Sunday, August 31, 2008

Charles Wesley's Hymn - Love Divine All Loves Excelling

John 1:12-13 (Response to Theojunkie)

Theojunkie responded to my post: which comes first, faith or regeneration? His response focused on John 1:12-13, which states:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

TJ’s explanation seems to be:

A. giving “the right to become children of God” doesn’t refer to regeneration, but rather either adoption or sanctification.
B. The fact that we are born of God’s will, not man’s, means regeneration precedes faith, because faith involves man’s will.
C. “Receiving Christ” is the start of “believing”, so there is no room in-between receiving Christ and believing for regeneration to take place.

Even though adoption and birth are two alternative means of becoming sons and both birth and adoption are used to describe the blessings given us, we have good reason to suspect “A” is unsound. In this context “adoption” isn’t in the picture and it’s unnatural to split being born of God with becoming God’s son. Thus, becoming children of God is a reference to regeneration.
If we accept “A”, I suppose it avoids the consequence that the passage teaches regeneration comes after faith. But if we reject “A”, and I think we should, the passage does teach regeneration comes after faith, because becoming a son follows receiving Christ.

Even though faith precedes regeneration, faith does not cause regeneration. God does. He mercifully regenerates sinners. God was free both to choose and act in such a way that believers remained unregenerate. But in His great mercy, He didn’t. So I disagree with “B”, and would call it a case of “after this, therefore because of this”.

The scripture warns of temporary faith and urges us to continue in faith. (Luke 8:13, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Hebrews 3:6-12, Hebrews 10:38-39, Colossians 1:23, Acts 8:13-23) But TJ seems to be attempting to break down the distinction between initial and habitual faith, so regeneration can’t fit between them. TJ seems to be interpreting the passage such that, upon initial faith, without any laps in time, one is an ongoing believer. How can this be? Every action requires a starting and stopping point, and if it’s an ongoing action, it requires more time than that. Believing is an ongoing action, so it can’t relate to one moment without another.

Conversationally, we don’t speak of something as ongoing if it lasts only three seconds, but if it’s been going on over 50 years, we would. And that’s the case here. The Apostle contrasts those that didn’t receive Christ with those that did. (John 1:11) He explains that those that received Christ were believing in Christ at the time he wrote his gospel. So they received Christ around 30-33 AD and were still believers by 90 AD. That’s the point the Apostle is making, not a subtle, almost scientific like point. He’s just saying those that continue in faith were regenerated.

As always, I thank TJ for his kind remarks and tone.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hodge on Ephesians 1:17-19

Hodge argues for effectual calling based on Ephesians 1:17-19. He claims that the passage teaches the regeneration is monergistic, so it proves God's call is effectual. Here's the passage:

Ephesians 1:17-19
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.

Hodge has several problems. First, the passage teaches sanctification, not regeneration. It's dealing with living the Christian life and growing in grace, not conversion. Second, even if the passage were teaching that regeneration is monergistic, this wouldn't prove that God's call is effectual. I agree regeneration, strictly defined, is monergistic. But broadly defined, regeneration is synergistic - which leaves room for resistible grace.

Let's look at Hodges' reasoning. Hodge claims:

The great majority of commentators, Greek as well as Latin, Protestant as well as Catholic, ancient as well as modern, understand the passage to refer to the conversion or regeneration of believers. (link)

This statement is plainly wrong. Hodge states as much in his commentary on Ephesians:

He prays that God would give them that wisdom and knowledge of himself of which the Spirit is the author, v. 17; that their eyes might be enlightened properly to apprehend the nature and value of that hope which is founded in the call of God; and the glory of the inheritance to be enjoyed among the saints, v. 18; and the greatness of that power which had been already exercised in their conversion, v. 19. (link)

How interesting. In his commentary he states conversion has already happened, but in his systematic theology he claims the topic is conversion. His commentary is dated 1856 and his systematic theology is dated 1871. Perhaps he changed his mind over time.

But the scripture itself is clear that the Ephesians Paul prayed for were already believers.

