Friday, August 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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

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

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

Teaching of Augustine of Hippo

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

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

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

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

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

Augustine explained as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

John Owen on the Unevangelized

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Doctrine of Regeneration, Part 2

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

(4) The Method of the New Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Comfort in Chaos: How God's Wrath Preserves His People

Let me ask a few questions: 

Where is Christ in Nahum?
Why do we assume Christ is in Nahum?
Why does the Church stay away from teaching on books like Nahum?
How can its value be communicated?How are we to think about God's wrath?
Who are some of God’s enemies?
How do we handle those who oppose God’s kingdom and its values?
How does the message of Judgment affect your view of sin and of the unregenerate?

These questions and more are answered in my book Comfort in Chaos: A Study of Nahum ( Throughout the study, which is part exegesis, exposition, commentary, and devotional, special attention will be given to a Christ-centered understanding of Nahum. We frequently shy away from any discussion of God's wrath. But Nahum teaches us that God wrath actually preserves His people. 

A Facebook page has been created to promote, discuss, and answer any questions regarding the book. 

Pick up a copy today at: Comfort in Chaos. (Kindle format)

The Church's Favorite Flower - my book.

What did the Church Fathers (the leaders of the Church during the first several centuries of Church history) say regarding the doctrine commonly known as the "Five Points" of Calvinism (also known as TULIP)? 

This is an important question. One need only peruse the writings of the Reformers, i.e., Luther, Calvin, etc., to see the importance of the writings of the Church Fathers. The Reformers affirmed over and over again that they were standing in the stream of historic Christian doctrine. 

This book, The Church's Favorite Flower, which is loosely based on my Master of Divinity thesis, answers that question. I examine the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints, first defining these doctrines from Scripture, then demonstrate by a multitude of Patristic citations, that the Reformers were not innovators. The doctrines of the Reformers were the doctrines of the early Church's primary theologians.

I have a Facebook page for the book:, which is intended for discussion about the book and any updates. I will occasionally post excerpts and will be happy to answer any questions about the book, at the Facebook page.

The book is available in Kindle format, which can be downloaded to a Kindle device, to a PC or smartphone using the free Kindle app. It is reasonably priced and will provide the reader with a wealth of quotes from the Church Fathers.

The Doctrine of Regeneration, Part 1


Regeneration is a picture word. It means 2nd birth. It denotes a new beginning of life. That’s why the Bible uses as illustrations ideas such as resurrection from the dead, creation, and birth. Before looking at these ideas, I’d like to give a brief, succinct definition of the word. “Regeneration is that supernatural act of God, whereby a new and divine life is infused into the person spiritually dead, and that from the incorruptible seed of God, made fruitful by the infinite power of the Spirit.”

We must begin by realizing that we are all dead in Adam. This is what we are taught in 1 Corinthians 15:22* and Ephesians 2:1. This means, first of all, we are separated from God – the life of our life, or the language of Paul, “alienated from the life of God.” (Ephesians 4:18) secondly, we are spiritually insensible to all spiritual things and destitute of all true feeling. We are unaware that we are heavily laden because we are in our element in sin (Ephesians 4:19). Therefore we have no relish or desire for truly spiritual and heavenly things. Thirdly, we are incapable of any act of true life. Acknowledging as Scripture does, that we are dead in sins and trespasses prior to regeneration, it should go without saying that we are incapable of any act of true life – in the words of Paul “not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

*in Adam all—in union of nature with Adam, as representative head of mankind in their fall.
in Christ … all—in union of nature with Christ, the representative head of mankind in their recovery. The life brought in by Christ is co-extensive with the death brought in by Adam.

As J.I. Packer notes in his book 18 Words, it is our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus that provides us with a theology of regeneration in crystallized form. John 3:3-8 is crucial to a biblical understanding of the doctrine of regeneration. From Christ’s teaching we can extract for major components of the doctrine of Regeneration. They are as follows: (1) The Source of the New Birth; (2) The Nature of the New Birth; (3) The Necessity of the New Birth; (4) The Method of the New Birth.

