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Monergism

(28 posts)

When God Kills

Monday··2006·11·06
Erasmus feared that the teaching of a human will that is not free, even if true (which he denied), served no good purpose and would cause people to neglect their own responsibility to respond to the gospel. Luther responded: ‘What use or need is there, then, of publishing such things when so many harmful results seem likely to follow?’ I reply: It should be enough to say simply that God has willed their publication, and the reason of the Divine will is not to be sought, but simply to be adored, and the glory given to God, Who, since He alone is just and wise, wrongs none and can do nothing foolish or inconsiderate—however much it may seem otherwise to us. This answer will satisfy those who fear God. However (to say a little more than I need, since there is so much more that I can say), there are two considerations which require the preaching of these truths. The first is the humbling of our pride, and the comprehending of the grace of God; the second is the nature of Christian faith. For the first: God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, one reason—that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive His gracious promise. The second reason is this: faith’s object is things not seen. That there may be room for faith, therefore, all that is believed must be hidden. Yet it is not hidden more deeply than under a contrary appearance of sight, sense and experience. Thus, when God quickens, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell. As Scripture says in 1 Kings 2, ‘The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up’ (1 Sam. 2.6). (This is no place for a fuller account of these things; but those who have read my books are well acquainted with them.) Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957) 100–101.

The History and Theology of Calvinism

Thursday··2007·06·21 · 5 Comments
I’ve been feeling a little under par lately (I know, under par is actually good. I didn’t coin the expression.), so I haven’t been very productive. I haven’t been wasting my time entirely, though. One of the things I’ve been doing while doing nothing is listening to The History and Theology of Calvinism by Dr. Curt Daniel, available free of charge as mp3 files. The book appears to be out of print. [Update: Check eBay. An alert reader found six copies there.] The theological system called "Calvinism" is widely misunderstood. I would venture to say that the vast majority of those who oppose it really know little about it. I would even say that there are many who call themselves Calvinists who have simply inherited it or accepted it because someone they respect believes it. Don’t be one of those people. There are many common misconceptions about Calvinism, and two in particular that have annoyed me. First, I don’t know how often I’ve heard or read words like these: “Calvinism began when John Calvin wrote his ‘Five Points of Calvinism, ’ which he arranged in the acrostic ‘TULIP.’” I’ve even read that in books by Calvinists. That, of course, is incorrect. For those who don’t know, the Five Points were written after Calvin’s death by the Synod of Dordt. Not only were they not named to spell the acrostic TULIP, they were not systematized in that order. Second, I’d love to have a nickel for every time I’ve been told that “John Calvin burned Servetus at the stake.” These are only a couple of historical issues Dr. Daniel covers. The History and Theology of Calvinism is an excellent presentation of both the history and the theology of this system, and I highly recommend it. Whatever you believe, don’t believe it ignorantly.

Raising the Dead

Thursday··2008·07·31
Sinclair Ferguson on Jesus’ live demonstration of monergistic regeneration: With one command, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43) [Jesus] raised His dead friend. It is fascinating to notice that our Lord accomplished this by two means: prayer and His word (vv. 41–43). He is the Ezekiel-like prophet who speaks both to the bones and the spirits of those who have fallen prey to the curse of sin. He brings new life to the dead. What the prophets of God did spiritually, the Prophet of God did quite literally and physically. The emphasis on prayer should not go unnoticed–the apostles certainly grasped it (Acts 6:4). In addition, a pattern is illustrated that is characteristic of Christ’s ongoing activity as the giver of new life: resurrection comes by this new life (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Question: Surely the instrumentality of the Word (to which we actively respond) implies an activity on our part? Do we not, in this sense, contribute something to being born again?Answer: No more than Jesus’s command implies that Lazarus contributes life energy to his own resurrection. Lazarus comes out of the tomb because Jesus raises him from the dead, not in order that he might be raised from the dead. In him, our Lord’s words are fulfilled: “Most assuredly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). When prayer to the father and the word of command to the dead come from the lips of Jesus, His voice opens deaf ears and raises the dead. What was true then remains so now (which is why we join prayer and preaching), and will continue to be at the last, when by his powerful command Christ once again will raise the dead (1 Thess. 4:16). In undiluted Monergism, He called the galaxies into being, and He gives life to the dead in the same way (Rom. 4:17). —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 70–71.