15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:

I really am surprised Hodge appeals to this passage. Paul is praying that God reveal Himself more and more to Christians. How does this prove irresistible grace during conversion?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekly Wesly - Notes on 2 Samuel 17:14

2 Sam 7:14 So Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than the advice of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom.

Absalom and all, &c. - Be it observed, to the comfort of all that fear God, he turns all mans hearts as the rivers of water. He stands in the congregation of the mighty, has an over - ruling hand in all counsels, and a negative voice in all resolves, and laughs at mens projects against his children. (link)

Here's a youtube clip of a Calvinist who was rather perplexed by Wesley's comments:

Wesley for the most part was using the language of scripture and affirming the providence of God. Not that shocking if you understand Arminianism. My only advice is that it's good to understand something before you reject it.

Which Comes First, Faith or Regeneration?

Although, I just argued that “what” regeneration is, in more important than “when” regeneration is, we do still need to touch on the question of the timing of regeneration. These passages show that regeneration comes after faith. (Ephesians 1:13, John 1:12-13, Romans 5:18, John 5:24-28, Romans 6:2-6, Galatians 3:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18)

By grace we are:
  • sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
  • given the right to become children of God,
  • not condemnation but given justification of life,
  • given everlasting life, and we shall not come into judgment, but have passed from death into life,
  • our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin,
  • recipients of the Spirit,
  • and transformed into the Lord’s image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

All these blessings are given to us only:

  • after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed,
  • to as many as receive Christ and believe in His name,
  • by faith,
  • to those who hear Christ’s word and believe in Him who sent Christ,
  • in Christ and through union with Him,
  • by the hearing of faith,
  • and to him who with unveiled face, beholds as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.

In short, after we come to faith, we are transformed from death to life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. These passages are direct and clear, so I will spend the bulk of my time trying to explain three texts Calvinists use to support the opposite opinion (i.e. that regeneration precedes faith).

John 3:3-8
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Calvinists argue that since the new birth must precede the kingdom of God, regeneration must precede faith. (link) Turretinfan notes that some people say the “kingdom of God” means heaven, and that this interpretation invalidates his conclusion that regeneration precedes faith. But he argues “that the "kingdom of God" has a primary reference to salvation of one's soul.” Perhaps it doesn’t mean that here, but for the moment let’s grant that in John 3 the “kingdom of God” means the salvation of one’s soul. That still doesn’t mean regeneration precedes faith. It just means that regeneration precedes the salvation of one’s soul. Faith and salvation are distinct. Both faith and regeneration precede the salvation of one’s soul. This argument is like saying since 2 comes before 3, 1 can’t come before 3. Just because regeneration comes before entering the kingdom of God, doesn’t mean faith can’t come before regeneration.

Ephesians 2:1-7
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Calvinists argue that dead men can’t have faith, so they must be made alive (regenerated) before they can believe. But as the passage continues, it moves away from their interpretation:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Faith is the instrument through which God saves us. Verse 5 equates making us alive to being saved by grace. Verse 8 explains were are saved (made alive) through faith. So the passage is teaching that faith precedes being made alive.

But what of the argument that the dead can’t believe? Dead in what sense? Does dead mean man’s totally depraved state? If it did, this verse might be a case for Calvinism. But Paul often uses death to mean a state of condemnation due to sin. Consider Romans 5:18-21:

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul opposes condemnation with justification - death with eternal life. This is the same sense he uses in Ephesians 2. Death isn’t total depravity; it’s condemnation.

1 John 5:1
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.

How this passage is used by Calvinist to support the idea that regeneration precedes faith is unclear from just reading the text in English. But looking at the Greek we find that “believes” is a present active participle and that “is born” is perfect passive indicative. Perfect tense indicates a completed action or existing state. So Calvinists argue that if someone believes in the present their regeneration was competed in the past. Further, it seems believing is a result of regeneration.

The Calvinist argument could be a case of trying to stretch the grammar father than John intended. But if we want get technical, “believing”, being a present participle, doesn’t refer to a one time act of faith, but rather the habit of faith or endurance in faith.

