Friday, April 30, 2010

Effectual Calling, Pt 1

A sermon by Thomas White

“To them who are the called according to his purpose.”—Romans 8:28.

The sacred scriptures are a Paradise, or “garden of delights.” This Epistle to the Romans is a most interesting and artful knot in that garden. This chapter is the richest division in that knot, furnished with sweetest flowers of consolation, antidoting the remnants of corruption that there are in our hearts, and the various afflictions that we meet with in the world. This verse that I have read unto you, is the fairest flower in that division: for, what can sooner revive a drooping soul, than to be assured that “all things shall work together for good?” “We,” saith the great apostle, “do not think, imagine, conjecture, but know, partly by divine revelation, partly by our own experience, that all things,—not only gifts, graces, ordinances; but all creatures, all providences, all changes, events, occurrences; even those things that appear most formidable; homo oppugnans, diabolus insidians, ‘the persecutions of men, the temptations of the devil,’—shall work, not singly and apart, it may be, but together, for good.”

For good! Yes; but it is unto those that be good. Hands off, wicked and profane wretches! You have no part nor lot in these heavenly consolations. Away, base swine, to your sties, to your muck and mire! These pearls are not for you. Out, ye dogs, to the garbage that lieth upon the dunghill! the children’s bread is not for you. “We know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” Why so? Because they are “the called according to his purpose.” So Pareus expoundeth the place; and with him I perfectly agree. That which God hath purposed, shall not be frustrated: “The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27.) What man will suffer his purposes, those purposes that he taketh up with best advice and most mature deliberation, to be disappointed, if he have power to accomplish them? The holy purposes of God,— as they are ordered and directed by infinite wisdom, so they have infinite power to bring them to pass: so that if I can say, “God hath a purpose to save me,” I may securely smile at all the attempts of men and devils against me; and if I can say, “God hath effectually called me,” I may be sure God hath chosen me, and hath a purpose to save me. For all the links in the golden chain of salvation are evenwrought, not one of them wider or narrower than another: if God have chosen, he will call; if God call, he hath chosen. Once more: if I can say, “I love God,” I may be sure I am called; for I cannot love God, except I have some acquaintance with him, some sense and experience of his love toward me. So, then, all our consolations are ultimately resolved into the “purpose” of God: this is the basis and foundation of them all. That purpose appeareth by our effectual calling; and that calling appeareth to be effectual by our love to God. Hence the conclusion is certain,—that “all things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose.”

But I forget myself. You have heard in former discourses, under what a sad, soul-killing disease poor man laboureth in his natural condition. You heard likewise of a sovereign remedy provided in the blood of Christ. I am now engaged to speak to the application of that remedy in our effectual calling. This effectual calling, according to St. Augustine, is ingressus ad salutem, our “entrance into a state of salvation;” the first step whereby God’s predestination descendeth to us, and we again ascend to the glory predestinated.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Evils of Mysticism, Pt 4

We will now examine some biblical proofs that show the error and danger of mysticism.

1. There is no foundation for it in Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture is there any promise that the Spirit will indwell every believer as an immediate revealer of truth. The Old Testament revelation was revealed by God’s Spirit through a few prophets who were selected by God and authenticated as such. The New Testament was revealed through men Christ personally chose as His apostles. They were authenticated as His messengers. But NOWHERE is there Scriptural warrant to believe that every single believer is to be divinely inspired to convey or access revelation immediately from God’s Spirit. This is an implicit denial of the doctrine of Scripture!

2. Not only is there no Biblical support for mysticism, it is flatly contradictory to Scripture. Mysticism is not simply in contradiction to this or that isolated passage or teaching of Scripture; it is contrary to God's whole way of dealing with His people. The rule of faith has always been the teachings of God’s authenticated messengers. The appeal has always been, “To the Law and the testimony,“ (Isa. 8:20). The Church has always been held responsible to obey when the divinely appointed prophet said, “Thus saith the Lord.” Obedience was never required to what the Spirit revealed to each individual. Obedience was required to the outward Word, not the inner word. Christ extended this principle to the New Testament when He told the Twelve, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mar. 16:15, 16). What was the whole world to believe? They were to believe the gospel which they preached. Paul tells us that faith cometh by hearing. They he asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). God has determined to save men by the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul declares that the preaching of the cross that is the power of God (v. 18). The gospel is the external revelation of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. This is what is called the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16). This idea runs through the whole New Testament.

3. Mysticism is contrary to fact just as is it contrary to Scripture. I am assuming a Christian worldview. I am a Christian and I believe that everyone outside of the Christian faith is doomed to hell. There is no salvation outside of belief in Jesus. This is simply the truth and I make no apologies for it. This being true, nothing is more obvious than that men are in complete darkness without the revelation of God’s written Word. No one anywhere has come to the same truths revealed in Scripture through inward revelation and experience. Period.

4. There is no criterion by which mystical experience can be tested. When Benny Hinn or Lady Julian of Norwich claims that Christ appeared to them, how do I authenticate it? More importantly, how do they? There just is no criterion available to test these inner impulses or revelations to determine whether they are from God, from the imagination, or from Satan acting as an angel of light. Even granting that the recipient of a true revelation knows it is from God (which, outside scripture, cannot be granted), how is the recipient of false revelation to know that it is not from God? Conviction is not enough. Sincerity is not enough. There are billions who believe false things to be true. And many hold as false things which are in fact, true. Therefore, to tell a man that he need only look within himself for authoritative spiritual guidance is to damn his soul to hell. Insanity and delusion appear very similar at this point. The recipient of the revelation may be satisfied, but he cannot expect anyone else to share his certainty. They have no way of verifying what he claims. Besides, this neglects one other important fact: It is possible for someone to say something true and not be from God.

In Acts 16:16 – 18, there is a slave girl with a “spirit of divination.” Luke writes, “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.” She was telling the truth: Paul was a servant of God. So how do we know that her message wasn’t from God? We know because she obtained her revelation through means explicitly forbidden by Scripture. Techniques aren’t neutral. God has ordained Scripture as the one and only source of revelation. All other means are forbidden, therefore their content is to be rejected out of hand, regardless of how true it sounds.

