Site Meter
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|

Steve Lawson

(115 posts)

John Calvin’s Work Ethic

I picked up Steve Lawson’s little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin late last night and got about half-way through it before falling asleep. Calvin’s life is a monument to God in many ways. One of the things that impresses me about him is his incredible work ethic, driven by his passion for his calling to preach the Word. [Calvin’s] drivenness can been in his letter to one Monsieur de Falais in 1546: “Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.” It should be noted that Calvin had preached a mere twenty sermons that month and given only twelve lectures. He was hardly the idle servant he imagined himself to be. —Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 45. It can hardly be disputed that Calvin drove himself harder than was wise, and his health suffered for it. Yet such was his passion for preaching and teaching the Word that he simply could not do nothing, even when bedridden. Theodore Beza wrote of him, “He had no expression more frequently on his lips than that life would be bitter to him if spent in indolence.” Lawson writes: Eventually, Calvin did become an invalid, but he had himself carried to church on a stretcher in order to preach. —Ibid., 48. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to call in sick. This is a great little book that could easily be read in one or two sittings, and I encourage every pastor to read it. However, this is not just a book for pastors. We all need encouragement and inspiration to be passionate and diligent in our pursuit of God and his Word.

“founding our hopes on his promises”

Let us learn, therefore, not to become drunk on our foolish hopes. Rather, let us hope in God and in God’s promises, and we will never be deceived. But if we base our hopes on our own presumptuousness, God will strip everything away. This is one of our most essential doctrines, since human nature is so driven by presumptuousness. For we are so influenced by insupportable pride that God is forced to punish us harshly. We think we are so much higher than God that we ought to be more powerful than God. Consequently, seeing how inclined we are toward this vice, all the more ought we to pay heed to what Micah says here: that we must not rest content with the thought that whatever happens will happen. Rather, we must realize that so long as God’s hand is upon us, we are condemned to be miserable. For there is no other cure shy of our returning to God and founding our hopes on his promises. Therein lies our surest remedy, equal to any and all disasters that might befall us. —John Calvin, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 106–107.

Wanted: Luthers & Calvins

Monday··2007·10·29 · 3 Comments
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gift of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is one more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the alter, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. . . . I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to receive and bless His churches. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 132–133.

Calvin on Thursday

I hang my head in shame; I have failed to read my quota of Calvin (or almost anything else) this week. So rather than read Calvin, I’m going to tell you why you should read Calvin. Oh, heck, I’m not even going to do that. I’m going to let Steve Lawson tell you as he discusses his little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin.

Marks of Authentic Revival

Among the books read but not blogged last year is The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steve Lawson. The Great Awakening, of which most of you are likely to have heard at least a little, was a movement that took place in the American Colonies in the early 1740s. Through the preaching of pastors and evangelists such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, thousands were led to repentance and faith in Christ. The Spirit of God was clearly at work in an extraordinary way. People being what they are, however, the movement was not without attending problems. Along with the emotions such a movement would naturally and properly incite came emotionalism. In response to that emotionalism came questions and challenges to the legitimacy of the awakening. The theologians of Yale College were divided between supporters of the movement and those who, due to the accompanying excesses, opposed it. Jonathan Edwards supported the awakening, but recognized the reality of counterfeit revivals. In his commencement address at Yale in 1741, in which he expressed his support for the movement, he also addressed the nature of true revival. Steve Lawson writes, In an exposition of John 4:16, Edwards identified five marks by which an authentic work of the Spirit is to be recognized. Such a true work, he said, (1) raises [peoples] esteem of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world, (2) leads them to turn from their corruptions and lusts to the righteousness of God, (3) increases their regard for Holy Scripture, (4) establishes their minds in the objective truths of revealed religion, and (5) evokes genuine love for God and man. Each of these, he believed, was present in the awakening. The message was published a month later under the title The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741) and was given wide circulation. Steve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 13.

Contemplating Death

Jonathan Edwards (via Steve Lawson) on death as a sanctifying agent: To help himself value his time, Edwards determined to keep an eye on the final hour of his lifethe hour in which he would stand on the threshold of his entrance into the presence of God. In resolution 7, Edwards vowed: 7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.    This resolution was primarily intended to help Edwards in the mortification of his sin. He anticipated that asking himself whether he would engage in a particular activity if he had only one hour to live would help him steer clear of temptation. He was persuaded he would not want to pass into Gods presence after committing any sin. If he could say that he ought to avoid it at any point in his Christian walk. This perspective would restrain his sinful thoughts, activities, and words. Edwards often found much sanctifying value in focusing on the certainty of his death. When combating worldly thoughts, he wrote in his diary: Sabbath morning, Sept. 1. When I am violently beset with worldly thought, for a relief, to think of death, and the doleful circumstances of it. Thoughts of death turned his mind to eternal realities, making worldly temptations of the moment seem empty and unattractive. Living as if he was in his last hour helped him keep sinful things at a distance. Thoughts of death also helped Edwards keep a proper perspective on possessions. In his diary, he asked himself a probing question: Monday, Feb.3. Let every thing have the value now which it will have upon a sick bed; and frequently, in my pursuits of whatever kind, let this question come into my mind. How much shall I value this upon my death-bed? Edwards believed that contemplating his deathbed scene forced him to value what was most important in the present.    Contemplating his death even helped Edwards prepare himself for death. Edwards recorded: Friday morning, July 5. Last night, when thinking what I should wish I had done, that I had not done, if I was then to die; I thought I should wish, That I had been more importunate with God to fit me for death, and lead me into all truth, and that I might not be deceived about the state of my soul. Though Edwards wrote these words as a teenager, in the full bloom of life, he wanted to be prepared to meet his Lord with His approval. Focusing upon the end of life had the effect of helping Edwards prioritize what was most important in his life. This perspective restrained his sinful thoughts, activities, and words. Further, it helped him choose the highest ends in life. Not all choices in the use of his time were between good and evil. Some of the most difficult choices were between good, better and best. Always living as if he were at the end of his life caused him to live for what is best, the glory of God. Steve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 9698.

A Sweet Discipline

Steve Lawson on Jonathan Edwards disciplined devotion to Scripture and the sweet reward it yielded: Edwards also strictly regimented himself in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, such as Bible study, theological readings, meditation, prayer, and singing. Such spiritual disciplines are necessary for spiritual health; as Donald Whiney writes, they promote intimacy with Christ and conformity (both internal and external) to Christ. For this reason, Edwards gave himself to spiritual disciplines with great diligence. We see a clear manifestation of this discipline in resolution 28: 28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same. . . . Edwards disciplined approach to Scripture was by no means drudgery for him. To the contrary, Bible intake delighted him because it yielded the knowledge of God. I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt an harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited in every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders. Steve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 113114.

Divine Justice

In spite of the clarity with which Scripture addresses this topic, many professing Christians today struggle with acceptance of Gods sovereigntyespecially when it comes to His electing work in salvation. Their most common protest, of course, is that the doctrine of election is unfair. But such an objection stems from a human idea of fairness rather than the objective, divine understanding of true justice. In order to appropriately address the issue of election, we must set aside all human considerations and focus on the nature of God and His righteous standard. Divine justice is where the discussion must begin. What is divine justice? Simply stated, it is an essential attribute of God whereby He infinitely, perfectly, and independently does exactly what He wants to do when and how He wants to do it. Because He is the standard of divine justice, by very definition, whatever He does is inherently just. As William Perkins said, many years ago, We must not think that God doeth a thing because it is good and right, but rather is the thing good and right because God willeth and worketh it. Therefore, God defines for us what justice is, because He is by nature just and righteous, and what He does reflects that nature. His free willand nothing elseis behind His justice. This means that whatever He wills is just; and it is just, not by any external standard of justice, but simply because He wills it. Because the justice of God is an outflow of His character, it is not subject to fallen human assumptions of what justice should be. The Creator owes nothing to the creature, not even what He is graciously pleased to give. God does not act out of obligation or compulsion, but out of his own independent prerogative. That is what it means to be God. And because He is God, His freely determined actions are intrinsically right and perfect. To say that election is unfair is not only inaccurate, it fails to recognize the very essence of true fairness. That which is fair, right, and just is that which God wills to do. Thus, if God wills to choose those whom he will save, it is inherently fair for him to do so. We cannot impose our own ideas of fairness onto our understanding of Gods working. Instead, we must go to the Scriptures to see how God Himself, in his perfect righteousness, decides to act. from John MacArthurs forward to Steve Lawsons Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 89.

They Want to Sin

Let men therefore acknowledge that since they are born of Adam, they are depraved creatures and therefore can conceive only sinful thoughts until they are transformed by Christs work and are remade by His Spirit into a new life. It should not be doubted that the Lord declares the very mind of man to be depraved and altogether infected with sin, so that all the thoughts that proceed from his mind are evil. If the foundation itself has such a defect, it follows that all mans affections are evil, and his deeds covered with the same polution. . . . For since their mind is corrupted with contempt of God, pride, self-love, and ambitious hypocrisy, all their thoughts are contaminated with the same vices. . . . The very affections of nature, which in themselves are laudable, are vitiated by original sin . . . men are born evil. It shows that as soon as they are old enough to think, they already have radically corrupt minds . . . depravity pervades all our senses. . . . God is not to be blamed for this. The origin of this disease stems from the defection of the first man, because of whom the order of the creation was subverted. . . . although all rush to do evil acts, no one is forced into this except by the direct inclination of their own hearts. When they sin, they do so because they want to sin. John Calvin quoted in Steve Lawsons Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 59.

God Clothed Them

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Genesis 3:21* Steve Lawson comments on the symbolic picture of the future death of Christ for His chosen ones seen in the passage above: The Lord Himself killed an innocent animal and made coverings for the nakedness and guilt of Adam and Eve. This was the first death in Gods newly created worlda slain sacrifice. This animal was killed at the hands of God Himself, and He provided its skin freely for the first couple as an expression of His saving grace. Their garments of skin represented Gods provision for restoring Adams and Eves relationship with Himself. This bloody sacrifice pictured the coming of Christ into the world to redeem His people. Gods Son would be the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of His people (John 1:29, 36). His sacrifice alone would provide a covering for the exposed nakedness of Adam and Eves guilt. In explaining this substitutionary death, Boice points out that it symbolized the shed blood and perfect righteousness of Christ. Boice writes: In order to make clothes of skin, God had to kill animals. It was the first death Adam and Eve had witnessed, as far as we know. It must have seemed horrible to them and have made an indelible impression. So this is what death is; this is what sin causes, they must have exclaimed. But even more important, the death of the animals must have taught them the principle of substitution, the innocent dying for the guilty, just as the innocent Son of God would one day die for the sins of those God was giving to him. When God clothed our first parents in the animals skins, Adam and Eve must have had at least a first faint glimmer of the doctrine of imputed righteousness. . . . God saved Adam and Eve from their sins by clothing them in the heavenly righteousness of Jesus Christ, which he symbolized by their being clothed with skins of animals. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 64. * Ive covered this before: An Epitome of the Gospel.

Sovereign Election in Exodus

Divine justice plays no part in sovereign election. It is all of Gods mercy. Gods choice of undeserving sinners for salvation is an expression of His sovereign will and free grace. God does not owe salvation to any sinner. Saving grace is entirely unmerited; no sinful creature has any claim to it. All that sinful man rightly deserves is divine condemnation. So the lost human race desperately needs what it does not deserve. But because grace is a gift, God is free to bestow it upon whom He pleases without violating His justice. As He is absolutely sovereign, He chooses which sinners He will save: I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Exodus 33:19b In this passage, God says nothing about His justice. He speaks only of His mercy. These two divine attributesjustice and mercybelong to totally different categories. Election is always a matter of sovereign mercy, not justice. Without any obligation to bestow grace upon any individual, God shows Himself to be infinitely loving by choosing to show mercy upon some. Grasping the profundity of this verse, John MacArthur writes, God is absolutely sovereign and does elect who will be saved without violating His other attributes. He determines who receives mercy. Albert Barnes adds, Jehovah declares His own will to be the ground of the grace which He is going to show the nation. St. Paul applies these words to the election of Jacob in order to overthrow the self-righteous boasting of the Jews (Rom. 9:15). The point is clearGod chooses by sovereign mercy whom He will save. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 80.

Definite Atonement in Leviticus

I cant help wondering: how do those who object to the doctrine of Definite (or, as in the TULIP, Limited) Atonement deal with the very specific and limited atonement provided by the Levitical priesthood? The high priest of Israel alone entered the Holy of Holies to represent Gods people. His intercession for Israel pictured the particular death of Christ on behalf of the elect of God: Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil. . . . Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. Leviticus 16:1516 Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest of Israel entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. As he approached, he carried with him on his shoulders the badge and the engraved stones that were representative of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. As he stepped into the Holy of Holies, he was representing the people of Godnot the Canaanites, Egyptians, or Babylonians. He ministered on behalf of those chosen by God, making atonement for their sin. All this prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ, who would be the High Priest exclusively for His people. It was not for the entire world that Christ made atonement, for if He had, all the world would be saved. Rather, Christ atoned for all who ultimately will be saved, those chosen by the Father. In eternity past, the names of the elect were etched upon Christs heart, and upon the cross the Father transferred their sins to Him. As the Great High Priest of God, Jesus stood before the Father on their behalf, not the worlds (John 17:9) Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 8889.

Definite Atonement in Numbers

Thursday··2012·08·09 · 2 Comments
The only saving remedy for mans helpless state in sin is the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Upon the cross, the Lord Jesus became sin for His people so that they might receive salvation in Him. This substitutionary death was prefigured in the wilderness in the bronze serpent that God told Moses to make and put upon a pole. It was a saving remedy not intended for the surrounding nations of the world, but exclusively for Israel. If the people of God would look, they would be saved: Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:69 By His grace, God provided a saving remedy for the sinning Israelites who had been bitten by the fiery serpents He had sent in His judgment. These poisonous snakes administered a lethal bite that ministered deatha picture of the deadly venom of sin. But God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a standard. When it was raised up, all who looked to it by faith were saved. According to Christs own words, this bronze serpent was a picture of His vicarious death upon the cross (John 3:1415). It portrayed the necessity of looking to Christ in personal, saving faith for salvation. Seeing this intended connection between the bronze serpent and Christ, James Montgomery Boice writes, In the same way, we are to look to Christs cross. We have been bitten by sin, as they were bitten. We are dying of sin, as they were dying. God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin that we might believe on Him and not perish. . . . This is the heart of Christianity. God has provided salvation for you in Jesus Christ. Upon the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ became sin for all who will believe upon Him. The bronze serpent was not intended for the Canaanites or the Egyptians, who lived and died in unbelief. Rather, it was exclusively for Gods people, who looked and lived. So it is with the death of Christ. He died for His people, for all who would put their trust in Him. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 9293.

Irresistible Call in Deuteronomy

Friday··2012·08·10 · 1 Comments
In Deuteronomy, Moses also taught the fourth main heading of the doctrines of graceGods irresistible call. Hundreds of years before Moses, God commanded Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household. For Israel, circumcision was a picture of what God must do to the unconverted heart. In the new birth, God must circumcise the sin-hardened heart if sinful man is to love Him with saving faith. By a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, God must cut deeply into the unconverted heart and supernaturally set it apart to Himself. This is the omnipotent work of the Spirit in regeneration. Again, then, we see that God is the sole initiating cause of regeneration. Man is passive while God is active in this vital step in the process of salvation: And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 Moses presented Gods sovereign work of grace as a spiritual circumcision, a cutting away of the foreskin of the unbelieving heart. It is a penetrating work of grace that removes mans inability to believe and replaces it with true repentance and faith. Regeneration is open-heart surgery, a soul-reviving work of the Spirit that probes to the deepest level of a persons being. Concerning this work of regeneration, Anthony Hoekema writes, What does the Bible teach about regeneration? Already in the Old Testament we are taught that only God can bring about the radical change which is necessary to enable fallen human beings again to do what is pleasing in His sight. In Deuteronomy 30:6 we find our spiritual renewal figuratively described as a circumcision of the heart. . . . Since the heart is the inner core of the person, the passage teaches that God must cleanse us within before we can truly love Him. Explaining the irresistible nature of this divine work, Craigie writes, It is seen rather to be an act of God and thus indicates the new covenant, when God would in His grace deal with mans basic spiritual problem. When God operated on the heart, then indeed the people would be able to love the Lord and live. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 9798.
Strong men always proclaim a strong message. They do not read the polls and check the surveys before they give their opinions. In fact, they do not even have opinionsthey have convictions. They bleed convictions. They are strong men anchored in the strong Word of God, and, as such, they bring a message with gravitas and punch. When they stand to speak, they actually have something to sayand they say it, whether anyone listens or not. When they sit to write, they do not skirt the issuesthey tackle them. When they address the times in which they live, they do not tickle earsthey box them. They do not have one message for one group and a different message for a different group. Wherever they go and whomever they address, they have only one messageGods message. This is what makes them strong men. They speak Gods Word, or they do not speak at all. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 103.

A Strong Message

Tuesday··2012·08·14 · 1 Comments
There is no stronger message than the truths of Gods sovereignty in the doctrines of grace. No other message is more God-exalting and Christ-glorifying than these truths. And yet, no other announcement is as sin-exposing, pride-crushing, and self-denouncing as these five theological points. No other truths are as sweet and precious to the soul that is humbled and submissive, but no other message is more offensive to the flesh or abrasive to the carnal mind than these doctrines. In fact, this message is unbearable to the natural manjust as it is sometimes intolerable even to those who are saved. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 103.

Divine Sovereignty in Judges

That God not only uses but also directs evil for his purpose is a difficult doctrine for many. But Scripture is filled with examples of God doing so. Evil men, in spite of themselves, serve him. Divine sovereignty also was seen in Gods exercise of supreme control over human affairs, even over evil kings. By the free exertion of His supreme will, God strengthened an evil king to do evil: The Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. Judges 3:12b13 According to this passage, God may strengthen unbelievers to enable them to defeat His people for His own purposes. Thus, God uses unholy people to accomplish His holy plans for the good of His people. Explaining this truth, Matthew Henry states, God made them know that He had a variety of rods wherewith to chastise them: He strengthened Eglon king of Moab against them. . . . Here was another king of Moab, whom God strengthened against them, put power into his hands, though a wicked man, that he might be a scourge to Israel. The staff in his hand with which he beat Israel was Gods indignation. In short, Gods sovereign control extends even to unbelievers, whom He may use for His higher purposes. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 107108. Demonic activity is also under divine control. In His sovereignty, God also exercised absolute authority over a demon spirit and used it to accomplish His own purposes: Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, Judges 9:2223 Here, God was revealed as controlling an evil spirit to accomplish His all-wise purposes. Even evil spirits, then, are subservient to Gods sovereign will. At His own discretion, God may send demon spirits to perform His holy pleasure. Noted commentator C. F. Keil writes, Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, so that they became treacherous towards Him. An evil spirit is not merely an evil disposition, but an evil demon, which produced discord and strife, just as an evil spirit came upon Saul. . . . This evil spirit God sent to punish the wickedness of Abimelech and the Shechemites. All this demonic activity was orchestrated by the sovereignty of God. Ibid., 108.

Divine Sovereignty in Job

The entire narrative of Job is a declaration of Gods sovereignty. Within that narrative are many examples of his sovereign power, of which this is one: By His sovereignty, God has determined the precise number of days and months each person will live upon this earth. Nothing can circumvent the lifespans allotted by God according to His sovereign will: His days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass. Job 14:5 Even when life appears to be out of control, as it certainly did to Job, God remains in complete control. This transcendent truth is evidenced by the fact that the duration of a mans life upon this earth remains fixed in the unchanging, eternal plan of God. Henry writes, Three things we are here assured of(1.) That our life will come to an end; our days upon earth are not numberless, are not endless, no, they are numbered, and will soon be finished, Dan. 5:26. (2.) That it is determined, in the counsel and decree of God, how long we shall live and when we shall die. The number of our months is with God. . . . It is certain that Gods providence has the ordering of the period of our lives; our times are in His hand. . . . (3.) That the bounds God has fixed we cannot pass; for His counsels are unalterable, His foresight being infallible. What Henry writes is absolutely true. Despite the uncertainty of life, we must acknowledge that God has decreed the number of our months, having set limits that we cannot exceed. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 125.

