May 24, 2015
E. Judging Read the rest of this entry »
April 22, 2012
Recently, I had an email discussion with a man named Mark DeYoung, in response to some things I had written to Ken Lokken. This is DeYoung’s final response to me. Note that he outright refused to discuss any biblical issues unless I first spoke peace to him. Note that he also accused me of being “unwilling” to discuss any biblical issues! Talk about hypocrisy.
From: Mark DeYoung
To: Chris Adams, Ken Lokken, Vic Sciavone, etc.
January 27, 2012
Re: Emailing: There is One Elohim
Ken and Vic,
Jesus warned us of people like Christopher…
Because he will not listen, Jesus said there comes a time we must shake the dust off of our feet, take the peace with us that is given by our God and His son Jesus.
There is never a time that such angry belligerence is considered acceptable, especially in the discussion of the Bible, our faith and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Here is Jesus words of instruction and also word of warning!
Matthew 10:13-20 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. (15) Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (16) “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (17) Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; (18) and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. (19) When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; (20) for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Christopher, I have spent the last few days since your last email that I was aware of being sent out, as to my response.
Your refusal to “Come and let us reason together” concerning the Word of God, and your constantly foul spirited lambasting of anyone that refuses to accept your definition of God and the plan of salvation, has caused me to realize that this is the best time to say, “Good Day to you sir.”
At this point, Chris Duncan (who runs the outstanding blog Agrammatos) jumped in, nicely summarizing the debate to that point:
From: Chris Duncan
To: Mark DeYoung, Chris Adams, etc.
January 28, 2012
Re: Emailing: There is One Elohim
It looks to me like Mark DeYoung is exhibiting angry belligerence toward my brother in Christ, Christopher Adams. Initially, DeYoung was willing to count a Trinitarian as his brother in the Lord since, evidently, he believes the true identity of Jesus Christ to be a non-essential doctrine over which true Christians may disagree. What kind of sense does it make to solemnly warn a person over a non-essential or secondary doctrine?
Does Vic Schiavone think the true identity of Jesus Christ is a non-essential doctrine, over which true Christians may disagree? It seems so, since he just wished nothing but blessing upon him, in his last e-mail. DeYoung is belligerently warning Christopher, and Schiavone is “lovingly” blessing Christopher. DeYoung and Schiavone cannot get on the same page regarding someone who stubbornly refuses to relinquish his belief in a doctrine they believe to be non-essential.
In John 8:24, Jesus connects disbelief in His true identity with a person dying in their sins — evidently, a very small hint of mean-spirited and unChrist-like belligerence is being exhibited here.
More angry, impatient belligerence:
“Who is the liar, except the one denying, saying that Jesus is not the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one denying the Father and the Son. Everyone denying the Son does not have the Father. The one confessing the Son also has the Father” (1 John 2:22-23; emphasis mine).
Is a Son who merely came into existence at the time of Bethlehem being described here by John? Does it look like John thinks the true identity of the Son is something over which true Christians may disagree? Not unless, you believe John is calling true Christians antichrists, liars, and those who do not have the Father. So, unlike some of the non-Trinitarians on this list, the apostle John does not believe this is a secondary issue.
Do the non-Trinitarians believe that Trinitarians such as Christopher Adams and myself are denying the Son? How about you, Mr. Buzzard? I’ve seen your debate with James White and Michael Brown (both damnable heretics, by the way), where they voiced “concern” for you and your debate partner — but they lacked the spiritual spine to actually go as far the apostle John went (James White even referenced the apostle John’s words). Mr. Buzzard, in the debate, you had seemingly echoed their “concern” as well:
Sir Anthony: “… same as we. I’ve been told I don’t believe in God because I believe there’s a devil. I’ve been told I don’t speak in tongues enough so I couldn’t be saved. I’ve heard this from every single denomination. This is nothing new….”
Same as we? What does that mean? Are you saying that you, likewise, are “concerned” over the souls of tolerant Calvinist heretic James White and Arminian heretic, Michael Brown? What’s with the lack of certitude on your, James White’s, and Michael Brown’s parts? Why not come right out and say it like the apostle John did? Can’t bring yourselves to be that mean and belligerent?
September 13, 2011
III. Anthropology – The Doctrine of Man
In the preceding section, I described how John Wesley’s theology properly began with the Responsibility of Man as it’s foundational doctrine, rather than the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. In this section, I will show how Wesley constructed an unbiblical view of the nature of Man on that unbiblical foundation.
TheChristian Confession of Faith describes the biblical view of the nature of Man in this way:
Adam and Eve sinned by believing the devil’s lie and eating the forbidden fruit. [Gen 3:1-6] In so doing, Adam and Eve fell from their original state of innocence into a state of spiritual death and depravity. The guilt and defilement of Adam’s sin has been imputed to all whom he represented (all his natural posterity). The spiritual state of total depravity into which Adam fell has been transmitted to all whom he represented, and all whom he represented became physically subject to decay and death. [Gen 3:7-8; Gen 3:16-24; Gen 5:3-5; Psa 51:5; Rom 3:10-18; Rom 5:12-14; Rom 5:19; Rom 8:5-8; Eph 2:1-3; Eph 4:17-19]1
Here, the Confession is teaching that the sin of our first parents was legally imputed to all their natural descendants (Rom 5:19), causing all their natural descendants to be born spiritually dead, in sin and rebellion against God (Gen 5:3; Psa 51:5). This is the doctrine of Original Sin, which is the origin of the doctrine of Total Depravity (Rom 8:7).
Here is what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity:
The truth of total depravity does not mean that all men are as outwardly immoral as they possibly could be. It means that every faculty of the soul of every natural (that is, unregenerate) descendant of Adam is completely polluted with hatred to the true and living God, and all of the natural man’s thoughts, words, and deeds (even his kindness, morality, and religion) are dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. It means that every natural descendent of Adam owes a debt to God’s law and justice that he cannot pay. It means that every natural descendent of Adam is spiritually dead, having no spiritual understanding, a lover of darkness rather than light, a slave of sin, unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. This truth is contrary to the damnable poison known as “free will,” which seeks to make the creature independent of the Creator and seeks to make the Potter depend on the clay, according to the devil’s lie, “You shall be as God.” [Gen 3:5; Psa 14:2-3; Pro 12:10; 15:8; Isa 45:20; 64:6; Jer 13:23; 17:9; Mat 7:18; Joh 3:19-20; 6:44-45; Rom 1:20-23; 3:9-12,20; 5:12; 6:16-23; 7:5; 8:5-8; 10:2-3; 1Co 2:14; 2Co 4:3-4; Eph 2:5; 4:18; Col 1:21; 2:13; Heb 9:14; 11:6]2
This section of the Confession sets forth the doctrine of Total Depravity in positive and negative ways – first explaining the true doctrine, then exposing the erroneous doctrine.The true doctrine is that the natural man is “completely polluted with hatred to the true and living God” and “unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation” (Rom 10:2-3). The natural, unregenerate man is thus so defiled with sin that he hates God from the very moment of conception, and cannot do the first thing to please God by his own efforts (Heb 11:6). But conversely, and just as importantly, the Confession exposes the error that Wesley held in such esteem: “the damnable poison known as “free will,” which seeks to make the creature independent of the Creator” (Joh 6:44; Rom 8:7-8).
We have already seen that Wesley’s theology took God off from the throne of heaven, by removing from him the ultimate choice concerning who will be saved and who will not. Now, we see how Wesley exalted Man to the place which Scripture reserves for God alone.
These next quotes show how much of Salvation was, according to Wesley, dependent on the sinner’s exercise of his Free Will:
The very cornerstone of Wesley’s theology was the belief that the natural Man possesses a Free Will, capable of fulfilling conditions and sincerely seeking the Will of God. The foundational support for this doctrine of Free Will, was the doctrine that God would never give us a command that we could not follow.
As he has called us to holiness, he is undoubtedly willing as well as able, to work this holiness in us. For he cannot mock his helpless creatures, calling us to receive what he never intends to give. (6:416, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he [God] did not know it at all. Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be held accountable… (6:227, Sermon 58 On Predestination)
Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence [sic] be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. (6:318, Sermon 67 On Divine Providence)
In reality, however, the Responsibility of Man is not based on his supposed Free Will, but on the Sovereignty of God. The preface to the Ten Commandments is not “You really ought to do this …”, nor “These are ten great ideas …” The preface to the Ten Commandments is “I [am] Jehovah your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, …” (Exo 20:2) Before giving his Law, God establishes his own divine authority to enact such laws. Whether the Israelites had the power to obey was immaterial. The Christian Confession of Faith teaches this doctrine:
Yet all men are responsible to obey the commands of God, because God, as the sovereign King of creation, has the right to command obedience from His creatures, regardless of their ability to obey. [Deu 10:16; Mat 12:13; 28:18; Joh 11:43; Act 17:30-31; Rom 2:12-16; 2Th 1:8]3
The old Arminian motto that “responsibility implies ability” simply isn’t logical. The dry bones of Ezekiel 38 had no ability to obey the command “Dry bones, live!”, yet they had a responsibility to obey. Lazarus had no ability to obey the command “Lazarus, come forth!”, yet he had a responsibility to obey. Their responsibility to obey did not come from their ability to obey (for they had none). Rather it came from the authority of the One giving the command. God has every right to command us to do that which pleases him, even if we have no power to do so. Therefore, when he commands us to believe the Gospel, we have a responsibility to do so. But this by no means implies the ability to obey that command. Notice that both of the above examples included commands that the subjects (Lazarus and the Dry Bones) obviously couldn’t obey. It was simply beyond their ability; yet they both had a responsibility to obey. So it is with the natural man.