This can be seen in verse 5:4

4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Just as in verse 1 “is born” is in perfect tense, indicated completion and “overcomes” is present indicative. But overcomes appears twice in the verse. The second overcomes is an aorist active participle, which indicates action in the past. So overcoming, which John equates to faith, is in both the past and the present. We are talking about an ongoing believer - someone persevering in faith.

Similarly, we can see this playing out in 1 John 3:9:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

Here, sin is also a present active indicative. John is talking about habitual sin, not sinning one time.

So John is saying that regeneration precedes and is the reason for habitual faith, but not for initial faith. God regenerates when we first believe. Those that have been regenerated become habitual believers. The order can be seen in John 1:12-13:

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Here’s the verse with the Greek tenses added:

12 But as many as received (aorist active indicative: i.e. past one time action) Him, to them He gave (aorist active indicative: i.e. past one time action) the right to become children of God, to those who believe (present active participle: i.e. ongoing action) in His name: 13 who were born (aorist passive indicative: i.e. past one time action) , not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

So the order is: at one point in the past we received Christ. After that, but still in the past, we were regenerated. Now in the present we are habitual believers.

I have to come back to the thought that we have to understand what regeneration is before we grapple with when regeneration happens. I think that’s the real source of controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. But given the biblical evidence it does seem that regeneration (strictly defined) comes after faith.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Federal Headship - Imputation or Counterfactual

Theojunkie, a friendly levelheaded Calvinist, recently made an interesting comment about original sin:

I doubt that you TRULY deny the federal headship of Adam (though your last
sentence strongly suggests that you do). I think however that you misspoke,
because just recently you stated that Arminians (yourself included) affirm the
full reality (that is, the Reformed view) of Total Depravity in post-fall man.
You stated that the difference between Reformed and Arminian theology does not
lie in the doctrine of TD. Note that it is because of the federal headship of
Adam that all men are naturally born into this condition of total depravity. (context)

Some people explain original sin in that we would have done the same thing as Adam. I am not dogmatic about this, but I am inclined to disagree. Adam’s sin is foreign to us, but imputed to us. What we would have done (under compatiblist assumptions) seems to me to be an indictment of our character, not an imputation of something foreign. Also, it seems like a veiled pre-depravity depravity, but when God created Adam, He said Adam was good. If it’s not a pre-depravity depravity, then I find the idea that everyone could choose differently but wouldn’t incredible.

To me, the idea of “we would have done the same thing” seems to be an attempt to defend the justice of God in punishing us for something Adam did. But when we examine the biblical evidence, a different explanation presents itself.

Romans 5:18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is like the imputation of Adam’s sin. Those in Christ have Christ’s righteousness due to their union with Christ. Those in Adam have Adam’s sin through their union with Adam. So in what sense are we united to Adam? Not in that we would have done the same thing. Certainly our union to Christ isn’t in the sense that we would have done the same thing Christ did. Rather, in that Adam is our federal head. He is our father, political leader and representative in the covenant God made with man. Most people are OK with the concept of a representative, but some might protest, “but I didn’t vote for Adam”. But God made the covenant with Adam. God elected Adam and if Adam hadn’t sinned, we would have been blessed.

This might make me different than some Calvinists, but I doubt it makes me different than all of them. I can dig up quotes if you would like.

God be with you,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Equivocation of Regeneration

In the order of salvation, which comes first, faith or regeneration? Before we can answer that, don't we first need to understand what regeneration is? In this post I plan on contrasting Hodge's view with Arminius'. Hopefully, in the process we can clarify the issue of monergism vs. synergism.

Hodge’s Order of Salvation

  1. Common Grace – a “moral suasion” that brings good works, but is insufficient to enable justifying faith
  2. Regeneration – God’s supernatural and immediate change of a person’s nature
  3. Vocation – same Gospel as the one in common grace, but it’s effectual on the changed man.
  4. Conversion – faith and repentance “first conscious exercise of the renewed soul”
  5. Justification

Two Definitions of Regeneration
Hodges provides two alternative definitions of regeneration. Sometimes regeneration means just the imparting of life, other times it means the whole process including the things coming before and after the imparting of life. 1 Hodge says these two difference sense are not just used by bible commentators, but in the bible itself. He cites 1 Corinthians 4:15 and 1 Peter 1:23 as examples of the broader definition of regeneration. Since regeneration is God’s immediate act on the soul and these texts speak of a means (i.e. the Gospel and God’s word) they indicate a broader definition of regeneration which includes conversion.