Jesus said that we would know them by their fruits. This same rule applies to doctrines. When doctrines produce undesirable results they are wrong either in how they are taught or lived. Mysticism has always produced evil. Whenever it appears in Christian garb it inevitably lead to devaluing of the Church, the sacraments, the ministry, and the Scriptures.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Evils of Mysticism, Pt 3

A mystic may inconsistently claim reliance on Scripture, which he may even claim to be infallible. But his actions, which speak louder, tell us that he deems Scripture to be insufficient. He needs a new revelation from God. He needs a new experience, etc.

The danger with mysticism is that the ideas sound true and almost Scriptural at times. Many people appeal to language like the “Spirit’s witness.” Appeals are made to gifts of the Spirit. And of course, we all understand the importance of having a living experiential knowledge of the truths we believe. But that is exactly where things get dicey.

We have all heard wonderful testimonies of God’s work in someone’s life. We know the stories of ex-gang members of former drug dealers who have been converted. These stories are wonderful. They glorify God and they certainly have a place in the life of the Church. But, that place is not evangelism. Putting your personal experience with Jesus into the center of your evangelism, and urging others to come to Christ based on the hope that they too may experience something similar, is no different than the Mormon missionaries who tout their “burning in the bosom.” That experience, whatever it may be, is absolutely unverifiable. The only thing I have to go on is the testimony of the person claiming it. In matters of eternal salvation or damnation, that simply isn’t good enough.

Notice that in the New Testament the Apostles NEVER use personal experiences or testimonies as part of their evangelism. They shared the historical facts of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. They proclaimed the historicity of these events and their occurrence as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies.

This is not to say that in the history of mankind God has never had direct access to a human soul to proclaim truth. The Bible itself is a result of such occurrences. But the Bible itself tells us that such occurrences were rare and were restricted to a handful of people – prophets and apostles. Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Christ is God’s final word.

Charles Hodge wrote, “The common doctrine of the Christian Church is, that God has at sundry times and in divers manners spoken to the children of men; that what eye hath not seen, or ear heard, what never could have entered into the heart of man, God has revealed by his Spirit to those whom He selected to be his spokesmen to their fellow-men; that these revelations were authenticated as divine, by their character, their effects, and by signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost; that these holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, communicated the revelations which they had received not only orally, but in writing, employing not the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; so that we have in the sacred Scriptures the things of the Spirit recorded in the words of the Spirit; which Scriptures, therefore, are the Word of God, — i.e., what God says to man; what He declares to be true and obligatory, — and constitute for his Church the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Systematic Theology Volume 1, Chapter 4.

Regardless of the apparent innocence of the mystical experience or its apparent agreement with Scripture, it is to be distrusted and discarded because it claims to be another revelation from God, making Scripture insufficient. If Scripture is sufficient, what is the need of these other revelations? No amount of mental gymnastics can evade that question.

Scripture is the final and ONLY revelation God has given to the Church. Later in life when Peter recalls the incident on the Mount of Transfiguration, he remembers how Christ’s appearance was changed, how the cloud of God’s glory overshadowed them, and how God’s voice audibly spoke. Yet, he says concerning Scripture, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy,” (2 Peter 1:19). Let that sink in a moment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Evils of Mysticism, Pt 2

Our previous post made some rather bold statements about mysticism, I now aim to make good on those statements.

Mysticism comes in two popular varieties, one with ties to Christian beliefs, and one without such connections. My contention is that at bottom, both are really the same anti-Christian practice.

The common elements of all forms of mysticism are exalting of experience over reason for the attainment of knowledge and looking inward to one’s self for ‘spiritual enlightenment.’ The problem with these two ideas is that they are both wrong.

When someone places their personal experience over reason as an organ of truth, they are automatically demonstrating an inordinate and unjustifiable amount of confidence in oneself. Why is the mystic so certain about his experiences? How is he confident in the truthfulness of the apparent content of the experience? What is his frame of reference against which to test such an experience? The answer is simple. The mystic unjustifiably relies solely upon himself. He makes himself the final arbiter all truth. He may talk about an external set of beliefs, such as Christianity, but in reality, he has placed his own experience in a superior position to all the doctrinal content of his professed belief system.

That this is true can be shown in many ways. First of all, how is the mystic so certain of his own ability to scrutinize his experience objectively? The only way to do so is to deny that his senses and soul are unaffected by sin and are thus in tune to some external spiritual reality. This is a direct contradiction of Scripture. Paul goes so far as to call down a curse on anyone, including angels, if they promote anything other than what is revealed in Scripture (Gal. 1:8). It doesn’t get much more mystical than angelic visitations!

A second issue with the mystic’s assumptions about himself is that they are inherently pantheistic. Now, this is no problem for a Hindu. But this is a huge problem for one who professes Christianity. Pantheism is the belief that God is everything. He is the sum total of all existence. Everything and everyone that exists is somehow a mode or manifestation of God. It is a small baby step to declaring one’s own godhood at this point. Many so-called Christian mystics have openly done so e.g., Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo, etc.

Think about it, if all I need to do to get at ultimate spiritual truth is get in touch with my inner man (whatever that means!) – because there is within me (indeed within everyone) some inner light or ‘spark of the divine,’ - then I do not need an external God nor any external form of revelation. What is this but making oneself to be god? This is nothing else than the promise made to Eve by Satan – “You will be like gods” (Gen. 3:5) Only a pantheist can be self-consistent in the belief that there is some inner light or divine spark in all men. Since this is the plain underlying assumption behind all mystic experience, mysticism is, at core, pantheistic. A few Christian thinkers may try to deny this, but this contention is doubted by no serious student of mysticism.

Our next post will look at more reasons that plainly demonstrate the falsity of mysticism.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Evils of Mysticism, Pt 1

Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός) is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness.

Mysticism exists in various religions. Mysticism can be found in Hassidic Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Neo-platonism, Sufism, Quakerism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Islam and Mormonism. It was present in all the ancient religions of Asia and the pre-Christian religions of Europe. In non-religious secular societies, mysticism appears as New Age belief.

I wish to contend that mysticism is a unifying factor in all false religion. Mysticism is a rejection of an external revelation from God and a substituting in its place of an internal experience. It is a replacing of “Thus saith the Lord,” with “I feel.” This is no exaggeration. Many mystics openly avow such teaching, claiming that reason is not the organ of truth and that it is through feelings that God make truth known.