We have already seen that Wesley had a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of God. It naturally follows that he would have a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of sin, because sin is an act of rebellion against God. Therefore, anything that diminishes the sovereignty and glory of God automatically diminishes the heinousness of sin. And in fact, Wesley had a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of sin, which manifested itself, first, as a belief in the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration:
It is certain our Church supposes that all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again; and it is allowed that the whole Office for the Baptism of Infants proceeds on this supposition. (6:74, Sermon 45, The New Birth)
… the benefits we receive by baptism is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ’s death. …. By baptism, we who were by nature “children of wrath” are made the children of God. And this regeneration which our Church in so many places ascribes to baptism is more than barely being admitted into the Church, …. By water then, as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again; whence it is called by the Apostle, “the washing of regeneration.” …. Herein a principle of grace is infused, which will not be wholly taken away, unless we quench the Holy Spirit of God by long-continued wickedness. (10:192, Treatise On Baptism, Nov. 11, 1756)4
To be sure, Wesley saw the water of baptism only as a “means” by which regeneration occurs. But this doctrine reveals a dangerously deficient view of regeneration. It does not define regeneration as moving from a state of condemnation to a state of justification, because it does not see human nature as being in a state of condemnation. That is, it does not see human nature as wholly depraved and unable to do anything pleasing to God, or even prepare itself to receive the grace of God. Instead, it sees human nature as something that is essentially good, which only needs to be cleaned up a little; the “guilt of original sin” may be washed away as easily as you wash your hands. Consequently, this doctrine reveals a dangerously deficient view of sin: the insidiously evil nature of it, the deceitfulness of it, and the pervasive influence of it upon the entire soul of man. It sees sin as something bad, but not a thing that utterly defiles the whole man, body and soul. This is a direct result of Wesley’s deficient view of the glory of God, addressed in the previous chapter. When you have a god made in your own image, he is finite, and therefore neither infinitely glorious, nor infinitely righteous. Consequently, rebellion against him is not really infinite wickedness, nor could God have legitimately condemned all men to eternal destruction, because it is not infinitely deserved.
Do you think it will cut the knot to say, “… But God might justly have passed by all men?” Are you sure he might? Where is it written? I cannot find it in the word of God. (10:217, Predestination Calmly Considered)
But Wesley’s deficient view of sin did not end with Baptismal Regeneration. It also included the doctrine that Wesley is most famous for: the doctrine of Perfectionism. He defined it as, not merely the pursuit, but the actual attaining, of perfect holiness, prior to death.
1. By perfection, I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbour, ruling our tempers, words, and actions. I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole. …. And I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it. 2. As to the manner, I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently in an instant5. 3. As to the time, I believe this instant generally is the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body6. But I believe it may be ten, twenty, or forty years before. (11:446, Brief Thoughts On Christian Perfection, Jan 27, 1767)
Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply … an exemption either from ignorance, or mistake, or infirmities, or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. (6:5, Sermon 40 Christian Perfection )
We have seen that Wesley had a deficient view, both of the true nature of sin, and also of the defiled nature of Man. We have also seen that Wesley believed Man has a Free Will, with the power to choose to obey God. Here, we see that view taken to its logical conclusion: if Man has the power to choose to obey God, he has the power to choose to obey God every single time he is faced with a moral decision. Theoretically, someone could choose to obey God perfectly for years on end.
Several persons have enjoyed this blessing, without any interruption, for many years. (6:420, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
And, indeed, whence should evil thoughts proceed, in the servant who is as his Master? “Out of the heart of man” (if at all) “proceed evil thoughts.” (Mark vii. 21.) If, therefore, his heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts can no longer proceed out of it. (6:16, Sermon 40 Christian Perfection, emph. in orig.)
The doctrine of Perfection, then, is a logical implication of Wesley’s deficient view of sin. Consistent with his view that the nature of the unregenerate man is not wholly defiled, Wesley saw the regenerate man as capable of being wholly pure, even in his character and conduct. The sin nature, which could be so easily washed away by the water of baptism, left no trace of its existence once it was gone.
We should by no means misrepresent Wesley’s position. He never claimed that Perfection makes a Christian infallible or omniscient, or that it rendered the Atonement unnecessary. He would never have admitted the possibility that a person could have gone his whole life without sinning. He held that even those who had achieved Perfection still needed the blood of the Savior to cover the sins they committed before becoming Perfected7. Furthermore, Wesley himself never claimed to have experienced this Perfection. But, consistent with his Arminianism, he had to admit the possibility that it could happen, long before death. Once again, he represents sin as something bad, but not as something that utterly defiles the whole man. The doctrine of Perfection is, therefore, really just the logical implication of the doctrine of Free Will.
The Christian Confession of Faith describes the effect of the sin nature remaining within a regenerated Christian:
When God regenerates and converts a sinner, indwelling sin is not totally removed from a believer. A believer continues to sin against God all the days of his life, and he continues to be ashamed of and to repent of his sin. But a believer’s sin in no way forfeits his interest in Jesus Christ nor annuls God’s covenant with him. Scripture rejects the lie that man may be freed from indwelling sin in this life; anyone who says he has no sin is an unbeliever. [1Ki 8:46; Psa 32:5; 37:24; 38:18; 41:4; 69:5; 130:3; Rom 7:14-25; Jam 5:16; 1Jo 1:8-10]8
This section of the Confession also sets forth positive and negative aspects of the doctrine of Total Depravity, first explaining the true doctrine and then exposing the erroneous doctrine.First, it states that “indwelling sin is not totally removed from a believer”, but “A believer continues to sin against God all the days of his life” (1Jo 1:8-10). Then the Confession goes on to teach that “Scripture rejects the lie that man may be freed from indwelling sin in this life” (1Ki 8:46; Psa 130:3), categorically rejecting the Wesleyan view of the nature of Man, and any notion of Perfection along with it.
Wesley’s view of Perfection in Holiness was entirely unbiblical, because it rested on an unbiblical view of Sin, its nature and its consequences. Perfection was really nothing more than a natural and logical consequence of the doctrine of Free Will. Therefore, a denial of the doctrine of Free Will naturally dealt a death blow to Wesley’s whole scheme of Perfection, Baptismal Regeneration, and Man-centered theology. Wesley himself understood this:
Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness? A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin [ie. perfection – CA], putting the matter on quite another issue. (8:337, Minutes of Several Conversations, 1789)
That is, the doctrine of Total Depravity denies the very possibility of Perfection in this life, teaching instead that the natural Man has no Free Will, but rather a Will enslaved to sin. The sin principle in Man, even in a regenerate person, still resists and struggles against the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Little wonder, then, that Wesley so consistently opposed the doctrines of Grace.
Wesley used four main arguments in support of the doctrine of Perfection. First, He appealed to commands to be “perfected” in holiness.
Q. 6. Does the New Testament afford any farther ground for expecting to be saved from all sin? A. Undoubtedly it does, both in those prayers and commands which are equivalent to the strongest assertions . . . Q. 8. What command is there to the same effect? A.(1.) “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. v. 48.) (2.) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” (Matt. xxii. 37.) But if the love of God fill all the heart, there can be no sin there. Q. 9. But how does it appear that this is to be done before the article of death? A. First. From the very nature of a command, which is not given to the dead, but to the living. Therefore, “Thou shalt love God with all thy heart,” cannot mean, Thou shalt do this when thou diest, but [not] while thou livest. (8:296-7, Minutes Of Some Late Conversations, 1747)
We have already seen that a command to obey by no means implies the ability to obey. When God commands his people to be “perfect” in holiness, it doesn’t imply the ability to do so. It is consistent with the holiness of God to command that his people be perfect in holiness, but that command cannot be fulfilled by them, except in the person of their Substitute.
2nd, Wesley appealed to promises that Christians would be “perfected” in holiness.
Q. 4. Is there any clear scripture promise of this; that God will save us from all sin? A. There is: “He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” (Psalm cxxx.8.) This is more largely expressed in the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses. (xxxvi. 25,29.) No promise can be more clear. (8:294, Minutes Of Some Late Conversations, 1747)
We have seen that we have a responsibility, but no ability to be perfect in holiness. But these promises seem to teach that God himself would perfect his people by the Holy Spirit before death. Can Christians be brought to perfection by grace? The answer is again no, because of the nature of the work performed by the Holy Spirit. His office is not to glorify his own work, or even himself, but to glorify Christ (Joh 16:14). His work is to magnify the redemptive work of the Son. His work of conforming his people to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29) is secondary. Were the Spirit to perfect his people at any time before death, he would be magnifying and glorifying his own work in them. The satisfaction which Christ paid to God’s law and justice would lose its central emphasis and importance for a Christian, which is the very opposite of magnifying the work of Christ. These promises are not, therefore, given to assure God’s people that they will be saved from their fallen sinful nature, before the time of death. Rather, the promises are given to sustain Christians in hope, until they are brought to that blessed condition.