Monergism, 1921 BC

Monday··2011·03·14
Sarai was barren; she had no child. —Genesis 11:30 Genesis 11:30 tells us, “Now Sarai was barren.” And then the writer repeats himself (just in case you missed it the first time around): “She had no children.” Not to have children in a society where a woman’s value was measured by her fertility was a bitter blow indeed. Sarai must have shed many bitter tears over her inability to bear children. But, paradoxically, her inability in this area was a crucial part of God’s preparation of her for her role in his plan. In order for her to be the mother of the child of promise, it was necessary for her to be unable to bear children without the direct intervention of God. —Iain Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham (P&R, 1999), 10. As we learned from Genesis 3, man has, from the beginning, attempted to stand in God’s place. Adam and Eve did it, Cain did it, and about two millennia later, Abraham and Sarah would try to take charge of fulfilling God’s promise. Today’s text points a finger directly at one of the most important words in soteriology: monergism. The doctrine of monergism states that “the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration—that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot coöperate in regeneration.” When we think of monergism, we seldom think beyond the specific supernatural act of regeneration. But the monergistic nature of God’s redemptive plan extends to every aspect of our salvation, not merely the present reality, but our future hope, and indeed, to every event in history upon which that plan depends. This is a message that God has declared throughout redemptive history. Two millennia before the incarnation of Christ, he revealed it to Abraham and Sarah in the promise of a seed through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. But Abraham and Sarah missed it, and the majority of Christians still miss it today. God kept his promise in the womb of a barren woman. He keeps it still today in the barren hearts of men.

To Make a Long Story Short

Thursday··2012·02·02 · 1 Comments
Quite a while ago, I received an email asking about my conversion from Lutheranism to Reformed theology. I’ve decided to post my answer here. Why did I move from Lutheranism to Reformed theology? That’s a long story. First, I should say that I am not Truly Reformed®. I subscribe to the “Five Solas” (salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone), and am soteriologically Calvinistic, but I am not necessarily Reformed-kosher on the covenants or eschatology, and I am credobaptist. I didn’t move directly from Lutheranism to Reformed theology. That theological journey began with difficulties I had with a couple of areas of Lutheran doctrine. One of those was Lutheran sacramentalism—consubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper, and paedobaptism, especially baptismal regeneration. The other was soteriological—I became increasingly Arminian as (I think) a result of contradictory practices in my church. While Lutheran soteriology is essentially monergistic (though a bit muddled on that count), the evangelistic methods of my church were distinctly revivalist. I was pretty confused, and became a devout synergist. Sometime in the mid-eighties, I began listening to John MacArthur on the radio. I didn’t know he was a Calvinist at first, or I probably wouldn’t have listened long. By the time I caught on to his Calvinism, I was already hooked on his expository preaching, something I had never heard before. Through his ministry, my mind was opened to at least consider the claims of Reformed theology. As my synergistic and legalistic prejudices fell away, and as I learned to study the Bible without those presuppositions, the doctrines of grace became clear and undeniable. I wasn’t particularly happy about this. I suppose it was my pride that struggled against it. Accepting the fact that I had played no part in my conversion was difficult, but worse still was the embarrassment of having argued loudly and at great length against Calvinist “heretics” for several years—and now I was one. But, by the grace of God, I got over it, and now rejoice in the assurance that can only come through knowing that salvation is all—really all—by the sovereign will of God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that nothing—truly nothing—can ever separate me from the love of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 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; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. —Romans 8:28–30 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. —John 6:37–40

The Great Doctrines of Grace

Tuesday··2013·11·12
This book, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace?, has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I think its small size, at just 100 pages including endnotes, was the cause of the neglect, hiding between more grown-up-looking volumes and minding its own business. Anyway, it’s down now, and I began reading late last night. The topic, as you can see, is the doctrines of grace, or those doctrines commonly known as (cue scary music) Calvinism. Calvinism has a widely-held reputation of being cold, hard, and cruel. But nothing could be farther from the truth. These doctrines are the most warm, comforting, encouraging truths I have ever learned. Richard Phillips speaks my mind from the very first paragraph: I love the doctrines of grace. I love them as doctrines, that is, as biblical teachings that are sublime and wonderful beyond all human expectation. There can hardly be thrills greater to the mind than those produced by the central doctrines of the Reformed faith. But I especially love these doctrines because of their marvelous theme: the sovereign grace of God for unworthy sinners. For even greater than their enlightening effect on the mind, the doctrines of God are utterly transforming to the believing heart. To love the doctrines of grace is to love God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. He is “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10), and unless we anchor our faith in the fullness of grace taught in Scripture, we will never glorify God for our salvation as He so richly deserves. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), xi.

