Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Does God Will The Salvation of All Men? (Part 3)

We now move on to the works of another Church Father, namely Prosper of Aquitaine. Prosper, a defender of Augustine against the Pelagians, lived from 390-455.

After Augustine’s work against the Pelagians, there arose another group who sought to assert a more refined position which was less strident than Pelagius’ but still not full-orbed Augustinianism. These writers are known as the Semi-Pelagians, and it is against these heretics that Prosper strove. Like Augustine, Prosper appeal to Divine omnipotence demonstrating God’s refusal to enlighten some to the truth which God has made necessary for salvation.

Obviously, Prosper then has to grapple with Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:4 regarding “all men” Prosper asserted that the primary point of this text was that only those whom God wills to save are saved. God saves all He wills to save. He efficaciously calls them and none are saved unless He wills it.

Hence he writes, “What, then, about the trite objection from the Scripture text, ‘God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?’ Only they who fail to see its meaning think it goes against us. All those who, from the past ages till today, died without having known God, are they of the number of ‘all men’? And if it is said, wrongly, that in the case of adults the evil works they did of their own free will were the obstacle to their salvation, as though grace saved the good and not the wicked, what difference in merit could there be between infants that are saved and others that are not? What is it that led the first into the kingdom of God, and what is it that kept the second out of it? Indeed, if you consider their merit, you cannot say that some of them merited to be saved; all of them deserved to be condemned, because all sinned in Adam’s sin. The unimpeachable justice of God would come down on all of them, did not his merciful grace take a certain number unto himself. As to inquiring into the reason and manner of this discrimination hidden in God’s secret counsel, this is above the ken of human knowledge, and our faith suffers no harm from not knowing it, provided we confess that no one is lost without his fault, and no one saved for his own merit, that the all-powerful goodness of God saves and instructs in the knowledge of the truth all those whom ‘he will have to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’. Save for his call, his teaching, his salvation, no man comes or learns or is saved. Though the preachers of the gospel are directed to preach to all men without distinction and to sow the seed of the word everywhere, yet ‘neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.’” (Letter to Rufinus 13)

Again, we note the observation that God is omnipotent and none can resist His will to save them, if it were His will to do so. Prosper teaches that God converts whomever He wills because He is omnipotent. The Gospel is not withheld from some people because of their unwillingness to convert. If this were the case, men would be out-willing God, which is as blasphemous as it is foolish. Christ asserted that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones (Mat. 3:9). Therefore, the predestination of the Elect, falls under the “all things” which God works “according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).”

Prosper writes, “Or should we say that the wills of men obstruct the will of God, that those peoples are of such wild and fierce ways that the reason why they do not hear the gospel is that their ungodly hearts are not ready for its preaching? But who else changed the hearts of believers but he ‘who hath made the hearts of every one of them?’ Who softened the hardness of their hearts into willing obedience but he ‘who is able of these stones to raise up children of Abraham?’ And who will give the preachers intrepid and unshaken firmness but he who said to Paul: ‘Do not fear, but speak, and hold not thy peace, because I am with thee and no man shall set upon thee, to hurt thee. For I have much people in this city?’ …For none other will have a share in the inheritance of Christ than those who before the creation of the world were elect, predestined, and foreknown, according to the counsel of him ‘who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.’” (Letter to Rufinus 15)

Like Augustine, Prosper cites the example of Tyre and Sidon, who would have converted had they witnessed the miracles of Christ, as proof that God does not want all men to be saved. He also cited the nations to whom God would not let his apostles go and the nations even of his own day. “He who says that the Lord withholds from some men the message of the gospel, lest hearing it they be saved, can escape the odium of the objection by invoking the authority of the Savior himself. He did not want to work miracles among people who, he said, would have believed had they seen them. He forbade his apostles to preach to some nations, and he still allows other nations to live untouched by his grace.” (Answers to the Gauls’ qualification to article 10)

Further, “What, then, about the trite objection from the Scripture text, ‘God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?’ Only they who fail to see its meaning think it goes against us. All those who, from the past ages till today, died without having known God, are they of the number of ‘all men’?” (Letter to Rufinus 13) 

Ergo, this is how the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 2:4) should be understood: “And again, at the very moment that the preachers of the gospel were sent out to all the nations, the apostles were forbidden to go to certain regions by him ‘who will have all men to he saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’, with the result, of course, that many, detained and going astray during this delay of the gospel, died without having known the truth and without having been sanctified in baptism. Let, then, Holy Scripture say what happened: ‘And when they had passed through Phrygia and the country of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. And when they were come into Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not.’ Is there any wonder that at the very beginning of the preaching of the gospel the apostles could not go except where the Spirit of God wanted them to go, when even now we see that many of the nations only begin to have a share in the Christian grace, while others have not yet got a glimpse of that divine gift?” (Letter to Rufinus 14)

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’ĂȘtre. 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

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