Furthermore, let it be noted that 1 John 3:9 (“Everyone who has been begotten of God does not sin….”) is speaking of every Christian without exception. This fact is borne out by the last clause of the verse: “… and he is not able to sin because he has been born of God.” If this verse is referring to Perfection in holiness, then it must apply to every Christian without exception, not excluding the “babes in Christ”, nor the Old Testament saints, as Wesley contends (11:374-5). In fact, anyone who was not perfected in holiness would have to be considered lost!
3rd, Wesley re-interpreted Romans chapter 7 so it would apply only to the unregenerate:
What shall we say then – This is a kind of a digression, to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom 3:5, 1Co 10:30, 1Co 4:6. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:5 in loc, emph. mine)
St. Paul, having compared together the past and present state of believers, that “in the flesh,” (Romans 7:5), and that “in the spirit,” (Romans 7:6), in answering two objections, … interweaves the whole process of a man reasoning, groaning, striving, and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:14 in loc; emph. mine)
In other words, according to Wesley, Romans 7 is not a description of the daily struggles each and every believer has with the flesh. Rather, it describes the struggle which an unregenerate person has in coming to belief in Christ.
But the text simply will not bear this interpretation. Paul gives absolutely no indication that he has ‘changed characters’, so to speak, as Wesley contends in his note on Romans 7:5, quoted above. Paul does occasionally restate the arguments of his opponents, but he always gives some indication that he is doing it (eg, Rom 3:5 or Rom 9:19-20). Here, there is no such indication. There is absolutely no basis for believing that Paul is expressing the arguments of anyone other than himself. The experience with sin that Paul describes (eg: “I am fleshly, having been sold under sin … what I do not will, this I do … evil is present with me.” etc.) is his own experience, and therefore, it should be viewed as the experience of every Christian.
This fact is reinforced by the last verse of the chapter (v. 25), where Paul speaks of himself as serving the Law of God with his mind, but the law of sin with his flesh. This dichotomy remains true for Paul even after he has found deliverance (in the previous verse, v. 24), from the “body of death” through the work of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the language that Paul uses in Romans 7 can only be used by a regenerate man. Paul says that he “agrees with the Law” (v. 16), “desire[s] the good” (v. 19), and “delights in the Law” (v. 22). While it is true that Pharisees and other legalists claim to find delight in the Law of God, their obedience to the Law is not from delight, but from fear of its threatened punishments. Only the regenerate person can see how the righteous demands and threatened punishments of the Law are fulfilled on his behalf by the work of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:4, Gal 3:13). Therefore, only the regenerate person can truly find delight in the Law of God.
Wesley, of course, disagrees, and writes:
To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted, Rom 8:2. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:7 in loc)
But the “scope” of Paul’s discourse in Romans 5-8, is the believer’s relationship with the Law (Rom 5:14, 20; 6:15; 7:1-6) and its power to condemn (Rom 7:11, 14; 8:1-4, 33-34). When he says that Christians are “fleshly”, “sold under sin”, and “captive to sin”, he is not talking about outward immorality (Rom 7:5, 21, 25). He is talking bout how a Christian’s remaining sin causes him to fall far short of the absolute moral perfection which God’s Law requires (Rom 5:20). Even a Christian’s best works are tainted with sin (Rom 7:18, 21; Gal 5:17). The person who sets a Christian free from this “law of sin” is Jesus Christ. The remaining influence of sin on a believer is never completely removed from him in this life (Rom 8:10), but Paul can still rejoice that he has been freed from the absolute dominance which the “sinful passions” had over him before he became a believer (Rom 8:2).
4th, Wesley tried to redefine sin.
… according to that definition of sin (which I apprehend to be the scriptural definition of it,) a voluntary transgression of a known law. “Nay but all the transgressions of the law of God, whether voluntary or involuntary, are sin: For St. John says, ‘All sin is a transgression of the law.’” True, but he does not say, All transgression of the law is sin. This I deny: Let him prove it that can. (6:417, Sermon 76 On Perfection, emph. in orig.)
Wesley is trying to show that transgression of a law is sin only when that law is known. Therefore, it would not be sin to violate a law you know nothing about, and consequently, one could legitimately claim to be Perfected from Sin, because no known law was being violated. But that it is possible to sin in ignorance is shown in the following passages:
Lev 4: (2) Speak to the sons of Israel saying, When a person sins against any of the commands of Jehovah through ignorance, which [is] not to be done, ….
Acts 3: (17) And now, brothers, I know that you acted according to ignorance, as also [did] your rulers.
1 Tim 1: (13) the [one] who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and insolent; but I received mercy, because being ignorant I did [it] in unbelief.
Heb 9: (7) But into the second [tabernacle – CA] the high priest [goes] alone once [in] the year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and the ignorances of the people;
When it comes to sinning against the Law of God, ignorance is no excuse. It is indeed true that “All transgression of the law is sin”, the statement which Wesley above denied and challenged anyone to prove.
Does Love Fulfill the Law?
This brings us back to Wesley’s original definition of perfection: “the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbour”. Notice the great emphasis Wesley places on “love”:
What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. (6:413, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
Two points need to be made about the so-called “Summary of the Law” that Jesus formulated in Matthew 22:37-40. The first point is that, while Jesus does indeed summarize the demands of God’s Law as “loving God and one’s neighbor”, he never implies that “love” will be accepted as a substitute for obedience to God’s Law. God’s absolute holiness demands that he require perfect obedience from his creatures; even disobedient thoughts require eternal punishment at God’s hands. This means that God can never accept warm, fuzzy feelings as anything approaching a substitute for obedience to his Law. Only perfect obedience to his Law is acceptable.
The second point that needs to be made about the so-called “Summary of the Law”, is that human beings are so polluted by the presence of a sin principle in their hearts, that they can never perfectly obey even a summary of the Law! A Christian’s love for “God and one’s neighbor” is always polluted with at least some of the love of self. Even if God were to accept love as a substitute for obedience to his Law, a Christian’s love still wouldn’t measure up to the perfection which God’s holiness requires.
In summarizing the Law, therefore, Jesus was neither lowering the standards of the Law, nor teaching that Man could meet the standards of the Law. In fact, quite the opposite; he was showing how impossible it is to perfectly obey the Law of God even in summary form. This is exactly what the Christian Confession of Faith teaches about the Law of God:
The function of God’s law is to show forth God’s perfect standard of righteousness that His people may … Learn their natural inability to meet that standard, [Deu 9:4-6; Psa 130:3; Isa 64:6; Dan 9:5-11; Rom 3:19-20; 5:13, 20; 7:7-13; Gal 3:10-12; 4:24-25; Jam 2:10-11]
The “Select Regiment”
In an interesting twist, one of the most eloquent refutations of Perfectionism actually comes from John Wesley himself. It seems that at one point, he gathered together a number of Methodists who had achieved “Perfection”, with the intention of having them all live in one house. The report given by Augustus Toplady is very telling:
You formed a scheme of collecting as many perfect ones as you could, to live together under one roof. A number of these flowers were accordingly transplanted from some of your nursery-beds to the hot-house. And a hot-house it soon proved. For would we believe it? the sinless people quarelled in a short time at so violent a rate that you found yourself forced to disband the select regiment.9
Now it could be argued that just because someone, or even a large group of people, claimed to be Perfected, it doesn’t automatically follow that they really are Perfected. But this was a group which was selected by John Wesley himself, professing to be his followers, in which he seemed to have great confidence that their confession was genuine. There seems to be no reference to this event anywhere in his collected works, so it is difficult to ascertain Wesley’s reaction. But, why no mention of it? Why no comment on it? Why no response to it at all? The silence is deafening.
How Sinful is Sin?
We have seen that, notwithstanding the lip-service he paid to the doctrine of Original Sin, Wesley had only a superficial view of the sin nature. Despite believing that the nature of Man is corrupted by sin, Wesley did not see that corruption as being nearly as pervasive as Scripture teaches. Again, sin is a bad thing, but it doesn’t corrupt the whole man, body and soul. This in itself tells us that Wesley was an unregenerate man. The ministry of the Holy Spirit involves “convicting the world of sin”; it should be obvious that Wesley was utterly lacking in such a conviction. While he verbally agreed to the idea that Man is sinful, the Bible describes a very different kind of Sin than the kind Wesley believed.
In a very telling passage from a document entitled Minutes Of Several Conversations, written merely two years before Wesley’s death, we see an interesting precursor to the Freudian doctrine of Self-Esteem:
The grand objection to one of the proceeding propositions [regarding perfection – CA] is drawn from matter of fact. God does in fact justify those who, by their own confession, neither “feared God” nor “wrought righteousness.” Is this an exception to the general rule?
It is a doubt whether God makes any exception at all. But how are we sure that the person in question never did fear God and work righteousness? His own thinking so is no proof. For we know how all that are convinced of sin under-value themselves in every respect. (8:338, Minutes Of Several Conversations, 1789)
Small wonder, then, that Freudian psychology has become so incredibly popular with modern Churchianity; yes, even Calvinistic Churchianity. Essentially, they have adopted the same deficient view of sin as Wesley.