Isaiah’s Vision of Sovereignty

Wednesday··2013·11·13
If the apostle Paul is the New Testament figure most associated with the teaching of God’s sovereignty,” writes Richard Phillips, “his Old Testament counterpart is surely Isaiah.” Both men learned of God’s sovereignty in the most dramatic way: in person. The prophecy of Isaiah contains some of the boldest proclamations of God’s sovereignty in Scripture. In chapter 45, he compares God’s relationship with mankind to that of a potter and his clay, making of His creation whatever He will. In chapter 46, Isaiah points out the utter sovereignty of God’s will: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:9–10). In chapter 59, Isaiah speaks of God’s sovereignty in terms of the long arm of the Lord, by which He is able to will the salvation of His people anywhere: “His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him” (Isa. 59:16). Isaiah’s message about divine sovereignty wouldn’t have been any more popular in his time than it is in many circles today. But where did Isaiah get this radical conception of God? Was Isaiah under the influence of eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinking (as is often said of those who espouse his teaching today)? Was Isaiah a closet rationalist, under the influence of Plato and Aristotle, so that he can be written off as a prophet of the Greek philosophers rather than of Israel’s God? These can hardly be the case, given that Isaiah wrote in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC. So where did Isaiah gain these peculiar views in which God is truly God? The answer is that Isaiah learned of God’s sovereignty through his personal experience of the Lord. And he wasn’t the only one. Paul got his view of a sovereign Christ on the Damascus Road, Jonah attained his “Calvinism” in the belly of the whale, and Habakkuk gained his grasp of God’s sovereignty in his watchtower. In other words, Isaiah—like the other prophets and the apostles, who worshiped God’s sovereign glory—gained his doctrine from the Lord Himself. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 3–4.

The Visitation

Friday··2013·12·13
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace. —Luke 1:68–79 The Song of Zechariah teaches us something very fundamental about salvation. What is salvation? According to Zechariah, it is something that comes from God, and not from us. The priest blessed God for visiting his people (Luke 1:68). This was something he had experienced personally when the angel appeared to him at the temple. But this visitation was not for him alone. By sending the angel, by giving Elizabeth a baby, and especially by putting his Son in the virgin’s womb, God was visiting his people. He was entering our situation from the outside, because without his intervention, we could never be saved. Salvation is not a human invention, but a divine visitation. It is not something we achieve by going to God, but something God has done by coming to us in Christ. No one is ever saved except by the grace of God. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 93.

Sanctification: Synergistic, or Monergistic?