Radical Depravity in Job (1)

Man is pervasively unclean in the depths of his being. What is more, there is absolutely nothing that he can do to make himself clean: Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Job 14:4 Job asked a penetrating question that he quickly answered. No one can bring clean works that are acceptable to God out of an unclean life. Every good work a person does is tainted by sin to some extent. Pointing back to the problem of original sin, Barnes writes, As a historical record, this passage proves that the doctrine of original sin was early held in the world. Still it is true that the same great law prevails, that the offspring of woman is a sinnerno matter where he may be born, or in what circumstances he may be placed. The pervasiveness of radical depravity has polluted the entire inner life of fallen man. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 127.

Radical Depravity in Job (2)

All men are inwardly impure and unrighteous. Because they are unclean in their hearts, sin abounds in their lives: What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water! Job 15:1416 Mans moral problem is that the inner corruption of his life runs much deeper than mere external actions. His problem is what he is. His inner nature and personal character are defiled by sin. His fallen heart actively lusts for iniquity, so that he drinks sin like water. Of this insatiable thirst for sin, Thomas Watson writes, Like a hydropsical person, that thirsts for drink, and is not satisfied; they have a kind of drought on them, they thirst for sin. Though they are tired out in committing sin, yet they sin. . . . Though God has set so many flaming swords in the way to stop men in their sin, yet they go on in it; which all shows what a strong appetite they have to the forbidden fruit. It must be acknowledged that in the heights of heaven even a host of angels fell into sin. How much more have the sons of Adam on earth rebelled. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 127128.

Divine Sovereignty in Psalms

God reigns supreme in the heavens, and His plans never change from one generation to the next. From everlasting to everlasting, His eternal counsel remains the same: The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11 In this verse, David refers to the counsel of the Lord, which is the eternal deliberation and decree of God, formed in eternity past, by which He made the irrevocable choice of His all-wise will. No matter what man may attempt, the eternal counsel of the Lord will be sustained unwaveringly from one generation to the next. In fact, nothing that any being can do will alter or subvert it. Gods divine purposes remain immutable and unalterable from age to age. Commenting on this text, Albert Barnes writes, There can be no superior counsel or will to change it, as is the case with the plans of men; and no purposes of any beings inferior to himselfangels, men, or devilscan affect, defeat, or modify His eternal plans. No changes in human affairs can impede His plans; no opposition can defeat them; no progress can supersede them. . . . The things which he has designed, or which He intends shall be accomplished. . . . The plans of God are not changed by the passing off of one generation and the coming on of another; by new dynasties of kings, or by the revolutions that may occur in states and empires. All of human history moves forward toward its divinely appointed end under the absolute control of God. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 136.

Radical Depravity in Psalms

The unconverted are inwardly corrupt, a condition that causes them to commit deeds of sin continually. Because of this inward evil bent, they fail to seek after God: They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1b3 In these verses, the psalmist records the Lords estimation of the human race: All the sons of men are corrupt. They all do abominable deeds. There is no one who does good. This sober evaluation is based upon the Lords omniscient observation from heaven of the hearts and lives of all people. All He sees is radical depravity in every unconverted life. Spurgeon writes, Where there is enmity to God, there is deep, inward depravity of mind. The words are rendered by eminent critics in an active sense, they have done corruptly; this may serve to remind us that sin is not only in our nature passively as the source of evil, but we ourselves actively fan the flame and corrupt ourselves, making that blacker still which was black as darkness itself already. We rivet our own chains by habit and continuance. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 141.

Sovereign Election in Psalms

Gods sovereign choice of his people guarantees more than their eternal destination. Election guarantees their sanctification here and now, as well. Out of the mass of sinful humanity, God has set apart a chosen people for Himself. Each of these elect individuals will become increasingly godly: But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Psalm 4:3 David teaches here that God sets apart the godly, an act that is synonymous with divine election. This choice was made before time began, and guarantees that all Gods chosen ones will be sanctified and become godly within time. God does not elect a person because he or she is godly, but in order that the person might become godly. Spurgeon comments upon this verse, The godly are the chosen of God, and are, by distinguishing grace, set apart and separated from among men. Election is a doctrine which unrenewed men cannot endure, but nevertheless, it is a glorious and well-attested truth, and one which should comfort the tempted believer. Election is the guarantee of complete salvation, and an argument for success at the throne of grace. He who chose us for Himself will surely hear our prayers. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 144.

Preserving Grace in Psalms

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ���Romans 3:38���39 The righteous are kept forever secure by God, both in this life and throughout all eternity. Not one of God���s saints will ever perish: The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. . . . For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. ���Psalm 37:23���28 In this wisdom psalm, David explains that the Lord guards the righteous. Though the saints may fall into sin, they will never fall from grace. Instead, they will be upheld by God and made to stand forever. VanGemeren comments, ���The Lord establishes the godly, even in times of adversity. He may ���stumble���, either by sinning or by being jealous of the wicked or by the traps laid by the wicked, but he will not fall. . . . The ground for all the blessings is the love of God. He loves ���the just��� and therefore will never forsake ���his faithful ones.��� . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38���39).��� [The Expositor���s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 302.] God permanently holds the saints in His hand, and will never allow them to slip through His sovereign grip. He will preserve them forever. ���Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 147���148.

Divine Sovereignty in Proverbs (1)

There is no such thing as luck, and there are no random occurrences. God rules the universe, both in the whole and in its smallest parts. Even the tiniest occurrences in this world, events that seem random, are under Gods directional control: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:33 Even the smallest occurrences in life fit perfectly into the larger picture of Gods eternal purpose. Nothing is accidental or random. Everything is intentional and purposeful, carried out with divine design. Bridges writes that the casting of the lot is an acknowledgment of absolute Sovereignty; giving up our personal responsibility, and virtually appealing to an Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God. It teaches us, that things that we conceive to be accident are really under Providence. What is chance to man is the appointment of God. Simply put, even things that may appear to be chance occurrences are, in fact, under Gods control. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 152.

Divine Sovereignty in Proverbs (2)

Mans plans cannot alter Gods purpose. What he wills, he will do. Man makes his plans, but what God has determined to do is irrevocably unalterable. Regardless of what man may desire to do, the sovereign will of the Lord will stand: Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21 Man makes his plans, but Gods eternal purpose will prevail. In His sovereignty, God will alter mans plans when they conflict with His will. The purpose of the Lord, Waltke notes, refers to Gods immutable will. His divine plan, determined before time began, endures forever. As for mans plans, God can make them successful or cancel them or bring about the reverse of what people intend. Even the best human plans and efforts cannot stand before Him if He does not will it. People have many plans, but the Lords counsel or purpose will stand. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 152153.

Radical Depravity in Proverbs

Measuring himself by the wrong standard, the natural man has too high an opinion of himself. The unregenerate are self-deceived. They are astute at rationalizing their sinful behavior and adept at justifying themselves in their own eyes before God: All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Proverbs 16:2 The inward corruption of the sin nature causes lost men to live in a perpetual state of self-deception regarding their spiritual state before God. Presuming themselves to be morally clean, they are blind to their true wretched condition. Bridges writes, If man were his own judge, who would be condemned? . . . Man will never believe his real character, until the looking-glass is held to his face with convincing light. . . . He confesses himself indeed to be a sinner. But what his sins are, he knows not. Rather than seeing themselves as God sees them, the unconverted see themselves through self-righteous eyes of sin-excusing deception (12:15; 14:12; 21:2; 30:12) Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 154155.

Divine Reprobation in Proverbs

Solomon also gave instruction to his readers regarding the doctrine of reprobation, the truth that while God has chosen some sinners to inherit eternal glory, He has passed by others, leaving them in their sins. These He justly condemns for their sin. For His own glory, God has chosen to not choose some, with intentional design and inscrutable purpose: The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Proverbs 16:4 The wicked exist under Gods sovereign plan in order to fulfill His eternal purposes. Though this may be difficult to accept, it is perfectly consistent with Gods just punishment of the wicked. God is glorified in them, even in the day of their trouble. Ross notes, God in His sovereignty ensures that everything in life receives its appropriate retribution. On the surface the verse strikes an immediate impression for Gods sovereignty: all Gods acts are part of His plan. Derek Kidner adds, Ultimately there are no loose ends in Gods world. Since the wicked are punished in the end, this proverb explains that that is His plan for them. Even the reprobate fulfill the higher purposes of Gods eternal plan. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 155156.

Radical Depravity in Ecclesiastes

Solomon describes the natural rebellion of man against God as insanity. The fallen minds of unregenerate people are completely full of evil. They are not as evil as they could be, but every part of their inner being is given to sin: The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live. Ecclesiastes 9:3b Every part of unbelieving mans inner being is consumed with the madness of sin. In his commentary on this text, Bridges writes, There can be no exaggeration or mistake. It is our Makerthe Great Searcher of the heart He who alone knows itit is He that writes, and draws the picture. Nay, He gives a list of the enormitiespouring out of the heartdefiling every member of the bodyevery faculty of the soul. Nor is the picture confined to any particular age or nation. It is the heart of the sons of menthe history of every child of man in his natural unconverted state. Even under the highest influence of moralityevil passions, as vile as the source from whence they comeare only waiting the unrestrained moment, ere the torrent flow out. Solomon here refers to sin as madness. Rebellion against God is surely spiritual insanity. Who would dare oppose God and expect to endure? No one in his right mind. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 159.

Divine Sovereignty in Isaiah

In an election year (for those of us in the United States), when so much is at stake, it is comforting to know that no one can thwart Gods will. Gods sovereign control extends to all the nations of the earth. What God has purposed for the world, both in the macro and micro perspective, will surely come to pass: The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. . . . This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? Isaiah 14:2427 According to these words recorded by Isaiah, no portion of Gods eternal plan will be left unfulfilled. When God stretches forth His sovereign hand to act, none can turn it back, not even the strongest king or mightiest nation. In these verses, God warned His people that the armies of Assyria under Sennacherib would bring destruction upon their land in due time. This coming devastation of Israel would show that God alone is God, who reigns above. He but speaks and it comes to pass. Concerning this sovereign purpose of God, John Calvin writes, There can be no repentance or change in God (Numbers 23:19); whatever happens, even in the midst of an endless diversity of events, He always remains like Himself, and no occurrence can thwart His purpose. The same irresistible divine sovereignty is shown in Gods salvation of His elect. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 168.

Definite Atonement in Isaiah

Christ did not bear unspecified griefs and sorrows; the transgressions and iniquities for which he was killed were not theoretical. He was stricken for the transgression of a particular people. Gods Messiah would die an ignominious substitutionary death under the judgment of God as He bore the sins of the elect. By so doing, He would take away the sins of His people: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? Isaiah 53:48 Isaiah taught that Christ would bear and absorb Gods wrath for the sins of Gods people. As a result, He would justify them. In Chapter 53, Isaiah was referring to those for whom Christ would die when he used such terms as our (vv. 45), all we (v. 6), us all (v. 6), my people (v. 8), his offspring (v. 10), their (v. 11), the transgressors (v. 12), and many (v. 12). The Messiah was to die for the seed born out of His sacrificethe elect. James Montgomery Boice argues, Isaiah 53:6 says that God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. But it is clear from the verse immediately before this that the ones for whom Jesus bore iniquity are those who have been brought to a state of peace with God, that is, those who have been justified (cf. Rom. 5:1). Again, they are those who have been healed (v. 5), not those who continue to be spiritually sick or dead. That is to say, Christ died to redeem the elect of God. Concerning these verses, Luther writes, This states the purpose of Christs suffering. It was not for Himself and His own sins, but for our sins and griefs. He bore what we should have suffered. . . . These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold. He who does not believe this is not a Christian. . . . This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours; again, that the peace is not Christs but ours. The exclusive terms Isaiah uses for Gods elect designate the intent and extent of the atonement. Christ died exclusively for the elect of God, not for the entire world. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 178179.

Radical Depravity in Jeremiah

The depravity of man is not merely a state of mind, an attitude that can be changed. It is as fixed as any physical feature, and can only be changed by a miracle. The unregenerate person cannot change his sin nature or act contrary to his wicked heart. His will is essentially imprisoned: Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13:23 Jeremiah unequivocally affirmed that the unbeliever does not have the innate ability to repent of his sin or turn to God for true righteousness. Mans will cannot act contrary to his corrupt nature. A fallen heart can give rise only to a rebellious will that will not submit to God. Concerning this text, John Calvin writes, God declares that the people are so hardened in their wickedness that there is no hope of their repentance. If an Ethiopian washed a hundred times a day, he would still remain black. Jeremiah condemns the Jews for their habitual practice of doing evil. They were unable to repent, for their wickedness had become inherent or firmly fixed in their hearts, like the blackness that is inherent in the skin of the Ethiopians or the spots belonging to the leopard. That is to say, no unregenerate heart can change its nature; it cannot choose contrary to itself toward God. Regarding this startling verse, Charles H. Spurgeon proclaims, You can make yourself filthy by sin, but you cannot make yourself spiritually clean, do what you will. . . . You can do evil all too readily; you can do it with both hands, greedily, and do it again and again, and not grow weary of it; but to return to the right path, this is the difficulty. . . . But remember, dear friends, that, even if an Ethiopian could change his skin, that would be a far smaller difficulty than the one with which a sinner has to deal, for it is not his skin, but his heart, which has to be changed. The unconverted simply cannot change their ways. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 193.

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations

In the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah weeps over the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the ensuing captivity of Gods people in Babylon. Through it all, he recognizes the just hand of God in and over all events, however evil. All that God purposes and proclaims comes to pass. Whether it be good or bad from the human perspective, Gods eternal decree is executed, though man remains responsible for his choices: Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Lamentations 3:3739 These verses are strategically placed in the very center of the third of the five chapters of Lamentations. Here is the turning point for the entire book, the hinge upon which it all pivots. Jeremiah had already acknowledged that the Babylonian attack was caused by God (3:116). Without issuing a formal apology for Gods doings, he had recognized that Judahs distress came from the Lord. In verses 3739, he asked three rhetorical questions that form the heart of the book. The answers are so obvious that they are not even recorded. Unquestionably, it is God alone who speaks and causes events to come to pass. Both good and ill occur at His command. And no one should complain when God punishes him for his sins. R. K. Harrison explains this truth of Gods overruling providence when he writes, God was the supreme arbiter of human affairs. . . . Lamentations relates the whole range of moral values (good and evil) to the activity of the one true God of Israel, who is the ultimate ground of existence. Calvin further explains, God is not the author of evil, although nothing happens without His permission, for His purposes are quite different from ours. This is to say, nothing can happen apart from the sovereign plan and permission of God. Jeremiah strongly affirms that nothing can happen, good or evil, that God has not decreed, lit. commanded. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 201.

Divine Sovereignty in Daniel

Thursday··2012·09·20 · 1 Comments
In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way of Gods sovereignty over all things. His confession (Daniel 4:2837) is that of a man humbled before the source of absolute power and authority. Because God is sovereign over all the universe, He is ruling actively in all the affairs of providence. This divine supremacy will never weaken or be relinquished. It will never come to an end: For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, What have you done? Daniel 4:34b35 Nebuchadnezzar praised God for His everlasting dominion over heaven and earth. None can thwart His plans. No one can stay His omnipotent hand and restrict the free exercise of His sovereign will. All that He purposes, He does. From this verse, Calvin asserts, We understand how this world is administered by Gods secret providence, and that nothing happens but what He has commanded and decreed. . . . Daniel means to imply angels, demons, and men, to be equally governed by Gods will; and although the impious rush on intemperately, yet they are restrained by a secret bridle, and are prevented from executing whatever their lusts dictate. . . . God acts among angels and demons just as among the inhabitants of the earth. He governs others by His Spirit, namely, His elect, who are afterwards regenerated by His Spirit, and they are so treated by Him that His justice may truly shine forth in all their actions. He also acts upon the reprobate, but in another manner; for He draws them headlong by means of the devil; he impels them with His secret virtue; he strikes them by a spirit of dizziness; he blinds them and casts upon them a reprobate spirit, and hardens their hearts to contumacy. This is to say, Gods absolute sovereignty is His supreme right to rule the universe, a right that shall never be usurped. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 211.

Irresistible Call in Zechariah

This excerpt has, I suppose, something to annoy almost everyone: the Arminian, with its denial of autonomous free will, and the Replacement theologian, with its affirmation of Gods faithfulness to ethnic Israel. What it should provide is great comfort to every Christian, and greater faith in the God who keeps his promises and unfailingly draws his people to himself. Saving grace is always irresistible grace. It is a work of God that inevitably triumphs in the lives of the elect. Zechariah taught that within the nation of Israel, a remnant would be called to faith in Christ and would surely be converted: And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah looked ahead to a time when God would pour out His Spirit upon Israel. In that day, Israel would be brought to deep conviction of its sin, especially the sin of crucifying Christ, Zechariah said. At that time, which is still in the future, there will be a great turning to the Lord. God will do a work of sovereign grace in the hearts of many Jews, with the result that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26)a reference to the vast majority in Israel. God will pour out His Spirit on the house of David, bringing conviction of sin and granting true repentance, so that many will call upon His name with saving faith. In other words, God Himself will overcome the natural inclination of the uncoverted heart, which is not able to seek God in and of itself. Recognizing the absolute certainty of this fulfillment, MacArthur writes, God, in His own perfect time and by His own power, will sovereignly act to save Israel. Boice adds that Israels understanding of Christs crucifixion will come about by the power of Gods Holy Spirit, for it is only as God pours out a spirit of grace and supplication that the repentance and turning depicted in these verses occurs. It is only by the power of Gods Holy Spirit that they occur anywhere or to anyone. It is Gods Spirit who causes unconverted sinners to look to the Savior they have long rejected. This is the basis of every true conversion. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 235.

Radical Depravity in Matthew

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that sin is born in the mind before it is enacted by the hands. [I]n the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that the pollution of sin has reached the deepest level of each personthe heart. The entire inner person is defiled by the moral filth of sin: You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire. . .  You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:2128 With these provocative words, Jesus taught that sin is deeply embedded in the soul long before any wicked deed is committed. In other words, sin is in the heart. Fallen mans innermost thoughts and desires are deeply stained by sin. For example, Jesus taught that adultery is present in the heart before it is committed in deed. William Hendriksen writes that Jesus is condemning the evil disposition of the heart that lies at the root of the transgression. It is the sinful affection that produces the sinful act. Mans problem is within his heart. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 245246.

Definite Atonement: “There is no other position”

Definite Atonement is a difficult doctrine for many to swallow, but it’s a doctrine that logic demands. If Jesus died for all the sins of all men, unbelief included, then all are saved, which the Bible denies. If He died for all the sins of all men, unbelief excluded, then He did not die for all the sins of anybody and all must be condemned. There is no other position, save that He died for the sin of His elect people only. —James Montgomery Boyce, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Crossway Books, 2002), 125. [quoted by Steve Lawson in Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 252.]

Preserving Grace in Matthew

Scripture clearly teaches that the salvation of Gods people is guaranteed. As we see in the passage considered below, God does not guarantee our eternal salvation by making us unable to fall. He guarantees it (in part) by protecting us from circumstances in which we certainly would fall. In the Mount Olivet Discourse, Jesus unveiled the end of the age. Through this sermon, He taught His disciples that those who persevere to the end are, in reality, the elect of God. They are kept eternally secure by God: And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matthew 24:22 (cf. Mark 13:20) Unquestionably, the elect have been chosen by God to be His people, and He will move heaven and earth to preserve them forever. They will be kept secure in their faith. Affirming this truth, MacArthur writes, This is the first use of the term elect in the New Testament, and through it Jesus introduced a new concept concerning those who belong to Him. They have been divinely chosen and called out as His own people and indeed His very own children. And when God chooses people for Himself, He will restructure the entire universe if that becomes necessary to protect them and to fulfill His promises concerning them. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 257.