1Christian Confession of Faith III.B.1-2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
2Christian Confession of Faith III.B.3;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
3Christian Confession of Faith III.B.4;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
6Note that Wesley believed that the moment of perfection was generally the moment before death. His theology simply could not allow him to see death as putting off a body polluted with sin. As has been said, his view of sin was deficient: it was a bad thing, but did not wholly defile a man.
7However, he did admit the possibility that someone could be born sinless: “Q. But if two perfect Christians had children, how could they be born in sin, since there was none in the parents? A. It is a possible, but not a probable, case;” (11:400, Plain Account Of Christian Perfection) But this startling admission involves Wesley in a sticky problem; someone born without sin would never need the blood of Christ to be qualified for fellowship with God; his own perfect character and conduct would be sufficient to merit God’s favor towards him.Thus the salvation of God’s people could be accomplished without the blood of Christ.
8Christian Confession of Faith V.C.5;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
9A Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley &c (The Complete Works Of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle Publ., 1987 ) p. 725 ( http://grace-for-today.com/357.htm , 9/20/03)
September 4, 2011
II. Theology Proper – The Doctrine of God
We have seen that Wesley’s Man-centered theology allowed for instruction from God outside of the Bible. Now it is time to examine how this Man-centered theology affected Wesley’s view of the most important subjects in the Bible.
First and foremost, the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to his people. The righteousness and glory of God is the very heart of the gospel (Isa 45:21, Rom 1:17). He shows his glory to his people, revealing to them that he is “a just God and a Savior.” The truth that he guides us into is an understanding of “the true [One] … his Son Jesus Christ.” (I Jn 5:20) This true knowledge of the true God is foundational to a true understanding of the Gospel. Here is what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about the knowledge of himself that God reveals to his people:
God is an infinite being and therefore impossible for finite beings to
fully comprehend. [1Ki 8:27; Job 9:10; Isa 40:28; 46:9; Joh 1:3; Act
17:24-25; Rom 11:33-36]
However, God is not unknowable. He has purposed to glorify Himself
among His people by imparting the fear of God to them; that is, causing them
to understand His infinite glory, divine nature, and perfect attributes
through the Scriptures. God does not give a knowledge of Himself to some of
His regenerate people while withholding that knowledge from the rest, for
this would mean that God causes some of His regenerate people to attribute
their salvation to themselves, which can never be. [Exo 20:2-6; Psa 40:3;
50:15; Pro 1:7; 2:5; 9:10; Isa 29:23; 38:19; 43:1-13,21; 45:20-25; Mat
13:11-12,16; Joh 8:32; 16:8-11; 17:3,6-7; Rom 6:17-18; 9:23-26; 10:2-4; 2Co
4:3-6; Eph 1:17-19; Phi 3:8; Col 1:4-6; 1Jo 5:20]1
From these two sections we see that although God is infinite, “and therefore impossible for finite beings to fully comprehend,” he has chosen to reveal himself to his people for his own glory, and that this knowledge is common to all of his people. There may be degrees of understanding among God’s people, and they may or may not be able to articulate that knowledge which God has revealed; but they are never completely without a saving knowledge of “His infinite glory, divine nature, and perfect attributes”.
The Sovereignty of God
The Confession goes on to summarize the Bible’s teaching about God and his attributes:
God absolutely controls all actions and events; nothing at all happens
by chance or merely by His permission. All actions and events happen because
of His sovereign decree, including the sins of men and angels. Contrary to
the aspersions of the enemies of God, this doctrine does not attribute sin
to God; instead, it provides great comfort for believers. [Gen 50:20; Exo
4:21; 7:3; 9:12; Deu 2:30; 32:39; Jos 11:20; 1Sa 2:6-8,25; 2Sa 17:14; 2Ch
10:15; 11:4; 25:20; 36:22; Job 12:14-25; 23:13-14; 26:7-12; Psa 105:25;115:3; 135:5-7; Pro16:4,33; 21:1; Isa 40:23-26; 42:9; 43:13; 45:6-7;
46:9-11; Jer 18:6; 52:3; Eze 17:24; Hab 1:6,12; Joh 19:11; Act 2:23;
4:27-28; Eph 1:11; Rev 17:17]2
God is in full control of every event in his created world, including the thoughts and sinful actions of men (Pro 21:1, Act 4:27-28, Rev 17:17). This is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and it forms the basis of faith in the Gospel:
Because God sovereignly orders all things, He is able to keep all His
promises. Because God is a God of truth, He is faithful to keep all His
promises. [Deu 7:8-10; Jos 21:44-45; 23:14; 2Sa 23:3-5; Psa 89:24-37;
132:11; Isa 45:23; 46:9-11; 54:9-10; Jer 33:20-21,25-26; Act 13:32-33; Rom
15:8-9; 2Co 1:19-20; 1Th 5:24; Tit 1:1-3; Heb 6:13-20; 2Pe 3:9-13]3
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is indispensable to the Gospel, because it assures the believer that God has the power to infallibly keep all of his promises. This is the true source of comfort and security for a believer, because it assures him that his final salvation is not dependent on his own varying decisions and imperfect obedience to the Law of God, but on God’s perfect ability to keep every single one of his promises (Jos 21:45, Jer 33:20, Eph 1:11).
But even though the sovereignty of God is indispensable to the Gospel, Wesley was more than willing to dispense with it. As we shall see, Wesley’s “Gospel” simply did not exist for the glory of God, but for the convenience of Man: Man was sick, Man needed some help, and God obligingly came to the rescue. Wesley attempted to make salvation dependent on the decisions of Man by removing the sure foundation of God’s sovereignty from the Gospel. Naturally, a God who is sovereign over all of his creation is totally incompatible with such a Man-centered “Gospel”, so another foundation had to be found. The new foundation that Wesley turned to as a replacement for the sovereignty of God, was human responsibility. Notice how, in the following quotes, Wesley cannot just jettison the doctrine of the sovereignty of God — he has to do so under the cover of magnifying the responsibility of Man:
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility
It is worth noting here that the responsibility of Man is not destroyed by the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. So far from being destroyed by the sovereignty of God, the responsibility of Man is actually based on the sovereignty of God! This is explicitly taught by the Christian Confession of Faith:
Yet all men are responsible to obey the commands of God, because God, as the sovereign King of creation, has the right to command obedience from His creatures, regardless of their ability to obey. [Deu 10:16; Mat 12:13; Mat 28:18; Joh 11:43; Act 17:30-31; Rom 2:12-16; 2Th 1:8]4
The Scriptures teach that God is not only in full and absolute control of the universe, but that he is also infinitely holy, infinitely righteous, and infinitely good. Therefore God is himself the standard of right and wrong, and whatever he commands his creatures to do, they are morally obligated to obey. This is how God could command the Israelites to slaughter the Philistines (men, women, and children), without a violation of the 6th Commandment (Exo 20:13, Deu 7:2, 1Sa 15:13).
Since the sovereignty of God is the true basis for the responsibility of Man, anything that magnifies the sovereignty of God actually magnifies the responsibility of Man. Conversely, anything that degrades the sovereignty of God actually diminishes the responsibility of Man. It is a supreme irony of John Wesley’s theology that in seeking to exalt the responsibility of Man, he actually succeeded in undermining it, because he undermined the critical doctrine of the sovereignty of God in its pursuit (Jer 2:13). Not only did this have the effect of actually diminishing the responsibility of Man, it also became necessary for Wesley to teach that God is under definite moral obligations when dealing with his erring creatures:
Wesley believed that a doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over the world would make it morally impossible for God to judge the world. For Wesley, this argument proceeded naturally from his belief that the foundation of the Gospel was human responsibility, and anything that supplanted that foundation (such as the sovereignty of God), would tend to detract from human responsibility, and consequently God’s justice and judgment of the world.
The only possible way God’s sovereignty would make it impossible for him to judge the world is if God somehow had a higher moral order imposed upon him. But the only way that could be possible is if a being higher than God had imposed such a moral order upon him; and then God would be unfit to be God, and unfit for worship. Indeed, the true object of worship ought to be that supposed higher being!
An argument similar to Wesley’s was raised against the Apostle Paul. Notice how he refutes it:
Rom 3: (5) But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? [Is] God unrighteous who lays on wrath? I speak according to man. (6) Let it not be! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (7) For if in my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I yet judged as a sinner? (8) And not (as we are wrongly accused, and as some report us to say), Let us do bad things so that good things may come, [the] judgment of whom is just.
Paul was accused of destroying human responsibility, because he preached salvation by grace apart from works. Ironically that accusation, like the one raised by Wesley, was cloaked in a seeming concern that exalting the sovereignty of God too much would undermine the responsibility of Man. I have already shown that the foundation of the Gospel is divine sovereignty, not human responsibility. Here, the Apostle shows us that not only is the sovereignty of God vital to the Gospel, but it is also vital to the responsibility of Man, and consequently, God’s ability to judge the world. Paul says that those who accused him of undermining Man’s responsibility were justly condemned (v 8), because they were preaching a “God” who is unrighteous (v. 5), and therefore could not judge the world (v. 6). Contrary to Wesley’s claim that God could not judge the world if he were sovereign over it, it is actually the truth that God cannot judge the world unless he is sovereign over it!
