that are otherwise minded, I give only this necessary caution,—Let them take heed, lest, whilst they endeavour to invent new ways to heaven for others, by so doing, they lose the true way themselves" John Owen, A Display of Arminianism, Chapter 11

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Doctrine of Regeneration, Part 2

I anticipate an objection at this point. Someone will say, “Telling someone about the necessity of being born again in one breath, then that he is utterly helpless to produce such a work in his own soul in the next breath, is self-defeating and self-contradictory.” But that misses the whole point of Jesus’ argument. The point of Jesus’ statement was to expose the fallacy of trusting in your own efforts for salvation. If devotion to a life of law keeping could save person, Nicodemus had it in the bag. In contradistinction to this, Jesus informs him that no one is saved, regardless of personal achievements, family history, social status, or religious devotion. Sin is universal and therefore the new birth is necessary.

(4) The Method of the New Birth

"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (3:8). This verse handles 3 principles with regard to the doctrine of Regeneration.

1. The sovereignty of God in regeneration – the wind blows where it wishes. In the same way that the wind blows unobstructed by political, racial, or cultural hindrances, God’s Spirit cannot be frustrated in his regenerating activity.

2. Regeneration is a Divine mystery – do not know where it comes from and where it is going. To say that regeneration is a divine mystery is to say that there is more to it than we can understand. This accounts for the variety of explanations and experiences we all have with regard to our own conversion. Many people are unaware of the moment when the new birth occurred. While many trace their new birth back to a certain date or time, those dates marked the moment when the person first understood the gospel or first committed himself to Christ in obedience to the gospel. In which case, the date to which the individual has attached significance is not necessarily the date of regeneration, but rather the date of gospel conversion, a separate event entirely. I’ll say it again: to say that regeneration is a divine mysteries to say that there is more to it than we can understand. This should prompt a spirit of reverence, awe, and worship.

3. Everyone who is born again is born again in exactly the same way. Salvation by God’s grace through the direct work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart is the method which Scripture teaches and it is the only method which makes sense of the various circumstances in which sinners are found. Whether one was a Jew under the Old Testament administration of the covenant of grace, an individual who has had all the privileges of New Testament Christianity available to him, a child who dies in infancy, someone who is developmentally or mentally challenged, or someone born in an un-evangelized heathen nation, this is the only way ordained of God for salvation and it “fits” like a key fits a lock, for each of the aforementioned cases. Everyone who is regenerated is regenerated in exactly the same way, by a sovereign and mysterious operation of God’s Spirit within the human soul.

This means that Regeneration is immediate. God doesn’t use the works of the sinner, on the one hand, or the gospel preacher’s efforts on the other hand. Faith is the gift of God in regeneration. Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,.” Some of the missionaries with whom I used to associate, because they had something of a martyr complex, really liked this verse. They got an inordinate amount of joy out of stressing the fact that the Scripture says that God has granted to us to “suffer for his sake.” Granted, that is true. But the privilege of suffering for Jesus is not the only thing that this verse says has been granted to us, nor is it the primary thing which this verse says has been granted to us. For the sake of Christ it has been granted to us to believe in him. The verb “granted” is the Greek word ἐχαρίσθη. It derives from a root which literally means, “’favor that cancels’. It is used of God giving His grace to pardon. This is freely done and therefore not based on any merit of the one receiving forgiveness.” It is in what is known in grammar the passive voice. In English, our verbs have one of two voices, active or passive. When the verb is in the active voice it signifies that the subject of the sentence is the doer of the verb’s action. The passive voice is used to signify that the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the verb’s action.

Irenaeus writes “God cannot be known without God.” This refers to more than special revelation. Irenaeus means to say that a saving knowledge of God must begin on God’s part. We cannot begin the process. Truly, as Christ said, those who are born of the Spirit are like the wind. God’s Spirit blows where He wills. We see that it blows and we feel it, but it remains a mystery which God alone comprehends. We can only marvel at the provisions of grace made available to us in the finished Mediatorial work of Christ.

Clement of Alexandria writes, "The heavenly and truly divine love comes to men thus, when in the soul itself the spark of true goodness, kindled in the soul by the Divine Word, is able to burst forth into flame; and, what is of the highest importance, salvation runs parallel with sincere willingness – choice and life being, so to speak, yoked together." 

Here we see Clement arguing (to pagan Greeks, we might add) that the human ability to respond to God’s grace comes from God Himself simultaneously with the grace. He does not assert that there is “good in every man.” The “spark of true goodness” Clement mentions, is kindled by Christ. There is no “divine spark” in all men that simply needs to be tapped into. That is Eastern mysticism, not Christian theology.

In the following passage, the Theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus eloquently describes the loving response to God’s grace that regeneration creates. “If thou hast poured out upon God the whole of thy love; if thou hast not two objects of desire, both the passing and the abiding, both the visible and the invisible, then thou hast been so pierced by the arrow of election, and hast so learned the beauty of the Bridegroom, that thou too canst say with the bridal drama and song, thou art sweetness and altogether loveliness.”

Notice that Gregory gives a test, so to speak, for one’s assurance of salvation. Can one be sensibly aware of the greatness of his own sin and misery, and of the greatness of God’s provision in Christ for this sin and misery, and not express it in gratitude and love? Can you say that you are enthralled by the glory and beauty of God’s plan of salvation? Here we see what Packer called “signs of life.” If we indeed have what, Scougal called, “the life of God in the soul of a man,” it will manifest itself naturally in a life of loving communion with God.

The pioneer missionary Patrick described his own conversion in these telling words: "Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall. And therefore I ought to cry out aloud and so also render something to the Lord for His great benefits here and in eternity - benefits which the mind of men is unable to appraise.”

Patrick envisions himself like an inanimate stone lying in the mud.  This is a brilliant image.  It illustrates perfectly man’s inability to do anything about his own spiritual condition.  It illustrates man’s deadness in “trespasses and sins.” A stone can no more lift itself from the mire than it can understand the obnoxiousness of its condition. 

These quotes, I hope, show us that, though centuries separate us from our forefathers in the faith, our experience of God’s grace is one and the same. We should find it very encouraging to read of a Christian conversion from 1700-1800 years ago, and complete resonate with the language of being sought by God and raised into newness of life.

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