Preserving Grace in Luke

In one of the most comforting and encouraging New Testament passages, our Lord tells us why Satan cant have us: Jesus made known that He intercedes with the Father on behalf of all believers. He prays that they will endure in their faith in the face of much opposition by Satan: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:3132 Jesus prays this prayer for His elect, asking the Father to overcome Satans attempts to subvert the faith of true believers. God always answers this prayer. As a result, the faith of all of the elect never fails. Ryle explains, The continued existence of grace in a believers heart is a great and constant miracle. His enemies are so mighty and his strength is so small, the world is so full of traps, and his heart is so weak, that it seems at first sight impossible for him to reach heaven. This passage explains how he is kept safe. He has a mighty friend at the right hand of God who always lives to intercede for him. He has a watchful advocate who is daily pleading for him, seeing all his daily necessities, and obtaining daily supplies of mercy and grace for his soul. His grace never totally dies because Christ lives to intercede (Hebrews 7:25). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 257.

Radical Depravity in John

The natural depravity of man is so deep that the unregenerate actually hate God. Jesus explained that the unconverted person who hates Him also hates the Father. The worlds rejection of the Father, who is invisible, is rooted in its hatred of Christ, who has been seen: Whoever hates me hates my Father also. John 15:23 Whatever anyones relationship with Christ may be, it is inseparably bound with ones relationship with the Father. No one can hate Christ and love the Father. Unbelief toward Christ causes the same disdain of the Father. Hendriksen writes, A person may imagine that he loves the Father while he hates the Son, but he deceives himself. Whoever hates the one necessarily hates the other also. And this holds also with respect to the present day and age. Men who scoff at blood-atonement and reject the vicarious death of Christ do not love God! Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 277. In a tangential note, this passage also disproves the popular notion that people of other religions worship the same God. Whoever rejects Jesus also rejects the Father.

Sovereign Election in John

If you are a believer, have you ever stopped to think about the fact that, before you came to Christ, he was praying for you? Do you know that he still does? Even before their conversion, all believers already belong to God by virtue of eternal election. They are considered to be the possession of God because He has chosen them to be His own: I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9 Jesus made a careful distinction between those for whom He prayedthe elect of Godand those for whom He did not prayunbelievers. The Lord focused His priestly intercession upon those the Father chose as His own possession before time began, then gave to the Son. Standing behind this verse is the monumental doctrine of sovereign election. MacArthur writes, They were Yours (cf. v. 9) is a potent assertion that before conversion, they belonged to God (cf. 6:37). That is true because of Gods election. They were chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), when their names were written in the Lambs book of life (Rev. 17:8). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 281.

Definite Atonement in John: World & All

Of all the Gospels, Johns gospel is the most theological, and presents the doctrines of grace in stark relief. John also poses a challenge to interpreters with his extensive use of the word world (kosmos), which appears in his gospel seventy-eight times, compared to fourteen times in the synoptics combined. John uses world in several different ways, and the student must be careful to understand each use correctly in its context. Steve Lawson lists ten different uses:* Entire Universe (John 1:9, 10; 17:5). Physical Earth (John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25). World System (John 1:10; 12:31; 14:30; 15:1821; 16:11; 17:14). Humanity Minus Believers (John 7:7; 15:18). Large Group (John 12:19). General Public (John 7:4; 14:22). Jews and Gentiles, all groups of people, as opposed to the Jewish people only (John 1:29; 4:42). Human Realm, contrasted with the realm of heaven and angelic beings (John 1:10; 3:1216). Non-Elect (John 17:9). Elect Only (John 3:17; 6:33; 12:47). Lawson summarizes: It is clear that world has many shades of meaning in the gospel of John. This diversity must be kept in mind when studying this fourth gospel. Great care and skillful precision must be exercised in assigning a proper meaning to the word kosmos in each context. The apostle John himself moves freely from one meaning to another, sometimes even within the same verse. An investigation of these many verses and the multiple meanings of world reveals that one cannot automatically assume that the word always means every living person. Such would be a too-simplistic approach bordering on naivet?. Likewise, the word all (pas) has multiple meanings. Lawson lists three: All without Exception (John 1:3). All without Distinction, that is, all kinds or categories of people (John 12:32). All the Elect (John 6:45). Whether or not you agree with each of these definitions, it should be obvious that correct interpretation is not as simple as all means all. Lawson writes: Now that we have considered the various meanings of world and all in the gospel of John, it should be apparent that the extent of the atonementwhether Christ died for every person or only the electcannot be determined by assuming that the widest possible meaning must be intended. Instead, the entirety of Jesus teaching about the scope of His death must be examined. * Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 281286.

Definite Atonement in John: for the sheep

Tuesday··2012·10·16 · 3 Comments
Having reviewed several meanings of the words world and all as they are used in the Gospel of John, Lawson examines one example, found in John 10: Jesus emphatically asserted that He would lay down His life for the sheep. The sheep are those whom the Father gave to Christ before He entered the world. In short, the sheep are the elect of God, those who believe: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:1415 The specific intent of Christs death determined the particular extent of it. The design of the cross was that Jesus would save His sheep, as opposed to those who are not His sheep (10:26). Hendriksen writes, It is for the sheeponly for the sheepthat the good shepherd lays down His life. The design of the atonement is definitely restricted. Jesus dies for those who had been given to Him by the Father, for the children of God, for true believers. . . . It is also the doctrine of the rest of Scripture. With His precious blood Christ purchased His church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:2527); His people (Matt. 1:21); the elect (Rom. 8:3235). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 286287. The Doctrine of Definite Atonement (or, as poorly-named in the TULIP, Limited Atonement) is the most controversial of the Doctrines of Grace. Yet, as I see it so plainly presented here and elsewhere in Scripture, and as logic so clearly demands it in light of everything else Scripture teaches about the atonement, I cant see why. I can only conclude that it is rejected on the grounds that it offends the sense of fairness and justice of an unholy people, never mind that of the holy God before whom all stand guilty from the start.

Preserving Grace in John

Steve Lawson on every Arminians favorite verse: Those who put their trust in Jesus Christ never perish in the spiritual sense. They receive eternal life, which delivers them from suffering eternal destruction: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 Jesus promised that all who believe upon Him never perish. That is, they do not suffer eternal destruction in hell. They do not endure everlasting damnation in the flames of hell. Calvin states, So it follows that until Christ set about rescuing the lost, everyone was destined for eternal destruction. . . . God specifically states that although we appear to have been born for death, certain deliverance is offered to us through faith in Christ. So we should not fear death, which would otherwise hang over us. . . . In this way we are freed from the condemnation of eternal death and made heirs of eternal life, because through the sacrifice of His death He has atoned for our sins so that nothing will prevent God from acknowledging us as His sons. Charles H. Spurgeon proclaims, This proves the final perseverance of the saints; for if the believer ceased to be a believer he would perish; and as he cannot perish, it is clear that he will continue a believer. If thou wert to lose it, it would prove that it was not everlasting, and thou wouldest perish; and thus thou wouldst make this word to be of no effect. Whosoever with his heart believeth in Christ is a saved man, not for to-night only, but for all the nights that ever shall be, and for that dread night of death, and for that solemn eternity which draws so near. This is to say, believers are eternally secure, forever safe, and kept in Gods saving grace. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 296.

Divine Sovereignty in Acts

Lest we think that, after Adam and Eve blew it, the cross was Gods Plan B: Peter announced that Christ had been crucified according to the eternal, sovereign will of God as part of a plan determined before time began. In this definite plan, Jesus was chosen to die for chosen sinners: This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and fore knowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. Acts 2:23 Speaking on the day of Pentecost, Peter declared the sovereign purpose and predetermined plan of God. The word translated here as definite (horizio) literally means to mark out with a boundary or to determine before. It is rendered in other translations as predestined (NASB, NKJV, KJV). This word signified the destination at the end of a journey, one marked out before the trip began. The traveler would see his destination on the horizonhence, horiziobefore arriving there. In like manner, the cross was the definite plan of God, the destination for Christ selected by God before time began. Although evil men were responsible for their sinful actions in crucifying the Son of God, they were carrying out the eternal purpose of God. John Calvin writes, Peter said that Christ suffered nothing by accident or because He lacked the power to rescue Himself, but because it was by Gods set purpose. Christs death was ordained by Gods eternal counsel. . . . Peter taught that God did not only foresee what would happen to Christ, but that it was decreed by Him. . . . God does not show less of His providence in governing the whole world than He did in appointing Christs death. So God not only knows the future, but He determines Himself what will happen. Clearly, the crucifixion was Gods set purpose, sovereignly predetermined in eternity past for His glory and the good of His people. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 310.

Definite Atonement in 1 Peter

This is why the doctrine of Definite Atonement is so important, and so precious: Christ reconciled all the elect to God through His death. The precious blood of Christ was shed like that of a sacrificial animal, making full payment for the salvation of all believers: You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:1819 Peter described the extent of the death of Christ with the personal pronouns you and your. This is a subtle but straightforward statement that Christ died for believers, in order to redeem them from the penalty of sin. With these words, Peter represented Christ as ransomingor redeemingthe elect, that is, all who would believe upon Him. James Montgomery Boice reasons, What kind of a redemption would it be in which the death of Jesus only makes redemption possible and in which, as a result, some of those for whom He died are still in bondage? Imagine that a friend of yours is in trouble with the law and has been taken to jail. He is arraigned before a judge, and bail is set. He has no money, but you hear of his plight and immediately take money down to the courthouse to bail him out. You appear before the judge, pay the bail price, and go home. Your wife asks, Where is your friend? Hes in prison. In prison? she asks. But didnt you take the bail money down there? Yes, you say. I paid the money to redeem him, but hes still in prison. I didnt actually bring him out. What kind of redemption would that be? If there is a real redemption, then the person who has been redeemed must be set free. When the Bible says that Jesus redeemed us by His death on the Cross, that redemption must be an effective redemption and those who have been redeemed must be actual beneficiaries of it. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 320321.

Irresistable Call in 1 Peter

The excerpt that follows really ought to go without saying, and for most readers here, it probably does. Yet, among Christians, even those who identify as evangelical and fundamentalist, it represents the minority view. Evangelists like Billy Graham have expended great effort to talk people into making a decision for Christ. The heretic (and all-around oddball) Charles Finney taught that the Bible calls upon [the unregenerate] to repent, to make to themselves a new heart. The result of this, he said, was regeneration. In contrast, the bible teaches that regeneration is wholly an act of God. Peter exulted that all who are chosen and foreknown by the Father are regenerated by the Spirit. The truth of the sinner being caused to be born again is reason for great praise in the heart of every believer: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . . . You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. 1 Peter 1:3, 23 The new birth is a work of sovereign grace within the human soul. No one can cause himself to be born physically. Neither can anyone cause himself to be born again spiritually. God, who alone is active in regeneration, must cause the unbelieving sinner to be born again. Boice comments, No one is responsible for his or her physical birth. It is only as a human egg and sperm join, grow, and finally enter this world that birth occurs. The process is initiated and nurtured by the parents. Likewise spiritual rebirth is initiated and nurtured by our heavenly Father and is not our own doing. Regeneration is entirely a divine work of sovereign grace that occurs at the deepest level of ones being. Leighton writes, Natural birth has always been acknowledged as belonging to Gods prerogative: Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him (Psalm 127:3). How much more is the new birth completely dependent on Gods hand! MacArthur adds, The new birth is monergistic; it is a work solely of the Holy Spirit. Sinners do not cooperate in their spiritual births (cf. Eph. 2:110) any more than infants cooperate in their natural births. Jesus told Nicodemus, 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 (John 3:8). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 320321.
Four hundred and ninety-five years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, unintentionally sparking what we now call the Protestant Reformation. The ensuing conflict demonstrated the importance of one little word: alone. But that Reformation did not end with Luther, nor is it over yet. Writing shortly before his death in 2000, James Montgomery Boice noted, Having a high view of God means something more than giving glory to God . . . it means giving glory to God alone. This is the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. While the former declares that God alone saves sinners, the latter gives the impression that God enables sinners to have some part in saving themselves. Calvinism presents salvation as the work of the triune Godelection by the Father, redemption in the Son, calling by the Spirit. Furthermore, each of these saving acts is directed toward the elect, thereby infallibly securing their salvation. By contrast, Arminianism views salvation as something that God makes possible but that man makes actual. This is because the saving acts of God are directed toward different persons: the Sons redemption is for humanity in general; the Spirits calling is only for those who hear the gospel; narrower still, the Fathers election is only for those who believe the gospel. Yet in none of these cases (redemption, calling, or election) does God actually secure the salvation of even one sinner! The inevitable result is that rather than depending exclusively on divine grace, salvation depends partly on a human response. So although Arminianism is willing to give God the glory, when it comes to salvation, it is unwilling to give Him all the glory. It divides the glory between heaven and earth, for if what ultimately makes the difference between being saved and being lost is mans ability to choose God, then to just that extent God is robbed of His glory. Yet God Himself has said, I will not yield My glory to another (Isa. 48:11). This is why the doctrines of grace are so desperately needed in our churches. They give glory to God alone. They define salvation as being all of God. When salvation is correctly perceived in this way, thenand only thenGod receives all the glory for it. Only sola gratia produces soli Deo Gloria. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 342.

Radical Depravity in Romans (1)

Even though allincluding professing atheistsare aware of Gods existence, the innate depravity of the unregenerate mind suppresses the truth about him (Romans 1:1819). When a god is acknowledged, it is a god of the imagination, fashioned to serve individual desires. In their depravity, the unregenerate exchange the truth of the glory of God for vanity, darkening their thoughts. Sinful people know about God through His general revelation, but they refuse to acknowledge Him as God: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:2023 Unregenerate man defiantly rejects the knowledge of God, thereby plunging into mental dullness, emotional despair, and spiritual depravity. His thinking becomes darker and his will unable to choose rightly. When fallen man rejects the clear knowledge of God, he turns to idols of his own making, whether they be objects made from gold or silver, or inferior speculations about God made in their darkened minds. Hodge writes, Foolish hearts are hearts destitute of discernmentthat is, insight into the nature of divine things. The consequence of this lack of divine knowledge was darkness. The word heart stands for the whole soul. . . . It is not merely intellectual darkness or ignorance which the apostle describes in this verse, but the whole moral state. Throughout the Scriptures we find the idea of foolishness and sin, of wisdom and piety, intimately connected. Such is the next step in the corrupting process of radical depravity. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 345.

Radical Depravity in Romans (2)

Nothing is more fundamental to unregenerate depravity than the absence of a proper fear of God. The unsaved have no fear of God. They lack all due reverence for Him, choosing instead to trivialize and marginalize their thoughts of Him: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 3:18 The proper reverence that is due to Gods name is simply not present with the unconverted. They have no respect, no awe, and no humility toward Him. They have an inadequate concern about Him, no fear about the consequences of their sin. In short, they fail to take God seriously. Robert Haldane writes, It is astonishing that men, while they acknowledge that there is a God, should act without any fear of His displeasure. Yet this is their character. They fear a worm of the dust like themselves, but disregard the Most High. . . . They are more afraid of man than of Godof his anger, his contempt, or ridicule. The fear of man prevents them from doing many things from which they are not restrained by the fear of God. . . . They love not His character, nor rendering to it that veneration which is due; they respect not His authority. Such is the state of human nature while the heart is unchanged. Assessing this complete lack of fear for God, Hodge adds, His sinfulness proves or reveals to me that he does not fear God. The life of wicked men is proof that they are destitute of the fear of God. And by the fear of God we may understand, according to its use in Scripture, reverence for God, piety towards him; or fear in the more restricted sense, dread of his wrath. Either way, the reckless wickedness of men proves that they are destitute of all proper respect for God. They act as if there were no God, no being to whom they are responsible for their behavior and who has the intention and power to punish them for their iniquity.16 Here is the rotten core of radical depravityunconverted men have no fear of God. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 349.

Sovereign Election in Romans

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Romans 8:29 The verse above is often interpreted to mean that God chooses his people according to his foreknowledge of their free choice. In other words, he only rubberstamps, in advance, the choices others will make. That is the majority view among those who identify as fundamentalists and evangelicals. It is the opinion I held for many years, and argued strenuously. But that interpretation displays an ignorance of the meaning of the word foreknew, and, more embarrassingly, a deplorable understanding of simple rules of grammar. Even worse, having committed those errors, those who cling to this view refuse to be corrected when Scripture, that is, God himself, comes right out and states, in the plainest possible language, that they are wrong. God did not choose His elect on the basis of any foreseen faith or good works. To the contrary, God made His choice for reasons found exclusively within Himself: Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or badin order that Gods purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call . . . Romans 9:11 Gods sovereign choice of whom to save was made long before any person was born. One example is His choice of Jacob over Esau, a selection made before either twin entered the world and did anything to supposedly earn Gods favor or wrath. Hendriksen notes, The divine purpose, springing from election and executing its design, determines who are saved. Everything depends on God who calls (effectively draws) some, not others. . . . In the final analysis the reason why some people are accepted and others rejected is that God so willed it. The divine, sovereign will is the source of both election and reprobation. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 352.

Definite Atonement in Romans

The reconciliation of man to God was not merely begun at the cross, nor was it only made possible; it was accomplished, and it was finished. That fact effectively determines how we must answer the question, For whom did Christ die? Jesus died in order to reconcile all believersmentioned repeatedly here as weto God. Upon the cross, those who believe were truly reconciled to God: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:1011 By its sin, mankind has alienated itself from God. The two partiesholy God and sinful manare declared enemies who are at spiritual war. Gods wrath is being revealed from heaven toward sinners (1:18), and mans rebellion and hatred toward God are being revealed, as well (3:1018). At the cross, Jesus stood between the two offended parties and reconciled God to man and man to God. A real reconciliation occurred there, not a possible one. But not all men are reconciled to God through Christs deathonly the elect. It was for these only that He died. Murray writes, Reconciliation is a finished work. The tenses in verses 18, 19, 21 put this beyond doubt. It is not a work being continuously wrought by God; it is something accomplished in the past. God is not only the sole agent but also the agent of action already perfected. . . . He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Christ took upon Himself the sin and guilt, the condemnation and the curse of those on whose behalf He died. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 363364.

Irresistible Call in Romans

Monday··2012·11·26 · 1 Comments
Romans 8:2830 is as good as a mathematical equation, the sum of which is the Doctrines of grace. The equation tells us that all whom God calls will certainly be with him in glory after the judgment, and that their calling was ordained in eternity past. The elect are irresistibly called by God at the appointed time as a result of His foreknowing and predestining in eternity past. This effectual summons is rooted and grounded in the eternal purpose of God: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:2830 All whom the Father foreknew before the foundation of the worldthat is, those He foreloved and foreordainedare effectually called within time by the Holy Spirit to come to Christ. Those the Father foreknew and chose He predestined to believe and be saved. And all those who were predestined are irresistibly summoned to believe in Christ. Hodge explains, Every time predestination is spoken about it is clear that the reason for the choice does not lie in us. We are chosen in Christ according to the free purpose of God, etc. This is a fore-ordination, a determination which existed in the divine mind long before the event and even before the foundation of the word (Ephesians 1:4). When it occurs in time it shows the eternal purpose of God, and it executes the plan of which it forms a part. That is to say, all those foreknown by God are called by God. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 368.

Persevering Grace in Romans

The salvation of believers is not secured by their perseverance. They persevere because their salvation is secured by the power of Gods indwelling Spirit. The elect will never be separated from Gods love in Christ. Nothing presently in this life, prospectively in death, or eternally in the future can sever a true believer from his relationship to God: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:3539 All the elect will be kept secure by God, even in the face of mounting persecution and even martyrdom. Such painful ordeals will be only the means by which they enter into glory. But Christ will never remove His saving love from them. MacArthur writes, Only the true believer perseveres, not because he is strong in himself but because he has the power of Gods indwelling Spirit. His perseverance does not keep his salvation safe but proves that his salvation is safe. Those who fail to persevere not only demonstrate their lack of courage but, much more important, their lack of genuine faith. God will keep and protect even the most fearful person who truly belongs to Him. On the other hand, even the bravest of those who are merely professing Christians will invariably fall away when the cost of being identified with Christ becomes too great. Only true Christians are overcomers because only true Christians have the divine help of Christs own Spirit. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 371.