Over the next couple of days we will be examining mysticism in more detail, showing why it is contrary to Scripture. It is pantheistic at heart and thus contrary to Christianity.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How God Uses Adversity

God sent a man before them - Joseph, sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples set him free. He made him master of his household, ruler over all he possessed, to instruct his princes as he pleased and teach his elders wisdom. Psalm 105:17-22

By adversity we mean disappointments, trials and all manner of unfortunate events hat happen in opposition to our desires.

This narrative furnishes us with a striking illustration of the mysterious way in which Providence accomplishes its designs by an intertwined series of second causes, which includes (1) circumstances that seem fortuitous, and the (2) volitions of rational agents who mean nothing less than that issue which they contribute unconsciously to effect and secure.

Think about the chain of events in Joseph’s life that was overruled by God.

Had Joseph not told his dreams to his brothers –
Had his father not sent him to Dothan –
Had the Ishmaelites not passed by when he was in the pit –
Had he not been sold to Potiphar –
Had Potiphar’s wife been a better woman, or Potiphar a worse man –
Had he been thrown into any other than the king’s prison -
Had the officers of Pharaoh not incurred his displeasure –
Joseph’s advancement would not have taken place. The brilliant deliverance of many people from the 7-year famine would never have happened. Israel would not have been provided a settlement for Israel in Egypt. The long train of grand results, including blessing of all nations in all generations (which all depended upon this) would have been derailed and unsuccessful.

When God determines to use someone in advancing His glory and promoting the good of His church and mankind, He usually prepares by causing them to pass through scenes of severe affliction.

Moses is another example. He lived at the court of Pharaoh. He was initiated into the wisdom of the Egyptians, and the practice of the arts of war and peace. These were all intended by God to be subservient to the execution of His higher plans. But neither these, nor his piety, nor the patriotism and generous indignation against tyranny which burned in his breast, could exempt him from passing through another education of a rougher kind. It was by these that he was freed from the impurities which he had contracted, and thus became qualified for his different task. He needed to be an exile in Midian for as many years as he had been a courtier in Egypt and was to be Israel’s leader.

But returning to our text, we think of Joseph. In addition to his amiable disposition, Joseph inherited the piety of his forefathers. But neither his high aspirations, nor his benevolent character, nor his early piety, nor the education which he had received under the eye of a father also trained in the school of adversity, could suffice to form the Joseph’s character.

The purposes adversity serves in the lives of God’s people.

• Adversity is a school for acquiring practical wisdom. Adversity has a tendency to sober the mind, disperse the illusions prosperity has created and induces thoughtfulness and meditation. Practical wisdom contains two things: knowledge of ourselves, and knowledge of others. Adversity gives us both.
• Adversity helps us in subduing and regulating our passions. The person who is not emancipated from the slavery of his passions cannot be truly great or truly good.
• Adversity serves to improve the nobler qualities in the mind. For a person to be fit for great deeds he must possess the hardy virtues of patience and dependability. He must also have a disinterested devotion to the public and an independence of mind that raises him above the mastery of external circumstances. It’s not until one has passed through a series of sharp disappointments and humiliating setbacks that he can attain pure and disinterested benevolence.
• Sanctified adversity produces strong confidence in God. Joseph’s filial fear of God steadily grew, under trial, into an unshakable confidence in the help of the Almighty.

This subject shows us some important truths:

• One way in which God authenticates the call of His chosen ministers. There is a course of preparation which persons must go through to fit them for the work for which they are destined. This course is practical as well as didactic.
• One reason why there are few great men in our time – there have been few great trials. We have men of great talents, but few of great character.
• Has God exempted you from afflictions? Sympathize with those who suffer.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Where Have All the Preachers Gone?

The unfolding of Your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130 (NASB)

“The end of all preaching is to bring men under the influence of God’s Word; and nothing seems so likely to make men understand the Word as lectures in which the Word is explained. It was so in Chrysostom’s days; it ought to be so again. The idea, no doubt, like every good theory, may be easily ridden to death; and I believe that with ignorant, semi-heathen congregations, a short pithy text often does more good than a long passage expounded. But I have no doubt of the immense value of expository preaching, when people will bring their Bibles to the service, and accompany the preacher as he travels on, or go home to their Bibles after the service, and compare what they have heard with the written Word.” Excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s “Estimate of Manton” in volume 1 of the works of Thomas Manton

Expository preaching is superior to all other homiletic methods. We take as our theme this passage from Psalm 119:130 because expository preaching is nothing other that “unfolding” God’s Word, and we are told here that it is this which gives light and understanding.

The Hebrew word rendered “unfolding” in the NASB is the word pethach, which means “opening” in a figurative sense. This is why other versions render the word as “entrance.” This is an acceptable rendering so long as we keep in mind that it is meant in a figurative sense that implies disclosure rather than a door. Other forms of the word’s root, pathach, mean to open wide (literal or figurative); specifically to loosen, begin, plough, carve: - appear, break forth, draw (out), let go free, (en-) grave (-n), loose (self), (be, be set) open (-ing), put off, ungird, unstop, have vent. And so we can clearly see the point being made by the Psalmist. It is only by opening, unfolding and drawing out the meaning of God’s Word that there can be light and understanding.

There are other passages of Scripture that confirm this view. In Luke 24:27, 31, it was Jesus’ expounding of the Scriptures that opened the eyes of the disciples’ understanding. Acts 17:3 has Paul opening the Scriptures and it was this opening which brought many of his listeners to saving faith. Nehemiah 8:8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.”

Expository preaching takes the actual words of Scripture and sets about to explain them from their context and how all of Scripture teaches the same things. The Puritans were truly models for great preaching. If you have ever read a Puritan sermon, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should!

The Puritan model is best seen in the sermons of Thomas Manton and John Flavel. First the text is read. Next, some details of the context and background are given. The text then is broken up into its various clauses and phrases, with all the ramifications explained. This leads to the statement of the passage’s “Doctrine,” i.e., the theological truth which the passage teaches. The body of the sermon is spent expounding this doctrine through references to many other parts of Scripture. The Puritans, like the Reformers before them, believed in the principle that Scripture interprets itself (Scriptura Intrapratatum). This is why they always interpreted a given passage in the Bible in the light of the rest of the Bible. They never came upon a verse and thought, “Wow! This is a new doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible." If you think that a passage is teaching a doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible, you've misinterpreted it.