Arminius’ Order of Salvation

  1. Prevenient Grace – common grace plus enablement of justifying faith
  2. Vocation – Gospel call
  3. Conversion – Repentance and faith
  4. Justification
  5. Regeneration – Mortification and Vivification

Everyone gets excited that Hodge says regeneration comes before faith and Arminius said it comes after. But before we discuss when regeneration is, we must understand what regeneration is.

Using Hodges’ broad definition of regeneration, both Arminian and Calvinistic regeneration is synergistic. There’s a call and a response – God acts, man reacts. But in the narrow sense of regeneration, Hodge states man is a passive, not an active participant. God omnipotently imparts spiritual life. The same is true in the Arminian system. Faith doesn't cause or merit regeneration. God mercifully regenerates the sinner. So in the broad definition of regeneration, it's sysnergistic and in the narrow definition it's monergistic.

Both Hodge and Arminius said enablement comes before faith, so both affirm total depravity and deny semi-Pelagianism. But Hodge said enablement is part of regeneration2 and Arminius said its part of prevenient grace. But Arminius doesn't completely disconnect regeneration and prevenient grace. He describes those under prevenient grace as "under the process of the new birth" but "not yet regenerate".3

To me, the difference between Arminians and Calvinists on the order of salvation is far too subtle for all the fuss made over it. Particularly when there's a much bigger issue just under the surface - the difference in their understanding of enablement.

Before prevenient grace (in an Arminian system) and before regeneration (in a Calvinist system) a man can only say no to the Gospel. However, in Arminianism, he can say no for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. In Calvinism, he can only say no for one reason and in one way. Both prevenient grace (in Arminianism) and regeneration (in Calvinism) change our nature, such that we can say yes to the Gospel. But in Calvinism, we can only say yes. In Arminianism, we can say either yes or no. In Calvinism, given our nature, only one response is possible, in Arminianism, our nature contains a range of acts possible for us to perform.

So in the final analysis, the resistible/irresistible debate boils down to the issue of libertarian freewill vs. compatible freewill. Only the context has changed to "under grace".

Even though the issue of order is a lesser point, God willing, I will explore it in the next post.


1There are two senses in which it may be said that we are begotten by the truth. First, when the word to beget (or regeneration) is meant to include the whole process, not the mere act of imparting life, but all that is preliminary and consequent to that act. The word “to beget” seems to be used sometimes in Scripture, and very often in the writings of theologians in this wide sense. And secondly, when the word 'by' expresses not a cooperating cause, or means, but simply an attending circumstance. Men see by the light. Without light vision is impossible. Yet the eyes of the blind are not opened by means of the light. In like manner all the states and acts of consciousness preceding or attending, or following regeneration, are by the truth; but regeneration itself, or the imparting spiritual life, is by the immediate agency of the Spirit. (link)

2The truth involved in this doctrine was so important in the eyes of the Apostle Paul, that he earnestly prayed that God would enable the Ephesians by his Spirit to understand and believe it. It was a truth which the illumination and teaching of the Holy Ghost alone could enable them duly to appreciate. …The Apostle Paul, who glories so much in the gospel, who declares that it is by the foolishness of preaching that God saves those that believe, still teaches that the inward work of the Spirit is necessary to enable men to receive the things freely given to them of God; that the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit, that they must be spiritually discerned. … when God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good. (link)

3For the word "the unregenerate," may be understood in two senses, (i.) Either as it denotes those who have felt no motion of the regenerating Spirit, or of its tendency or preparation for regeneration, and who are therefore, destitute of the first principle of regeneration. (ii.) Or it may signify those who are in the process of the new birth, and who feel those motions of the Holy Spirit which belong either to preparation or to the very essence of regeneration, but who are not yet regenerate; that is, they are brought by it to confess their sins, to mourn on account of them, to desire deliverance, and to seek out the Deliverer, who has been pointed out to them; but they are not yet furnished with that power of the Spirit by which the flesh, or the old man, is mortified, and by which a man, being transformed to newness of life, is rendered capable of performing works of righteousness. (link)

On Riches

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24.