Notice how the objection that was raised against Paul cannot be raised against Wesley. Noone could ever accuse Wesley of over-emphasizing the glory of God, or undermining the responsibility of man. He was too busy exalting the responsibility of man over the glory of God, contrary to the example of the Apostle! In fact, as we shall see, Wesley will go on to raise this very same objection to the doctrine of unconditional election.
A “Gospel” which depends on a God who is not sovereign is uncertain, doubtful, and prone to failure; and the “Gospel” that Wesley proclaimed depended on a “God” who was not sovereign. Indeed, his “Gospel” depended on making Man sovereign over God, forcing God to wait patiently on the decree of Almighty Man to let God save him. Wesley’s “Gospel” was thus as uncertain, doubtful, and as prone to failure as the whims and decisions of Man.
Predestination: The Covenant
The doctrine that God is in sovereign control of all things in his creation, including the sinful thoughts and actions of men, implies that God has determined in advance who will be saved, and who will not be saved. And indeed, this is precisely what Scripture teaches, as summarized by the Christian Confession of Faith. However, it is important to note that predestination is not taught in the Bible as merely an abstract display of God’s power, but as a means for securing the salvation of the people whom God loves. This love which God has for his people, especially as they are considered as being under the authority of Jesus Christ, is expressed in the form of a covenant; first, a covenant made with Jesus himself, and second, a covenant made with God’s elect people under Jesus’ authority:
In eternity past, God the Father covenanted with God the Son, Jesus
Christ, to glorify Himself by saving a particular, elect people, and those
only, from the guilt and defilement of sin, by the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. [Psa 89:19-37; Isa 49:5-6; 53:11-12; Luk 22:29; Joh 6:37-40; 10:29; 17:2,9; Gal 3:16-18; 2Ti 1:9]5
In covenanting with Jesus Christ, God the Father covenanted with all
the elect in Jesus Christ, to be their God and to reveal His divine love,
mercy, grace, and wisdom to them by saving them through the work of Jesus
Christ their Redeemer. [Gen 13:14-16; 17:4-8,19; Deu 4:35; 7:9; 2Sa 23:5;
Psa 65:4; 67:2; 105:8-10; 111:9; 132:11; Isa 43:10-12; 55:3-4; 61:6-9; Mat
13:11; Mat 24:22,24,31; Mar 13:20,22,27; Luk 1:68-75; 18:7; Joh 17:2-3; Act
13:48; Rom 8:28-30,33; 9:11-16,23; 11:26-27; Eph 1:4-14; Col 3:12; 2Th 2:13; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; Heb 6:13-14; 8:6-12; 1Pe 1:1; 2:9]6
This covenant, made with a specific set of people, who alone are the objects of God’s love, obviously destroys any notion of God hastening to the aid of all Mankind, then passively waiting for the result, longing for them to be “persuaded” to believe his Gospel. Wesley’s response to this doctrine, however, was not to refute it, but simply to ridicule it:
The questions Wesley has raised, above, are fully answered by the Scripture references printed to the right of his quote, as well as the Scripture references cited by the Confession, above.
Predestination: God’s Love for the World
Without a theory of particular, covenantal love as a foundation for the proclamation of the Gospel, Wesley substituted in its place a doctrine of universal love, and a universal salvific will in God:
The last two quotes, above, are especially important here, because they are taken from Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament, and refer to two verses that have traditionally been used to support a theory of God’s universal salvific will.
First is John 3:16, which reads “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Christian Confession of Faith explains these words as referring to “all men without distinction”, not “all men without exception”7
Wesley explains the words “all men” as referring to God’s love for “all men under heaven; even those that despise his love, and will for that cause finally perish”; that is, all men without exception. But the context does not support Wesley’s interpretation, because Jesus is there speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee (v. 1). At that time, the question being debated by the Rabbis was not whether all human beings without exception were the objects of God’s love, but whether any of the Gentiles were so loved by God. Most of the Rabbis were of the opinion that the Messiah’s mission would be to judge and destroy the nations of “the world”8. Jesus’ teaching that God’s love extended beyond the borders of Israel, to the nations of “the world”, likely came as a severe shock to this “teacher of Israel” (v.10). Indeed, so great was the hatred of the Jews for this doctrine that it became the occasion of the first persecution of Jesus by the Jews (Luk 4:25-28); but Paul asserts that this very doctrine is the “mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4-6).
Notice how the word “world” is used in the following verses:
Luk 12: (30) For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need these things.
Joh 12: (19) Then the Pharisees said to themselves, Observe that you gain nothing. Behold, the world has gone after Him.
1Jo 5: (19) We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil.
In each of these verses, the word “world” cannot mean “all men without exception”. Clearly the only meaning that can be given in each verse is “all men without distinction”.
Similarly, 1Ti 2:4, which reads “who desires all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth.” Wesley explains the words “all men” as referring to God’s desire to save all men without exception, “Not a part only, much less the smallest part.”
Again, the Christian Confession of Faith explains these words as referring to “all men without distinction”, not “all men without exception”9. And again, the context shows what Paul means by the phrase “all men” in verse 1: “I exhort [that] petitions, prayers, supplications, [and] thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men….” Surely, Paul is not commanding that “petitions, prayers, supplications, [and] thanksgivings” be made on behalf of all men without exception, but on behalf of all men without distinction. This command would be especially relevant in a time when Christians were severely persecuted by the “kings and all the ones being in high position” (v. 2). The temptation for these Christians to refuse to pray for the rulers and magistrates who were persecuting them must have been strong. Therefore, Paul is commanding Christians to pray for all men without distinction (kings and commoners, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, etc.) because God has his elect scattered among all men without distinction.
Predestination: Unconditional Election
The doctrine of eternal, unconditional predestination clearly removes the preconditions of salvation from the hands of Man and places them exclusively in the hands of God. Knowing this, John Wesley passionately hated eternal predestination, and exchanged it for a theory of indeterminate, conditional election, and an indeterminate decree:
Wesley’s theory of an indeterminate decree sets forth a God who, before time began, looked forward through history, and saw who would believe and who would not. He then “predestined” those who would believe to eternal life, and those who would not to eternal death. This ingenious theory has a certain attraction to it, because it seems to make use of the scriptural doctrine of God’s foreknowledge. But note that the actual agent of salvation in this scheme is the sinner, not God. The absurdity of this theory can be set forth with a few simple illustrations.
First, consider the case of the Apostle Peter. It is certainly true that before time began, God could look down through history and see that Peter would one day believe the Gospel, and be eternally saved. Now I ask you, could Peter have avoided believing the Gospel, and going to heaven? If the Arminian answers, “Yes, Peter could surely have avoided believing the Gospel, and going to heaven, if he had so desired,” then I ask you, what was it that God foresaw about Peter? If God foresaw that Peter would be regenerated and finally glorified, then Peter must eventually become regenerated and finally glorified. Peter could not avoid being eternally saved, or else God’s foreknowledge is a meaningless term. The Arminian is caught in a bind, because if God foreknew that Peter would be regenerated and finally glorified, then it is impossible that Peter could be eternally lost.
Next, consider the case of Judas. Just as with Peter, it is certainly true that before time began, God could look down through history and see that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost. Now I ask you, could Judas have avoided betraying Christ, and being eternally lost? If the Arminian answers, “Yes, Judas could surely have believed the Gospel, and gone to heaven, if he had so desired,” then I ask you, what was it that God foresaw about Judas? If God foresaw that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost, then Judas must eventually betray Christ, and be eternally lost. Judas could not avoid being eternally lost, or else God’s foreknowledge is a meaningless term. The Arminian is caught in a bind, because if God foreknew that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost, then it is impossible that Judas could be eternally saved. If one admits to the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, then the doctrine of eternal, unconditional election is virtually a forgone conclusion.
Now consider the case of Pharaoh’s dream, from chapter 41 of the book of Genesis.
Genesis 41: (1) And it happened at the end of two years of days, Pharaoh was dreaming. And, lo, he was standing by the River. (2) And, behold! Seven cows [were] going up from the River, beautiful of appearance and fat of flesh; and they were feeding in the reeds. (3) And, behold, seven other cows [were] going up after them from the River, evil of appearance and lean of flesh. And they were standing beside the cows on the lip of the River. (4) And the evil-appearing and lean-fleshed cows were eating the seven cows of beautiful and fat appearance. And Pharaoh awoke.
In this dream, Pharaoh was made to view events that would take place over the next 14 years. Joseph interpreted this dream to mean that Egypt was about to endure seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine (v. 29-31).
Now suppose that Pharaoh actually tried to assert that he himself had in fact decreed that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine to come on Egypt. Could this assertion possibly be taken seriously? Any idiot can see that Pharaoh did not have the slightest role in determining which of the coming years would be years of plenty and which of the years would be years of famine. Pharaoh was entirely a passive observer, merely receiving information that had already been determined in advance by someone else. Yet this is precisely the role that is given to God by the Wesleyan theory of an indeterminate decree. This theory so fully removes God from his sovereignty over creation that he is reduced to being a mere spectator over events which he dare not orchestrate, lest (forsooth!) he infringe upon the critically important free-will of Man.
Here again, Wesley’s arguments against the doctrine of unconditional election were voiced against the Paul the Apostle:
Rom 9: (19) You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?