Finally, the Puritan sermon ALWAYS ended with practical applications of the doctrinal truths learned. Puritan sermons were almost always split right down the middle: about half being doctrinal and the other half being practical application.

This is truly the biblical model. Paul’s epistles have this same quality. About midway through you will find a “therefore” that begins a section of applying the doctrinal truths expounded on in the first part of the letter. There is no superior method of preaching.

Appended are three principles that are a great guide in biblical interpretation. I found these in my notes. I didn’t formulate them. If anyone recognizes them and knows the source, let me know. I want to give credit where it is due.

3 Principles of Interpretation
  • We must aim to allow the Scriptures, in whole and in each of their parts, to function as God intends.
  • The function or meaning of any individual passage of Scripture should first be sought by attempting to determine what its human author intended in writing it.
  • Ultimately, our interpretation of any particular biblical passage must acknowledge and take into account the fundamental unity and consistency of God’s whole written word.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Favorite Forms of Argumentation

One of my favorite features in apologetics is where a view is demonstrated to be false by virtue of its own principles. This is sometimes called a self-stultifying or self-defeating position.

An example would be Bill Clinton’s notorious remark that belief in absolutes is wrong. For that statement to be true, it would have to be absolute. So, in order in order for it to be true it would have to be false!

Another example is the contention of many existentialists that nothing has meaning. I imagine that they assume that that statement is a meaningful statement about reality. But if that statement were true it would be false.

Yet another example is the central monistic assumption of pantheism. Pantheism believes that everything is God and God is everything. The sum total of all that exists is God. Now, if this were strictly true, a pantheist would affirm, “God exists and I don’t,” because “I,” like everything else in existence, am merely a mode of God’s existence. But to say that you don’t exist is self-stultifying. If you don’t exist, you can neither affirm nor deny anything.

Another feature of apologetics that has always impressed me is when it is show that one position is rejected based on supposed ramifications which are actually truer of the opposing view.

For example, people often accuse the Calvinist doctrine of Divine sovereignty of being fate. This is an old accusation. During the semi-Pelagian debates of the 5th Century, Faustus of Riez wrote, “In the name of grace Augustine preaches fatalism.” However, if one thinks this through carefully, the Arminian view is more fatalistic. If the Arminian view of Divine foreknowledge is true then God’s knowledge is not based upon His decree but rather upon the free-will of the creature. So when something bad happens to man, God can only say, “You poor thing. You must simply grin and bear the bad fortune that has come upon you. I could do nothing about it. I had to consent to these contingencies that come, whether I will them or not.” Is this not more fatalistic? In the words of Christopher Ness, “What else is this but to overthrow all those graces of Faith, Hope, etc., to cast off all vital godliness; and to pull the great Jehovah Himself out of His throne of glory, setting up Dame Fortune to be worshipped in His stead?”

Another example is the accusation that Open Theists make that “traditional Christianity” was corrupted by Greek philosophy. Yet the roots of the Open Theism’s ideas regarding God’s foreknowledge are easily traceable to Calcidius a 5th Century philosopher and interpreter of Plato.

For some reason, these kind of logical and internal inconsistencies simultaneously intrigue me and irritate me. There are many forms of argumentation in apologetics and polemics, but these are my favorites.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Look at Psalm 91:1, Pt 3

We now come to some practical application of the doctrinal truths we looked at from this wonderful verse: He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. - Psalm 91:1

If we learned nothing else from this verse, we should have learned that all who entrust themselves into God’s hands can remain secure under His protection in the midst of all dangers.

This being true, what does this imply by way of application?

First and foremost, it is a correction and rebuke for all who trust in anything besides God. The simple fact is that many trust in created things against God. Nothing could be more foolish. Some trust in created things without God. Again, very foolish. But equally foolish and equally sinful is to trust in created things in conjunction with God. Our hearts are all so naturally idolatrous and image oriented that we would rather trust in something we can see with our physical eyes and feel with our hands. Yet God is invisible. This does not mean that we deny His existence, but that like idolatrous Israel, we want to worship Him through things we can see and touch. That is why it seems so hard to calmly trust God when things are not doing smoothly (by our definition).

Secondly, for those of us who do trust God, we are encouraged to do so with whole-heartedness. One thinks of the Disciples’ faith after a night of great disappointment. In faith they say to Christ, “We have toiled all night, nevertheless at Your word…” (Luke 5:5).

Trust is displayed also by the waiting of faith when success is delayed. Only greed and impatience must have instant gratification.

One thinks as well of Job and His resolution of faith. He says, “Though He slay me…” (Job 13:15). I don’t think Job thought God would kill him. The point is simply that Job was humbly submissive to God’s sovereignty and would trust in Him even if He slew him. Daniel’s friends exhibited the same trust when they told the king that they would not bow to his image even if God did not save them (Daniel 3:16 - 18).

Trust submits to God gladly. It lets God order things as He pleases (Mat. 6:33).

If it be foolish to trust the creature against, without or together with God, then there must certainly be great wisdom in trust. Settle your mind as to present needs, and let God worry about the future. Jesus told us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He did not say, “Give us now our bread for the next 35 years.” We live most safely and securely when we let go of the reigns and entrust ourselves wholly to God’s care.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Look at Psalm 91:1, Pt 2

We previously looked at Psalm 91:1 - He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. We noted that the doctrine which the verse teaches us is that all who entrust themselves into God’s hands can remain secure under His protection in the midst of all dangers.

I now want to unpack that idea a bit. We will do so by asking – and answering – three questions. They are:

• What it is to trust ourselves into God’s hands?

• How does this passage express and recommend this to us?

• How necessary a duty is this for Christians?

1. What does it mean to trust ourselves to God? Scripture commonly expresses this idea by the use of two words: (A) consecrating (B) committing.

