Monday, May 30, 2011

God's Sovereignty Over Men's Wills

Does the Bible teach that God is sovereign over men’s wills? You tell me.

“you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20)

“But I will harden his (Pharaoh’s) heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Ex. 4:21)

“And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” (Ex. 12:36)

“And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Ex. 14:17)

“But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand” (Deut. 2:30)

“For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them” (Josh. 11:20)

“God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech” (Jud. 9:23)

“the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’” (2 Sam. 24:1)

“The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets” (1 Kings 22:23)

“that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (Ezra 1:1-3)

“the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God” (Ezra 6:22)

“He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.” (Ps. 105:25)

“A man’s heart (will) plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Pr. 16:9)

“The king’s heart (will) is in the hand of the LORD…He turns it wherever He wishes. (Pr. 21:1)

“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger…I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge…Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so” (Is. 10:5-7)

“For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Is. 14:27)

“Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure’” (Is. 44:28)

“I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever” (Jer. 32:39)

“I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” (Jer. 32:40)

“I will give you a new heart (will) and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart (will) of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezek. 36:26-27)

“For His dominion is and everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?” (Dan. 4:34-35)

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:27-28)

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

“Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19)

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Cor. 12:11)

“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (Jas. 4:15)

“For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Rev. 17:17)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Notable Quotes 2

The deepest cleft which separates men calling themselves Christians in the conception of the plan of salvation, is that which divides what we may call the Naturalistic and the Supernaturalistic views. The line of division here is whether, in the matter of the salvation of man, God has planned simply to leave men, with more or less completeness, to save themselves, or whether he has planned Himslef to interven to save them. The issue between the naturalist and supernaturalist is thus the eminently simple one: Does man save himself or does God save him?

The consistently naturalistic scheme is known in the history of doctrine as Pelagianism. Pelagianism in its purity, affirms that all the powers exerted in saving man is native to man himself. But Pelagianism is not merely matter of history, nor does it always exist in its purity. As the poor in earthly goods are always with us, so the poor in spiritual things are also always with us. It may indeed be thought that there never was a period in the history of the Church in which naturalistic conceptions of the process of salvation were more wide-spread or more radical than at present. A Pelagianism which out-pelagianizes Pelagius himself in the completeness of its naturalism is in sact at the moment intensely fashionable among the slef-constituted leaders of Christian thought. And everywhere, in all communions alike, conceptions are current which assign to man, in the use of his native powers, at least the decisive activity in the saving of the soul, that is to say, which suppose that God has planned that those shall be saved, who, at the decisive point, in one way or another save themselves.

Notable Quote, B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, pg 15-16

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Isn't Grace Universal?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Arminianism is a Procrustean bed. It is frequently asserted that Calvinism relies more on the force of logic than on Scripture, but it seems plain as day that this is simply not true. Arminianism starts with questionable assumptions, and then charges forward regardless of the teaching of Scripture, claiming that it just makes sense that this or that should be true. 

Take the Arminian notion of universal grace, for instance. All Arminians insist that God's grace is universal in its scope. On what is this idea based? It is based on the assumption that God owes it to all His creatures to give them all the same advantages and opportunities. If He does not do then, then logically, He would not be just. But this is simply false. There is not a single shred of Biblical evidence that God owes anyone anything, let alone corrupt, fallen, degenerate, depraved man. When Scripture declares that God "loved Jacob and hated Esau," the real mystery is not why did He hate Esau, but rather, why did He love Jacob.

Even a cursory analysis of the idea of a universal grace reveals some rather obvious inherent absurdities. Such as:

1. To say that God has a universal will to save everyone implies that God wills contrary to His will. If God wants something, being all-powerful as He is, He will do whatever He deems necessary to accomplish His desire. This simply means that God is able to save all men, but it is not actually His will do so, otherwise all would be saved. We know from manifold passages of Scripture that some men will actually perish into eternal hell. We also know that many have already died in a state of unregeneracy and have perished into eternal hell. If this has happened, then we must acknowledge that it was not actually God's will to save those who have perished and will yet perish.