1. In the preceding verses we have an account of a young man who came running to our Lord, and kneeling down, not in hypocrisy, but in deep earnestness of soul, and said unto him, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" "All the commandments," saith he, "I have kept from my youth: What lack I yet?" Probably he had kept them in the literal sense; yet he still loved the world. And He who knew what was in man knew that, in this particular case, (for this is by no means a general rule,) he could not be healed of that desperate disease, but by a desperate remedy. Therefore he answered, "Go and sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor; and come and follow me. But when he heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So all the fair blossoms withered away! For he would not lay up treasure in heaven at so high a price! Jesus, observing this, "looked round about, and said unto his disciples," (Mark 10:23, &c.,) "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God! And they were astonished out of measure, and said among themselves, Who then can be saved?"--if it be so difficult for rich men to be saved, who have so many and so great advantages, who are frees from the cares of this world, and a thousand difficulties to which the poor are continually exposed?

2. It has indeed been supposed, he partly retracts what he had said concerning the difficulty of rich men's being saved, by what is added in the tenth chapter of St. Mark. For after he had said, (verse 23,) "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" when "the disciples were astonished at his words, Jesus answered again," and said unto them, "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" (Verse 24.) But observe, (1.) Our Lord did not mean hereby to retract what he had said before. So far from it, that he immediately confirms it by that awful declaration, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Observe, (2.) Both one of these sentences and the other assert the very same thing. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for those that have riches not to trust in them.

3. Perceiving their astonishment at this hard saying, "Jesus, looking upon them," (undoubtedly with an air of inexpressible tenderness, to prevent their thinking the case of the rich desperate,) "saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: For with God all things are possible."
4. I apprehend, by a rich man here is meant, not only a man that has immense treasures, one that has heaped up gold as dust, and silver as the sand of the sea; but anyone that possesses more than the necessaries and conveniences of life. One that has food and raiment sufficient for himself and his family, and something over, is rich. By the kingdom of God, or of heaven, (exactly equivalent terms,) I believe is meant, not the kingdom of glory, (although that will, without question, follow,) but the kingdom of heaven, that is, true religion, upon earth. The meaning then of our Lord's assertion is this,--that it is absolutely impossible, unless by that power to which all things are possible, that a rich man should be a Christian; to have the mind that was in Christ, and to walk as Christ walked: Such are the hinderances to holiness, as well as the temptations to sin, which surround him on every side.

I. First. Such are the hinderances to holiness which surround him on every side. To enumerate all these would require a large volume: I would only touch upon a few of them.

1. The root of all religion is faith, without which it is impossible to please God. Now, whether you take this in its general acceptation, for an "evidence of things not seen," of the invisible and the eternal world, of God and the things of God, how natural a tendency have riches to darken this evidence, to prevent your attention to God and the things of God, and to things invisible and eternal! And if you take it in another sense, for a confidence; what a tendency have riches to destroy this; to make you trust, either for happiness or defence, in them, not "in the living God!" Or if you take faith, in the proper Christian sense, as a divine confidence in a pardoning God; what a deadly, what an almost insuperable, hinderance to this faith are riches! What! Can a wealthy, and consequently an honourable, man come to God as having nothing to pay? Can he lay all his greatness by, and come as a sinner, a mere sinner, the vilest of sinners; as on a level with those that feed the dogs of his flock; with that "beggar who lies at his gate full of sores?" Impossible; unless by the same power that made the heavens and the earth. Yet without doing this, he cannot, in any sense, "enter into the kingdom of God."