A. Consecrating is devoting or giving ourselves up to His will. We see this idea in passages such as, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” (Rom. 12:1) Also, “Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom. 6:13) Included in this is the idea of humble resignation to God’s sovereignty. “Here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 2 Sam. 15:26

B. Committing is entrusting all to Him and His care. The Psalms exhort us to this when they say, “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Psalm 37:5) The Apostles both exhort us to this and model it for us. Paul tells Timothy, “I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him” (2 Tim. 1:12) Peter reminds us, “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19)

The Puritan preacher, Thomas Manton wrote, “This is when the soul rests quietly in God by faith, as a man doth in his habitation, and we can go on cheerfully in the duties of our general or particular calling, knowing that while we are in God’s hands we are in safe hands, come what will come. We are not troubled about any event, but entirely commit it to God.”

Our trust is neither blind faith nor wishful thinking. It is grounded upon the two surest things there are, which are indeed one: God’s nature and God’s covenant. God is faithful is His very nature. He would never back out of anything that He has promised to do. But beyond that, God has made a covenant of grace with the elect. This covenant is made in Christ and rests upon the covenant of redemption made between the Father and the Son from all eternity. For God to not be trustworthy, He would have to not only betray us, but He would also have to betray Himself.

2. How it is expressed and recommended to us in this passage? The passage shows us
(a) The person that trusts
(b) The act of trust itself; and,
(c) The encouragement to trust

(a) The person that trusts is, “He that dwelleth.” Who is this? It is anyone who dwells. The invitation is open to all.

(b) The act of trust is expressed in the words, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High.” This person is one who dwells with God. It is foolish for an unregenerate person to say that he is trusting God. It is equally wrong for us to encourage an unbeliever to “trust God” in the difficulties of his or her life. The promise of Romans 8:28 applies with legitimacy only to those who are “called according to His purpose.” The invitation to entrust ourselves to God is open to everyone, but only the called find refuge in Him.

(c) The encouragements this passage gives us to entrust ourselves to God are three:

First of all, there are the titles given to God. He is called the Most High. This ensures us that all the enemies of the saints, be they ever so high are under God’s sovereign providence. No one is higher than God. When I trust Him, I am trusting in the Most High. God is then called the Almighty. This reminds us that His power extends to all situations. Nothing is outside the scope of His power. Even the most difficult situations we may ever face are being overruled by His sovereign hand. Romans 8:28 says that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who are called according to God’s purpose. Note well the words, “all things.”

Secondly, we are informed of the manner in which this help appears. It is called, “The secret of the Most High.” This is that special favor of God that the world does not know. It is further referred to as, “The shadow of the Almighty.” This suggests ideas such as protection, shade, refreshing – ideas which rise to the foreground later in the Psalm (v. 4).

Thirdly, we are told that it is given as a promise. It is permission to dwell in God. His throne of grace is always open to a penitent believer. “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37) Moreover, it is an assurance to us of safety. A child of God is not numb to or exempt from cares and troubles. But because he trusts God he can resign himself to God and rest satisfied in God’s providence however harsh it may seem.

3. How necessary a duty this is for all Christians.

Entrusting ourselves wholly to God is such a vital part of our Christian duty. If for no other reason than that we acknowledge God’s nature when we do. We only truly honor Him when we trust Him entirely. Beyond that though, our life of faith is enlivened when we trust God. Unless we trust God our soul will never be faithful to Him. When we seek His protection we will strive more to please Him. This is not servile fear; it is a simple fact. We will not have the confidence to seek God’s protection when we know that He has reason to be displeased with us. In addition to all this, trust quiets our hearts and minds. Scripture says, “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Prov. 16:3) The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6, 7

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will derive some practical application from this passage to drive home the doctrinal truth we have looked at over the last two posts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Look at Psalm 91:1, Pt 1

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. - Psalm 91:1

Generally, scholars believe that this Psalm was written during the plague that struck Jerusalem (2 Sam 24). For this reason, it probably was not written by David. David’s name is usually affixed to his Psalms, and it is unlikely that David, after having brought the plague through his sin, would neither mention of it nor express any repentance for it. Hence it is probably Gad’s. He was David’s seer and was therefore not associated with the event in any way.

This verse contains a qualification and a privilege. We can see it in the sentence structure: “He that…..shall….” Furthermore there are three angles from which these two sides of the verse are contrasted. The three angles are:

• The act of faith

• The manner of preservation

• The Person trusted

The act of faith: “He that dwells” This is the qualification. The one who will receive the promise will be the one who “dwells” The privilege is: “shall abide.” In other words, He that dwells will dwell.

The manner of preservation: “The secret place of the Most High,” is the manner of preservation from the side of the qualification. But in the privilege, it is called “the shadow of the Almighty.” The help of God is a secret to carnal man and God’s shadow is His refreshing and cooling presence, i.e., His protection.

The Person trusted: In the qualification God is called the “Most High.” In the privilege He is called “Almighty.”

When we put all these parts together, we see that this verse teaches us that anyone who entrusts himself into God’s hands may remain secure under His protection in the midst of all dangers.

What a wonderful thought this is! This is merely an overview of the passage. We will expound it in more detail in the next post or two.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nothing New Under The Sun

"Heaven never helps the men who will not act." (Sophocles)

To do is to be. - Socrates

"Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be. " - Eleanor Roosevelt

“The providence of God does not determine the free-will of man to this or that particular...” Jacob Arminius.

"If anyone says that man's free will [when] moved and aroused by God, assenting to no way cooperates...[and] that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes...let him be anathema!" - Council of Trent

"There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God." - Charles G. Finney

"It's not who I am underneath, but it’s what I do that defines me." - Batman

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Church Fathers on Depravity

If you’ve ever entertained the notion that the freedom of the will is something that has been monolithically believed by the Church, then perhaps the contents of this short post will help unburden you of that mistake.

One does not need to study the Fathers very long to read their declarations on human sinfulness. Paul’s disciple and traveling companion, Clement of Rome, writes, “Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him.” (1) And again he says, “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men…” (2) God must grant repentance, because fallen man is so lost he would never seek it on his own. God does not merely grant forgiveness, but the desire for repentance itself. Paul says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do” (Phil. 2:13). And notice also that Clement affirms that our calling is made effectual by God’s will.

“They who are carnal cannot do spiritual things… unbelief (is incapable of) the deeds of faith.” (3) This is the pronouncement of Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp’s fellow disciple of the Apostle John. Those who are in the state of unbelief cannot repent and believe unless it be granted from above. Faith and repentance are spiritual acts. Those who are in the flesh cannot perform spiritual acts.