But how does the Apostle answer the objection? Not, as per Wesley, by insisting on the vital role of free-will in the salvation of man, but by insisting on the vital role of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of man:
Rom 9: (20) Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this?
This very objection to Paul’s doctrine demonstrates how wrong Wesley was about the nature of predestination. Not only can this objection not be raised against Wesley’s doctrine of an indeterminate decree, but Wesley himself raises it against the doctrine of unconditional election. We have already seen that Wesley’s arguments against unconditional election depend on the premise that God cannot hold people accountable if God has already determined whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. After all, who resists his will?
At this point, it will be instructive to examine in detail a sermon which Wesley preached and printed on the topic of predestination. The sermon is called “Free Grace” (7:373, Sermon 128), and it is famous in Calvinistic circles because George Whitefield responded to this sermon with A Letter from George Whitefield to the Rev Mr. John Wesley In Answer to Mr. Wesley’s Sermon entitled: “Free Grace” 10, that has been reprinted many times. Whitefield’s letter will also be examined in some detail here.
But while many Calvinists have read Whitefield’s Answer, comparatively few have seen Wesley’s actual sermon. For the sake of comparison, I will place quotes from Wesley’s sermon and Whitefield’s response in parallel columns. Notice that in these quotes, Wesley makes the accusation that the doctrine of Election destroys: (1) Preaching; (2) Holiness, Love, & Meekness; (3) Comfort; (4) Good Works; (5) the doctrine of Revelation.
Whitefield’s response here is exactly right. Wesley thinks he has put forth a logical dilemma that invalidates the doctrine of predestination from the very beginning: the elect will be saved whether they hear the preaching of the Gospel or not, and the non-elect will be damned whether they hear the preaching of the Gospel or not. But Whitefield demonstrates a third alternative which is that God, in his sovereignty, has decreed that the elect will be saved by the means of preaching (Rom 10:9). Thus, the preaching of the Gospel is as crucial to the salvation of the elect as the rising sun, or the falling rain, is to the growing plants: God could have caused plants to grow without either sun or rain, but has instead decreed that the sun and rain will be the instruments through which plant growth will occur. In the same way, God has decreed that the preaching of the Gospel will be the instrument through which the elect will hear and believe the Gospel.
Here, Wesley tries to apply his ‘logical dilemma’ to the Christian’s striving for holiness: it is of no need to the elect, because they will inevitably be saved, with or without it; and it is of no need to the non-elect, because they will inevitably be lost, with or without it. But again, Whitefield puts forth a third alternative which is that striving for holiness may well be the means by which God brings his blessings to a Christian.
This time, however, Whitefield’s answer to Wesley’s ‘dilemma’ is not quite so appropriate as was his previous answer. The truth is that a Christian does not merely strive for holiness from the bare possibility that God will bless him, but out of love and thankfulness for what God has already accomplished on his behalf, and for what God has promised to do in the future. (And we have seen that those things which God has promised can only absolutely come about if God is absolutely sovereign over the universe.) This teaching is put forth in the Christian Confession of Faith:
The function of God’s law is to show forth God’s perfect standard of righteousness that His people may … strive to obey Him out of love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify Him. [Exo 20:20; Deu 6:1-9; Deu 6:10-19; Deu 6:20-25; Deu 8:1-10; Deu 8:11-18; Deu 10:12-13; Deu 13:4; Jos 1:8; Jos 23:6; 1Sa 15:22; Psa 1:2; Psa 119:2; Psa 119:4-6; Psa 119:10-11; Psa 119:16; Psa 119:55; Psa 119:60; Psa 119:72; Psa 119:77; Psa 119:97; Psa 119:109; Psa 119:112; Psa 119:129; Psa 119:166-168; Ecc 12:13; Mat 22:37-40; Joh 14:15; Joh 14:21; Rom 6:1-2; Rom 6:11-13; 1Co 6:20; Eph 5:15-21; Heb 12:28-29]11
This section of the Confession is discussing the relationship of the Christian to the Law. Among other things, the Law is a guide for Christians, to show them what is pleasing to God, and what is not pleasing to him. What is of importance here is that the motive that prompts a Christian to obey God is “love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify Him.” This love, thankfulness, and desire to glorify Him is a result of the sure and certain work that Jesus Christ has done on behalf of the Christian’s soul; and that sure-ness and certainty is grounded in the absolute sovereignty of God.12 As with human responsibility, a Christian’s striving for holiness is not destroyed by the sovereignty of God, it is based on the sovereignty of God!
It is appropriate to note here that Wesley, in applying his ‘logical dilemma’ about predestination to a Christian’s striving for holiness, merely speaks in generalities. He does not provide any specific names of predestinarians who use predestination as an excuse for their sin in this way. But in a later exchange with Augustus Toplady on the same topic, Wesley received a specific example of an Arminian who definitely used free-will as an excuse for his sin:
“This … was the refuge and [Greek – kresfudeton] of that grand propagator of Arminianism, Mr. Thompson. When he was in a fit of intemperance, if any one reminded him of the wrath of God threatened against such courses, he would answer, I am a child of the devil to-day; but I have free-will; and to morrow I will make myself a child of God.” Hickman’s Animadv. on Heylin, p.91, and 227.13
Unlike Wesley, Toplady does not give vague and nameless accusations against the doctrine of free-will. Instead, he presents us with a specific person (who, incidentally was Andrew Thompson, one of the translators of the 1611 King James Bible) who deliberately planned how to use free-will as an excuse for his sin.
Whitefield is surely correct in saying that a doctrine should not be judged “entirely from the practice of some that profess to hold” it. So, for example, it is not fair to judge Christianity on the basis of the Crusades or the Salem witch trials, both of which can be condemned by Christians on the basis of Matthew 5:43-44. Both the Crusaders and the witch-hunters were doing things that Jesus forbade, so they cannot be used as proof that the rest of his teachings were false. Similarly, someone who believes in predestination, yet lives in open sin, can be condemned by his own doctrine, in that God has sovereignly commanded that his people flee from sin, and pursue holiness. The fact that God has predestined even the sins of his own people does not exonerate them from their sins, any more than it exonerated the sins of Herod, Pilate, Judas, or anyone else connected with the execution of Jesus Christ. Their sins were predetermined (Act 4:27-28), but they were still responsible for their sins.
I have been in contact with a number of people who professed a belief in predestination, but were very careless about sin. It should be noted, however, that none of these people used predestination as an excuse for their sin; they were simply unconcerned with it, indicating that they did not really understand the significance of the doctrines they professed to hold. Nor did they understand the connection that the Bible makes between predestination and holiness (the verses that Whitefield referred to – 2 Thess. 2:13 and Col 3:12-13 – are good examples). By its very nature, predestination condemns anyone who would seek to use it as an excuse for their sin.
But the doctrine of free-will does not escape so easily when an Arminian lives in open sin. Mr. Thompson’s behavior goes well beyond the case of someone who lives in a manner contrary to the values he professes to hold. He deliberately planned how to use free-will as an excuse for his sin. Certainly, most Arminians would be disgusted at the reasoning of Mr. Thompson. But the conclusion that he arrived at is a perfectly logical deduction from the doctrine of free-will. If I have the power within myself to make myself a child of God, then I can exercise that power whenever I please. Why not enjoy your sin for as long as you can? Why not ‘live like the devil Monday through Saturday’, as long as you get yourself ‘cleaned up’ on Sunday?
An Arminian might well argue that a person never knows when he will die, so he should be careful to avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin. But this argument does not resolve the basic problem that Arminianism has, which Mr. Thompson so craftily exploited for the purpose of excusing his sin. The problem is that free-will makes Man the determining factor in his own salvation. Free-will allows Man to take a little more time to enjoy his sin before becoming a child of God, if that is what Man wants. Free-will allows Man to experiment with being a child of God, and then go back to being a child of the devil, if Man decides against being a child of God. Free-will allows Man to vacillate between being a child of God and a child of the devil a thousand times a day, if it suits Man’s pleasure. Free-will thus makes an absolute mockery of the sovereignty of God in salvation. With Man so obviously in control of his own eternal destiny, would anyone believe that God has any sovereignty whatsoever in the salvation of his people?
Furthermore, the Arminian argument that “a person never knows when he will die, so he should be careful to avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin”, only serves to highlight another fundamental problem with free-will, which is that if a person, at the moment of his death, fails to “avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin” then he would be lost forever! This consideration ought to terrify anyone who seriously contemplates the infinite holiness and majesty of God, and the perfect hatred he has for sin. It ought to cause a serious Arminian to spend every waking hour trying to remember and repent of every known sin, never knowing if he has failed to avoid or repent of some sin that might finally condemn him to hell. Thus, the assurance, comfort, and security of the Gospel, which is made absolutely certain by divine predestination, is utterly dissolved by the doctrine of free-will.