We will look at these 4 points in turn. First of all we have the source of the new birth. Jesus’ own words are, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” If you have ever done any word studies on this verse, you will know that the word rendered “again” is purposely ambiguous in the Greek, and can be translated either “again” or “from above.” Unlike your first birth, rebirth is a vertical matter. It comes from above. What does that even mean? The obvious answer to that question is that regeneration is supernatural, as opposed to natural. It is something miraculous; it is something heavenly. It is not commonplace or biological. You’ll remember that later in that conversation Jesus says, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Regeneration is a heavenly thing. In order to express something supernatural in language that man can understand, i.e. a metaphor, Christ chose the image of birth to communicate something divine to man’s finite mind . The moral of the lesson is this: God is the source of the new birth. We are told in James 1:17 that every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights. Every blessing, whether it be spiritual or physical in nature, comes from above, comes from the hand of God. Regeneration is no exception. Salvation in all of its constituent parts is God’s work. As we are told in Jonah 2:9, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

Because regeneration is a miracle, a new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from the dead, only God can regenerate. “God has saved us and called us with a holy calling not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9). This verse is Paul’s version of Psalm 100:3, “is he that has made us and not we ourselves.” In the prologue of his gospel, John argues the same way. He says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The new birth is not the product of human lineage, nor is it the result of human relationship, nor is it the result of a human decision. Man is born, “of God.” The preposition “of” denotes the source or origin. People are not again, people are not regenerated as a result of something they do, but solely on the basis of God’s will and power.

(2) The Nature of the New Birth

What then, is the nature of the new birth? Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a 2nd time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus was puzzled by the nature of the new birth. It is obvious by his question that he is thinking of regeneration in terms of the birth process. Jesus uses a word (gennao) that refers to the concept of generational descent. In other words, Jesus is not focusing on the experience of birth but on the fact that the father’s nature is passed on to his child. What happens in a new birth? What kind of birth is it? It is a birth in which the divine nature is imparted into the soul. Jesus said that your first birth reproduced in you the nature of your parents. That is what is meant by the words “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The 2nd birth, i.e. Regeneration implants within you the divine nature. That is what is meant by the words “and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In the same way that children possess the nature of their parents, God’s children possess a new nature, is a spiritual and divine nature which they are given when they are born again. It is clear then from this argument that regeneration is something supernatural. It is something which only the Holy Spirit can do in the nature of the human heart.

Our regeneration and communion with Christ consists in conformity with these two public acts of Christ: in a mortification of the body of sin in conformity to His death – a putting to death of the “body of sin;” in conformity to His resurrection, a “newness of life,” by quickening grace.

 (3) The Necessity of the New Birth

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Regeneration is necessary because people are born in Original Sin, by nature totally depraved. No one can be saved without the new birth. The Greek word Δεῖ, translated “must,” signifies logical necessity. By using such a strong term Jesus is indicating that regeneration is essential, imperative, absolutely necessary for salvation. Notice that Jesus does not tell Nicodemus to do anything in order to be born again. “You must be born again” is simply a statement of fact. It is not a command. It is what theologians call and indicative, or declarative sentence. It is not an imperative sentence. We can easily summarize the whole passage like this: Regeneration is not something that any man can do, because flash can only produce flesh. It is a work of God’s Spirit, like the wind blows when and where he pleases. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “Regeneration is a necessity, but neither you nor anyone other man can cause the happen, even if you could think of the way to return to your mother’s womb. Only God can perform this work.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Christ

Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:33-34, 44-46

What might these Old Testament passages have been? We can easily speculate about many, but the Apostles’ preaching tips us off to what some of them must have been. But one thing is certain, this central feature of the Gospel, i.e., the work of Christ the Mediator – including His death and resurrection, is clearly held by Christ and the Apostles to be the central message of the Old Testament. That should impact the way we view, read, and handle the OT.

All of God's covenant promises to His people from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David are centered on and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. If we aren't interpreting Scripture on the grounds of redemptive history through the framework of God's covenant of grace with us in Christ, then we are mishandling Scripture.

After Jesus' resurrection, we told His disciples that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Moreover, He included the Psalms - not just the prophetic portions of Scripture that we naturally associate with Christ.