Monday··2014·04·14
Salvation is monergistic. There is nothing anyone can do to save or contribute to the saving of themselves. On this, biblical theologians all agree.* The natural man is dead in sin, and cannot raise himself. He cannot exercise any kind of faith, because he has none. He cannot acquire saving faith, because he cannot understand the word through which that faith is given (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14). He must, in theological terms, be regenerated, or, in biblical terms, be born again (John 3:3), and that is only accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:7–8). Salvation is monergistic, because it must be monergistic. At the same time, there are the gospel commands. We are commanded to believe. We are commanded to repent. We are commanded to follow Jesus, and in doing so, to take up crosses (Matthew 16:14; cf. Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Unless we do these things, we will not be saved. We also know that perseverance is required (James 1:12). Volumes have been written in the desire to reconcile the demands of God and the responsibility of man with the clear witness of Scripture to the total inability of man and the sovereign, saving grace of God. In spite of that difficulty, monergism is maintained. We maintain that regeneration is a miracle, that justification is by grace alone, through faith—the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)—alone, and that our perseverance is assured (John 6:40–44) by God. Meanwhile, one portion of our salvation is plucked from the center and declared synergistic. I speak, of course, of sanctification. That opinion is held by no less than R. C. Sproul, who said, “Regeneration is monergistic, God’s work alone. Sanctification, the process by which we are made holy, is synergistic, God’s work with us.” During the recent 2014 Shepherds’ Conference, my most esteemed teacher, John MacArthur, and a panel of distinguished guests all agreed. It should be noted that they were responding to the antinomian views of Tullian Tchividjian and others, who seem to be espousing a Keswick-like “let go and let God” philosophy, but nevertheless, the statement was unambiguous: “sanctification is synergistic.” And the substance of everything they said was correct. I couldn’t disagree with a single word, but it was as though they were saying “2+3=7.” Yes, I agree with their definition of 2, and yes, of 3 also, but the conclusion was wrong. Yes, we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and if we do not, our sanctification simply will not happen, but how is that different from the fact that if we do not believe and repent, we will not be justified? In spite of those clear commands, we recognize the texts that just as clearly declare regeneration monergistic. Why can’t we acknowledge the command in Philippians 2:12, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” while recognizing that as we do, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (verse 13)? We don’t have to deny monergistic sanctification to avoid antinomianism or quietism any more than we have to deny monergistic regeneration to avoid the errors of hyper-Calvinism. It seems to me a “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem. Those who call sanctification synergistic need to step back and see who is really doing the work. Several years ago, while still very much an Arminian, I was discussing Calvinism versus Arminianism with a quasi-Arminian Pastor. He explained that the difference was that Arminians were looking at salvation from man’s point of view, while Calvinists looked from God’s point of view. He seemed to think that, as people dealing with people, we should be taking the former view, which has a certain pragmatic appeal, but is flat wrong. It seems to me that those monergists—or, perhaps I should say, semi-monergists, who believe in synergistic sanctification are making the same error. Or maybe I should trade soli Deo gloria for maxime gloria Deo (most of the glory to God). * I know, many theologians disagree, but I don’t consider them, however distinguished, to be very biblical. They may be fine Christians, but no one who fails to understand this most fundamental and reasonably perspicuous truth deserves any kind of theologically-related degree.

Union with God through Christ

Monday··2014·12·08
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. —John 16:26–27 From this passage some might conclude that God does not love his elect until they come to Christ in faith. The analogia scriptura prevents such an erroneous interpretation. Because you have loved me. These words remind us that the only bond of our union with God is, to be united to Christ; and we are united to him by a faith which is not reigned, but which springs from sincere affection, which he describes by the name of love; for no man believes purely in Christ who does not cordially embrace him, and, therefore, by this word he has well expressed the power and nature of faith. But if it is only when we have loved Christ that God begins to love us, it follows that the commencement of salvation is from ourselves, because we have anticipated the grace of God. Numerous passages of Scripture, on the other hand, are opposed to this statement. The promise of God is, I will cause them to love me; and John says, Not that we first loved Him, (1 John iv. 7.) It would be superfluous to collect many passages; for nothing is more certain than this doctrine, that the Lord calleth those things which are not, (Rom. iv. 17) raises the dead, (Luke vii. 22,) unites himself to those who were strangers to him, (Eph. ii. 12,) makes hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) manifests himself to those who do not seek him, (Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20.) I reply, God loves men in a secret way, before they are called, if they are among the elect; for he loves his own before they are created; but, as they are not yet reconciled, they are justly accounted enemies of God, as Paul speaks, When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, (Rom. v. 10.) On this ground it is said that we are loved by God, when we love Christ; because we have the pledge of the fatherly love of Him from whom we formerly recoiled as our offended Judge. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:158–159.

The Religion of God’s Own Church

Wednesday··2018·01·03
Twenty or so years ago, long before my first visit to the internet, I went to an actual bookstore where I picked up a nice little volume on the Doctrines of Grace called The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas. Having already embraced the doctrines of divine sovereignty, I needed no convincing, but that little book helped to clarify these doctrines that Scripture had already proven to me. When a second, updated and expanded edition was published in 2004, I snapped it up, but, as so often happens, it sat on the shelf, unread—until this week. As the title suggests, The Five Points of Calvinism consists of three parts: The Five Points Defined provides the history of the Arminian Remonstrance and the church’s response, and the definition of each of the Five Points; The Five Points Defended presents the biblical foundation for each point; The Five Points Documented provides recommended resources for further study. There are also eight additional appendices by various authors including Charles Spurgeon and Lorraine Boettner. This will be my blog fodder in the coming days. For now, I will leave you with this brief quotation from Spurgeon, which expresses my opinion exactly. It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are called by the nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into [the] past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. . . . taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren; I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church. —Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Steele, Thomas, and Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004).