This leads into Wesley’s next argument against Predestination:
Here again, Whitefield’s answer to Wesley is appropriate, but it still doesn’t cover the full argument that Wesley is making. Wesley could not himself know from experience whether the doctrine of election promotes or undermines Christian happiness and comfort. To a Christian however, the doctrine of election provides great comfort and happiness, because it assures him that God has predetermined all of his trials, all of his successes, all of his failures, all of his good works, and all of his sins. The doctrine of election assures a Christian that all of his efforts at evangelism will ultimately accomplish the will of God, whether that will is for a given person to be saved, or for him to be hardened. And election assures a Christian that God will not, cannot, abandon him, forsake him, or otherwise fail to bring him to final glory. And unlike the Arminian, a Christian need never fear that he has failed to repent of all his sins, or that he might revert to a lost state before his death, and so be eternally lost, because God has predestined even the repentance and perseverance of his elect people. This is taught in the Christian Confession of Faith:
When God saves a person, He preserves that person from ever returning to a state of lostness and from ever being punished in hell. [Psa 31:23; Psa 37:24; Psa 37:28; Psa 55:22; Psa 66:9; Psa 121:3-8; Pro 2:7-8; Jer 32:39-40; Joh 6:40; Joh 10:28-29; Rom 8:30-39; Eph 1:13-14; Phi 1:6; 2Th 3:3; 2Ti 1:12; 2Ti 4:18; 1Pe 1:3-5; Jud 1:24]14
But Wesley’s argument approaches the question from the perspective of the unsaved. Does the unsaved person need to fear that he might be reprobate?
Not at all. Before a person comes to believe the Gospel, it is simply impossible to know if he is elect or reprobate. That distinction is known only to God, and he has not chosen to reveal it to us. This doctrine is also taught in the Christian Confession of Faith:
The exact number of the elect is known only to God Himself; it cannot be increased or diminished. The elect of God are scattered among every tribe, nation, and language on earth. [Deu 29:29; Joh 6:37-39; Joh 10:14; Joh 17:9, 2Ti 2:19; Rev 7:9]15
A person who wants to know whether he is elect or reprobate before he will believe the Gospel is enquiring about the wrong thing. He must first believe the Gospel, and then, and only then, will he know that he is one of God’s elect. A soul, even an elect soul, is not saved by believing in the predestinating work of God the Father, but in the propitiating work of God the Son. But once a soul has truly come to believe in the propitiating work of God the Son, then the assurance, comfort, and security of the predestinating work of God the Father is his by right.
Now, Wesley might well deride this assurance, comfort, and security as merely “a notion, a speculative belief, a bare opinion” but a doctrine, any doctrine, is far more definite and infallible than any feelings a person might have. Feelings change with a person’s attitudes, emotions, and circumstances, but doctrines do not. This is why the Christian Confession of Faith explicitly grounds the assurance of salvation, not on feelings, emotions, or any kind of sentimentality, but exclusively on the doctrine of the Gospel:
God gives every believer assurance of salvation. The believer’s assurance does not lie in his obedience to the law, his continued repentance, or anything else but in the sure and certain promise of God through the work of Jesus Christ alone received by faith. [2Sa 23:5; Psa 5:11; Psa 9:10; Psa 32:10; Psa 34:22; Psa 62:1-2; Psa 62:5-7; Psa 64:10; Psa 125:1; Psa 130:7-8; Psa 147:11; Isa 26:3; Isa 32:17; Jer 17:7-8; Nah 1:7; Rom 5:1; Rom 8:15-16; Rom 8:33-39; Rom 9:33; 2Co 1:18-22; Eph 3:12; Phi 1:6; Col 2:2; 1Th 1:5; 2Ti 1:12; Heb 6:11; Heb 6:16-19; Heb 10:22; Heb 11:1; Rev 5:9]16
Contrary to what Wesley believed, a Christian does not derive his happiness from “a feeling possession of God in [his] heart”, but from the doctrine of the Gospel, and its necessary implication, eternal predestination.
Here again, Whitefield’s answer is on the right track, but it doesn’t adequately respond to Wesley’s argument, which is essentially that Calvinists cannot feel any love for the “evil and unthankful”, and so cannot do any good deeds toward them. Whitefield here presents his own personal experience with the doctrine of predestination. He has already wondered aloud how Wesley can know that a belief in predestination destroys the “comfort of religion”. The same question could be presented here: how can Wesley know that predestinarians have less love for the lost than those who believe in free-will, since he never believed in predestination himself?
But a more direct answer to this argument is that Christians do not do good works from a love to the people involved, but from a love to God. This argument has already been proven, above, in answer to Wesley’s charge that the doctrine of election “has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general”. So far from destroying “holiness in general” the doctrine of election inspires a Christian to good works from “love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify” God.17
Whitefield’s answer to Wesley’s final accusation is as appropriate as was his answer to Wesley’s first accusation. Wesley thinks he has put forth a logical dilemma that finally invalidates the doctrine of predestination: the elect will be saved whether the Gospel is revealed to them from the Scriptures, or not; and the non-elect will be damned whether the Gospel is revealed to them or not. But again, Whitefield demonstrates a third alternative which is that God, in his sovereignty, has decreed that the elect will be saved by the means of the revelation of the Gospel from the Scriptures. Thus, the revelation of the Gospel is as crucial to the salvation of the elect as the rising sun, or the falling rain, is to the growing plants: God could have caused plants to grow without either sun or rain, but has instead decreed that the sun and rain will be the instruments through which plant growth will occur. In the same way, God has decreed that the revelation of the Gospel from the Scriptures will be another instrument (besides preaching) through which the elect will come to believe the Gospel.
The Doctrine of Reprobation
So far, despite the fact that Whitefield approached Wesley as his brother in Christ, Whitefield’s letter has been logical and biblical in refuting Wesley’s accusations against Election. But, there is one important area where Whitefield was not quite as logical. The fact is that Wesley’s sermon doesn’t begin with an examination of the doctrine of Election, but with an examination of the doctrine of Reprobation:
But methinks I hear one say, “This [reprobation] is not the predestination which I hold: I hold only the election of grace. What I believe is no more than this …. the rest of mankind God leaves to themselves: So they follow the imaginations of their own hearts, which are only evil continually, and, waxing worse and worse, are at length justly punished with everlasting destruction.” Is this all the predestination which you hold? Consider; perhaps this is not all. Do not you believe God ordained them to this very thing? If so, you believe the whole decree. … I would ask one or two questions: Are any who are not thus elected saved? or were any, from the foundation of the world? Is it possible any man should be saved unless he be thus elected? If you say, “No”, you are but where you was [sic]; you are not got one hair’s breadth farther; you still believe, that, in consequence of an unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, the greater part of mankind abide in death, without any possibility of redemption; inasmuch as none can save them but God and he will not save them. You believe he hath absolutely decreed not to save them; and what is this, but decreeing to damn them? It is, in effect, neither more nor less; it comes to the same thing; (7:374-5, Sermon 128 Free Grace)
Wesley began his sermon with a discussion of Reprobation because he knew very well how strongly the flesh hates this doctrine. It is the one doctrine which is most disagreeable to the carnal mind. It was disagreeable to Wesley’s carnal mind because it most effectively dethroned his idolatrous god — the one who loves everyone equally, and wishes that everyone could be saved. In its place, Reprobation enthrones the Lord God Almighty — the Potter who has every right to do with his creatures as he alone sees fit. It is no coincidence that the Arminians at the Synod of Dordt began with the same tactic, or that many modern Arminians make use of it. To the carnal mind, this is the weak spot in the “armor” of Predestination. Historically, of course, most Calvinists have tried to duck around this “nasty implication” of Election, by pleading a Passive Reprobation. Whitefield himself replied to this part of Wesley’s sermon:
I frankly acknowledge: I believe the doctrine of reprobation, in this view, that … the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left of God to continue in sin, will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages.
But this reply fails to answer Wesley’s accusation, “You believe he hath absolutely decreed not to save them; and what is this, but decreeing to damn them? It is, in effect, neither more nor less; it comes to the same thing;”. If Active Reprobation is rejected because it seems to make God a tyrant, is Passive Reprobation a proper substitute? The answer of course, is that God cannot be a tyrant, no matter what he does. Whatever he does is just, by virtue of the fact that it is God doing it. If he determines to cause a certain people to choose death over life, he is perfectly just in doing so. Active Reprobation should not be so easily dismissed.
Let the following Scripture verses decide if there is such a thing as Active Reprobation:
Exo 9: (12) And Jehovah hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said to Moses.
Psa 105: (25) He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.
Rom 9: (18) So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy, And to whom He desires He hardens.
Rev 17: (17) For God gave into their hearts to do His mind, and to act in one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
Obviously the Bible does not teach, as Whitefield and other tolerant Calvinists would have it, that men harden themselves. In these verses, the Bible teaches that God actively hardens the hearts of the reprobate, and actively causes them to hate his Gospel, and persecute his people, for the purpose of glorifying his justice in damning their souls to Hell. And this is the teaching of the Christian Confession of Faith:
God actively causes the reprobate to hate His glory, persecute His people, and oppose His gospel, that He may justly punish them. [Exo 7:3; 9:12; Jos 11:20; 1Sa 2:25; Psa 105:25; Rom 9:18; Rev 17:17]
God does not have any love toward the reprobate or any desire to save them, for God does not show love at the expense of His justice. The good things that God gives to them in this life lead only to their destruction, increasing their guilt for their thanklessness to God. Jesus Christ did not die for the reprobate in any sense, and they do not benefit in any sense from His death. …. [Psa 2:4-5; 5:5-6; 11:5; 73:11-12; 92:7; Pro 3:32-33; 11:20; 12:2; 16:4-5; 17:15; Joh 3:16; 15:22; 17:9; Rom 9:13; 1Ti 2:4; 1Pe 2:8; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10]18
That the doctrine of Reprobation should fill us with fear and trembling is readily granted. It should make us fall before our Maker in the most profound humiliation. That we should not preach on it more often than we preach on Election is also granted. Reprobation must always be subservient to Election; it causes the elect to be thankful that they are not of the number of the reprobate. And, contrary to Wesley’s assertion that we cannot help thinking of any particular man as a reprobate, we can only conclude that someone was reprobate when they have died in unbelief. So long as a person is alive, there is always a possibility that God will regenerate him in the future, no matter how hardened he may be currently. However, by no means should we make attempts to soften the Bible’s testimony about the Sovereignty of God, simply because Arminians don’t like it.