In the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus, we read, “having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able…Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life.” (4) The author of this short work clearly affirms that it is only through the power of God that we can attain to life. This is nothing in our nature that can avail.

Irenaeus writes, “For the Lord taught us that no man is capable of knowing God, unless he be taught of God; that is, that God cannot be known without God.” (5) 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.

Explaining how our corruption is such that we must be rendered spiritual by God Himself, Irenaeus attests, “But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God… This earnest, therefore, thus dwelling in us, renders us spiritual even now.”(6)

The great Carthaginian theologian Tertullian quite aptly remarks, “To begin with the passage where He says that He is come to ‘to seek and to save that which is lost.’ What do you suppose that to be which is lost? Man, undoubtedly. The entire man, or only a part of him? The whole man, of course. In fact, since the transgression which caused man's ruin was committed quite as much by the instigation of the soul from concupiscence as by the action of the flesh from actual fruition, it has marked the entire man with the sentence of transgression, and has therefore made him deservedly amenable to perdition.”(7)

Cyprian, the martyred bishop of Carthage, in a most unforgettable passage describes how he came to have a real saving relationship with Christ. His description of his own sinfulness is quite poignant and revealing. He writes, “For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart, - after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man; -then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earth earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness.”(8) It is noteworthy that Cyprian says he was enabled, made capable and begun to be of God – all verbs in the passive voice.

Theophilus of Antioch, the 3rd Century Apologist, writing to an unbeliever, says, “For God is seen by those who are enabled to see Him when they have the eyes of their soul opened: for all have eyes; but in some they are overspread, and do not see the light of the sun. Yet it does not follow, because the blind do not see, that the light of the sun does not shine; but let the blind blame themselves and their own eyes.” (9) This statement would certainly not fly in our nice 'seeker-sensitive' pulpits these days. Who would ever dare blame the spiritually blind for their own blindness? Again note the teaching that man must be enabled to see God. We do not have an innate ability or will to do so.

The coup de grâce must certainly be the judgment of Chrysostom. He says, “Every man is not only naturally a sinner, but is wholly sin.” (10) This is not the error of Flacius who held that man’s whole nature had become sin. This is just Chrysostom’s typical rhetorical emphasis.

The classic denial that man’s freewill can have any part in his salvation must certainly be found in Augustine’s Enchiridion. Augustine writes, “[I]t was by the evil use of his freewill that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own freewill sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost.” (11) The whole gist of Augustine’s thought in this regard is that the only freedom the unregenerate have is the freedom to sin – if that can be called by so noble a name as “Freedom.” With this the Church wholeheartedly concurred. The Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD) are sufficient testimony to this fact.

One disclaimer must be made pertaining to some of the Fathers of the Greek speaking Church. They often speak in very high terms of human free will. But, to their credit we must not forget that even their theological works were written with Manicheans in mind. Often, therefore, the Greek Fathers tend to overstate the case for human responsibility in order to avoid the error of these Gnostic determinists. Not only this, but in virtually every instance when a Greek Father was speaking of man’s freewill and ability to obey God’s commands, he was invariably speaking, not of fallen man, but man as he was created in the state of moral perfection.

Athanasius wrote a work in defense of Dionysius of Alexandria because the Arians were appealing to his writings in support of their false teachings. Athanasius labored to show that Dionysius’ statements were aimed at refuting Sabellianism and that this fact must be kept in mind at all times. Likewise, we must be constantly aware of the fact that the Greek Fathers were writing in a polemic tone against a deterministic Gnosticism. Ignorance of this fact will lead to misreading of their words into support for doctrines that they found odious.

Calvin himself was aware of this. In his Institutes, he demonstrates that many of the Fathers often spoke with some inconsistency; nevertheless, it is plain that they did not preach along the Pelagian/Arminian line. Calvin says, “At one time they teach, that man having been deprived of the power of free-will must flee to grace alone; at another, they equip or seem to equip him in armor of his own. It is not difficult, however, to show, that notwithstanding the ambiguous manner in which those writers express themselves, they hold human virtue in little or no account, and ascribe the whole merit of all that is good to the Holy Spirit.” (12) Calvin acknowledges that they often overstate man’s freedom, but he concludes his argument thus: “This much, however, I dare affirm, that though they sometimes go too far in extolling free-will, the main object which they had in view was to teach man entirely to renounce all self-confidence, and place his strength in God alone.” (13)

(1) 1 Clement VII
(2) 1Clement XXXII
(3) Ignatius to the Ephesians VIII
(4) Diognetus IX
(5) Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV. vi. 4
(6) Irenaeus, Against Heresies V. viii. 1
(7) Tertullian, Res. Carn.
(8) Cyprian – Ep. Ad Donatum 4
(9) Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus bk.1 ch.2
(10) Chrysostom, Homily in Advent.
(11) Augustine, Enchiridion, Ch. 30
(12) Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 2, ch. 2
(13) ibid.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More on Total Depravity

First things first: What do we mean by these words, Total Inability? Or rather, what do we, by this term, mean to assert that the Scripture affirms? With this term we aver that man, in his natural (i.e., unregenerate state) is absolutely and completely unable to do anything tending to his own salvation. The first stirrings of the will and/or heart with a longing for salvation or a desire to come to Christ are always and in every instance preceded by an enabling act of God’s Spirit. Reformed theologians frequently use the term Total Depravity to denote such doctrine because it accurately informs us that the inability is due to the reigning power of sin in the life of the unregenerate.

That which we propose to discuss here is the doctrine of Total Inability. It is sometimes called Total Depravity. It is a natural corollary of an accurate conception of Original Sin. It would be rather easy to give a long list of Biblical references that state the doctrine in question and comment briefly on each one, but this has been done many times already by men far abler than me. Therefore, I will limit the subject matter of this paper to a few choice passages of Scripture with a more detailed analysis of each. I do have, however, in my possession a list of no less than 50 New Testament passages that explicitly proclaim man’s inability. This, of course, does not include all the other New Testament passages which either insinuate or presuppose this doctrine. Nor does it include the even larger number of Old Testament passages that teach the same truth.