The Origin of the Five Points

Thursday··2018·01·04
Studying the history of the Doctrines of Grace, it should first be noted that the doctrines commonly known as “the Five Points of Calvinism” were not written by John Calvin, nor were they formulated in the handy TULIP acrostic. In 1610, one year after the death of James Arminius, and forty-six years after the death of John Calvin, the followers of Arminius presented a “Remonstrance” (protest) to the State of Holland. This protest consisted of five articles intended to correct what they considered errors in the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism (the Confessions of the Church of Holland). Roger Nicole summarizes the five articles contained in the Remonstrance as follows: I. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief. II. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved. III. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed. IV. This grace may be resisted. V. whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation. The last article was later altered so as definitely to teach that the trul regenerate believer could lose his faith and thus lose his salvation. However, Arminians have not been in agreement on this point. Some have held that all who are regenerated by the Spirit of God are eternally secure and can never perish. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 2. In response to the Remonstrants, a national synod was convened in Dordrecht (Dort), Holland in 1618. The majority of the synod was Dutch, but also included delegates from Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. Their purpose was to examine the Arminian articles in light of Scripture. After 154 sessions over the course of seven months, the Synod of Dort rejected the Arminian protest. Ben A. Warburton writes, The Synod had given a very close examination to the “five points” which had been advanced by the Remonstrants, and had compared the teaching advanced in them with the testimony of Scripture. Failing to reconcile that teaching with the Word of God, which they had definitely declared could alone be accepted by them as the rule of faith, they had unanimously rejected them. They felt, however, that a mere rejection was not sufficient. It remained for them to set forth the true Calvinistic teaching in relationship to those matters which had been called into question. This they proceeded to do, embodying the Calvinistic position in five chapters which have ever since been known as “the five points of Calvinism.” —Ibid., 4. How is it that these churchmen drew such a different conclusion from that which is held by the majority of Protestants today? The answer is quite simple: Salvation was viewed by the members of the Synod as a work of grace from beginning to end; They did not believe that the sinner saved himself or contributed to his salvation in any sense. Adam's fall had completely ruined the race. All men were by nature spiritually dead, and their wills were in bondage to sin and Satan. The ability to believe the gospel was itself a gift from God, bestowed only on those whom He had chosen to be the objects of His unmerited favor. It was not man, but God, who determined which sinners would be shown mercy and saved. This, in essence, was what the members of the Synod of Dort understood the Bible to teach. —Ibid., 5.

Arminian Philosophy

Friday··2018·01·05
Packer on the philosophical basis of Arminianism: The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. . . . From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor (2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. (3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe. (4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe. (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 3. One must wonder what Arminians do with (1.) Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 (2.) John 6:37 (3.) Romans 9:11–13 (4.) Ephesians 2:8 (5.) John 6:37, 39–40. All of the Epistles, indeed, the entire New Testament, speak loudly against them.

Before Arminius

Monday··2018·01·08
Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.

No Small Difference

Tuesday··2018·01·09
The difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is no minor disagreement. J. I. Packer writes, The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God Who saves; the other proclaims a God Who enables man to save himself. One view [Calvinism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view [Arminianism] gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on the work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation; the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 13–14.