2. What a hinderance are riches to the very first fruit of faith,--namely, the love of God! "If any man love the world," says the Apostle, "the love of the Father is not in him." But how is it possible for a man not to love the world who is surrounded with all its allurements? How can it be that he should then hear the still small voice which says, "My son, give me thy heart?" What power, less than almighty, can send the rich man an answer to that prayer,--
Keep me dead to all below,Only Christ resolved to know;Firm, and disengaged, and free,Seeking all my bliss in Thee!

3. Riches are equally a hinderance to the loving our neighbour as ourselves; that is, to the loving all mankind as Christ loved us. A rich man may indeed love them that are of his own party, or his own opinion. He may love them that love him: "Do not even Heathens," baptized or unbaptized, "the same?" But he cannot have pure, disinterested good-will to every child of man. This can only spring from the love of God, which his great possessions expelled from his soul.

4. From the love of God, and from no other fountain, true humility likewise flows. Therefore, so far as they hinder the love of God, riches must hinder humility likewise. They hinder this also in the rich, by cutting them off from that freedom of conversation whereby they might be made sensible of their defects, and come to a true knowledge of themselves. But how seldom do they meet with a faithful friend; with one that can and will deal plainly with them! And without this we are likely to grow grey in our faults; yea, to die "with all our imperfections on our head."

5. Neither can meekness subsist without humility; for "of pride" naturally "cometh contention." Our Lord accordingly directs us to learn of Him at the same time "to be meek and lowly in heart" Riches therefore are as great a hinderance to meekness as they are to humility. In preventing lowliness of mind, they of consequence prevent meekness; which increases in the same proportion as we sink in our own esteem; and, on the contrary, necessarily decreases as we think more highly of ourselves.

6. There is another Christian temper which is nearly allied to meekness and humility; but it has hardly a name. St. Paul terms it epieikeia. Perhaps, till we find a better name, we may call it yieldingness; a readiness to submit to others, to give up our own will. This seems to be the quality which St. James ascribes to "the wisdom from above," when he styles it ,-- which we render, easy to be entreated; easy to be convinced of what is true; easy to be persuaded. But how rarely is this amiable temper to be found in a wealthy man! I do not know that I have found such a prodigy ten times in above threescore and ten years!

7. And how uncommon a thing is it to find patience in those that have large possessions! unless when there is a counterbalance of long and severe affliction, with which God is frequently pleased to visit those he loves, as an antidote to their riches. This is not uncommon: He often sends pain, and sickness, and great crosses, to them that have great possessions. By these means, "patience has its perfect work," till they are "perfect and entire, lacking nothing,"

II. Such are some of the hinderances to holiness which surround the rich on every side. We may now observe, on the other side, what a temptation riches are to all unholy tempers.

1. And, First, how great is the temptation to Atheism which naturally flows from riches; even to an entire forgetfulness of God, as if there was no such Being in the universe. This is at present usually termed dissipation,--a pretty name, affixed by the great vulgar to an utter disregard for God, and indeed for the whole invisible world. And how is the rich man surrounded with all manner of temptations to continual dissipation! Yes, how is the art of dissipation studied among the rich and great! As Prior keenly says,--
Cards are dealt, and dice are brought,Happy effects of human wit, That Alma may herself forget.
Say rather, that mortals may their God forget; that they may keep Him utterly out of their thoughts, who, though he sitteth on the circle of the heavens, yet is "about their bed, and about their path, and spieth out all their ways." Call this wit, if you please; but is it wisdom? O no! It is far, very far from it. Thou fool! Dost thou imagine, because thou dost not see God, that God doth not see thee? Laugh on; play on; sing on; dance on: But "for all these things God will bring thee to judgment!"

2. From Atheism there is an easy transition to idolatry; from the worship of no God to the worship of false gods: And, in fact, he that does not love God (which is his proper, and his only proper worship) will surely love some of the works of his hands; will love the creature, if not the Creator. But to how many species of idolatry is every rich man exposed! What continual and almost insuperable temptations is he under to "love the world!" and that in all its branches,--"the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life." What innumerable temptations will he find to gratify the "desire of the flesh!" Understand this right. It does not refer to one only, but all the outward senses. It is equal idolatry to seek our happiness in gratifying any or all of these. But there is the greatest danger lest men should seek it in gratifying their taste; in a moderate sensuality; in a regular kind of Epicurism; not in gluttony or drunkenness: Far be that from them! They do not disorder the body; they only keep the soul dead,--dead to God and all true religion.