Radical Depravity in 1 Corinthians

Man, in his unnatural, unregenerate state, will not receive the gospel because he cannot understand it. The unregenerate man will not receive the spiritual truths of the gospel because he cannot understand them. He has no spiritual capacity by which to appraise the genuineness and value of the gospel when it is made known to him: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul identified the unregenerate man as a natural man. In other words, he possesses natural life but is devoid of the supernatural life of God. A natural man is one who has experienced only a natural birth; thus, his life is bound to his sinful flesh. He cannot understand spiritual truths because they are foolish (moros, moronic) to him. When he hears the gospel, he is like a deaf critic of Bach or a blind critic of Raphael. He cannot see the truth of the gospel or hear so that it makes sense. John Calvin writes, It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone. Hence the more insufferable the ignorance of those who imagine that the gospel is offered to mankind in common in such a way that all indiscriminately are free to embrace salvation by faith. In short, unregenerate man simply cannot comprehend the spiritual wisdom of God. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 384.

Definite Atonement in 1 Corinthians

Wednesday··2012·12·05 · 2 Comments
Grammar matters. Personal pronouns demand that we answer the question, To whom does this refer? Our doctrines depend on answering correctly. Christ died upon the cross for the sins of all believers. His substitutionary death secured eternal salvation for all who put their trust in Him: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:34 As a matter of first importance, Pauls preaching focused upon the vicarious death of Christ for our sins. John Murray writes, On whose behalf did Christ offer Himself a sacrifice? . . . In whose stead and on whose behalf was He obedient unto death, even the death of the cross? These are precisely the questions that have to be asked and frankly faced if the matter of the extent of the atonement is to be placed in proper focus. . . . The question is precisely the reference of the death of Christ when this death is viewed as vicarious death, that is to say, as vicarious obedience, as substitutionary sacrifice, and expiation, as effective propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. In a word, it is the strict and proper connotation of the expression died for that must be kept in mind. When Paul says . . . Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), he does not have in mind some blessing that may accrue from the death of Christ but of which we may be deprived in due time and which may thus be forfeited. He is thinking of the stupendous truth that Christ loved him and gave Himself up for him (Gal. 2:20) . . . and that therefore we have redemption through the blood of Christ. He died for our sinsthose of the elect. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 388.

Preserving Grace in 1 Corinthians

The common burden of all believers in Christ is the continuing presence of the flesh and the works thereof. Our consolation, however, is that all those works will be burned in the final judgment, while we ourselves will be saved. The elect are not only renewed by the Spirit, they are kept in grace by the power of God. All believers are eternally secure in Christ. No one who is a true believer can ever fall away. The sovereign grace of God immutably holds in its omnipotent grip everyone who trusts Christ. This is the preserving grace of God, that continuing work of God that causes all believers to persevere in the Lord, never to lose their salvation. Although their dead works will be burned at the judgment seat of Christ, they will remain secure in Him: Each ones work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyones work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:1315 Paul taught that all believers will be judged by the Lord Jesus at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), but this judgment will not determine whether one is eternally saved. That judgment of sin took place two thousand years ago, at the cross. No charge will ever be brought against Gods elect that would indict them (Rom. 8:33). Christ suffered in the place of all believers at the cross, bearing their sin and suffering their judgment. The judgment seat of Christ will be an evaluation to determine the quality of each persons work for the Lord and the degree of reward he is due. All believers who stand there will be saved through the fire of this judgment. None will perish, although all fleshly works of wood, hay, and stubble will be burned. Kistemaker agrees: In spite of the loss which the neglectful believer sustains, God graciously grants him the gift of salvation. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 393.

Preserving Grace in 2 Corinthians

The faith God gives in regeneration is an enduring faith, able to stand through all adversity. No matter how much opposition a believer may face, there is a supernatural resiliency about this faith that causes him to persevere without falling away. The omnipotence of God upholds the believer in his weakest moments: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 2 Corinthians 4:810, 14 Regardless of what difficulty is thrown at a believer, his faith remains. His trust in God may bend, but it will never break. True faith will never implode; it will hold up under the severest stress and greatest challenges, because the power of God within the believer is greater than the external pressure brought against him. MacArthur explains, The power of God made Paul fearless and formidable. Nothing his enemies could do would destroy him. Even killing him would only usher him into the Lords presence (Phil. 1:21). Gods sustaining power enabled this otherwise weak man to triumph over his difficulties and his enemies (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). Even the greatest threat of allmartyrdomwill not cause the believer to deny the Lord. This persevering grace is with him all the way to glory. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 399400.

Sovereign Election in Galatians

Wednesday··2012·12·12 · 1 Comments
Sovereign Election means not only election to salvation, but also to a life of service ordained by God. In Galatians, Paul testified that he had been chosen by sovereign grace. He recognized that he had been set apart from his mothers womb to know Christ and serve Him. What was true for Paul is true for all believers. The fact is, all who come to know Christ do so because God has sovereignly appointed them for a glorious relationship with Him. Standing behind every conversion is the doctrine of sovereign election: He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. Galatians 1:1516a Paul declared that long before he was born, the sovereign choice of God had set him apart to know Christ and preach Him. William Hendriksen writes that these wordswho had set me apart before I was borntestify to Gods sovereign good pleasure: It refers to far more than the divine providential activity revealed in Pauls physical birth. It indicates that God did not, as it were, wait until Paul had first proved his worth before appointing him to an important function in His kingdom. No, from his very birth Paul had already been designed for his specific mission, that design being itself the expression of Gods plan from eternity (Eph. 1:11). Hence, the verb separated, as here used, means nothing less than set (me) aside, consecrated (me), marked (me) off from the rest of mankind. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 403.

In Eternity Past

We can rightly look to the moment of conversion (if we can pin-point that moment) as the day of our salvation. As we come to understand the work of Christ better, we can look to the cross as the place where our salvation was accomplished. But to fully understand the saving work of God, we must go back much farther in time. In order to think rightly about salvation, it is critical to begin at the right place with the right perspective. Right thoughts about saving grace proceed from a right perspective about the truth. But what is the best place from which to begin to view our great salvation? Where do we gain the best vantage point from which to see the grace of God? Three possibilities lie before us. First, one might say that the best starting place to understand salvation rightly is ones conversion. Any Christian can reflect upon Gods grace in his life by considering the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit in causing him to be born again. It is essential to correctly grasp the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration in order to properly understand salvation. We praise God for the powerful role of the Spirit in convicting us of sin and calling us to faith in Christ. But although this is a great perspective from which to gaze upon our salvation, it does not see it from a lofty enough vantage point. Second, one might say that the best place in which to understand salvation is two thousand years ago, with the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross. To grasp saving grace, we should survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, as Isaac Watts rightly encourages us to do in his grand hymn. While hanging on the cross, Christ secured the eternal redemption of His people. See Him wounded for our iniquities. Behold Him smitten for us. His saving death certainly gives a necessary understanding of salvationit is the very heart of the gospel. But even this perspective, grand as it is, does not have the clearest view. Third, one might say that the best place to go to understand salvation is all the way back to eternity past. In truth, this is the best viewpoint from which to understand the saving grace of God. There, before time began, God the Father chose His elect to be His people. He singled them out to become the recipients of His saving grace. The Father then commissioned His Son to enter the yet-to-be-created world in order to die a substitutionary death for these chosen ones. At that point, Jesus death was so certain that He became the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world. The Father and Son together then commissioned the Holy Spirit to apply the merit of Christs death to His elect. Only by looking to eternity past do we gain the proper perspective to fully grasp the magnitude of our salvation. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 411412.

Irresistible Call in Ephesians

Just as wethat is, Christianswere united with Christ in his death and resurrection, so we must see our regeneration as irresistible. If Christ was raised, so, inevitably, were we. Regeneration is a divine resurrection of a spiritually dead soul. By the sovereign power of God, the sinner is raised to life so that he is able to respond to the Holy Spirits call to believe on Christ: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been savedand raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:46 No corpse can raise itself from the grave. Neither can any spiritually dead sinner believe upon Christ. God must act sovereignly to make the sinner spiritually alive before he can exercise saving faith. Hodge writes, The Greek word translated to make alive means to impart life. In the New Testament it almost always refers to the giving of the life of which Christ is the author. . . . The resurrection, the making alive, and the raising up of Christs people were in an important sense accomplished when He rose from the dead and sat down at the right hand of God. The life of the whole body is in the head, and therefore when the head rose, the body rose. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 423.

Perseverance in Pursuit of Godliness

Wednesday··2012·12·19 · 2 Comments
Although the doctrine of Perseverance only makes sense in the context of monergism (Calvinism), it is commonly believed by many synergists (Arminians & semi-Pelagians) as well. Parents of ungodly children seem especially prone to employ eternal security as a soporific for their grief, clinging to that day long ago when their child asked Jesus into his heart. But perseverance means more than once saved, always saved. The fifth point of the doctrines of grace is preserving grace. It is often referred to as the perseverance of the saints or eternal security. Others speak of this doctrine by means of the pithy phrase once saved, always saved. This is the biblical truth that all those who have been brought to faith in Christ will never be lost. But this doctrine is about more than eternal security. It also includes the lifelong perseverance of the believer in the pursuit of godliness. While the doctrine of election reaches back to eternity past, this doctrinepreserving gracereaches forward throughout the entirety of ones Christian life and into eternity future. This doctrine simply establishes that all those chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit will pursue holiness and be kept secure in Christ forever. The preserving grace of God rests upon the immutability of His sovereign grace to save His elect forever. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 434435.

Preserving Grace in 1 Thessalonians

Again, we must insist that when Jesus died on the cross, he made an actual atonement for the actual sin of actual sinners. Paul asserted that all believers are destined to obtain eternal salvation from the wrath of God. This salvation is accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:910 The extent of the atonement is defined here as reaching all believers. The Lord Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, died for us. This first-person plural pronoun is used once in verse 9 and again in verse 10. The first use defines the purpose of the salvation Christ provides. He saves us (all believers) from God Himself, specifically from His wrath. Paul then stated that those who are chosen to be saved (v. 9) are the same people for whom Christ died (v. 10). Jesus Christ died to redeem all who are destined, or chosen, to obtain salvation from Gods wrath. All for whom Christ diedthe electobtain salvation (v. 9) and live together with Him (v. 10). Regarding the definite nature of the atonement, Boice writes, Jesus did not come merely to make salvation possible, but actually to save His people. He did not come to make redemption possible; He died to redeem His people. He did not come to make propitiation possible; He turned aside Gods wrath for each of His elect people forever. He did not come to make reconciliation between God and man possible; He actually reconciled to God those whom the Father had given Him. He did not come merely to make atonement for sins possible, but actually to atone for sinners. . . . Christs work on the cross was not a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, but a real and definite salvation for Gods own chosen people. A redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation that does not propitiate, a reconciliation that does not reconcile, and an atonement that does not atone cannot help anybody. But a redemption that redeems, a propitiation that propitiates, a reconciliation that reconciles, and an atonement that atones reveal a most amazing grace on Gods part and draw us to rest in Him and in His completed work, rather than our own. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 435.

Preserving Grace in 1 Thessalonians (2)

While rejecting the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, orthodox Christians look forward to the day, guaranteed by our Lord, when our sanctification will be perfect. All believers will be kept blameless until Christs return. At that time, they will be perfectly sanctified forever in glory: Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:2324 This concluding doxology provides additional instruction on the eternal security of the believer. The eternal duration of salvation is a guaranteed reality that rests not upon the shaky faithfulness of believers but upon the unwavering steadfastness of God Himself. It is Gods faithfulness that will bring His eternal purposes for His elect to full completion. God, who calls His elect to Himself in conversion, also calls them to sanctification and glorification, and He never fails to bring this ongoing salvation to pass. Charles A. Wanamaker writes, The present tense of the participle kalon (the one calling) stresses that God does not merely call Christians once and then leave them on their own. Instead God continues to call the followers of Christ to salvation. Mention of Gods faithfulness by Paul is intended to assure the Thessalonians that God will not reject them or withdraw the call directed to them. This is to say, God keeps all believers secure until He brings them to a future state of completed sanctification, otherwise known as glorification. This will be a future reality. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 437438.

Definite Atonement in Titus

What is the value of an atonement that fails to save? Those who espouse an unlimited atonement must answer that question. Paul also taught that Christ gave Himself at the cross for usthat is, for all believersin order to redeem us and transform us into a people for His own possession: Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13b14 Jesus gave Himself at the cross for all believersusin order to redeem them from their sins. To redeem us means to ransom us from an evil power. The ransom Christ paid to purchase His church was His own blood (1 Peter 1:1819). By the power of His death, Christ bought all believers from lawlessness in order to purify them and make them His own. The extent of the atonement is not one person more or one person less than all of the elect. Benjamin B. Warfield said, The things we have to choose between are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together. The fact is, Jesus accomplished an atonement of exceedingly high value as He purchased all who would believe upon Hima people for His own possession. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 456.

Evangelism & Radical Depravity in Acts

Stubborn resistance to the gospel is a manifestation of human depravity. Yet it is evident that God holds sinners responsible for their response to him, else the evangelist Stephen would not have rebuked the Jews for rejecting Christ. The unregenerate in every generation are stiff-necked. As a result, they always resist the Holy Spirit whenever Gods Word is made known to them: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Acts 7:51 In Acts 7, Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin and gave a brilliant survey of the Old Testament. He affirmed that all of redemptive history pointed to the coming of Israels Messiah, Jesus Christ. Yet Israels spiritual leaders had crucified Him. When they heard these truths from Stephen, the Jewish leaders remained stiff-necked. The image Stephen had in mind was that of an ox that refuses to submit to its masters yoke. He was saying that the leaders of Israel was [sic] unsubmissive to the lordship of Christ. They were always resisting Gods Spirit. But Stephen charged that this rebellion was true not just of his hearers, but of all generations. F. F. Bruce writes, That the nation was obstinate, stiffnecked, was a complaint as old as the wilderness wanderingsa complaint made by God Himself (Ex. 33:5). Further, the leaders were uncircumcised in heart, meaning unclean and defiled. Simon Kistemaker states, With these Old Testament terms, Stephen declares that his listeners are outside the covenant because by refusing to listen to Gods Word they have broken its obligations. They have the external sign on their physical bodies, but they lack the internal signan obedient heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 2:2830). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 469470.

Evangelism & Sovereign Election in Acts

The Doctrines of Grace, particularly of election, are often construed to be anti-evangelistic. In truth, however, these doctrines are the evangelists only real hope. Election is the only guarantee that any will respond to preaching of the gospel. God appointed His elect unto eternal life before the foundation of the world. Every one of His chosen ones will surely believe and be saved: And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 When Paul preached the gospel, he knew the truth of divine election was no hindrance to his outreach. Instead, he saw sovereign grace as a guarantee of its success. As the Word of God was sounded by Paul, as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Bruce writes, Appointed is used in some ancient documents in the sense of to inscribe or to enroll. In other words, those who believe have been enrolled by God among His elect. Appointed is in the passive voice, indicating that the elect are passive in this act, God alone being the active agent. In addition, appointed is in the perfect tense, which specifies action in the past with continuing relevance in the future. These who believe do so because they were sovereignly appointed by God to eternal life in eternity past. A. W. Pink writes, Here we learn four things: First, that believing is the consequence and not the cause of Gods decree. Second, that a limited number only are ordained to eternal life, for if all men without exception were thus ordained by God, then the words as many as are a meaningless qualification. Third, that this ordination of God is not to mere external privileges but to eternal life, not to service but to salvation itself. Fourth, that allas many as, not one lesswho are thus ordained by God to eternal life will most certainly believe. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 471472.

Evangelism & Irresistable Call in Acts

Wednesday··2013·01·16 · 1 Comments
I once heard a seminary student refer to himself and his fellow scholars as Gods sales department. He believed that the salvation of souls depended on the preachers persuasive skills. Considering the quality of average salesman (as the student himself lamented), we can be grateful that God doesnt leave it to the preacher to save sinners, but opens hearts to receive the gospel. God also must open the human heart before it can receive the saving message and believe. Left to itself, the fallen soul is closed to the gospel: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. Acts 16:14 Because of the radical depravity of mans fallen nature, the human heart is bolted shut by the twin locks of sin and Satan. In its natural state, no heart is open to God. When God saves His elect, He must open that heart so it can receive the message of salvation. The same word for opened is used later in Acts to describe the earthquake that struck Philippi, with the result that immediately all the doors were opened (16:26). Those closed and locked prison doors were instantly overpowered by the earthquake and made to open. This is precisely what God did to Lydias heartHe instantly threw it open by a spiritual earthquake within her soul. Calvin writes, Indeed, [believing] does not so stand in mans own impulse, and consequently even the pious and those who fear God still have need of the especial prompting of the Spirit. Lydia, the seller of purple, feared God, yet her heart had to be opened to receive Pauls teaching [Acts 16:14] and to profit by it. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 476477.

Sovereign Election in Hebrews

Many times when I have been listening to Handels Messiah, I have wondered about the words of the chorus, For Unto Us A Child Is Born, which quotes Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Odd, I have thought, that Jesus, the Son, should be called the everlasting Father. We are not modalists, after all. The Father and the Son are one, but they are not one and the same. But Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls him the everlasting Father, and so he must be. Here is why: In the face of . . . unbelief, only the sovereign grace of God can overcome the resistance of the readers and bring them to faith in Christ. This begins with the doctrine of election. In a world of sinners devolving into deeper stages of unbelief, God has a chosen people. It is upon these that God sets His saving grace. They were chosen for eternal life before time began and given to Christ to be His inheritance. It was the God-assigned mission of the Son to redeem these elect in order to present them to the Father: And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children God has given me. Hebrews 2:13 This verse quotes Isaiah 8:1718 and applies it to the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Son of God approached the cross, He put His trust in His Father as He carried out His will. Illuminating Christs thoughts, Philip Hughes writes, These children whom God has given Me constitute the elect people of God. These are given to the Son by the Father; hence the certainty with which Christ affirmed: All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me (Jn. 6:37; cf. Jn. 6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24; 18:9). Pink adds, Those whom God hath given to Christ were referred to by Him, again and again, during the days of His public ministry. All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me (John 6:37). I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me. . . . I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me (John 17:6, 9). They were given to Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). These children are Gods elect, sovereignly singled out by Him, and from the beginning chosen unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13). Gods elect having been given to Christ before the foundation of the world, and therefore from all eternity, throws light upon a title of the Saviours found in Isa. 9:6: The everlasting Father. This has puzzled many. It need not. Christ is the everlasting Father because from everlasting He has had children! Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 482483.

Preserving Grace in Hebrews

Thursday··2013·01·31 · 1 Comments
As adopted children of God, believers in Christ are subject to the loving discipline of the Father. This is a preserving grace. At the time of salvation, all sinners who put their trust in Christ become children of God. This is the beginning of a saving relationship that can never be broken, even given the ongoing presence of sin in believers lives. God disciplines, but never abandons, His children when they sin: For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? Hebrews 12:67 When a believer sins, he does not lose his sonship. A son never ceases to be a son in Gods family. But God disciplines every son whom He receives. It is through this painful chastisement that God removes sin from a believers life. Making a careful distinction between divine punishment and discipline, Kistemaker writes, Does God punish His children? He does send us trials and hardships designed to strengthen our faith in Him. Adversities are aids to bring us into a closer fellowship with God. But God does not punish us. He punished the Son of God, especially on Calvarys cross, where He poured out His wrath on Jesus by forsaking Him (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). As sin-bearer, Jesus bore Gods wrath for us, so that we who believe in Him will never be forsaken by God. God does not punish us, because Jesus received our punishment. We are disciplined, not punished. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 491.

Who knows? You can.

