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Pillars of Grace

(31 posts)

The Reformation: Augustine versus Augustine

Monday··2018·08·13
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

Tuesday··2018·08·14
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

Wednesday··2018·08·15
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

Friday··2018·08·17
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

Wednesday··2018·08·22
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

Friday··2018·08·24
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

Monday··2018·08·27
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

Tuesday··2018·08·28
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

Thursday··2018·08·30
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

Friday··2018·08·31
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

Monday··2018·09·03
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

Tuesday··2018·09·04
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)

Thursday··2018·09·06
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)

Friday··2018·09·07
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 (3)

Monday··2018·09·10
Augustine on the intent and extent of the atonement: Augustine observed that Scripture presents more than one theme for the atonement, though the idea of substitution is predominant in his writings. With all the richness of the full counsel of God, Augustine addressed the sacrifice of Christ as a sin-bearing, punishment-canceling death. Admittedly, Augustine did not give as much attention to the extent of the atonement as he did to its accomplishment, and scholars disagree whether he ultimately taught limited or universal atonement. However, he did occasionally speak of the cross as having particular intent. Christ purchased the flock of God with the price of His blood (John 10:11, 15), Augustine said. He writes that the portion of the universal church composed of saved men “has been redeemed from all sin by the blood of the sinless Mediator.” Conversely, Augustine affirms that those whom Christ said were not His sheep were not purchased by His atonement: “He saw them predestined to everlasting destruction, not purchased by the price of His blood unto eternal life.” Only the elect were purchased by Christ; none for whom He died will suffer destruction. Augustine also stated that Christ died for those who are foreknown, predestined, and elected before the foundation of the world. Noting that Christ’s work on the cross delivered believers from eternal death, he says, “Those who belong to the grace of Christ, foreknown and predestined and chosen before the foundation of the world, . . . simply die as Christ Himself had died for them, that is to say with the death of the flesh alone and not of the spirit.” Because Christ died for those chosen and given to Him by the Father, they do not die a spiritual death. In perhaps his clearest comment on this doctrine, Augustine said that Scripture does not teach a universal salvation, but that Christ’s atonement was limited. Augustine argued that when Jesus says in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” He is not saying that all of mankind will be drawn to Him; rather, He is saying that all kinds of men will be drawn. Augustine writes: “All is limited by the context to mean ‘all sorts of people, all the predestinate. . . . All men either means men of all sorts or is to be taken with an implied limitation in justification.” These and similar texts of Scripture, Augustine affirmed, speak of a limited atonement designed for the salvation of God’s elect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 240–241.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (4)

Tuesday··2018·09·11
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)

Wednesday··2018·09·12
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

Friday··2018·09·14
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

Monday··2018·09·17
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

Tuesday··2018·09·18
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

Wednesday··2018·09·19
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

Thursday··2018·09·20
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.

Monastic Monergist: Bernard of Clairvaux

Tuesday··2018·09·25
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

Wednesday··2018·09·26
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

Thursday··2018·09·27
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

Tuesday··2018·10·02
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

Wednesday··2018·10·03
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

Thursday··2018·10·04
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

Friday··2018·10·05
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

Wednesday··2018·10·10
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

Thursday··2018·10·11
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.

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