It is therefore of utmost importance to remember that Scripture is God’s self-revelation. Since the Fall all revelation from God is of grace, which means that God’s self-revelation is mediated through the Redeemer. Hence, we should always bear in mind that Christ is the “star,” or “hero,” if you will, of the whole Bible. The human players and their circumstances are merely the backdrop for God’s revelation of Himself. Scripture then, must always be read as a direct communication of God’s covenant grace to s mediated through Christ. That’s why Christ can say what He does in Luke 24. Moreover, the Divine intention must always be uppermost in our minds as we read. If we reduce the meaning of Scripture to merely the human authorial intention – and treat it like we would “any other book or text”, we have already begun with a set of presuppositions that falsify the nature of Scripture itself. And it is not sufficient methodologically to say that we are studying it like a book, yet we know that it is more.

(1 Peter 1:10-12 slide) Notice that this text locates the inquiry of the prophets in terms of what the Spirit of Christ in them (pre-Pentecost) was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ. This is as much as to say that it was Christ first and foremost who was predicted His own sufferings through His inspiration in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. It also informs us that God’s intention in the revelation of His grace superseded what the prophets may have immediately understood from their own historical vantage point and context, which is why they diligently inquired what Christ was revealing about Himself. This of what Peter says in Acts 2 about David. He says he (David) was (a) a prophet, and (b) he knew that God had promised him a Son who would rule God’s people forever. 

We all know that many of the Psalms are Messianic; hence it is Christ who is speaking through the inspired prophetic utterance of David. Even when David is describing his own personal experience, the Psalm, though literally true of David, has a much fuller meaning and fulfillment in Christ. 

Often, when God speaks in the Psalms to David, it is clear that God is actually addressing Christ as David’s greater Son, and by addressing Christ in this way, God reiterates His covenant of grace to David as the representative king over God’s people. Psalm 89 is a case of this. Several verses can only apply to Christ as King over God’s people, while others clearly apply to David. In fact, verses 36-38 contrast Christ’s everlasting Kingdom with David’s which would come to an end.

A prophecy that was used by the apostles when they first began proclaiming Christ's resurrection is found in Psalm 16 (note Acts 2:25-28; 13:35-37). 

But then He prays: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:9-11). These verses speak poetically first of His burial, then His descent in the spirit into Hades, followed by His return into His body resting in the tomb before decay could begin, then His resurrection and ascension into heaven to be seated at the Father's right hand. This verse, incidentally, contains the first of 21 references in the Bible to His present position at the right hand of God the Father.

According to Peter (Ac 2:25 - For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken) and Paul (Ac 13:35 - Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’), this Psalm relates to Christ and expresses the feelings of His human nature, in view of His sufferings and victory over death and the grave, including His subsequent exaltation at the right hand of God. Some more recent expositors have held that the Psalm relates exclusively to David; but this view is plainly contradicted by the apostles. Others have held that the language of the Psalm is applicable to David as a type of Christ, and therefore capable of the higher sense assigned it in the New Testament. But again, the language of verse 10 can’t be used of David in any sense, for "he saw corruption." 

There are also a number of types in the Old Testament that speak of Christ's death and resurrection and were so applied by New Testament writers.

The story of Abraham and Isaac was thus referred to in Hebrews 11:17,19. "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac . . . his only begotten son. . . . Accounting that God was able to raise him. . . from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." In this passage, the writer is comparing Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac to the heavenly Father offering His Son, with Isaac's return comparable in type to Christ's resurrection.

With reference to Jonah, the Lord Jesus Himself made the analogy: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).

There are others, both types and specific prophecies, but the ones discussed above seem the most directly applicable. Even these are often open to other interpretations. It is obviously easier to interpret most prophecies after their fulfillment than before. Even the disciples of Christ seem to have been caught unawares by His resurrection, in spite of their obvious knowledge of the Scriptures.

Yet they could have and should have known what was coming. This fact is evident from the rebuke Christ gave to two disciples as they walked together on the road to Emmaus. "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:25-27).

Even if they were uncertain about the meaning of the Scriptures, however, they had many direct prophecies from Christ Himself. Just after Peter made his great confession of the deity of Christ (Matthew 16:16), we read that "from that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must . . . be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matthew 16:21; see also John 2:19; Matthew 17:22, 23; 20:17-19; 26:32; John 10:17, 18; etc.).