The story has often been told of the monk Martin Luther exasperating his confessor with hours of detailed confession. The burden of sin weighed heavily on Luther, and the Roman system of confession and penance could not relieve him of it. Steve Lawson writes: In an effort to ease Luther’s burden, Staupitz sent him on an official trip to Rome (1510). Luther hoped to find peace there by visiting sacred sites and venerating supposed relics of Christianity, but instead he discovered the gross abuses and masked hypocrisies of the priests. He became disillusioned with the corruption of the Roman church and disenchanted by the pilgrimages to adore religious relics. These objects included the rope with which Judas supposedly hanged himself, a reputed piece of Moses’ burning bush, and the alleged chains of Paul. Yet worse, it was claimed that the Scala Sancta (“the Holy Stairs”), the very steps that Jesus had descended from Pilate’s judgment hall, had been moved to Rome, and that God would forgive the sins of those who crawled up the stairs on their knees, kissing each step. Luther dutifully climbed the stairs in the appointed manner, but when he reached the top, he despaired: “At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a pater noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, ‘Who knows whether this is true?’” —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 7–8. Luther’s doubts led him to dig into the Scriptures, which led him out of the bondage of Rome to freedom in Christ. Rome is once again—or, rather, still—offering indulgences (get yours here). Thousands will be flocking to Brazil this week to get theirs. We should pray that the thought will come to them, “Who knows whether this is true?”
Martin Luther believed that preachers, when faithfully expounding the Word of God, were no less than the voice of God. To this point, Luther emphatically stated: “For God has said, ‘When the Word of Christ is preached, I am in your mouth, and I go with the Word through your ears into your heart.’ Therefore, we have a sure sign and sure knowledge that when the gospel is proclaimed, God is present there.” In other words, Jesus Christ is powerfully present in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Consequently, Luther resisted any supposed private revelations to men. Dreams and visions, he asserted, must not be preached: “Whenever you hear anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God’s Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil.” He added, “Whatever does not have its origin in the Scriptures is surely from the devil himself.” Luther believed that only the Bible, not the mystical intuitions of men, is to be preached. Luther’s theology of preaching can be summarized by his assertion that preaching is God’s own speech to people. For Luther, preaching is Deus loquens—“God speaking.” The greatness of preaching, he maintained, lies in the fact that God Himself is active insofar as the preacher remains obedient to the Word and seeks nothing but for the people to hear the Word of God. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 30–31. Luther’s high view of preaching is virtually unknown today. The reason for that may be, in part, that so little of today’s preaching deserves such honor. I think, however, the main reason preaching is so lightly esteemed is that the Word of God is lightly esteemed—which brings us back to the preacher. Luther could call preaching “God speaking” because he had committed himself to faithfully expounding the Word, and nothing but. Consequently, authority of God emanated from his pulpit.

No Clearer Book

Martin Luther insisted that Scripture was understandable by the common mind. Yet all Scripture is not equally clear or—by itself—understandable, nor is it accessible to every person. Steve Lawson writes: The Roman Catholic Church withheld the Bible from the common people, claiming they could not understand it. The pope and other leaders must interpret it for the laity, Rome said. But Luther maintained the very opposite. He said, “No clearer book has been written on earth than the Holy Scripture.” Again, he stated, “There is not on earth a book more lucidly written than the Holy Scripture.” Luther affirmed that the Word is crystal clear, plainly understandable for ordinary Christians. This is especially true in regard to the core message of the Bible, which, Luther stated, is clearly communicated by God in intelligible language for all to read. He asserted: “Scripture is intended for all people. It is clear enough so far as truths necessary for salvation are concerned.” This foundational belief led Luther to translate the Bible into the German language. He was certain that if the people could read it in their own language, they would grasp its essential message. He believed that Scripture is remarkably clear in what it teaches about salvation. Luther did not deny that some parts of the Bible are not easy to understand, but he attributed that difficulty to the reader, not Scripture itself: “I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture.” With proper study, he believed, all the content of the Bible could be grasped. Because of his belief that some biblical passages are more difficult to understand, he advised, “If you cannot understand the obscure, then stay with the clear.” Again, he said, “If the words are obscure at one place, yet they are clear at another place.” Luther believed that the verses that are clearer must interpret passages that are less clear to the human mind. By this principle, Luther asserted that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Nevertheless, Luther did recognize that Scripture is incomprehensible to those who are not born again: “If you speak of the internal clearness, no human being sees one iota of Scripture unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart. . . . The Spirit is required to understand the whole of Scripture and every part of it.” He believed in Scripture’s intrinsic clarity, but he also accepted the biblical teaching that those whose hearts have not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit are blind to the Bible’s message. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 36–37.
Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God. . . . This Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of preaching, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 38 [original source].

Body and Soul at Work

As noted previously, Martin Luther insisted that Scripture was understandable by the common mind. That does not mean, however, that it comes easily. As with any discipline, proficiency requires hard work. If all you want is a little devotional reading, and you’re not willing to tackle your studies with diligence, investing time and effort, don’t complain when you find you’re not getting much out of it. In the following excerpt, Luther writes of the preacher’s work, but the principle applies to every disciple of Christ. Sitting before an open Bible is far more strenuous, Luther believed, than physical labor in a field or factory. While some may consider sitting at a desk for extended hours to be idle work, Luther knew better: “Studying is my work. This work God wants me to do, and if it pleases Him, He will bless it.” Of this all-demanding work, he wrote: I would like to see the horseman who could sit still with me all day and look into a book—even if he had nothing else to care for, write, think about, or read. Ask a . . . preacher . . . whether writing and speaking is work. . . . The pen is light, that is true. . . . But in writing, the best part of the body (which is the head), and the noblest of the members (which is the tongue) and the highest faculty (which is speech) must lay hold and work as never before. In other occupations it is only the fist or the foot or the back or some other member that has to work; and while they are at it they can sing and jest, which the writer cannot do. They say of writing that “it only take three fingers to do it”; but the whole body and soul work at it too. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 44–45.

Begin with Prayer

Luther has been quoted previously on the diligent hard work required to gain understanding of the Scripture. He did not, however, believe that hard work was the key necessity. Without the Spirit of God, no one, however intelligent or studious, can expect to understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, it behooves us to begin our studies in prayer (James 1:5). It is absolutely certain that one cannot enter into the [meaning of] Scripture by study or innate intelligence. Therefore your first task is to begin with prayer. You must ask that the Lord in His great mercy grant you a true understanding of His words, should it please Him to accomplish anything through you for His glory and not for your glory or that of any other man. For there is no one who can teach the divine words except He who is their Author, as He says: “They shall all be taught of God” (John 6:45). You must therefore completely despair of your own diligence and intelligence and rely solely on the infusion of the Spirit. Believe me, for I have had experience in this matter. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 46.

The Slaying, Condemning, Accusing Law

Christians, though not under the Law, cannot live without it. We, too, who are now made holy through grace, nevertheless live in a sinful body. And because of this remaining sin, we must permit ourselves to be rebuked, terrified, slain, and sacrificed by the Law until we are lowered into the grave. Therefore before and after we have become Christians, the Law must in this life constantly be the slaying, condemning, accusing Law. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 71.

No Showmanship or Manipulation

Luther provides an example—and a rebuke—to preachers who use theatrics to manipulate an audience: Luther’s messages were noticeably marked by a warm personality and fervent delivery. One observer noted that Luther was compelling in the presentation of his words and arguments. At the Leipzig disputation, the following portrait of Luther’s manner of public speech was recorded by a distinguished humanist Latin scholar, Peter Mosellanus, who chaired the meetings: His voice is clear and melodious. . . . For conversation, he has a rich store of subjects at his command; a vast forest of thoughts and words is at his disposal. . . . There is nothing stoical, nothing supercilious, about him; and he understands how to adapt himself to different persons and times. In society he is lively and agreeable. He is always fresh, cheerful and at his ease, and has a pleasant countenance, however hard his enemies may threaten him, so that one cannot but believe that heaven is with him in his great undertaking. To this point, Fred W. Meuser, notes: “Everything in Luther’s preaching was genuine. The message was everything. Histrionics, calculated gestures, anything done for effect would have been regarded as a human intrusion on the Word of God. Although there was humor, there was never levity or anything calculated to produce laughter.” This is to say, there was nothing contrived about Luther’s delivery. There was no showmanship or manipulation of the listener. Instead, his delivery was marked by sincerity and a deep concern for the spiritual wellbeing of his flock. —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 84–85.

Truth for Everyone

Luther was no simple, uneducated preacher. A master of the biblical languages and exegesis, and a highly skilled preacher, teacher, and debater, he crossed intellectual swords with the top scholars of his day. He tackled the minute details of theology with alacrity. Still, he never forgot his audience, and endeavored always to present the gospel in the common language, accessible to the common man. Luther intentionally sought to preach the gospel to his listeners in an understandable manner. Such plain preaching was much needed in his day. For centuries, German congregations had suffered through worship services conducted in Latin, which was the scholarly language of the classroom but not the common language of the marketplace or the home. Thus, it was largely unknown among the general populace. Luther believed that “the text of the Bible, and all preaching based upon it, should be in the vernacular—the everyday language of the people, not Latin, which distanced the people from the text.” Because he longed to be clearly understood in the pulpit, Luther strove to use language that was simple and accessible. The Word, Luther insisted, must be explained and applied in plain terms in the native language of the common people. “To preach plain and simply is a great art,” he said. Although Luther was the ranking scholar of the world in which he moved, he targeted his sermon delivery not to the intellectual or religious elite, but to the common people. E. C. Dargan states: “He thought with the learned, but he also thought and talked with the people. His style of speech was clear to the people, warm with life and sentiment, and vigorous with the robust nature of the man himself.” Broadus agrees, writing, “He [Luther] gloried in being a preacher to the common people.” Simply put, Luther wanted to communicate the truth to everyone. . . . Luther sounded a stern warning to preachers against parading their intellect at the expense of not communicating to simple people in desperate need of the gospel message: “Cursed are all preachers that in the church aim at high and hard things, and, neglecting the saving health of the poor unlearned people, seek their own honour and praise, and therewith to please one or two ambitious persons.” —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 90–91, 92.

Delighting in Assertions

Contention is sadly out of fashion in the large parts of the church today. Consequently, controversial doctrines are brushed aside for the sake of peace and unity. It is thought best never to be too sure of anything that might cause disagreement. Luther would not have fit in. Luther wholeheartedly contended that to be a Christian is to believe the Bible’s assertions. This must be true for every preacher as he stands before an open Bible. Luther maintained: To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. . . . By “assertion” I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. . . . Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that “full assurance” which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction. . . . Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. Luther’s strong position regarding the inspiration of Scripture led him to believe that every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, recorded in Scripture, is authored by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the Bible’s assertions are the assertions of the Spirit. Thus, no biblical passage is to be doubted or minimized. Luther affirmed, “The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions—surer and more certain than sense and life itself.” For this reason, Luther maintained, the preacher cannot be a skeptic. Rather, as he stands in the pulpit, he must declare with strong confidence all that the Bible affirms. —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 105–106.

Manure to the Vine

Luther on the opposition Christians must necessarily face in this life: Even if all the devils, the world, our neighbors, and our own people are hostile to us, revile and slander us, hurt and torment us, we should regard this as no different from applying a shovelful of manure to the vine to fertilize it well, cutting away the useless wild branches, or removing a little of the excessive and hampering foliage. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 109–110.

The Reformation: Augustine versus Augustine

Speaking of contradictions, I found this very interesting: In response [to Pelagius], Augustine strongly asserted the inability of unregenerate sinners to merit salvation. Moreover, he said, no one can believe in Christ apart from a sovereign work of God overcoming man’s sinful resistance. Augustine refuted the false notion that God merely looks down the proverbial tunnel of time and foresees the free will of man choosing Him. Instead, he developed a full-blown doctrine of predestination. He firmly maintained the biblical teaching on original sin, total depravity, sovereign election, monergistic regeneration, and absolute predestination. He saw man as hopelessly plagued by radical corruption and, therefore, unable to initiate or contribute to his salvation. By necessity, he viewed God as sovereign in the exercise of His saving grace toward elect sinners. Regarding election, Augustine taught that salvation is a sovereign gift, fixed in eternity past, irrespective of the merit of man. Augustine, Loraine Boettner argues, “went far beyond the earlier theologians, and taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purposes of redemption to the definite circle of the elect.” The whole race fell in Adam, Augustine maintained, so that everyone is born totally depraved and spiritually dead. Therefore, the human will is free only to sin, but not free to choose any good toward God. Thus, Augustine was the first theologian to carefully connect the biblical truths of man’s moral inability in sin and God’s sovereignty in election and regeneration. Augustine’s influence would dominate medieval Christianity and provide the chief stimulus for the Reformation. Though Augustine asserted salvation by grace, he maintained that the irresistible grace of predestination is applied by the sacrament of baptism. He also espoused progressive justification. He even held that some believers are not of the elect and will not persevere. Thus, his theological steps forward did not go far enough. Despite his advances in the areas of sin and grace, further clarity was needed on salvation by faith alone. The Reformation would be the triumph of Augustine’s views on sovereign grace, as held by the Protestants, over his views on sacramentalism and the church, as held by the Roman Catholics. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 27–28.

The Long Line

Speaking with converts to Roman Catholicism, I am told that the Roman Catholic church is the church Christ founded, and is therefore the true Church. Their perspective sees Catholicism as all there ever was before that upstart, Luther, went astray. In his book, Pillars of Grace, Steve Lawson exposes the fallacy of that view, showing that the Reformation was not the result of a Sixteenth Century spontaneous combustion, but of a divine fanning of a flame kept burning, though low at times, from the beginning. Though the gospel was corrupted, abandoned, and even repudiated by the Roman church, it was never lost to God’s elect. From Clement of Rome in the first century to Calvin of Geneva in the sixteenth, there is a progression in the church’s understanding of the doctrines of grace, a gradual maturation in the comprehension of these glorious truths. What began as mere restatements of Scripture grew into fuller descriptions of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. . . . Admittedly, these stalwarts had feet of clay. Though they helped bring great clarity to the church regarding many essential truths, they were capable of holding views that contradicted their own teachings. . . . They were not perfect men possessing infallible understanding. Rather they were flawed figures with fallible minds. But when it came to the truths about salvation, there was considerable unity in their growing understanding of sovereign grace. Throughout the first sixteen centuries of the church, this long line of godly men increasingly asserted the key aspects of God’s sovereignty in saving grace. A growing consensus concerning Scripture’s teaching on the doctrines of grace gradually emerged. From mere traces of these biblical truths in the teachings of the early centuries, the church’s understanding developed with time and came into greater focus. In spite of their many imperfections, God used these figures, to varying degrees, to document, define, and defend the doctrines of grace. In no period of history has God left Himself without a witness. In the second through fourth centuries, the Church Fathers spoke these truths, though they needed greater clarification. In the fifth century, God raised up Augustine, who brought further illumination to these doctrines. In the Dark Ages, this noble procession wore thin. Throughout the late medieval period, stalwarts for sovereign grace were often few. But in the Protestant Reformation, teachers of the doctrines of grace were plentiful and prolific. Through it all, God maintained a line of godly men, those who upheld the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). Throughout the flow of church history, God remains faithful to His cause. As Lord of the church, He guarantees the success of His truth. As the Author of Scripture, He ensures the triumph of His theology. From His throne above, our sovereign Lord sends forth faithful messengers to proclaim His supreme authority. By His Holy Spirit, God prepares the hearts of His people to embrace the teaching of sovereign grace, all in His perfect timing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 37–38.

Monergist Father: Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome (ca. a.d. 30–100) was among the first presbyters of the New Testament church. He was co-presbyter with Linus (mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21) and Cletus, both of whom most likely perished under Nero. He is thought to have been with Paul at Philippi around a.d. 57, and is generally believed to be the same Clement named by Paul in Philippians 4:3 among those “whose names are in the book of life.” His only extant writing is The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.* From this work, Steve Lawson draws out Clement’s understanding of sovereign grace. [T]he Apostolic Fathers did not engage in deep theology but primarily quoted Scripture to make their points. . . . Nevertheless, trace evidences of the doctrines of divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and preserving grace appear in embryonic form in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including First Clement. . . . the Early Church Fathers’ teachings regarding election and predestination were in complete harmony with the truths of Scripture but did not provide penetrating insights. Clement and the men who followed him affirmed individual truths but did not systematize these doctrines or address their cause-and-effect relationships. . . . Throughout his letter to the Corinthians, Clement asserts the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of this world: “The heavens move at His direction and peacefully obey Him. Day and night observe the course He has appointed them, without getting in each other’s way. . . . By His will and without dissension or altering anything He has decreed, the earth becomes fruitful at the proper seasons.” By divine direction, there is harmony in God’s creation. Clement states: “All these things the great Creator and Master of the universe ordained to exist in peace and harmony.” Here Clement, in a clear statement of divine sovereignty, declared that God directs whatsoever comes to pass. . . . Clement held that fallen man is so ruined in sin that he is incapable of saving himself. Having forfeited his moral ability to do good, man cannot present himself acceptable to God. Clement writes that we are “not justified of ourselves or by our wisdom or insight or religious devotion or the holy deeds we have done from the heart.” That is, no man has the innate ability to save himself. What is more, Clement teaches that all people come into this world spiritually dead in sin: “We must take to heart, brothers, from what stuff we were created, what kind of creatures we were when we entered the world, from what a dark grave he who fashioned and created us brought us into his world.” Fallen man must be raised to new life by God. . . . Given his belief in man’s inability to save himself, it is entirely consistent that Clement affirmed sovereign election. He wrote that the “elect” are “chosen of God,” using these biblical terms as synonyms for believers in Christ. In the opening sentence of his epistle, Clement states that believers are “those whom God has chosen.” He later adds that as the apostles preached the Word of God, “there was joined a great multitude of the elect.” He clearly believed the church to be the ingathering of God’s chosen ones. . . . Clement alluded to the truth that Christ’s death was intended for the elect, writing: “By love all God’s elect were made perfect. Without love nothing can please God. By love, the Master accepted us. Because of the love He had for us, and in accordance with God’s will, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us, His flesh for our flesh, and His life for ours.” With these words, Clement maintained that Christ sacrificially shed His blood for the elect. . . . Clement said that the sovereign will of God is ultimately the determinative factor in repentance. He states: “It is the will of God that all whom He loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent. He has established it by His almighty will.” With these words, Clement made a bold distinction between those whom God loves and the unbelieving. It is by God’s determinative will that those whom He loves come to repentance. The new birth is the result of His omnipotent will that cannot be resisted. . . . Finally, Clement asserted that the salvation God gives to His elect is an enduring work of grace, never to be reversed or undone. He says: “But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is His almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of His?” In other words, God holds His elect eternally secure by His omnipotent will. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 51–55. * Philip Schaff, The Anti-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:1–3.

Monergist Father: Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130–200) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor. He was a student of Polycarp, who studied under the apostle John. His writings demonstrate well an orthodox, biblical understanding of original sin and its effects: depravity and inability. Irenaeus acknowledged that Adam’s sin had brought about the devastation of the entire human race. Recognizing Adam’s role as the representative of all his descendants, Irenaeus asserted that when the first man sinned, all mankind transgressed with him. He writes: “Indeed we had offended [God] in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. . . . We were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” This is to say, all human beings are guilty because of Adam’s fall. In this state of depravity, Irenaeus argued, all men are ignorant of God. Concerning man’s inherent inability to know God, he states: “Since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.’” No one can come to a saving knowledge of God apart from being taught by God Himself. Similarly, Irenaeus affirmed that all men give themselves to the world system and their carnal desires. He writes, “Man . . . shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts.” In short, the spirit of this evil age rules over the rebellious hearts of all unconverted men. Irenaeus held that the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the spiritual, physical, and emotional death of all mankind. He says, “Eve . . . having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race.” The wages of sin is death, rendering man morally unable to please God. Neither does man have the spiritual capacity to come to Him. What can a dead man do? Nothing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 97–98. Like many of the Fathers, Irenaeus was not without contradictions. Along with his orthodox statements on inability, he also made conflicting statements on free will. Lawson offers a likely explanation for these conflicting messages. He wrote of fallen man possessing a power to choose whether to obey or disobey God and expressed confidence in human ability and moral freedom. He writes, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Similarly, he maintained that “it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” This inconsistency may have stemmed partly from the context in which Irenaeus lived and ministered. Like Justin Martyr, he was constantly embattled by Gnostic attacks. Gnosticism inaccurately “asserted that the Christian faith denied moral responsibility.” To counter this idea, the Apologists stressed man’s obligation. In so doing, they unfortunately weakened their position concerning man’s depravity, as well as God’s exclusive role in salvation. —Ibid., 98–99.