2 This supposed universal will to save all men is either an absolute decree of God or a conditional one. If it is absolute, then God has already failed to accomplish it, since many have already died in perdition. If it is a conditional decree, God must execute the condition Himself or merely demand that the condition be met. If He were to execute it, then all men would be saved, which, again, we know to not be true. If He merely demands that the condition be met, then He does not really will the salvation of all men, since some will not meet the condition, since they are blind and dead in sin. In this case, we have a God who desires something while He simultaneously know that it is impossible.

3. If God universally wills the salvation of all men, He has failed in His purpose and therefore has not accomplished Hie will, since He wills something that hasn't happened and will not ever happen. Many have already perished and many more still will.

It is one thing to say that God commands something and that obedience to it is pleasing to Him. But it is quite another thing to decree or purpose something. It is God's decree that is thwarted if He wills something which does not come to pass. If He had willed the salvation of all men, He would be thwarted in His purpose. Since this is obviously ridiculous, it is equally ridiculous to maintain that grace is universal because God has a will to save all men.

So, as was said above, Arminianism is a Procrustean bed: whatever is too short gets stretched to fit, and whatever is too long gets lopped off.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Notable Quotes 1

It is a matter of the greatest moment, that we learn distinctly to consider the covenant of grace, either as it is in its substance or essence, as they call it, or as it is in divers ways proposed by God, with respect to circumstantials, under different economies. If we view the substance of the covenant, it is but only one, nor is it possible that it should be otherwise. There is no other way worthy of God, in which salvation can be bestowed upon sinners, but that discovered in the Gospel. Whence the apostle, Gal. 1:7, has beautifully said, which is not another. And that testament, which was consecrated by the blood of Christ, he calls everlasting, Heb.13:20, because it was settled from eternity, published immediately upon the fall of the first man, constantly handed down by the ancients, more fully explained by Christ himself and his apostles, and is to continue throughout all agesm and, in virtue of which, believers shall inherit eternal happiness. But if we attend to the circumstances of the covenant, it was dispensed at sundry times and in divers manners, under various economies, for the manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God...

We therefore maintain, agreeable to the sacred writings, that to all the Elect, living in any period of time, 1st. One and the same eternal life was promised. 2ndly. That Jesus Christ was held forth as one and the same author and bestower of salvation. 3rdly. That they could not become partakers of it in any other way, but by a tru and lively faith in him. If we demonstrate these three things, none can any longer doubt, but that the covenant of grace must be, as to its substance, only one from the beginning. For, if the salvation be the same, and the author of it the same, the manner of communion with him the same, it is certain the covenant itself cannot be more than one.  Herman Witsius, Economy of the Covenants III.II.I & II

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Justice of Eternal Hell

"My uncle Billy lived for 75 years. How can it be just or fair for God to punish him eternally in Hell for the sins of only 75 years?" This is perhaps one of the most common objections to the doctrine of Hell. The heart of this objection lies in the comparison of eternity to time and the apparent severity of eternal punishment for sin that was confined to what is an infinitesimal speck by comparison.

Though there are several flaws in this objection, we shall attempt to answer them as succinctly as possible.

First of all, we should deal with the mistaken assumption that Hell is full of repentant souls. It is frequently asserted and almost always simply assumed that the souls in Hell now "get it." Only now it is too late for them to be sorry about what they've done. I defy anyone to prove that notion from Scripture. If the Bible gives us any indication of the attitude of the damned souls in Hell, it is that they continue to be sinful and unrepentant. This is in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Even though the rich man was suffering the fires of hell, he still though he was too good to speak to Lazarus directly. He even wants Abraham to command Lazarus to wait on his needs. I have been in countries where there still exists the strata of classes dividing servants from their bosses and it is common practice for the "help" to be spoken about, even in a derogatory manner, right in his or her presence and if he or she weren't present. I recognize this immediately in the rich man. We do not see him begging for forgiveness from Lazarus for his former contempt and mistreatment of him. No! He still feels that he is better than Lazarus and that it is not unreasonable that even in Hell he should have Lazarus wait on him.