But whatever reasons they may have been able to give for their own blindness, we today have no excuse at all if we reject Him and His victorious physical resurrection after His death for our sins. We have all the information they had, and far more, since we have the complete Bible, vindicated and verified by almost 2000 years of Christian history, and by all the internal and external evidences of its divine inspiration and authority.

In fact, the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are so important that they constitute the very heart of the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

The veracity of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is: 

1st of all evident from the history of the resurrection recorded in Matt 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. 

2nd it is confirmed by the testimony (1) of the angels (Matt 28:117; Luke 24:7), (2) of the enemies who guarded the grave (Matt 28:11), and (3) of the apostles, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32); “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33); “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead” (2 Tim 2:8).

3rd: Multiple appearances to disciples 

First, The resurrection of Christ is the meritorious cause of the saints’ resurrection. It completed His satisfaction, and finished His payment. That’s why our justification is properly assigned to it. (Romans 4:25 - who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification). “Our deliverance put into motion was in His death; but was finished in His resurrection. This is why our justification or absolution from debts is ascribed by Paul not to His death but resurrection.” - Maccovius 

His resurrection attested to the acceptability of His atonement. 1 Corinthians 15 hangs the certainty of the Christian faith on the resurrection.

Secondly, As it is the meritorious cause of our resurrection, so it is the efficient cause of it also. When the day comes that the saint shall rise, they will be raised by Christ, their Head, because He is their effective Principle of life. “Your life is hid with Christ in God,” says Col. 3:3. You’ll notice that Paul makes Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection interchangeable, reasoning forward, from Christ’s to ours; and back again from ours to his, 1 Cor. 15: 12, 13. This is also the sense of Romans 8: 10, 11. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” i.e. Though you are really united to Christ by the Spirit, yet your bodies must die as well as other men’s; but your souls will instantly, upon your death, be swallowed up in life. And then it follows in verse 11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” i.e. though your bodies must die, yet they will live again in the resurrection; and this is by virtue of the Spirit of Christ that dwells in you, and is the bond of your union with Christ, your Head. 

Thirdly, Christ’s resurrection is not only the meritorious and efficient cause, but it is also the exemplary cause or pattern of our resurrection. Phil. 3: 21. “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” The conformity of our resurrection to Christ’s consists in the following: 

His body was raised substantially the same; so will ours. 

His body was raised first; so will ours be raised before the rest of the dead. 

His body was wonderfully improved by the resurrection; so will ours. 

His body was raised to be glorified; and so will ours.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) on “When Did God Choose Us?”

The Holy Spirit hath not thought this consideration worthy to be neglected, and therefore we may not pass it over untouched. Forasmuch as it doth always appear that there be some elect, lest men should fall to reasoning in the Church when God doth choose His elect, and lest that opinion should take effect, which do suppose even as we men are wont to do, that He chooseth none but them which be presently living, and better than the rest: the Apostle did in express words set forth this particle, saying, “Who chose us before that the foundations of the world was laid.” And yet there was no man before that the world was made. He chose us therefore before we were: so that there can be no occasion for the elect to boast them of. What difference was there betwixt us before the beginning of our nature? Surely, none at all, but the same whereby God himself did distinct betwixt us before we were existent.

This consideration doth commend unto us the wonderful purpose of God, wherein He determined with Himself upon our salvation before He made the world. For what else is it to choose and elect men that be not, but to foresee and appoint upon their salvation before they were born? It is an incredible matter how great and assurance of salvation there resteth in the hearts of the faithful, of that that they do believe, that God had a care of them before the world was made, and that they were chosen by Him unto salvation, before that they were. Hereupon they go gather most assuredly that God cannot forsake them after they be made existent, whom He chose and appointed unto salvation before they were existent, and before the world was made.