Monergist Father: Cyprian of Carthage

The monergism of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200–258): Cyprian affirmed the sovereignty of God over every aspect of life. He writes: “‘Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth,’ not that God may do what He wishes, but that we may be able to do what God wishes. For who stands in the way of God’s doing what He wishes? . . .” Here Cyprian maintained that God is supreme over the will of man and Satan in all things. . . . Cyprian clearly taught the radical corruption of the human soul. Augustine observed that Cyprian confessed original sin. Calvin later repeated Cyprian’s words, “Let us glory in nothing, because nothing is ours,” then paraphrased Cyprian with these words: “If there is nothing good in us; if man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is wholly sin; if it is not even lawful to try how far the power of the will extends,—how can it be lawful to share the merit of a good work between God and man?” This is a summary of Cyprian’s position on radical depravity. . . . Cyprian also asserted the doctrine of sovereign election in the salvation of sinners. He declared that believers are “elected to hope, consecrated to faith, destined to salvation, sons of God, brethren of Christ, associates of the Holy Spirit, owing nothing any longer to the flesh.” Election, he maintained, is the root of every spiritual blessing. . . . Finally, Cyprian believed that a true believer can never be separated from Christ. His salvation is eternally secure. Cyprian writes, “Thus there is nothing that can separate the union between Christ and the Church, that is, the people who are established within the Church and who steadfastly and faithfully persevere in their beliefs: Christ and His Church must remain ever attached and joined to each other by indissoluble love.” Again, citing Romans 8:35, he writes: “As it is written: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trial or tribulation or persecution or hunger or nakedness or peril or sword? None of these can separate those who believe, none can prize away those who cling to His body and blood.” These are clear affirmations of the eternal security of believers. Cyprian taught that those who depart from the faith were never truly in Christ. He states: “For it is not possible for a man to perish unless it is plainly evident that perish he must, since the Lord says in His own Gospel: Every planting which My heavenly father has not planted will be rooted out. Accordingly, whoever has not been planted in the precepts and counsels of God the Father, will alone be able to depart from the Church. . . . But all the others, through the mercy of God the Father, the compassion of Christ our Lord and our own patience, will be reunited with us.” He adds: “Those who withdraw from Christ have only themselves to blame for their own destruction, whereas the Church, which believes in Christ and holds fast to the teachings it has learned, never departs from Him in any way. . . . They are the Church who remain in the house of the Lord.” Those who are truly born again cannot leave the fold permanently. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 133–137.

Unregenerate Hordes

In about the year 312, Emperor Constantine (274–337), on his way into battle, saw something he thought looked like a cross in the sky. This sign signified, according to a voice in his head, victory with a heavenly guarantee. Or maybe he had a dream the night before instructing him to decorate his soldier’s shields with crosses. Accounts of the legend vary. In any case, feeling his oats in a special way, he marched his army into battle against his rival Maximentius, who led a force twice as large as his own, and thrashed him soundly. There was now only one thing to do: declare himself a Christian. (Oh, yeah, and fish Maximentius out of the Tiber, where he had been drowned in the stampede of his fleeing army, decapitate his body and, as much as possible, purge his name from the Roman public record and smear whatever remained of it.) So Constantine “converted” and, aware of how awkward throwing himself to the lions would be, quite naturally lifted the ban on Christianity. This development was, of course, welcomed by believers across the empire. And who can blame them? The persecution under various emperors had been severe, but now, with the Emperor numbered among them, Christianity was now, and for the first time, cool. Little did they know the havoc this new-found liberty would wreak on the Church. But the official acceptance of Christianity brought with it significant dangers. At this time, hordes of unregenerate Roman citizens came into the church and were baptized as believers. The sacred thus merged with the secular, and the immediate result was doctrinal compromise, all for the sake of political expediency. Such concessions prepared the soil of the church for the corruptions of Roman Catholicism. In future years, such externalized religion would bear bitter fruit. Thus, popularity proved to be a greater threat to Christianity than persecution, and the church was weakened significantly. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 145–146. If I may editorialize a bit: The loss of meaningful church membership among post-Reformation Christians has had the same effect. I could easily pick on the Lutherans, who brought me up in the faith, for their Baptism + Confirmation = Membership formula, but most Baptists are at least as guilty for their Decision + Baptism method (Hello? Constantine, anyone?). Churches of all stripes—and I exclude apostate denominations from this accounting—have filled their rolls with unregenerate members as surely as did the church under Constantine. “And the church [is] weakened significantly.”

Monergist Father: Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius on election: This grace had been prepared even before we came into being, nay, before the foundation of the world, and the reason why is kindly and wonderful. It seemed not that God should counsel concerning us afterwards, lest He should appear ignorant of our fate. The God of all then, creating us by His own Word, and knowing our destinies better than we, and foreseeing that, being made “good,” we should in the event be transgressors of the commandment, and be thrust out of paradise for disobedience, being loving and kind, prepared beforehand in His own Word, by whom also He created us, the Economy of our salvation; that though by the serpent’s deceit we fell from Him, we might not remain quite dead, but having in the Word the redemption and salvation which was afore prepared for us, we might rise again and abide immortal. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 155. [source: Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, II.22.75, cited in Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV, 389.]

The Guest of God

Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329–379) was one of three* fourth century theologians from the province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. They are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil, like Athanasius, was compelled to counter the continuing influence of Arianism.† He also faced a new heretic, Eustathius, leader of the Pneumatomachians, who, in addition to his denial of the deity of Christ, claimed that the Holy Spirit was also a created being.‡ In those days, these conflicts were not merely debates among theologians; a faithful pastor might have to put his life on the line to stand for truth. Basil was willing. The reigning emperor in the East was Valens, who supported Arianism. When Valens announced that he would visit Caesarea, it was understood that the emperor would use this appearance to promote the heretical teachings of Arius. Imperial officers arrived beforehand to prepare for Valens’s visit by seeking to influence Basil through imperial promises and threats. But unlike other bishops, Basil could not be controlled by such tactics. A heated exchange ensued, with the praetorian prefect threatening Basil. But Basil replied: “Nothing more! Not one of these things touches me. His property cannot be forfeited, who has none; banishment I know not, for I am restricted to no place, and am the guest of God, to whom the whole earth belongs; for martyrdom I am unfit, but death is a benefactor to me, for it sends me more quickly to God, to whom I live and move; I am also in great part already dead, and have been for a long time hastening to the grave.” The prefect was taken aback. No one had ever spoken to him like this, he declared. Basil answered, “Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 168. * Also Gregory of Nazianzus (330–389) and Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s brother, ca. 336–after 394). † Find Phil Johnson’s lectures on Arianism (and other heresies) here. ‡ See The Book of St. Basil on the Holy Spirit in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series II, 8:2.

An Early Church Mother

Councils may convene and compose creeds, but heresy marches on. Though the Council of Nicaea clarified the church’s teaching on the divinity of Christ, Trinitarian orthodoxy remained under attack. Arianism had not gone away, nor had the Pneumatomachians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379–395) convened the Council of Constantinople in 381. The work of the council is summarized in the Constantinople Creed, which reiterates the deity of Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets.” The primary leader of the council was Gregory of Nazianzus (330–385). He was born to Christian parents; Gregory, his father, had been a heretic, but was converted through the witness of his wife, Nonna. Of his mother, he wrote, She was a wife according to the mind of Solomon; in all things subject to her husband according to the laws of marriage, not ashamed to be his teacher and his leader in true religion. She solved the difficult problem of uniting a higher culture, especially in knowledge of divine things and strict exercise of devotion, with the practical care of her household. If she was active in her house, she seemed to know nothing of the exercises of religion; if she occupied herself with God and His worship, she seemed to be a stranger to every earthly occupation: she was whole in everything. Experiences had instilled into her unbounded confidence in the effects of believing prayer; therefore she was most diligent in supplications, and by prayer overcame even the deepest feelings of grief over her own and others” sufferings. She had by this means attained such control over her spirit, that in every sorrow she encountered, she never uttered a plaintive tone before she had thanked God. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 181–182.

Monergist Father: Gregory of Naziansus

Of Gregory, Steve Lawson writes, “like others of his time, he did not grasp [the doctrines of grace] in a systematic way.” Still, the sovereignty of God and monergistic salvation are apparent in his writings. Gregory was a strong believer in God’s absolute sovereignty over the affairs of men, world events, and eternal destinies. In affirming the doctrine of providence, he writes, “Believe that the whole universe, all that is visible and all that is invisible, was brought into being out of nothing by God and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better condition.” Here he asserted that God controls all that He created. In a prayer in his eulogy for his brother Caesarius, he likewise addressed God with these words: “O Lord and Maker of all things, and specially of this our frame! O God and Father and Pilot of men who are Yours! O Lord of life and death! O Judge and Benefactor of our souls! O Maker and Transformer in due time of all things by Your designing Word, according to the knowledge of the depth of Your wisdom and providence!” These statements affirm the truth of God’s supreme reign over the world. . . . Gregory believed that the minds of fallen men are imprisoned in sin, a spiritual state that prevents them from understanding divine truth. Concerning this bondage, Gregory states, “For in no other way does the coarseness of a material body and a captive mind come to comprehension of God except by being helped.” Fallen men’s minds are so enslaved they cannot know God by their own initiative or intellect. . . . Gregory understood that believers were chosen by God before time began. Looking beyond the large numbers of people merely attending church, he affirms that salvation belongs to a chosen remnant: “God does not delight in numbers! ‘You count your tens of thousands, but God counts those who will be saved; you the immeasurable grains of sand but, I the vessels of election.” Gregory taught that the names of believers in Christ were recorded before they believed. He writes: “Perhaps you have heard . . . of a certain book of the living, and of a book of them that are not to be saved, where we shall all be written, or rather are already written.” This book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12) contains the names of all the saved; their names were written there long ago. Thus, election precedes faith. . . . No unconverted person, Gregory affirmed, can see or enter God’s kingdom apart from the new birth. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit who works this regeneration; no human being can cause himself to be born again. Gregory writes: “The divine Spirit created me, and the breath of the Almighty taught me; and again, ‘You will send forth Your Spirit and they will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth.’ He also fashions the spiritual rebirth. Be persuaded by the text: ‘Nobody can see the kingdom or receive it unless he has been born from above by the Spirit, unless he has been purified from his earlier birth.’” Gregory was clear that the Spirit is the sole Author of regeneration. . . . Commenting on Romans 9:16, Gregory argued that no man can choose what is right apart from the gift of the mercy of God. In other words, apart from sovereign grace, man cannot exercise his will to believe on Christ. He writes: For when you hear, Not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy, I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He says not of him that wills; that is, not of him that wills only, nor of him that runs only, but also of God. . . . Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. However much you may run, however much you may wrestle, yet you need one to give the crown. This statement gives the proper prominence to the priority of the divine will in the regeneration of elect sinners. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 186–190.

Disciplining an Emperor

Following his “conversion” in 312, Emperor Constantine decreed the legal toleration of all religions. He also reckoned himself to be the head of the church, “bishop of all bishops” and the “thirteenth apostle.” Thus, the distinction between church and state was compromised. Enter Ambrose of Milan (ca. 339–397), who dared insist that Christ was the sole head of the church, and furthermore, that all Christians were under that authority, including those that happened to be Emperors—namely, Theodosius I, successor to Constantine. In the year 390, a Thessalonian mob murdered the governor of Illyria. In vain, Ambrose urged Theodosius to exercise restraint. The emperor sent an army “to massacre the Thessalonians.” When his anger cooled, he tried to recall his army, but seven thousand Thessalonians had already been slaughtered. Bishop Ambrose courageously reacted in faithful pastoral fashion. Ambrose respected Theodosius because the emperor was a Nicene Christian who had called the Council of Constantinople (381), which decisively rejected Arianism. Nevertheless, when Ambrose heard of the slaughter in Thessalonica, he wrote a bold letter, calling the emperor to repentance. He wrote: I cannot deny that you are zealous for the faith and that you fear God. But you have a naturally passionate spirit; and while you easily yield to love when that spirit is subdued, yet when it is stirred up you become a raging beast. I would gladly have left you to the workings of your own heart, but I dare not remain silent or gloss over your sin. No-one in all human history has ever before heard of such a bloody scene as the one at Thessalonica! I warned you against it, I pleaded with you; you yourself realized its horror and tried to cancel your decree. And now I call you to repent. This letter was a harbinger of the confrontation that would follow. Theodosius came to church, pretending that he had not received the letter. But Ambrose courageously barred his entrance to the church. When the emperor claimed he had repented, Ambrose responded that mere words were not enough—his contrition of heart must be demonstrated publicly before he could receive the Lord’s Supper. Ambrose challenged the emperor with these words: “How will you lift up in prayer the hands still dripping with the blood of the murdered? How will you receive with such hands the most holy body of the Lord? How will you bring to your mouth His precious blood? Go away, and dare not to heap crime upon crime.” In response, Theodosius pointed out that King David had been guilty of murder, but that he had been forgiven. Without hesitation, the bishop answered, “Well, if you have imitated David in sin, imitate him also in repentance.” The emperor humbled himself, demonstrating the genuineness of his repentance by walking through the streets of Milan while confessing his sin. Ambrose nevertheless banned Theodosius from attending church for the next eight months. When the probation period was complete, the emperor was required to kneel before the congregation and publicly ask for God’s forgiveness. Theodosius complied. This was the first time a bishop had used his spiritual authority with an emperor. As Ambrose asserted: “The Church belongs to God, therefore it cannot be assigned to Caesar. The emperor is within the Church, not above it.” The point was clear. No emperor, no king, no president is the ruler of the church—Christ is. Like all believers, even the highest civil authority, in matters pertaining to the church, is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 199–200.

Monergist Father: Ambrose of Milan

The Monergism of Ambrose: Ambrose affirmed that God intended His grace for a chosen people. He writes: “The Law was given to the Jews, but grace was reserved for the elect. The Law was given that, through fear of punishment, it might recall those who were wandering beyond the limits of nature, to their observance, but grace to incite the elect both by the desire of good things, and also by the promised rewards.” . . . Ambrose also spoke of the elect as those who were chosen by God for salvation. He says: “Everyone can hear, but not everyone can take in what they hear with their ears. Only God’s chosen can do this. This is why the Savior says: ‘Let those who have ears to hear, hear.’” . . . Ambrose understood that if any person is to receive salvation, the Holy Spirit must sovereignly apply saving grace. In other words, God must impart faith in Christ to the heart of a sinner before he can believe the gospel. Ambrose states, “God has concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy on all, so that the Grace would not be of him that wills, or of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy, that you should not justify yourself, but attribute all to God who has called you.” . . . Further, it is the Holy Spirit who causes the new birth, not men themselves: “Therefore, it is clear that the Holy Spirit is also the Author of spiritual generation, because we are created according to God, to be the sons of God. . . . He has made us heirs of supernatural regeneration.” . . . Commenting on Ephesians 1:13–14, Ambrose revealed that he understood that the gift of the Spirit is a guarantee from God the Father that He will complete the process of salvation in His people. He writes: “Recall, then, that you received a spiritual seal, ‘the Spirit.’ . . . God the Father sealed you and Christ the Lord confirmed you, placing the Spirit in your hearts.” . . . Further, Ambrose saw in John 10:27–30 the truth that God the Father and God the Son hold all believers eternally secure in Their saving hands. He states: “His [a believer’s] soul perishes not forever, and no one snatches him from the hand of the almighty Father or the Son. For God’s hand that made the heavens firm does not lose those whom it has held.” . . . Ambrose was consistent in his teaching on divine sovereignty by asserting the doctrine of divine reprobation. He held that God not only chose a people for Himself, He passed over the nonelect, leaving them in their sin and subject to His just punishment. He writes: “The Lord considered and knew those that were His, and drew His saints to Himself; and those whom He chose not, He did not draw to Himself.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 203–207.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (1)

The freedom of the will according to Augustine: Asserting the bondage of the human will, Augustine states that when Adam sinned, he and all his descendants became enslaved to sin: “For it was in the evil use of his free will that man destroyed himself and his will at the same time. For as a man who kills himself is still alive when he kills himself, but having killed himself is then no longer alive and cannot resuscitate himself after he has destroyed his own life—so also sin which arises from the action of the free will turns out to be victor over the will and the free will is destroyed.” The will of man became bound to sin, unable to please God. To this point, Sproul remarks: “After the fall, Augustine said the will, or the faculty, of choosing remained intact; that is, human beings are still free in the sense that they can choose what they want to choose. However, their choices are deeply influenced by the bondage of sin that holds them in a corrupt state.” In short, unregenerate human beings cannot choose not to sin. Augustine adds, “Free choice alone, if the way of truth is hidden, avails for nothing but sin.” Augustine aptly described the sinful state of fallen man when he wrote in his Confessions that he was entirely enslaved by sin—mind, emotion, and will. He says: “I was bound by the iron chain of my own will. The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together—which is why I called it ‘a chain’—a hard bondage held me in slavery.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 236.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (2)

Augustine on election and predestination: Augustine writes: “Let us, then, understand the calling by which they become the chosen, not those who are chosen because they believed, but those who are chosen in order that they may believe. ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ (Jn. 15:16). For, if they were chosen because they believed, they would, of course, have first chosen Him by believing in Him in order that they might merit to be chosen.” . . . Augustine clearly affirmed that God’s choice of individual sinners is not based on anything in them. He writes: “This is the calling which he means when he says, ‘Not of works, but of Him who calls, was it said to her, “The elder shall serve the younger.”’ Did the Apostle say, ‘Not of works but of him who believes’? No, for he took this entirely away from man, so that he might give it all to God. Hence he said, ‘But of Him who calls,’ not by any kind of call but by that call whereby one becomes a believer.” . . . Furthermore, Augustine maintained that God’s choice of individual sinners to salvation was made in eternity past. He writes, “He knew all the names of His own saints, whom He predestinated before the foundation of the world.” He adds: “They were chosen before the foundation of the world by that predestination by which God foreknew His future actions, but they were chosen out of the world by that calling, by which God fulfilled that which He predestined. ‘For those He predestined, He also called,’ that is, with that calling which is according to His purpose.” . . . The reasons for God’s choice in election, Augustine declared, are incomprehensible to men. He writes: “As to why God delivers this person rather than that one, ‘How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways.’ For it is better for us here to listen or to say, ‘O man, who are you that replies against God?’ than to dare to explain, as if we knew, what God has chosen to keep a secret—God who in any event could not will anything unjust.” . . . Augustine did not see divine election as a harsh truth, but as a display of the unconditional love of God. He strongly denied that it diminishes or weakens God’s divine love in any respect. Rather, Augustine knew that election is a glorious display of God’s love in light of man’s corrupt and depraved nature. It is no wonder that he thus remarks, “He [God] loved us also before the foundation of the world, and then foreordained what He was to do in the end of the world.” . . . Augustine believed that God intentionally chose to set His love on a broad cross-section of sinners. He writes: “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 men is among them.” Here Augustine affirmed the biblical teaching that the elect include those from every tribe, tongue, and nation. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 238–240.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (4)

Augustine on the effectual call (irresistible grace): God calls His many predestined children to make them members of His predestined only Son, and not with that call by which those who did not wish to come to the wedding were called, for with that call the Jews also were called, to whom Christ crucified is a scandal, and the gentiles were called, for whom Christ crucified is foolishness. Rather, He calls the predestined by that call which the Apostle distinguished when he declared that he preached Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God, to those who were called, Jews as well as Greeks. For he speaks thus: “But unto those who were called,” to show that those others were not called, for he knows that there is a special and certain call reserved for those who are called according to God’s purpose, “whom He foreknew and predestined to be conformable to the image of His Son.” —Augustine, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 241.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (5)

Augustine on preserving grace (perseverance of the saints): Augustine unquestionably maintained that God sustains every believer and ultimately brings them safely into glory. He preserves those who receive His saving grace so that they persevere to the very end. No believer will ever fall away from the faith but will endure. Augustine writes, “The grace of God, which both begins a man’s faith and which enables it to persevere unto the end, is not given according to our merits, but is given according to His own most secret and at the same time most righteous, wise, and benevolent will.” He adds, “He makes us to live, He makes us to persevere even unto the end, in order that for everlasting we may live.” . . . If perseverance were in the ability of man, Augustine argued, men would have reason to glory in their strength. But this is not the case. He says: “Clearly, then, even in the matter of perseverance in good, God did not want His saints to take pride in their own strength, but in Him; for He not only gives them an aid of the kind given to the first man, without which they are not able to persevere, if they will; but He also effects in them the will itself. The result is that, since there is no perseverance without the power and the will to persevere, both the possibility and the will to persevere are given them by the bounty of divine grace.” . . . Spiritual endurance, according to Augustine, continues because Jesus Christ intercedes on behalf of His people, asking God that their faith should not fail. He says: “Let us, then, understand the words of Christ: ‘I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail,’ as spoken to him who was built upon a rock. So it is that the man of God who takes pride is to take pride in the Lord, not only because he has obtained mercy, with the result that he has faith, but also because his faith does not fail.” Elsewhere he writes: “Consequently, with Christ interceding for them, that their faith may not fail, it will most certainly not fail ever. It will, then, persevere unto the end, and the end of this life will find it abiding in them.” . . . Augustine understood that even though a true believer may fall away from the church, it is merely temporary. He writes: “If he was predestinated, he strayed temporarily, he was not lost forever; he returns to hear what he has neglected, to do what he heard. For, if he is of those who have been predestinated, God foreknew both his straying and his future conversion. If he has gone astray, he returns to hear that voice of the Shepherd and to follow Him.” . . . On the other hand, Augustine recognized that counterfeit believers who fall away from the church remain in apostasy. He says: “They were not ‘of’ them, because they had not been ‘called according to His purpose,’ they had not been elected ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world,’ they had not ‘obtained their lot’ in Him, they had not been ‘predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things.’ For if they had had been all this, they would have been ‘of’ them, and they would no doubt have remained with them.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 243–244.