It seems to be quite an unwarranted assumption that once people get to Hell they finally wake up and realize the error of their ways and that their torment consists in being too late to rectify things or to make amends. If we take this story as any kind of indication about the attitudes of the damned, then the objection evaporates instantly. Why is it unfair to eternally punish people who are going to continue eternally to shake their fists at God and refuse to admit their wrong?

But secondly, this objection belittles both God and sin. It belittles sin because it belittles God. A small view of sin is a direct result of a small view of God. God is infinite. God is the ultimate Good. Any action made against His prescribed will is, in its very essence, an affront to the infinite God, maker of heaven and earth. But the real kicker is this: God sees all men in one of two ways - either in Christ or in sin. If your sins are not covered by Christ then God, since He is eternal and infinite, must necessarily continue infinitely and eternally to see you in sin. Case closed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Patristic Covenant Theology

Dispensationalists like to throw around the term "Replacement Theology" in their diatribes against the classical Reformed framework, called Covenant Theology. In its simplest form, Covenant Theology is the belief that God has always had His Church, i.e., His elect people. In the Old Testament, this elect community was comprised mostly of Jews. In the New Testament, it is comprised of men and women from all nations. Hence the Dispensationalist label, "Replacement" Theology" is actually a libel. Nowhere is it ever asserted that the New Testament Church replaces Israel as God's chosen people. Rather, God's chosen people have been expanded beyond the boundaries of national Israel.

In my opening sentence, I mentioned that this is the classical Reformed theological framework. But truth be told, it is much older than the Reformation era.

It is quite clear that most of the Apostolic Fathers (the first generation of Church leaders and theologians after the death of the Apostles) saw the Church as the inheritors of the Old Testament prophetic promises. This, of course, is in keeping with what Paul writes in Galatians and Romans 4. The early Fathers clearly believed that they were keeping in line with the doctrine of the Apostles by understanding the Old Testament prophecies this way. This belief continued to be the norm of Christian thought until the rise of John Nelson Darby. Darby, as you may know, is the founder of the modern dispensationalist scheme of interpretation.

Here are a few sample of early patristic thought in this regard:

Justin Martyr writes: "Since God announced he would send a new covenant...we will not understand this of the old law and its proselytes, but of Christ and his proselytes, namely us Gentiles."
Irenaeus writes: "'But...the King has actually come...and has bestowed upon men the good things which were announced beforehand...By his advent he himself fulfilled all things, and still does fulfil in the church the new covenant foretold by the law."

Hippolytus, commenting on a passage in Isaiah says, "For it is not of the Jews that he spake of old, nor is it of the city of Zion, but of the church."

Even earlier than these, we find Clement of Rome exhorting the Corinthian church to humility and unity by an appeal to the lives of the saints and marytrs. Yet, who does he refer to? Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, Moses and David. Then, to drive home his point, he points to his own day and the martyrdom of Peter and Paul.

The whole arguement of chapter XIII of the Epistle of Barnabas is that the Church, not national Israel, is the heir of the covenant God made with Abraham.

Familiarity with Church History serves as a corrective and precaution against error. Had the Christians of yesteryear been familiar with the standard Christian understanding of Old Testament prophecy, Dispensationalism would never had gotten off the ground.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Athenagoras on Abortion, circa 177 AD

What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers? For we cannot eat human flesh till we have killed some one. The former charge, therefore, being false, if any one should ask them in regard to the second, whether they have seen what they assert, not one of them would be so barefaced as to say that he had. And yet we have slaves, some more and some fewer, by whom we could not help being seen; but even of these, not one has been found to invent even such things against us. For when they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly; who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism? Who does not reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of gladiators and wild beasts, especially those which are given by you? But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fÅ“tus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Predeterminate Plan and Foreknowledge

"But now how upside-down it is that it should be said that the cause of eternal foreknowledge is the occurrence of temporal things! But what else is it, to think that God foresees future things because they are going to happen, than to think that those things, once they have happened, are the cause of His highest providence?"