Common Places of the Christian Religion, Wolfgang Musculus

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Brief Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part 3

1. The Fatherhood of God:
Countless passages in the Gospels where Christ refers to “the Father.”

2. The Deity of the Incarnate Son:
John 1:1
John 20:28
Phil. 2:6
Titus 2:13
Jer. 23:5-6
Heb. 1:8

3. Personhood and Deity of the Holy Spirit:
Gen. 1:2; 6:3;
Luke 12:12;
Acts 5:3-4; 8:29; 13:2
John 15:26
1 Cor. 2:10; 3:16; 6:19

Works ascribed to the Trinity

Father: Gen. 1:1
Son: Col. 1:16
Holy Spirit: Job 26:13; Ps. 33:6; 104:30
Luke 1:35
Inauguration of Christ’s Ministry (Baptism was fulfillment of High Priest’s washing)
Mat. 3:16-17
Heb. 9:14
Father: Acts 2:23
Son: John 10:17-18
Holy Spirit: Rom. 1:4; 8:11
1 Peter 1:2
John 14:15-23

A. The Three Persons are co-equal
   1. There is no rank
      a. Our use of the terms “first, second, third” Persons does not mean that the Father is higher, more glorious, more exalted, more powerful than the Son or the HS (John 5:23, that all men honor the Son).
      b. Because the Trinity is the perfect union of love there is no rivalry for supremacy
    2. Therefore, we are to understand that the Father, the Son and the HS are equally God and equally to be worshipped. Thus we reject all subordinationism within the Godhead. None is above another, or under another.
B. The Three Persons are co-eternal
    1. There is no temporal sequence
      a. In our families, the father is older than the son, and the grandson is younger than the son, but the Trinity is not like that.
      b. Our use of the terms “first, second, third” Persons does not mean that the Father was before the Son, and the Son was before the HS.
    2. All three Persons, then, are eternal, co-eternal
      a. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the HS is eternal; none are created, none have a beginning.
      b. This must be the case if God is love: the Father was Father eternally; He never was without His Son, and He always loved His Son in the HS.
C. The Three Persons are co-essential or con-substantial
    1. This means that the Three Persons are of the same essence, being or substance
      a. It is not true that the Father is of the divine essence, but the Son and HS are of a different, although similar, essence.
       b. The Father, the Son and the HS are one, true, eternal and Almighty God
    2. This means that they possess the entire being or essence of God together
      a. They share equally the divine being so that the Father, Son and HS are in one another, and are inseparable from one another. This is what the Greek theologians called the perichoresis.
      b. It is false to say that the Father is 1/3 part God, the Son is 1/3 part God and the HS is 1/3 part God.

THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS (personal properties of Father, Son and HS)
A. How do they relate within the Godhead?
1. The Father begets or generates the Son
   a. Begetting is a father’s action: “X begat Y and Y begat Z, etc” The Father is not begotten, He begets.
    1) Begetting is not the same as creating. The Father does not create the Son. He begets Him. That is why the Bible calls Jesus the only begotten Son; He stands in a unique relationship to the Father.
    2) Begetting is an act of love whereby the Father brings forth one who is of the same essence as the
Father but is personally distinct from Him.
b. But the begetting of the Father is eternal
     1) This is different from our begetting: a human father begets a son who comes after him, and is younger than he is; such a human father exists before his son, but the Father and the Son always existed together. Prov. 8:22
    2) The Father can never be without the Son; John 1:1
2. The Son is begotten of the Father
a. The Son is begotten; not made; not created. He always was in the Father’s bosom (John 1:1, 1:18, 8:58)
b. The Son does not beget, because He is not the Father. He is begotten!
3. The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son (Filioque)
a. The word “Spirit” means breath. The HS is the breath of God, which the Father breathes forth in love to the Son and the Son breathes forth in love to the Father. This breathing forth is called “procession.” The Spirit proceeds. The Spirit is the bond of perfect love between the Father and the Son.
b. The Spirit does not beget (He is not Father); He is not begotten (He is not Son); He is not made or created (He is not a creature), but He proceeds from the Father and the Son. See John 15:26
c. What is the difference between being begotten and proceeding? Who can tell? The HS comes forth from the Father and the Son in a different way in which the Son comes forth from the Father.
d. This procession is eternal. The Father eternally begets the Son; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Father and Son together eternally breathe forth the Spirit so that the HS eternally proceeds.
B. This begetting, being begotten, proceeding is the loving fellowship of God in Himself.
1. The three persons dwell in close, intimate fellowship and communion of love
a. The Father loves the Son in the HS, and the Son loves the Father in the HS.
c. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father by the Holy Spirit (John 10:37-38; 14:10-11).

d. The Father seeks after, delights in and gives Himself to the Son in the Holy Spirit and the Son seeks after, delights in and gives Himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

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