The Evolution of Armininism

Although biblical monergistic soteriology has gained wider acceptance in recent years, the church in general is still bound to a synergistic system in which salvation partly depends on the action of the sinner. We know this as Arminianism, but it really goes back much further than Arminius (1560–1609), to a monk named Pelagius (360–418) who denied original sin and taught that man is born in the same spiritual state as Adam—his will is free and he is able to follow Christ by choice. Augustine, agreeing with scripture, took exception and refuted him. But that was not the end of the story. Here is the short version: Throughout the fifth century and into the sixth, the heretical teachings of Pelagius continued to trouble the church. Despite the official condemnation of Pelagianism by church councils in Carthage (418) and Ephesus (431), and notwithstanding the theological work of Augustine, the dispute between adherents of monergistic and synergistic regeneration escalated. In the century between Augustine’s death (430) and the Synod of Orange (529), many doctrinal battles were waged over the nature of God’s grace in salvation. Amid these controversies, a mediating view emerged, one that attempted to steer away from what many perceived to be the extreme views of both Pelagius and Augustine. This view, as noted in the previous chapter, was Semi-Pelagianism. This halfway position refused Pelagius’s man-centered doctrine that denied original sin and universal guilt. But Semi-Pelagianism also rejected Augustine’s God-centered stance on sovereign election and predestination. In short, Semi-Pelagianism insisted that the work of salvation is not exclusive to God. Rather, its adherents argued, man contributes to his salvation. In the view of the Semi-Pelagians, both divine grace and human free will are necessary in salvation. . . . Semi-Pelagianism was unwilling to accept the conclusions that Augustine’s theology demanded. As a result, this compromising stance mixed human ability with divine grace, producing a synergistic view of salvation. The Semi-Pelagians’ minds were more preoccupied with avoiding the inevitable consequences of Augustinianism than with preaching the full counsel of God. That bias drove them to avoid the exposition of such biblical truths as predestination. They produced a hybrid stance that misled many minds. . . . Although the Semi-Pelagians affirmed with Augustine that the whole human race fell in Adam and that sinners cannot believe in Christ without God’s grace, they resisted Augustine’s assertion of the total bondage of the human will. Instead, they maintained that Adam’s sin merely resulted in a moral sickness in the human race, not a spiritual death. They further insisted that although a sinner could not save himself, he retained the moral ability to believe in Christ. Consequently, they taught that man, though weakened by sin, still possesses a free will with moral ability. Conversion, they argued, is a joint venture in which God and man must cooperate. At its core, Semi-Pelagianism contended that the human will can resist the effectual call of God. This being so, predestination is nothing more than passive foresight by God. The Semi-Pelagians believed that predestination involved God merely looking down the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, then, in turn, He chose them. Election, they claimed, was God’s response to man’s initial step of faith. This same system of thought would arise again in opposition to the doctrines of grace during the Protestant Reformation in the form of Arminianism. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 255–256.

Monastic Monergist: Isidore of Seville

The fall of Rome in the fifth century marked the beginning of the medieval era. Civilizations crumbled as scholarship faded and literacy all but disappeared. True religion was eclipsed by superstition. During these Dark Ages, as the early medieval era is known, the Scriptures and other literature was preserved largely by monks who dedicated their lives to devotion, study, and service in monasteries. Although monasticism is, for the most part, associated with Roman Catholicism, monks like Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636), Gottschalk of Orbais (805–869), and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) preserved the doctrines of grace. As Steve Lawson writes, “A few isolated figures found their places in history as teachers of sovereign grace, for even amid dark times, God always has men who remain committed to the doctrines of grace.” Isidore of Seville was the youngest of a noble Roman family in Cartegena, Spain. Having lost his parents at an early age, his education was supervised by his brother Leander, writes Lawson, is considered by theologians and church historians to be “the foremost churchman of his time in Spain.” Isidore grew to be a great scholar and promoter of scholarship. “His spiritual leadership,” ">Lawson writes, “brought about a new day of learning in the Scriptures, and his influence promoted a new breadth of education. Through this resurgence, he had a profound impact on the educational practice of medieval Western Europe and the broader culture. Thanks to these successful efforts to educate the people, Isidore is considered one of the ‘brightest ornaments’ of the church of Spain.” The foundation of Isidore’s theology was his belief in the sovereignty of God. He acknowledged that everything that exists and comes to pass is a part of the master purpose of God. He writes: “There are many forces, virtues, in the arrangement of this world, angels, archangels, princes, powers, and every rank of the heavenly army; and He [God] is the Lord, Dominus of them. All are under Him and subject to His sovereignty.” . . . Moreover, Isidore maintained that God is all-powerful and therefore can accomplish all that He desires to do. He writes: “Shaddai . . . is ‘Omnipotent,’ because He can do all things, omnia potent; doing what He wished, but not undergoing what He does not want. If anything could happen to Him, He would by no means be omnipotent. He does whatever He wants, and thus He is omnipotent.” . . . Because of his strong commitment to Scripture, Isidore was convinced of the Augustinian doctrine of sovereign election, the biblical teaching that God freely chooses some to be His own. He writes, “In a wonderful way, the Creator who is just to all, predestines some to life.” Here Isidore distinguished between “all” and “some.” He taught that only some are predestined to salvation. However, he also contended that God is just to all. This is because God does not owe grace to any sinful creature. Consequently, God is absolutely free to bestow unmerited favor on whomever He chooses. Further, Isidore said the elect have been predestined to mercy and others to wrath. In commenting on Romans 9, he writes, “Some are predestined to His most gracious mercy . . . and made vessels of mercy; others, however, are considered reprobate and predestined to punishment, condemned, and are made vessels of His wrath . . . just as through the prophet God Himself says: ‘Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated.’” . . . Isidore also was less than explicit on the doctrine of God’s preservation of believers, but one comment strongly suggests he believed that Christians cannot fall from grace. He spoke of the Holy Spirit as a gift from God that is given to those who love God, that is, Christians. He writes: “So far as [the Holy Spirit] is a gift from God, it is given to those who, through it, love God. In itself, it is God; with us, it is a gift. The Holy Spirit is an everlasting gift, distributing to each person, as it wishes, its gracious gifts.” The Bible is clear that the Spirit’s abiding presence guarantees that believers are secure in Christ. The fact that Isidore here spoke of the Spirit as an “everlasting gift” may indicate that he believed that those who trust Christ cannot fall away from Him. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 261–263.

Monastic Monergist: Gottschalk of Orbais

By the ninth century, Semi-Pelagianism had gained a firm foothold in the church. Among the few who still held to the biblical doctrines of grace was a German monk, Gottschalk of Orbais (805–869). As a boy, Gottschalk was sent to the convent at Fulda where, at his father’s insistence, he took monastic vows. Upon reaching adulthood, he attempted to escape his vows on the ground that vows taken by a child should not be binding. His request was brought before the Synod of Mainz in 829, and was accepted. Maurus, the abbot of Fulda, not wanting to lose a promising pupil, appealed to the emperor. His appeal was successful, and Gottschalk was bound for life. He was, however, allowed to move from Fulda to Orbais, France. It was there that he began studying the writings of Augustine and embraced the doctrines of human depravity and sovereign grace. His awakening to these doctrines became the fuel for heated controversy. At the center of debate were the doctrines of election, predestination, and human will. Over a period od seven years, four synods were convened. “First, the Synod of Chiersy (853) adopted a Semi-Pelagian position, affirming the teaching of Maurus and Hincmar [Archbishop of Riems]. But the Synod of Valence (855) and the Synod of Langress (859) took a strong Augustinian stand. Finally, in an attempt to find unity, the conflicting parties met at Toucy in France in 860. This synod resulted in a devastating defeat for predestinarianism in France.” Gottschalk was interrogated and ordered to recant. Standing firm, he was condemned as a heretic. He was publicly flogged, his books were burned, and he was imprisoned in the monastery at Hautvilliers, near Reims. There he died in 869, having, in spite of a captivity-induced nervous breakdown, stood firm to the end. Gottschalk may be best known for his predestinarian teaching, but as I read Lawson’s summary of his theology, I was most impressed by his understanding of the atonement vis-à-vis predestination. Some seven hundred years prior to Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Gottschalk provided the first clear statement of a definite atonement in church history. His statement marks a major development in the church’s understanding of the extent of the atonement. In one of his few surviving statements regarding this doctrine, he succinctly writes, “Our God and master Jesus Christ [was] crucified only for the elect.” This statement testifies to Gottschalk’s belief in particular redemption for those chosen for salvation. Although previous men had made similar declarations concerning the basic aspects of this doctrine, Gottschalk was the first to demonstrate the strong relationship between predestination and the atonement. For Gottschalk, the doctrine of the atonement was a direct corollary of predestination. Gottschalk left no doubt that he believed no one can come to new life in Christ unless God wills it to happen. This means that those who do believe on Christ were predestined to do so. He affirms: “All those whom God wills to be saved without doubt are saved. They cannot be saved unless God wills them to be saved; and there is no one whom God wills to be saved, who will not be saved, since our God did all things whatsoever He willed.” He adds, “All those impious persons and sinners for whom the Son of God came to redeem by shedding His own blood, those the omnipotent goodness of God predestined to life and irrevocably willed only those to be saved.” Christ’s atoning work was particular to the elect. Gottschalk repeatedly turned to God’s Word to support this teaching. Commenting on Romans 5:8–9, he logically reasons, “If Christ died even for the reprobate, then the reprobate too, having been justified in His blood, will be saved from wrath through Him. But the reprobate will not be saved from wrath through Him. Therefore, Christ did not die for the reprobate.” With these words, Gottschalk resolutely affirmed that Christ died exclusively for the elect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 286.

Scholastic Monergist: Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm (1033–1109), Bishop of Canterbury, on divine sovereignty: If those things which are held together in the circuit of the heavens should desire to be elsewhere than under the heavens or to be further removed from the heavens, there is no place where they can be but under the heavens; nor can they fly from the heavens without also approaching them. For whence and whither and in what way they go, they still are under the heavens; and if they are at a greater distance from one part of them, they are only so much nearer to the opposite part. And so, though man or evil angel refuses to submit to the divine will and appointment, yet he cannot escape it; for if he wishes to fly from a will that commands, he falls into the power of a will that punishes. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 305.

Put Away Empty Thinking

We live in a mindless age marked by entertainment that appeals to the emotions of a numb audience. Unfortunately, this deficiency has invaded the evangelical church and captured the minds of many Christian leaders. As a result, ministries are content to spread superficial thoughts drawn from the base thinking of the world. This hour calls for men to step forward and give themselves to the disciplined study of Scripture in the manner of Anselm. Now is the time for a new generation of Anselms to seize the moment, men who, in an age of spiritual darkness, will serve as beacons to light the true path. As in any age, God has guaranteed the success of His church and ensured that the light of His gospel will never be extinguished. Therefore, the time is now for us to put away empty thinking that reduces authentic Christianity to a cheap imitation of worldly trivialities. Now is the time to bring forth the great truths of the Word. Whatever is to be the impact of Christianity in this day, it can be no greater than its search for, discovery of, and commitment to the grand doctrines of Scripture. At the top of that ascent are the doctrines of grace. Will you apply your mind to the quest for this truth? Will you rivet your gaze on the pages of Scripture? Will you wrestle with the biblical text until it yields its one, true, God-intended meaning? Will you set your mind to pull these doctrines together into one system of truth until they all speak with one voice? Where are the truly profound thinkers of this day? Where, I say, are they? —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 310–311.

The Bernardine Tradition

You may know Bernard of Clairvaux as the author of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and perhaps a few other hymns. What you might not know is the extent of his influence as a theologian. Steve Lawson writes, Bernard’s theological works closely hold to the truths of sovereign grace in salvation. This is not surprising, as his theology followed a strict Augustinian line. Because of this theological affinity and Bernard’s far-reaching influence, many scholars have contended that the Augustinian tradition, after the middle of the twelfth century, might more accurately be called the Bernardine tradition. For this reason, Bernard’s teaching was deeply appreciated by Luther and Calvin. Luther called Bernard “the greatest doctor of the church.” Calvin quoted Bernard in his Institutes of the Christian Religion more frequently than any previous nonbiblical author except Augustine, citing his works to support the doctrines of the bondage of the will, divine grace, justification by faith, and predestination. So immersed was Calvin in Bernard’s writings that “the French genius of Geneva may well have written his greatest works feeling the presence of the French genius of Clairvaux peering over his shoulder.” The Protestant Reformers merely brought to fruition that which Bernard had set out to accomplish in his own day. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 325.

Monastic Monergist: Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux on election: As a champion of biblical truth, Bernard argued that because of man’s sin and the subsequent bondage of the will, salvation is entirely of God’s grace. Those who receive the kingdom of God, he said, are those whom God previously foreknew and foreordained for salvation. Bernard says: “He says: Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke xii 32). Who are these? These are they whom He foreknew and foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren.” . . . This determinative choice was the beginning of an immutable process by which spiritually dead sinners are brought to eternal life. Bernard writes: “The mystery, hidden from eternity concerning souls that have been predestinated and are to be glorified, begins in some degree to emerge from the depths of eternity, as each soul, called by fear and justified by love, becomes assured that it, too, is of the number of the blessed, knowing well that whom He justified, them also He glorified (Rom. viii 30).” . . . Further, Bernard understood that sovereign election is rooted in the eternal decree of God. He states, “The decree of the Lord stands firm; His purpose of peace stands firm upon those who fear Him.” Elsewhere he adds: “He has made known his great and secret counsel. The Lord knoweth them that are his, but that which was known to God was manifested to men; nor, indeed, does he deign to give a participation in this great mystery to any but those whom he foreknew and predestinated to be his own.” . . . Citing John 15:16, Bernard declares that man is saved by God’s sovereign will: “For you have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you [John 15:16]; not for any merits that I found in you did I choose you, but I went before you. Thus have I betrothed you to Myself in faith, not in the works of the law.” It is through divine election that Christ receives His chosen people to Himself, not by their works. Bernard affirmed this truth in his own experience of grace. He writes, “Therefore my beginning is solely of grace, and I have nothing which I can attribute to myself in predestination or in calling.” . . . Bernard took the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9:16 at face value, accepting that salvation flows from the mercy of God, not from anything man can do: “We believe that it pleases the reader that we nowhere depart from the teaching of the Apostle; and wherever the argument may have wandered, we have often made use of his very words. For what else do we mean than what he says: ‘It is therefore neither of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy’?” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 328–329.

Made Forever Common

John Wycliffe (ca. 1330–1384) is best known for his translation of the Bible from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate to English. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had, until then, intentionally kept the Scriptures from the common people, and was not at all happy with Wycliffe. Canon of Leicester and historian Henry Knighton did not conceal his anger. The attitude of the clergy towards the common folk, and their self-ordained position as dispensers of grace, is plainly displayed in the following complaint: Christ delivered his gospel to the clergy and doctors of the church, that they might administer to the laity and to weaker persons, according to the state of the times, and the wants of man. But this master John Wickliffe translated it out of Latin into English, and thus laid it more open to the laity, and to women who can read, than it formerly had been to the most learned of the clergy, even to those of them who had the best understanding. . . . And in this way the gospel pearl is cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and that which was before precious both to clergy and laity, is rendered as it were the common jest in both! The jewel of the church is turned into this sport of the people, and what was hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and divines, is made for ever common. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 364. We, of course, are very grateful.

Scholastic Monergist: John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe on divine foreknowledge and foreordination: If Christ prophesied of certain events, certainly to come, such events have been or will be. The antecedent, namely that Christ has thus prophesied, is necessary, and the consequence is also necessary. The consequence is not in the power of any man, or of any creature; nor are the sayings of Christ, or the elections of his mind to be affected by accident. And therefore as it is necessary that Christ has foretold certain things, so it is necessary they should come to pass. By arguments of this kind also, we shew other events to be necessary, the coming of which has been determined by God. Nor will it matter, after what manner God may chose to inform us, that he had actually so determined before the foundation of the world. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 365–366.

Two Reformation Branches

Steve Lawson compares the German and Swiss Reformations: While Reformation fires were spreading throughout Germany, similar sparks were igniting in Switzerland. Nestled in the Alps, this loosely confederated nation was to play the pivotal role in the historic events of the Protestant movement. If a reformation is measured by its end rather than by its beginning, the Swiss reform movement was even more far-reaching than that which was birthed in Wittenberg. What caught fire in Switzerland soon extended to France, England, Scotland, Hungary, and Holland. Even parts of Germany adopted the teaching of the Swiss Reformers more fully than that of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. . . . Finally, the Reformation flourished in Switzerland because the country was a refuge for many believers fleeing persecution in their homelands. The Huguenots of France and exiles from Scotland and England escaped to safety in Switzerland. There they sat under biblical preaching by Swiss teachers with strong Reformed convictions. When the political climates changed in their native lands, these persecuted believers returned home and took with them the teaching of the Swiss Reformers. By this gathering and dispersal, the Swiss Reformation spread farther and wider than that of even Germany. . . . In many regards, the two major branches of the Reformation in Europe—the Lutheran movement in Germany and the Reformed movement in Switzerland—were much alike. Both were founded on the absolute authority of Scripture alone—sola Scriptura—in opposition to the tradition and leadership of Rome. The difference lay in the application of biblical truth to the church. At this point, the Swiss Reformers broke further from the Roman Catholic Church than did the Lutherans. This is to say, the Swiss leaders were more strict than the Germans in their interpretation and application of Scripture. Luther, for example, felt that the church could practice whatever was not contrary to the Bible, allowing for a smaller departure from the practices of Rome. With this understanding, the German Reformers first tried to reform the church from within. But the Swiss Reformers, including Ulrich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, chose to pursue only what is set forth in Scripture. The result was a more decisive break with Rome, an effort to bring reform from outside the Catholic Church. Another contrast between the German and Swiss movements had to do with their chief emphases.* Luther made justification by faith the article on which the church stands or falls. But the Swiss Reformers—who certainly preached this cardinal doctrine—were zealous for a more all-encompassing truth, namely, the sovereign grace of God in man’s salvation. Philip Schaff writes: “The Swiss theology proceeds from God’s grace to man’s needs; the Lutheran, from man’s need to God’s grace.” Consequently, Zwingli and Calvin subordinated every doctrine to the eternal predestination of God in sovereign grace. Luther clearly believed in the sovereignty of God in salvation and treated it as a part of the gospel of grace. But the Swiss Reformers treated God’s sovereignty as the first principle of Christian thought and emphasized it more prominently. In this sense, the Swiss had a higher trajectory than the Germans in their preaching and writing. While the Lutherans stressed sola fide (“faith alone”), the Swiss Reformers stressed soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”) more than even sola gratia (“grace alone”). Grace, they stressed, is the highest means to the ultimate end of God’s glory. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 427–429. * See also “Lutheranism versus Calvinism.”.