A short amount of deliberation is sufficient to reveal why this doctrine is found only in the Reformed/Calvinist camp. When one draws forth the logical conclusions of such doctrine, the freedom of the will, so vociferously defended by Arminians (and as equally vociferously opposed by true Calvinists) is at once belittled. For if one accepts and believes on Christ as He is offered in the Gospel because God has preveniently enabled his will, then Arminians affirm that the decision cannot be valid or justifiably attributed to the repentant sinner. This is because they believe that all men have an innate ability to use their wills freely, even with regard to salvation. However, if Total Inability be true, as we will demonstrate, then the Arminian scheme of doctrine must be false, both to the Church and to Scripture.

What saith the Scripture? In declaring the state of the sinful unregenerate nature after the Fall (before the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit), the Scripture primarily insists on three things:

  • The corruption and depravity of the mind; which it calls by the name of darkness and blindness.
  • The depravity of the will and affections, which it expresses several ways, as by weakness or inability, and stubbornness or obstinacy.
  • The general name of death, which is extended to the condition of the whole soul.

All men, not enlightened by the Holy Spirit, not renewed in their minds, are in a state of darkness and blindness with regard to God and all spiritual truth. All men, be they ever so learned and skillful in other matters, in spiritual things are dark, blind and ignorant. This is a subject the world cannot bear to hear of. They immediately fly into a rage upon its very mention. They judge it a ploy invented by weak men to condemn them who are wiser than themselves. Thus did the Pharisees scornfully and insolently ask our Lord, “Are we blind also?” (1) While Christ let them know that their presumption of light and knowledge would only aggravate their sin and condemnation, He also told them plainly, on the authority of the Father, that notwithstanding their boasting they had “neither heard the voice of God at any time, nor seen His shape.” (2) Nothing angers the ignorant than being told of their ignorance!
In Ephesians 4:17-18, St. Paul says, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” In treating the subject of men in their natural fallen state the Apostle reduces all things in man unto three things:

the “mind,”

the “understanding” and

the “heart.”

These three comprise the whole of our moral and spiritual operations and are all affected with the darkness and ignorance we speak of. We shall now explicate each one briefly.

1. The“mind,” is the the ruling faculty of the soul. It is by this that we gain our first apprehensions of all things and whereby deductions are made to our carrying out in practice. Notice that unto this faculty is ascribed the term “vanity.” The word “vain” is used univocally in Scripture to denote things that are useless and fruitless. Now men’s minds abound in all manner of vain imaginations, which are declared by Scripture to be only “evil continually.” (3) In its pre-Fall condition, the mind had all the same cogitative faculties it has now under the power of sin, only then these were all orderly and regular, that is to say that the mind was able to direct them unto the end for which they were made. And God would have been the principal end of them all. But now, the mind engages them in nothing but confusion and vanity.

2. The “understanding” is the the discerning faculty of the soul that leads it unto practice. It guides the soul by the notions it receives from the mind. On the groundwork of the preceding point, the understanding is seen to be more corrupt that the mind. The nearer things come to practice, the more prevalent in them is sin’s power. In our passage, the understanding is said to be “darkened.” This indicates that without supernatural illumination, all attempts at discerning spiritual things are vain pretensions. The Light of the Gospel shines into this darkened understanding of men, but it “receives it not.” (4)

3. The “heart” is, in Scripture’s usage, the practical principle of operation, and so includes the will also. It is the actual compliance of the will and affections with the mind and understanding with respect to the things proposed by them. Light is received by the mind, applied by the understanding and used by the heart. The Apostle says that this faculty is afflicted with “blindness.” It is therefore not a mere ignorance of the notions of truth that Paul intends, but rather, a stubborn resistance to light and conviction. The heart is obstinate and obdurate and thus rejects all influences that come to it from the notions of the truth. This is why the unconverted are said to be in darkness. (5)

In his volume on Pneumatology, John Owen states, “There may be degrees in a moral privation, but when it is expressed in the abstract, it is a sign that it is at its height, that it is total and absolute. And this is spoken with respect unto spiritual and saving light only, or a saving apprehension of spiritual truths. There is not in such persons so much as any disposition remaining to receive saving knowledge, any more than there is a disposition in darkness itself to receive light. The mind, indeed, remains a capable subject to receive it, but hath no active power nor disposition in itself towards it; and, therefore, when God is pleased to give us a new ability to understand and perceive spiritual things in a due manner, he is said to give us a new faculty, because of the utter disability of our minds naturally to receive them, 1 John v. 20. Let vain men boast whilst they please of the perfection and ability of their rational faculties with respect unto religion and the things of God, this is the state of them by nature, upon His judgment that must stand forever.” (6)

We are now in a position to demonstrate that this is the state of all unregenerate men. Following the Apostle Paul, we shall divide all humanity into two camps: in Adam and in Christ. Those who are in Adam are also called “natural,” “without the Spirit” and “without the life of God.” (7) Paul uses the term “carnal” to distinguish its unspiritual character. It is “slow of heart to believe” (8) and “heavy in hearing.” (9) The mind of a natural man, that is, a man in the state of nature, however it may be excited and improved under any education it may have received, is yet not able, without any of its own power spiritually and savingly, to receive, embrace and assent to spiritual things unless it be renewed and acted upon by the Holy Spirit. This is asserted in no uncertain terms by St. Paul in these words: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (10) 

The subject of this passage is the “natural man.” Scripture uses this term in opposition to “spiritual.” The foundation of this distinction, which A.W. Tozer calls the “once-born” and the “twice-born,” is laid down in Paul’s declaration: “The first Adam was made a living soul.” (11) So everyone who is of him is called no more than “a living soul.” But “the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” So everyone who is of Him, as a partaker of His nature, is a “a spiritual man.”