We should also notice that the argument Wesley used to attack Passive Reprobation is the very same argument that is used today by those predestinarians who uphold Active Reprobation: Passive Reprobation is inconsistent and illogical. Regrettably, too many Moderate Calvinists rejoice in inconsistency, and delight in “paradox”, apparently in an attempt to make Calvinism more attractive to Arminians. They should take a lesson from Wesley and realize that in pleading “paradox” they succeed in fooling only themselves. Wesley saw right through such equivocation.
Did Wesley Believe The Truth?
But there is yet another aspect of Wesley’s sermon which we never seem to hear about. Towards the end of his reply, Whitefield says, “I purposely omit making any further particular remarks on the several last pages of your sermon.” The pages he refers to are eye-opening.
For, Seventhly, it is a doctrine full of blasphemy; of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention, but the honour of our gracious God, and the cause of his truth, will not suffer me to be silent. In the cause of God, then, and from a sincere concern for the glory of his great name I will mention a few of the horrible blasphemies contained in this horrible doctrine. …. This premised, let it be observed, that this doctrine represents our blessed Lord, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” “the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth,” as an hypocrite, a deceiver of the people, a man void of common sincerity. … yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. … This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. Here I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, and more unjust. …. This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination,…. He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. [cf Rom 9:19-20 — CA] ….” O how would the enemy of God and man rejoice to hear these things were so! …. Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is thy sting! Here, O grave, is thy victory! Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil, are doomed [cf. Rom 9:11 — CA] never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! (7:381-4, Sermon 128 Free Grace, emph. in original)
These quotes should settle forever the Moderate Calvinist objection that “Arminians are Calvinists when they are on their knees”; the implication being that Arminians secretly believe Predestination, though they won’t admit it. Do these quotes give the impression that Wesley secretly believed Predestination, but just couldn’t quite admit it? Can anything be clearer than that Wesley was one of “those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess 2:12)?
Obviously Wesley had a thoroughly deficient view of the glory of God; he believed that God was in heaven, looking helplessly down on the world and wishing he could do something about it, if only people would let him. This is not the true and living God of the Bible; this is not even a sincere misunderstanding of the Bible. This is a demonic lie, an idolatrous monster pawning itself off as Almighty God. This is a lie of Satan; albeit not one that proclaims itself to be a lie of Satan, but one that disguises itself as an angel of light. Yet for that very reason, it is all the more insidious.
In the previous chapter, we saw how the Bible condemns false teaching about God and his work as idolatry. There, I defined idolatry as “attributing a characteristic to God that he doesn’t possess, or not attributing to him a characteristic that he does possess.” Idolatry is not merely carving an idol and bowing down to it. Almost anything can be an idol, including a person or even an idea. For example, the Roman Catholic conception of Mary is idolatrous, because she is seen as necessary to intercede on our behalf with Jesus. But on the contrary, only Jesus can intercede for us, because not only is he the one who has partaken of our flesh and blood (Heb 2:14), but he is also the one who is the “express image” of God (Heb 1:3). Therefore, he alone is worthy to be our intercessor (Job 9:33, Heb 2:17). To say that God accepts the intercession of Mary is to attribute a characteristic to God that he doesn’t possess — the willingness to accept the prayers and intercessions of a mere human, based on that person’s own merits. Another example of idolatry is the Arian view of Jesus taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have refused to attribute to Christ the nature of God. Does it really matter if they name their idol “Jesus”? Of course not! It’s still an idol!
For the same reason, I label the Wesleyan jesus an idol. Wesley’s conception of God was far removed from the God of the Bible. And the differences were not merely trivial, or the result of a “sincere misunderstanding”. The “God” in whom Wesley trusted, and the “Jesus” whom he preached, were the polar opposites of the God and Jesus of the Bible. Wesley’s “Gospel” was not based on such a sure foundation as the sovereignty of God, and therefore, it was the polar opposite of the Gospel of the Bible.
1Christian Confession of Faith II.A.1-2; www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfii.htm
8For details of this controversy, see John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible in Joh 3:16, and John Lightfoot, A Commentary of the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, in Joh 3:17
12See Christian Confession of Faith, II.C.3 and II.C.4.; www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfii.htm
13Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA , 1987) p. 579
November 28, 2010
Phil Johnson is an associate of John MacArthur, and executive director of MacArthur’s ministry, Grace To You. He also has his own website, featuring some of his own essays, and writings by prominent Calvinists like Charles Spurgeon, and R.L. Dabney (Outside The Camp is also listed on his site, on the “Really Bad Theology” page, though inexplicably, not on the “Really, Really, Bad Theology page.) Johnson is also famous for his “Hall of Church History” page, but today I’m going to be looking at an article of his, entitled “The Nature of the Atonement”. In it, Johnson puts forth the following view of the Atonement:
If Christ’s dying means that the whole [sic], the judgment of the whole world is
postponed, than unregenerate people reap the blessings and the benefits of that
delay. They reap the benefits and the blessings of common grace through the
atonement. And if that’s the case than that is exactly what God designed. It
didn’t happen by accident. And for that very reason it is my position and the
position of most Calvinists throughout history that some benefits of the
atonement are universal and some benefits of the atonement are particular and
limited to the elect alone.
I have already written several posts on the view of Common Grace put forth by John MacArthur, but in the quotes I cited from MacArthur, he never linked the doctrine of Common Grace to the atoning death of Christ. Here, Johnson asserts that those for whom Christ did not die “reap the benefits and the blessings of common grace through the atonement”.
Those for whom Christ did not die certainly reap the benefit of God’s delayed judgement on the world, but is that a blessing? As I have already written:
Contrary to this nonsense, the Bible teaches that all the good things that God provides for people in this life are a blessing only to the elect (Rom 8:28-32). To the reprobate, they are only a curse (Psa 73:11-20, Pro 16:4-5, Jn 15:22). More importantly, the Bible teaches that all things God sends to his people, good and bad, are a blessing, a blessing that flows from the righteousness of Christ alone (Eph 1:3-6). … an infinitely holy God cannot bless sinful man without the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. To insist that he can is to oppose the standard of absolute holiness that God reveals in the Gospel.
Like MacArthur, Johnson also teaches that Common Grace is evidence of God’s love toward all people, even those for whom Christ did not die:
Common grace is the grace that permits all sinners to
live and enjoy life under a temporary reprieve from just judgment and justice
even though they’re worthy of instant damnation. Common grace delays that.
Common grace is also the grace that pleads tenderly and earnestly with sinners
to repent and to be reconciled to God, even though they’re hearts are set against
Him. And according to Matthew 5:44-45, these common grace blessings are
tokens of God’s genuine love. Scripture does not hesitate to apply the
expression “love” here.
But inconsistently, Johnson goes on to write:
Now in what sense did Christ purchase
the Church? In Ephesians 5 Paul uses language that evokes the imagery of a
marriage price. Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives just as Christ also
loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” Not for her enemies, but for
her. So Christ bought the Church with His own blood. For what reason,
Ephesians 5:26-27, “that He might sanctify her and having cleansed her by the
washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the Church
and all her glory having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she should be
holy and blameless.”
Those for whom Christ died He loves with the highest and purest kind of love.
It is a particular love. Its closest earthly parallel is the love of a husband for his
wife. And it’s a special love. It’s not dispensed indiscriminately to everyone
alike. It’s reserved only for the bride, this love. In fact what do we call a man
who shares conjugal love with his neighbor and does not reserve it exclusively
for his wife? We call him an adulterer. What would you call someone who
indiscriminately showed every woman the intense ardent affection men reserve
only for their wives? We would call him a philanderer. Christ’s love for His
Church is pure. It’s more tender, more personal, and an infinitely greater love
than the love of a husband for his wife.
This is utterly repulsive. While Johnson is speaking out of one side of his mouth about the precious love of Christ for his bride, and how it is only given to those for whom Christ died, out of the other side of his mouth Johnson is prattling about God’s universal love for all men without exception — exactly the kind of cheap love he opposes in the two paragraphs above. As I have written before:
The doctrine of God’s Universal Love is a lie that cheapens the love that he has for his beloved bride. Imagine a man who tells his wife that he certainly loves her, and is willing to lay down his life for her, but just happens to have a similar, though totally ineffective, love for all the women in the world. Should she be pleased with such a pathetic, offensive expression of marital love? Yet this is exactly the kind of love that people like MacArthur ascribe to Jesus Christ.