The One Point of Calvinism

Wednesday··2018·01·10
Although the five points are useful as a systematic expression of biblical soteriology, and were necessary as a refutation of the five Arminian articles, we ought to be careful not to separate them as though each stands alone. In fact, they are inseparable. As J. I. Packer writes, You cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them. For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved from bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man's own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner's inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever; amen. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 14–15.
As I’ve been writing on the five points as presented in The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, and referred to the TULIP acrostic/acronym, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually listed them. I suppose it’s safe to assume that most of my readers are familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, here is a brief summary (for longer explanations, click the links at the end of each): Total Depravity: When Adam fell, all mankind fell with him, and inherited his sin (Romans 5:12). This sin has so corrupted all men that, without regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are unable to respond in faith to the gospel. The word “total” does not mean that we are as depraved as we could be. All people do not descend to the most extreme depths of evil (we are not all Hitler, Stalin, or abortion rights activists). “Total” means that sin has corrupted the totality of our beings—there is no part of us that is not touched by sin. In the Arminian versus Calvinist context, applying this truth to the notion of free will, we realize that though our will may be free, it is a corrupt, sinful will, “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:7). The late R. C. Sproul preferred to call it Radical Corruption. Unconditional Election: God has chosen a people for himself, not based on any quality they possess or any good they may do (Romans 9:11), but “according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Sproul preferred Sovereign Election. Limited Atonement: Christ died specifically to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Who are “his people”? See above. Because of the misleading nature of this term, Sproul preferred Definite Atonement. Irresistible Grace: Those who the Father has chosen will infallibly respond in faith to the gospel call (John 6:37). This is not intended to mean that the Holy Spirit forces people against their wills to come to Christ, but that, in regeneration, he changes their wills so that they come gladly. For this reason, Sproul preferred Effectual Grace. Perseverance of the Saints: All who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit will be infallibly kept in the faith (John 6:39–40). Again, because “perseverance” sounds like something we do (contra Philippians 2:13), Sproul made his own improvement: Preservation of the Saints. Thus far, you’ve only seen the doctrine and its history presented, with very little support. Stay tuned . . .

Total Depravity in Scripture

Friday··2018·01·12
The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” —Genesis 2:16–17 This is really where the doctrine of Total Depravity is introduced, with his warning of the consequence of disobedience to God’s first command: spiritual death. But Adam did disobey. He did eat the forbidden fruit, he did die, and all mankind with him. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . . —Romans 5:12 Note well: The language here is not of spiritual sickness, but of death. This is our condition from birth (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). This is why the illustration of throwing a rope (the gospel) to a drowning man doesn’t work. We are not drowning, but already drowned. A dead man cannot grab a rope. We do not need to be rescued; we need to be reborn. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. —John 1:12–13 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” —John 3:5–6 This rebirth is in no way a result of our own effort. It is nothing less than a miracle. In the same passage, Jesus continued, Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” 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 3:7–8 We are born utterly without any hope in ourselves (Romans 8:7–8; 1 Corinthians 2:14), and would remain that way, if not for two beautiful words found in the following passage: “But God . . .” And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:1–5, 8–9 This post is a brief summary of The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 21–27.

Unconditional Election in Scripture

Monday··2018·01·15
As we have seen. all of mankind is born dead in sin (Romans 5:12). Sinful human beings are both unwilling and unable to believe and follow Christ. This is not merely due to ambivalence; we are, by nature “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:7). “It is in this context that the Bible sets forth the doctrine of election.” God would have been perfectly just to leave it at that—he is in no way obligated to show mercy to anyone—but he did not. According to his eternal purpose, he chose a people for himself and foreordained their salvation. This choosing took place “before the foundation of the world.” just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. —Ephesians 1:4 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. —2 Thessalonians 2:13 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity —2 Timothy 1:9 Contrary to Arminian dogma, God’s choice was not based on his foreknowledge of our response to the gospel (an explanation of “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 will be forthcoming in a future post). for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:11–13 Lest we be tempted to protest the injustice of such an apparently arbitrary choice, What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. . . . You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? —Romans 9:14–16, 19–21 God’s choice is not unjust, nor is it arbitrary. He has a purpose: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. . . . What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. —Romans 9:17–18, 22–24 Election is part of salvation, but it is not, by itself, salvation. The elect surely will be saved, but until the moment of rebirth (John 3:3), they are not yet “in Christ.” As Paul indicates in the following verse, all are not saved simultaneously, though they were so chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. —Romans 16:7 Election was based solely on the sovereign choice of God, but sovereign election is only a part of the theme of God’s sovereignty over all creation. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. —Isaiah 46:9–11 This post is a brief summary of The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 27–39.