3. The rich are equally surrounded with temptations from the "desire of the eyes;" that is, the seeking happiness in gratifying the imagination, the pleasures of which the eyes chiefly minister. The objects that give pleasure to the imagination are grand, or beautiful, or new. Indeed, all rich men have not a taste for grand objects; but they have for new and beautiful things, especially for new; the desire of novelty being as natural to men as the desire of meat and drink. Now, how numerous are the temptations to this kind of idolatry, which naturally springs from riches! How strongly and continually are they solicited to seek happiness (if not in grand, yet) in beautiful houses, in elegant furniture, in curious pictures, in delightful gardens! perhaps in that trifle of all trifles,--rich or gay apparel! Yea, in every new thing, little or great, which fashion, the mistress of fools, recommends. How are rich men, of a more elevated turn of mind, tempted to seek happiness, as their various tastes lead, in poetry, history, music, philosophy, or curious arts and sciences! Now, although it is certain all these have their use, and therefore may be innocently pursued, yet the seeking happiness in any of them, instead of God, is manifest idolatry; and therefore, were it only on this account, that riches furnish him with the means of indulging all these desires, it might well be asked, "Is not the life of a rich man, above all others, a temptation upon earth?"

4. What temptation, likewise, must every rich man have to seek happiness in "the pride of life!" I do not conceive the Apostle to mean thereby pomp, or state, or equipage; so much as "the honour that cometh of men," whether it be deserved or not. A rich man is sure to meet with this: It is a snare he cannot escape. The whole city of London uses the words rich and good as equivalent terms. "Yes," say they, "he is a good man; he is worth a hundred thousand pounds." And indeed everywhere, "if thou doest well unto thyself," if thou increasest in goods, "men will speak well of thee." All the world is agreed,
A thousand pound suppliesThe want of twenty thousand qualities.
And who can bear general applause without being puffed up,-- without being insensibly induced to think of himself "more highly than he ought to think?"

5. How is it possible that a rich man should escape pride, were it only on this account,--that his situation necessarily occasions praise to flow in upon him from every quarter? For praise is generally poison to the soul; and the more pleasing, the more fatal; particularly when it is undeserved. So that well might our Poet say,--
Parent of evil, bane of honest deeds,Pernicious flattery! thy destructive seeds,In an ill hour, and by a fatal hand,Sadly diffused o'er virtue's gleby land,With rising pride amid the corn appear,And check the hope and promise of the year!
And not only praise, whether deserved or undeserved, but every thing about him tends to inspire and increase pride. His noble house, his elegant furniture, his well-chosen pictures, his fine horses, his equipage, his very dress, yea, even "the embroidery plastered on his tail,"--all these will be matter of commendation to some or other of his guests, and so have an almost irresistible tendency to make him think himself a better man than those who have not these advantages.

6. How naturally, likewise, do riches feed and increase the self-will which is born in every child of man! as not only his domestic servants and immediate dependants are governed implicitly by his will, finding their account therein; but also most of his neighbours and acquaintance study to oblige him in all things: So his will being continually indulged, will of course be continually strengthened; till at length he will be ill able to submit to the will either of God or men.

7. Such a tendency have riches to beget and nourish every temper that is contrary to the love of God. And they have equal tendency to feed every passion and temper that is contrary to the love of our neighbour: Contempt, for instance, particularly of inferiors, than which nothing is more contrary to love:-- Resentment of any real or supposed offence; perhaps even revenge, although God claims this as his own peculiar prerogative:--At least anger; for it immediately rises in the mind of a rich man, "What! to use me thus! Nay, but he shall soon know better: I am now able to do myself justice!"