The passage currently under consideration plainly refers to all who are merely derived from Adam – the natural man endowed with a rational soul. Paul divides all mankind in this chapter into two camps: natural and spiritual. Therefore, all who are not spiritual, i.e., regenerated by the Holy Spirit, be they ever so cultured and dignified, are naught else but “natural” men. The supposition of a third state of men is destructive to the design of Paul’s whole discourse. Besides, ψυχικος (natural) is the softest term Scripture gives to unregenerate men. St. Peter designates them as “natural brute beasts.” (12) The Goldenmouth says, “The natural man is he who ascribes all things to the power of the reasonings of the mind, and doth not think that he stands in need of aid from above: which is madness; for God hath given the soul that it should learn and receive what he bestows, what is from him, and not suppose that it is sufficient of itself or to itself. Eyes are beautiful and profitable; but if they would see without light, this beauty and power will not profit but hurt them. And the mind, if it would see” (spiritual things) “without the Spirit of God, it doth but ensnare itself.” (13)

In treating of the natural man, the Apostle makes it quite plain that he does not, indeed cannot receive nor discern the things of God. It is a piece of mere sophistry then to assert that men, in sin, can exercise their wills in spiritual things, seeing that the “carnal mind is enmity against God.” (14) An unregenerate man can no more use his will to move toward Christ than a dead man can will his own resurrection! Imagine a scene, like an altar call, where a corpse is asked to “raise his hand” if he would like to be resurrected. Such is the foolishness of asking those who are “dead in sins and trespasses” (15) if they would like to be alive in Christ.
If any one of any age should, by natural ability, have had access to the “life of God” by the proper use of the mind, it should have been the great philosophers and sages of the past. But both the Apostle and the experience of the first ages of the Church teach otherwise. (16) If spiritual things were attainable by the proper use of the natural mind, then those with the most cultivated minds would have certainly attained them. Hence the great minds of the past should be our surest guides in all matters spiritual. But such is not true. It was the wise, the knowing, the rational, - the learned men of the world that made the greatest and longest opposition to spiritual things.

From this, we see that there is a two fold weakness, or rather, inability, in the minds of men with regard to spiritual things. The first is a natural inability, whence it cannot receive them for a lack of light in itself. The second is a moral inability which affects the will and affections and by which the things of God cannot be received because it will not. For this reason also, they are foolishness unto it.
Because of this natural inability the natural man is absolutely unable to discern and know spiritual things in a saving manner. Through this inability the faculties of the mind and understanding are depraved. This inability is said to be natural because it consists in the deprivation of the light and power which were original faculties of our minds and understandings – and because it can never be cured except by an immediate communication of a new spiritual power and ability to the mind by the Holy Spirit.
The aforementioned moral inability assures us that the mind of the unregenerate never will receive spiritual things. They will always and unchangeably refuse and reject them. And because of various lusts, corruptions and prejudices invincibly fixed in them, spiritual things to appear as foolishness. Therefore, no man will be condemned on Judgment Day merely on account of his natural inability. Everyone to whom the gospel has been preached, and by whom it is refused, shall be convinced of positive actions in their minds, rejecting the gospel from the love of self, sin and the world. Thus our Savior tells the Jews that “no man can come unto him, except the Father draw him.” (17) In fact, in another place, Christ tells them, “Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.” (18) The issue in question was not the power or inability of their minds, but the obstinacy of their wills. And it is for this that men will primarily be judged at the last day. Light has come into the world, “and men loved the darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (19)
Therefore, the proper meaning of “receiveth not,” is given in the following reason and explanation of it: ου δυναται γνωναι, “He cannot know them,” – that is, unless he is enabled spiritually by the Holy Spirit. And this is confirmed in the reason subjoined: “They are spiritually discerned.” Many an Arminian would wrest this passage to his own destruction and make the Apostle say that men “will not” know spiritual things. But Paul’s explicit statement is that the natural man cannot receive them. Chrysostom gives Paul’s meaning in these penetrating analyses of the passage: “A natural man is he who lives in or by the flesh, and hath not his mind as yet enlightened by the Spirit, but only hath that inbred human understanding which the Creator hath endued the minds of all men with.” (20) And, “The spiritual man is he who liveth by the Spirit, having his mind enlightened by him; having not only an inbred human understanding, but rather a spiritual understanding, bestowed on him graciously, which the Holy Ghost endues the minds of believers withal.” (21)
The final passage I wish to refer to, and briefly at that, is Ephesians 2:1, where it is said that those who are not made alive by God’s Spirit are “dead in trespasses and sins.” This needs little explaining, so self-explanatory is its import. Not only are the unregenerate blind, but they are, in fact, dead to all things of God. Hence I noted the ludicrousness of asking a corpse to “raise his hand” if he wished to be resurrected. A man who is dead cannot wish anything at all! It is simply foolishness to assume that the natural man can do anything spiritual. Just as it is not in the eagle’s nature to peck around for worms in the chicken pen, neither is it in the chicken’s nature to soar effortlessly in the arboreal expanse. One might sooner expect a lion to eat grass or a cow to devour a lion. If a man does in fact exercise his mind in an act of saving faith in Christ, it is only because that man has first been so enabled by the Holy Spirit by a renewing of his whole nature, thus making him a “spiritual man.”
This truth is opposed and denied by all Arminian schemes – as well as the modern infiltration of the Church by psychology. Original Sin, though affirmed in word, is denied in practice and, so far from being viewed as death, sin is seen as a sickness. The Arminian sinner is not dead in trespasses and sins – he is merely sick. Men reject the light because they are evil, not because they are sick. No amount of psychotherapy can duplicate the regeneration of a man’s nature by the quickening of the Holy Spirit. (22)
I close with the pertinent sentence of the great John Owen. “We do conclude that the mind in the state of nature is so depraved, vitiated, and corrupted, that it is not able, upon the proposal of spiritual things unto it in the dispensation and preaching of the gospel, to understand, receive, and embrace them in a spiritual and saving manner, so as to have the sanctifying power of them thereby brought into and fixed in the soul, without an internal, especial, immediate, supernatural, effectual, enlightening act of the Holy Ghost. “

1. John 9:40

2. John 5:37
3. Genesis 6:5
4. John 1:5
5. Ephesians 5:8
6. John Owen, Pneumatologia, Bk. 3, Ch. 3
7. 1 Corinthians 2:14, Jude 19, Ephesians 4:18
8. Luke 24:25
9. Hebrews 5:11, 12
10. 1 Corinthians 2:14
11. 1 Corinthians 15:45
12. 2 Peter 2:12
13. Chrysostom, on 1 Corinthians 2:15
14. Romans 8:7
15. Ephesians 2:1
16. 1 Corinthians 1:22, 23, 26–28
17. John 6:44
18. John 5:20
19. John 3:19
20. Chrysostom, on 1 Corinthians 2:15
21. ibid.
22. John Owen, Pneumatologia, Bk. 3, Ch. 3

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