Limited Atonement in Scripture

Wednesday··2018·01·17
In the Arminian/Calvinist debate, Limited Atonement, the “L” in the TULIP, is almost certainly the most common point of contention. Many Arminians have embraced the other four points while still rejecting this one. These often call themselves “four point Calvinists.” It is not too difficult to understand why many, even having accepted the other four points, have trouble with this one. Who wants to believe in a “limited” atonement? Doesn't that belittle the work of Christ, implying it wasn't quite enough in some way? Good question, I say, and that is the reason many theologians prefer alternate, less confusing terms such as “definite atonement” or “particular redemption.” I agree with them, though I'm sticking with the L for the sake of the TULIP. Although I understand the objections, I never—once I understood the bigger picture—had any trouble believing this, that is, that Christ died specifically for the elect. After all, it's simple math, isn't it? If the Father chose particular people to save, and gave them to the Son, who promised to redeem them, keep them, and see them safely into heaven (John 6:37–40), it stands to reason that those are the people for whom he died. Furthermore, how could I believe that hell is populated by souls for whom Christ died? The only way that could make any sense is if I believed, as Arminians do, that Christ did not actually save any, but only made salvation possible for those who will make the right decision. It is evident that everyone (who is not a universalist) believes in a limited atonement. One party (Arminian) limits its effect; the other (Calvinist) limits its intent. The former says God tried; the latter says he succeeded. Since not all men will be saved as a result of Christ's redeeming work, a limitation must be admitted. Either the atonement was limited in that it was designed to secure salvation for certain sinners, but not for others, or it was limited in that it was not intended to secure salvation for any, but was designed only to make it possible for God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe. In other words, one mist limit the design either in extent (it was not intended for all) or in effectiveness (it did not secure salvation for any). As Boettner so aptly observes, for the Calvinist, the atonement “is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian, it is like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 40–41. The crux of the matter, for the Calvinist, is that Jesus saves—actually, not merely potentially. This is always the language of Scripture. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. —Matthew 1:21 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us . . . —Galatians 3:13 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. —Titus 2:14 (A point not made in this book, but that is very important, is that the epistles were written to believers. Therefore, when Paul writes “to us” and “for us,” he is not addressing all humanity, but the elect only.) Repentance and faith, indispensible to salvation, which Arminians believe we must bring to the table, are gifts we receive through Christ. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. —Acts 5:31 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake —Philippians 1:29 Jesus himself specified a particular people for whom he would die. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. —John 10:11, 14–18 Jesus, in his “high priestly prayer,” prayed specifically for the elect, to the expressed exclusion of all others. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. —John 17:6–10 Now, the question that must be answered is, what of those passages that speak of Jesus being the savior of the world (John 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 2:2; 4:14) or of all men (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14–15; 1 Timothy 2:4–6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9)? One reason for the use of these expressions was to correct the false notion that salvation was for the Jews alone. . . . these expressions are intended to show that Christ died for all men without distinction (i.e., He died for Jews and Gentiles alike), but they are not intended to indicate that Christ died for all men without exception (i.e., He did not die for the purpose of saving each and every lost sinner). —The Five Points of Calvinism, 50. As we have seen, the preponderance of scriptural evidence plainly indicates a particular redemption. Christ died for “his people,” “the sheep,” “those whom you have given me.” The passages listed above must be understood in that context, or we must embrace a universal atonement that saves everyone. Both Scripture and experience render that conclusion indefensible. Jesus died for one purpose: to save his people from their sin. The bulk of this post is drawn from The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 39–52.

Irresistible Grace in Scripture

Thursday··2018·01·18
If not for the TULIP, I would abandon the term Irresistible Grace as too misleading. In truth, grace is resistible. It is in the very nature of all men to resist God's grace. Most who hear the gospel call (often called the “general” or “outward” call) will reject it. It is the inward call of the Holy Spirit, given to God's elect, that never fails—“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Therefore, terms like Effectual Call or Efficacious Grace are preferred. As the Westminster Confession explains, All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. &mdashThe Westminster Confession of Faith, 10.1. The work of salvation is thoroughly Trinitarian. Just as the Father chooses and the Son redeems, the Spirit does his part in calling, regeneration, and sanctification. As pertains to calling, it is the Spirit who causes us to receive the gospel. At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” —Luke 10:21Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. —1 Corinthians 2:12–13 But in our natural state, we cannot receive what the Spirit says to us. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. —1 Corinthians 2:14 Before we can receive the gospel, a change must take place. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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 3:3–8 This is the Spirit's work of regeneration. In regeneration, we are given an entirely new nature. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. —Ezekiel 36:26–27 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. —2 Corinthians 5:17 Having been given a new nature, we respond to the gospel in a new way. We come, not “dragged, kicking and screaming,” as some Arminians caricature this doctrine, but willingly, eagerly. It is an effectual call that never fails. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me . . . —John 6:37 This post summarizes The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 52–64.