An Independent Work

Martin Luther is universally considered the father of the Reformation, and with good reason: he was the first, and suffered the wrath of Rome to a greater extent. All Reformation roads, however, do not lead back to Luther. In Switzerland, a priest named Ulrich Zwingli (less than two months younger than Luther), before having heard of Luther, was pursuing even more extensive reforms in the church. This is where the Swiss Reformation began. In December 1518, Zwingli’s growing influence secured for him the office of “people’s priest” at the Grossmünster (Great Cathedral) at Zurich. This pastorate was a significant position. Zwingli immediately broke from the normal practice of preaching according to the church calendar. Instead, he announced he would preach sequentially through whole books of the Bible. On January 1, 1519, his thirty-fifth birthday, Zwingli began a series of expository sermons through Matthew that were drawn from his exegesis of the Greek text. He continued this consecutive style until he had preached through the entire New Testament. This ambitious project took six years and prepared the ground for the work of reform that was to follow. . . . As Zwingli preached through the Bible, he expounded the truths he encountered in the text, even if they differed from the historical tradition of the church. This kind of direct preaching was not without challenges. In 1522, some of his parishioners defied the church’s rule about eating meat during Lent. Zwingli supported their practice based on the biblical truths of Christian liberty. He saw such restrictions as man-made. That same year, he composed the first of his many Reformation writings, which circulated his ideas throughout Switzerland. In November 1522, Zwingli began to work with other religious leaders and the city council to bring about major reforms in the church and state. In January 1523, he wrote Sixty-seven Theses, in which he rejected many medieval beliefs, such as forced fasting, clerical celibacy, purgatory, the Mass, and priestly mediation. Further, he began to question the use of images in the church. In June 1524, the city of Zurich, following his lead, ruled that all religious images were to be removed from churches. Also in 1524, Zwingli took yet another step of reform—he married Anna Reinhard, a widow. All of this appears to have happened before Zwingli ever heard of Luther. This was truly an independent work of God. By 1525, the Reformation movement in Zurich had gained significant traction. On April 14, 1525, the Mass was officially abolished and Protestant worship services were begun in and around Zurich. Zwingli chose to implement only what was taught in Scripture. Anything that had no explicit Scriptural support was rejected. The words of Scripture were read and preached in the language of the people. The entire congregation, not merely the clergy, received both bread and wine in a simple Communion service. The minister wore robes like those found in lecture halls rather than at Catholic altars. The veneration of Mary and saints was forbidden, indulgences were banned, and prayers for the dead were stopped. The break with Rome was complete. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 431–433.

Monergist Reformer: Ulrich Zwingli

The monergism of Ulrich Zwingli: Zwingli defined election as “the free disposition of God’s will concerning those who are to be saved.” Thus, God is unconstrained in His choice of whom to save. Zwingli adds, “In the predestination of men to salvation, it is the will of God that is the prime force, but His wisdom, goodness, and righteousness and other attributes assist.” Elsewhere he says, “It is election which saves us, and it is wholly free.” Finally he notes, “Election is a free, sovereign and authoritative disposition of the will of God concerning those who are saved.” . . . Zwingli taught that the choices God made in eternity past are irreversible. He writes: “God’s election stands fast and remains sure. For those whom He chose before the foundation of the world, He chose in such a manner, that He chose them for Himself through His son.” He adds, “The election of God stands firm and immovable.” . . . The act of believing does not number a person among the elect, Zwingli said. Long before a person believes, Zwingli contended, he was chosen by God in eternity past. He writes, “Those who are elect from eternity are surely elect before they believe.” The act of believing only reveals that one is a member of God’s elect. In fact, many such elect have not yet believed. Zwingli says, “Many are elect, who do not yet have faith.” . . . Zwingli had little to say about the extent of Christ’s atonement. However, in one place in his writings he declared that sovereign election is inseparably connected with the death of Christ. He explains, “Election . . . belongs to His goodness to have chosen whom He will, and it belongs to His justice to adopt the elect as His children and to bind them to Himself through His Son, whom He gave for a sacrifice to render satisfaction to divine justice for us.” This is a clear affirmation that the death of Christ was intended to save those who had been chosen by God. Thus, while it was not a major aspect of his teaching, Zwingli apparently held to the doctrine of definite atonement. . . . Zwingli also held to the eternal security of the believer. He states, “Faith is so efficacious, prompt and lively a medicine that whoever drinks it is safe and secure.” Though the elect may become temporarily ensnared in sin, Zwingli taught that they remain secure in grace. He says: “Even if one of the elect should fall into such horrible sins as are contrived by the impious and the reprobate; for the elect these are a cause for rising up again, whereas for the reprobate they are a cause for despair.” . . . Zwingli believed that those who hear and reject the gospel in unbelief are predestined to condemnation. He asserts, “As election is granted to those who are to be saved, one should not speak of election with regard to those who will be lost; the will of God does indeed ordain concerning them, but only to repel, reject and repudiate them, in order that they may be an example of His justice.” Zwingli distinguished between vessels of wrath prepared for destruction and vessels of mercy prepared for life (Rom. 9:22–23). God sovereignly grants mercy to the elect, but justice to the nonelect. He assigned the direct responsibility for unbelief not to God but to the individual sinner. Thus, God remains absolutely just in the eternal destiny of the nonelect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 440–443.

Monergist Reformer: William Tyndale

William Tyndale (ca. 1494–1536) is most famous for producing the first English translation of the Bible, a crime for which he was finally burned. It is no overstatement, I believe, to say that it was Tyndale’s work, before anything else but the sovereign decree of God, that made the English Reformation possible. Influenced first by Luther, and then by Zwingli and other Swiss reformers, he has been called “the mighty mainspring of the English Reformation” and “the first of the Puritans, or, at least their grandfather.” Tyndale stands firmly in what Lawson calls “a long line of godly men” who learned and held fast to the doctrines of grace through the darkest years of church history. In advising the best way to read the Scriptures, Tyndale writes, “First note with strong faith the power of God, in creating all of nought.” . . . Further, he asserted that God possesses the supreme right to do with His creation as He pleases, saying, “God has power over all His creatures of right, to do with them what He will, or to make of every one of them as He wills.” . . . “God is free, and no further bound than He bindeth Himself.” . . . Tyndale maintained that man is so depraved he cannot see his need for grace. He writes, “We are as it were asleep in so deep blindness, that we can neither see nor feel what misery, thraldom, and wretchedness we are in.” . . . Tyndale was firmly convinced that God, acting in eternal, unconditional love, chose a people out of fallen humanity to be His own possession. He says, “Predestination . . . and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only . . . for we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us.” Salvation is impossible apart from divine election. Furthermore, it was not based on any supposed foreseen choice of God by man. Tyndale writes, “God chose them [the elect] first, and they not God.” . . . “In Christ God chose us, and elected us before the beginning of the world, created us anew by the word of the gospel, and put His Spirit in us, . . . that we should do good works. . . . Tyndale believed that divine election is inseparably linked to the irresistible call of the Spirit. All whom the Father has chosen, he maintained, are divinely brought to saving faith in Christ. This is a work God must do because man is dead in his sin and cannot choose to believe the gospel. Before anyone can believe, Tyndale writes, “the Spirit must first come, and wake him out of his sleep with the thunder of the law, and fear Him, and show him his miserable estate and wretchedness; and make him abhor and hate himself, and to desire help; and then comfort him again with the pleasant rain of the gospel.” Elsewhere he restates this work of the Spirit in these terms: “Note now the order: first God gives me light to see the goodness and righteousness of the law, and my own sin and unrighteousness; out of which knowledge springs repentance. . . . Then the same Spirit works in my heart trust and confidence, to believe the mercy of God and His truth, that He will do as He has promised; which belief saves me.” . . . Tyndale held that it is an evil thing to teach that man has free will to believe in Christ. He states: “Is it not a froward and perverse blindness, to teach how a man can do nothing of his own self; and yet presumptuously take upon them the greatest and highest work of God, even to make faith in themselves of their own power, and of their own false imagination and thoughts.” . . . “Beware of the leaven that says, we have power in our free-will, before the preaching of the gospel, to deserve grace, to keep the law of congruity, or God to be unrighteous. . . . And when they say our deeds with grace deserve heaven, say thou with Paul, (Romans 6) that ‘everlasting life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’” . . . Tyndale affirmed that no elect believer will lose his salvation. All who truly repent and trust Christ will never fall from grace. He says, “God’s elect cannot so fall that they rise not again, because that the mercy of God ever waits upon them, to deliver them from evil, as the care of a kind father waits upon his son to warn him and to keep him from occasions, and to call him back again if he be gone too far.” . . . “Life eternal and all good things are promised unto faith and belief; so that he that believes on Christ shall be safe.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 464, 466–467, 469–471.

Monergist Reformer: Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575), successor to Zwingli: “We, which condemn both Pelagius and Pelagians, do affirm both those things which they deny; to wit, that infants are born in original sin, and therefore that the sanctification of Christ is necessary unto them, without which they are not saved.” “For they are wrong, that think those that are to be saved to life are predestinate of God for the merit’s sake, or good works, which God did foresee in them.” “The second birth is wrought by the means of the Holy Ghost, which, being from heaven poured into our hearts, does bring us to the knowledge of ourselves, so that we may easily perceive, assuredly know, and sensibly feel, that in our flesh there is not life, no integrity, or righteousness at all; and so consequently, that no man is saved by his own strengths or merits.” “Faith is the mere gift of God because God alone of His power gives it to His elect according to measure; and that when, to whom, and how much He will; and that by His Holy Spirit.” “The saints are chosen in Christ by God unto a sure end.”—cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 491–494.

The Bull and the Owl

Martin Luther and John Calvin were two very different men, united in purpose, whom God used mightily. Though the two Reformers never met, they greatly admired one another’s works. Luther praised Calvin’s early writings, stating, “[His] books I have perused with singular pleasure.” Calvin, in turn, addressed Luther, twenty-five years his elder, as his “most respected father” and “a remarkable apostle of Christ, through whose work and ministry, most of all, the purity of the gospel has been restored in our time.” In fact, Luther may have helped bring Calvin to faith in Christ through his treatises The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church. Despite this mutual esteem, the two Reformers were as different as night and day. Luther was fiery, spontaneous, and explosive, while Calvin was more careful, pensive, and systematic. Luther has been likened to a bull, stubborn and strong-headed, whereas Calvin has been compared to an owl, wise and calculating. Luther was passionate, dynamic, and prone to exaggeration. Calvin was a logical systematizer, quiet, and thoughtful, with a far more stable character. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 501. Though vastly different in personality, when it came to theology, the two men were fundamentally the same, standing firmly on sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. And, as Lawson says, “Both were strict predestinarians of the Augustinian stripe. In short, these two magisterial Reformers were champions of the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace.  Calvin, however, went further than Luther in advancing these doctrines. He took the central tenets of the Reformation and fashioned them into a comprehensive body of divinity. “From the disparate, disorganized heritage of Luther and Zwingli,” Jonathan Hill writes, “[Calvin] forged a systematic version of the Christian faith and life that still profoundly influences modern Western society.” Whereas Luther emphasized justification by faith, Calvin took aim at a higher target, underscoring the glory of God in the display of His sovereignty in the world, both in salvation and in providence. Both Reformers were correct in their teachings in these areas, but Calvin gave a more comprehensive explanation of the many facets of the doctrines of grace. . . . Martyn Lloyd-Jones contrasts the two Reformers in this way: “Luther was a volcano, spewing out fiery ideas in all directions without much pattern or system. But ideas cannot live and last without a body, and the great need of the Protestant movement in the last days of Luther was for a theologian with the ability to arrange and to express the new faith within a system. That person was Calvin. . . . It was he who saved Protestantism by giving it a body of theology with his Institutes; and it is from this that the faith and the theology of most of the Protestant churches have sprung.” R. C. Sproul explains the roles these titans played as follows: Luther, being a brilliant student of language, brought to the theological table an uncanny ability to provide vignettes of insight into particular questions of truth. But Luther was not a systematician by nature, and so he could not be the theologian of theologians. He never developed a full-orbed systematic theology for the instruction of the church. That task in the sixteenth century was left to the genius of the Genevan theologian John Calvin. Calvin brought to the study of theology a passion for biblical truth and a coherent understanding of the Word of God. Of all of the thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvin was most noted for his ability to provide a systematic theological understanding of Christian truth.“Calvin’s great achievement,” Timothy George likewise argues, “was to take the classic insights of the Reformation (sola gratia, sole fide, sola Scriptura) and give them a clear, systematic exposition, which neither Luther nor Zwingli ever did. . . . From Geneva they took on a life of their own and developed into a new international theology, extending from Poland and Hungary in the East to the Netherlands, Scotland, England (Puritanism), and eventually to New England in the West.” William Cunningham adds, “Calvin was by far the greatest of the Reformers with respect to the talents he possessed, the influence he exerted, and the services he rendered in the establishment and diffusion of important truth.” Thus, it was Calvin, a second-generation Reformer, who brought order to the Reformed ideas that were emerging and fashioned them into a seamless tapestry of thought, a systematic whole that was exegetical, logical, and sound. It is no exaggeration to say he was the architect of Reformed theology. —Ibid., 502–503.

No Other Hope

In early 1564, Calvin became seriously ill. He preached for the last time from the pulpit of Saint Peter’s Cathedral on Sunday, February 6. By April, it was obvious that he did not have long to live. Calvin, age fifty-four, faced death as he had faced the pulpit—with great resolution. The strength of his faith, built on the sovereignty of God, appears in his last will and testament. On April 25, 1564, Calvin dictated the following words: In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows: In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, His poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of His gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing His mercy He has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by Him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, He has so far extended His mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of His gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which He has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in His gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which He has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of His death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying Him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before His face, bearing as it were His image. Three days later, on April 28, 1654, Calvin called his fellow ministers to his bedchamber and issued his farewell address to them. He cautioned them that the battles of the Reformation were not over, but only beginning: “You will have troubles when God shall have called me away; for though I am nothing, yet know I well that I have prevented three thousand tumults that would have broken out in Geneva. But take courage and fortify yourselves, for God will make use of this church and will maintain it, and assures you that He will protect it.” With that, he passed the torch from his feeble hands to theirs. Calvin died on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor. Calvin’s last words—“How long, O Lord?”—were the very words of Scripture (Pss. 79:5; 89:46). He died quoting the Bible he had so long preached. Appropriately, this humble servant was buried in a common cemetery in an unmarked grave—at his own request. Looking back on Calvin’s life, Beza concluded, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years . . . I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 510–511.

Monergist Reformer: John Calvin

To call John Calvin a monergist seems stupidly obvious, given that the fundamental doctrines bearing that description have—incorrectly—been given his name. Nevertheless, I will do so, if only for the sake of continuity. Besides, since “Calvinism” is a misnomer, and Calvin had no part in formulating the Canons of Dort (being excused from that assembly on the grounds of being deceased) or the TULIP acronym (no one really knows who invented that handy but misleading device), nor was he available to advise our Lord and his apostles in the original presentation of those doctrines, it is worth our time investigating whether Calvin was truly a Calvinist. To that end, I present for your consideration, courtesy of Steve Lawson, exhibits T, U, L, I, and P. Man is a slave of sin. . . . Man’s spirit is so alienated from the justice of God that man conceives, covets, and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous, and soiled. Because the heart, totally imbued with the poison of sin, can emit nothing but the fruits of sin. Yet one must not infer therefrom that man sins as constrained by violent necessity. For, man sins with the consent of a very prompt and inclined will. But because man, by the corruption of his affections, very strongly keeps hating the whole righteousness of God and, on the other hand, is fervent in all kinds of evil, it is said that he has not the free power of choosing between good and evil—which is called free will. . . . If you say that He [God] foresaw they would be holy, and therefore elected them, you invert the order of Paul. You may, therefore, safely infer, if He elected us that we might be holy, He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would be holy. . . . For when it is said that believers were elected that they might be holy, it is at the same time intimated that the holiness which was to be in them has its origin in election. And how can it be consistently said, that things derived from election are the cause of election? . . . I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins. . . . [Writing in 1 John 2:2, “and not for ours only,” John] added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. . . . The external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to Himself those whom He has called. . . . There is this difference in the calling of God, that He invites all indiscriminately by His word, whereas He inwardly calls the elect alone (John 6:37). . . . The gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God.” . . . We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. . . . [The elect differ] in no respect from others, except in being protected by the special mercy of God from rushing down the precipice of eternal death. . . . That they go not to the most desperate extremes of impiety, is not owing to any innate goodness of theirs, but because the eye of God watches over them, and His hand is extended for their preservation. —John Calvin, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 517–519, 521, 525–527.

Preaching and the Reformation

Steve Lawson on the Reformation as a revival of preaching: John Broadus, a noted nineteenth-century professor, identifies four distinguishing marks of the Reformation. Each of these is critical to our understanding of Luther and the Protestant movement. First, the Reformation was a revival of preaching. Broadus notes that during the Middle Ages, preachers were exceptions to the rule. The Roman Catholic Church had subjugated the pulpit to a subordinate, peripheral role. In its place were the Mass, rituals, and ceremonies. But the Reformation, Broadus writes, was marked by “a great outburst of preaching, such as had not been seen since the early Christian centuries.” All of the Reformers were preachers, not merely authors and lecturers. . . . As [E. C. Dargan] explains: “Among the reformers, preaching resumes its proper place in worship. . . . The exposition of Scripture becomes the main thing. . . . Preaching becomes more prominent in worship than it had been perhaps since the fourth century.” The Reformation historian Harold Grimm affirms this view, writing: “The Protestant Reformation would not have been possible without the sermon. . .  The role of the sermon in making the Reformation a mass movement can scarcely be overestimated.” Roland Bainton, a Luther scholar, also agrees: “The Reformation gave centrality to the sermon. The pulpit was higher than the altar.” . . . Second, it was a revival of biblical preaching. Broadus notes that the Protestant movement did not merely bring back preaching per se, but a certain kind of preaching—biblical preaching, that is, expository preaching. He writes: “Instead of long and often fabulous stories about saints and martyrs, and accounts of miracles, instead of passages from Aristotle and Seneca, and fine-spun subtleties of the Schoolman, these men preached the Bible. The question was not what the Pope said; and even the Fathers, however highly esteemed, were not decisive authority—it was the Bible.” . . . In the sixteenth century, Broadus explains, “The preacher’s one great task was to set forth the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Word of God.” Everything else the preacher did was secondary. With this new emphasis came a deeper study of the Bible: “Preachers, studying the original Greek and Hebrew,” he writes, “were carefully explaining to the people the connected teachings of passage after passage and book after book . . . , [giving them] a much more strict and reasonable exegesis than had ever been common since the days of Chrysostom.” . . . Third, it was a revival of controversial preaching. Broadus explains that as the Reformers preached the Bible, controversy inevitably followed. They maintained not only sola Scriptura—“Scripture alone”—but tota Scriptura—“all Scripture.” The Reformers believed that every truth was to be preached from their pulpits. Every hard saying was to be expounded. Every sin was to be exposed. After centuries of apostasy, the full counsel of God was suddenly preached, which brought unavoidable conflict in a slumbering church. . . . Fourth, it was a revival of preaching on the doctrines of grace. Broadus finally notes that biblical preaching in the Reformation elevated the truths of the sovereignty of God in salvation: “The doctrine of divine sovereignty in human salvation was freely proclaimed by all the Reformers.” In-depth biblical preaching always sets forth the doctrines of grace because they are so repeatedly taught throughout Scripture. A return to biblical preaching necessitates a return to preaching divine sovereignty in man’s salvation. The two are inseparably linked. Broadus adds, “Protestantism was born of the doctrines of grace, and in the proclamation of these the Reformation preaching found its truest and highest power.” . . . Standing at the headwaters of the Reformation was Martin Luther. This bold German Reformer became one of the greatest preachers in this remarkable time. His pulpit proved to be the first strong pulse in the heartbeat of the Protestant movement, pumping life into the body of Christ. Luther unleashed God’s Word on the European continent with the force of an electrical storm. The thunder and lightning of his biblical exposition were powerful in shaping this movement. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), xvii–xxi.


Who Is Jesus?

The Gospel
What It Means to Be a Christian

Norma Normata
What I Believe

Westminster Bookstore

  Sick of lame Christian radio?
  Try RefNet