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book V

This destroys the Arminian concept of Divine foreknowledge, especially their notion of foreseen faith being the cause of election. Arminianism is wrong, among other reasons, because it puts the cart before the horse. It would have human actions be the cause of God's foreknowledge. Scripture NEVER teaches that God's foreknowledge is causative. The decree of God is causative. Acts 2:23 lists it as "determinate plan and foreknowledge," in that order. God's "determinate plan" is the cause of all things. His "foreknowledge" is simply His cognition of His own plan.

If I write a novel in which one of the characters steps on a banana peel, slides down the hall and falls down the stairs, I will know (indeed foreknow) that this is going to happen even before I read the book. But my knowledge of the incident is not the cause of it. The cause of it is my active will to write the story that way. To my mind, this goes a long way toward answering the question of evil in relation to God's sovereignty over all. If my hypothetical character goes on to shoot the person who discarded the banana peel, I, as the author, am not personally guilty of murder: the character is. Yet that character could not not kill the banana peel culprit. In this, perhaps weak analogy, there is, I think, a hint of the relation between God's decree of all events and personal human responsibility. Human responsibility is not at odds in any way with Divine sovereignty because it is in God's sovereignty that He made men responsible to Him.

Looking back on the quotation from Boethius, the thought that occurs to me is this: God does not decree because He foreknows; rather, He foreknows because He has decreed. Herein lies the reason why so many people reject the doctrine of the Divine decree: it belittles man. God gets all the credit for man's faith, salvation and eternal share in glory. We should be immediately suspicious on any theological system which makes the will and power of finite man the hinge upon which God's plan turns.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Calvinist Continuists?

Recently I was perusing a well-known systematic theology when I come across a rather large section dealing with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Mind you the book is not authored by one who would consider himself a Pentecostal. But I was amazed at how tainted by Pentecostalism this man's thinking was. He argues vehemently against the Cessationist position, whilst claiming to be "Reformed" (broadly defined). I have quoted from Warfield more than once that the Continuist position of Rome with regard to the supernatural gifts was one of the things for which the Reformers earned the name "Protestants. So, it is quite bewildering to me to see someone claiming to be Reformed, yet eager-beaver to defend the full gamut of Pentecostalist "gifts."

What perplexed me most of all was his way of handling the gift of prophecy. He essentially argues that prophecy in our day happens exactly like it did in Old Testament times, yet it does not carry the same authority. Somehow or other, God has decided to let the human mouthpiece taint the message more than the Prophets and Apostles. So now we have prophecy that is true, yet not necessarily accurate. What amazes me about this definition is that this is EXACTLY the same position taken by the Liberal Theologians of yesteryear regarding the Bible. Moreover, this brave defender of Scripture and its inspiration and authority has, with this definition, effectively destroyed the foundation for both.

If, in our day, God can allow humans to color revelation in such a way as to remove its absolute authority and inspiration, how pray tell, can we have any certainty that He wasn't making revelations this same way during the writing of the Bible? If Brother Billy Dwayne can inject something of himself into his prophecy so as to lessen its accuracy, and thereby its authority, how do I know that St. Paul didn't do the same thing? If Pastor Wayne can be inspired to give a direct revelation by God, which we are not allowed to inscripturate as a new New Testament, how do we know that Titus or 3 John has a higher form of inspiration?

This is one of many reasons that I hold to a strict form of Cessationism. Considering passages like Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18, 19, I wonder how people expect to escape the wrath of God when they hold such an abominably low view of inspiration.

Lest one be tempted to think that I am misrepresenting the Pentecostalist or Charismatic view of prophecy, let me tell you that I met an Assemblies of God pastor in Amboy, Illinois who told me personally that he was part of a team of Pentecostal scholars (ain't that a kick in the head!) who were compiling prophecies that had been given over the last decade or so, to be published as a special section in the back of a new Pentecostal Bible. They were going to publish a Bible with contemporary prophecies included. I want to know who gets included among this illustrious group of prophets? Who makes the call that you are one of them? And who decides which prophecies of yours get included? I defy anyone, including the author of the famed Systematic Theology to prove: A) That these Pentecostalists are not being consistent with their own principles, B) That this is not a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture, C) That any type of Continuism does not eventually lead here, and D) That the Biblical doctrines of the authority and inspiration of Scripture are not hereby destroyed.

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