Perseverance of the Saints in Scripture

Friday··2018·01·19
The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints teaches that those who have been chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit will infallibly persevere in the faith to the end. That, positively, is what this doctrine is. Before going any farther, we should clarify what it is not. This is not a doctrine of cheap grace whereby one may profess faith in Christ and go on to produce no fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8; cf. Luke 3:8) while being “once saved, always saved.” The Spirit’s work of regeneration results in a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), sanctified and growing in holiness. That is not to say that Christians don’t sin. We face temptation, and often succumb to it. We are not perfect, but we desire to be, and live accordingly (Philippians 2:12; 3:12–14). We can take no credit for this because, though we strive for holiness, it is really God working in us (Philippians 2:13)—and that is the core of this doctrine. That is why many theologians prefer preservation to perseverance: It is God who preserves our faith; our perseverance is consequential to that. The first proof of this doctrine is the language used to describe the new life to which we are born: eternal life. Not life for now, if you can keep it, but life forever, without end, beginning now. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. —John 3:16 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. —John 5:24 Lest we still doubt, the guarantee is given in no uncertain words. Notice how often glorification is tied directly to election/predestination. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. —John 6:37–40 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; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. —Romans 8:29–30 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, . . . In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. —Ephesians 1:5, 13–14 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. —Colossians 3:3–4 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. —1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. —Hebrews 9:15 If you’ve been following this series, you’ve noticed the repetition of many texts from one post to another, demonstrating how intertwined these five doctrines are in Scripture. They really are inseparable. This post summarizes The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 64–71.

Foreknew (Romans 8:29)

Monday··2018·01·22
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; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. —Romans 8:29–30 Whether you will be an Arminian or a Calvinist (and you will be one or the other*) will depend partly on your understanding of the word “forknew” as it is used in this passage, for herein we meet predestination, sanctification, adoption, calling, justification, and glorification, all tied together. Who will be the recipients of these blessings? “Those whom [God] foreknew.” Arminians and Calvinists have very different views of who that describes. Arminians believe that God, knowing the future, foreknew (knew in advance) who would respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, and predestined them to salvation. In other words, he saw who would respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, and predestined them to respond in repentance and faith to the gospel. (If that seems redundant and nonsensical to you, it’s only because it is.) Calvinists believe that knew has a much more personal, intimate meaning. God did not merely know about certain people and what they would do—certainly, he knows about everyone and everything they will do—he knew them in a personal, intimate way. In order to draw the Arminian conclusion, an idea must be added to the text, that is, “whom he foreknew [would believe], he also predestined.” Not only is that idea not found in this particular text, it collides rather violently with the rest of Scripture, perhaps most obviously, Romans 9:11–13: for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Therefore, foreknew cannot mean that God predestined individuals based on conditions they would meet, and it cannot mean that God knew them in advance, since he knows everyone in advance, and not all are saved. It has to mean more than that. See again the passage above: “Jacob I loved.” This is how orthodox theologians have always understood the foreknowledge of Romans 8:29. To be known, in this sense of the word, by God is to be loved by him. When the Bible speaks of God knowing particular individuals, it often means that He has special regard for them, that they are the objects of His affection and concern. For example, in Amos 3:2 God, speaking to Israel, says, “You only have I known of the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Lord knew about all the families of the earth, but He knew Israel in a special way. They were his chosen people, upon whom He had set his heart. See Deuteronomy 7:7–8; 10:15. Because Israel was His in a special sense, He chastised them (cf. Heb. 15:5–6). God, speaking to Jeremiah, said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”(Jer. 1:5). The meaning here is not that God knew about Jeremiah, but that He had special regard for the prophet before He formed him in his mother’s womb. Jesus also used the word “knew” in the sense of personal, intimate awareness. “On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:22–23). Our Lord cannot be understood as saying, “I knew nothing about you,” for it is quite evident that He knew all too much about them—their evil character and evil works; hence, His meaning must be, “I never knew you intimately or personally, I never regarded you as objects of my favor or love.” Paul uses the word in the same way in 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if anyone loves God, he is knownby God,” and also 2 Timothy 2:19, “the Lord knows those who are his.” The Lord knows about all men, but He only knows those “who love God . . . who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)—those who are His! —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 159–160. * Those who disdain such labels are free to use synergist or monergist, respectively. I actually prefer these, but really, you say tomayto, I say tomahto . . .

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: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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