8. Nearly related to anger, if not rather a species of it, are fretfulness and peevishness. But are the rich more assaulted by these than the poor? All experience shows that they are. One remarkable instance I was a witness of many years ago:--A gentleman of large fortune, while we were seriously conversing, ordered a servant to throw some coals on the fire: A puff of smoke came out: He threw himself back in his chair, and cried out, "O Mr. Wesley, these are the crosses which I meet with every day!" I could not help asking, "Pray, Sir John, are these the heaviest crosses you meet with?" Surely these crosses would not have fretted him so much, if he had had fifty, instead of five thousand, pounds a year!

9. But it would not be strange, if rich men were in general void of all good dispositions, and an easy prey to all evil ones; since so few of them pay any regard to that solemn declaration of our Lord, without observing which we cannot be his disciples: "And he said unto them all,"--the whole multitude, not unto his Apostles only,--"If any man will come after me,"--will be a real Christian,--"let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23.) O how hard a saying is this to those that are "at ease in the midst of their possessions!" Yet the Scripture cannot be broken. Therefore, unless a man do "deny himself" every pleasure which does not prepare him for taking pleasure in God, "and take up his cross daily,"--obey every command of God, however grievous to flesh and blood,--he cannot be a disciple of Christ; he cannot "enter into the kingdom of God."

10. Touching this important point, of denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily, let us appeal to matter of fact; let us appeal to every man's conscience in the sight of God. How many rich men are there among the Methodists (observe, there was not one, when they were first joined together) who actually do "deny themselves and take up their cross daily?" who resolutely abstain from every pleasure, either of sense or imagination, unless they know by experience that it prepares them for taking pleasure in God? Who declines no cross, no labour or pain, which lies in the way of his duty? Who of you that are now rich, deny yourselves just as you did when you were poor? Who as willingly endure labour or pain now, as you did when you were not worth five pounds? Come to particulars. Do you fast now as often as you did then? Do you rise as early in the morning? Do you endure cold or heat, wind or rain, as cheerfully as ever? See one reason among many, why so few increase in goods, without decreasing in grace! Because they no longer deny themselves and take up their daily cross. They no longer, alas! endure hardship, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ!

11. "Go to now, ye rich men! Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you;" that must come upon you in a few days, unless prevented by a deep and entire change! "The canker of your gold and silver" will be "a testimony against you," and will "eat your flesh as fire!" O how pitiable is your condition! And who is able to help you? You need more plain dealing than any men in the world, and you meet with less. For how few dare speak as plain to you, as they would do to one of your servants! No man living, that either hopes to gain anything by your favour, or fears to lose anything by your displeasure. O that God would give me acceptable words, and cause them to sink deep into your hearts! Many of you have known me long, well nigh from your infancy: You have frequently helped me, when I stood in need. May I not say, you loved me? But now the time of our parting is at hand: My feet are just stumbling upon the dark mountains. I would leave one word with you before I go hence; and you may remember it when I am no more seen.

12. O let your heart be whole with God! Seek your happiness in him and him alone. Beware that you cleave not to the dust! "This earth is not your place." See that you use this world as not abusing it; use the world, and enjoy God. Sit as loose to all things here below, as if you were a poor beggar. Be a good steward of the manifold gifts of God; that when you are called to give an account of your stewardship, he may say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Compendium of Christian Theology by William Burt Pope

William Burt Pope wrote an excellent three volume systematic theology from an Arminian perspective. The first two volumes are available on Google books and I recommend them. I really like his view of grace. So few Arminian systematic theologies are available online that it really is amazing this is out there for free. Here's the links:

Volume 1
Volume 2

Here’s a little about him from Wikipedia.

William Burt Pope (1822 – 1903) was an English Christian theologian in the Methodist tradition.Ordained in 1842, Pope became a successful linguist and translator of German anti-rationalist critics. He taught at Didsbury Wesleyan College in Manchester, England from 1867 to 1886. His greatest work, Compendium of Christian Theology (1875-1876), set forth influential arguments for the "holiness doctrine of all Methodist systematic theology" and defended Methodist doctrine against its critics.

God be with you,

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Difference Maker

Hodges' Argument

Hodge argues that unless grace is resistible, the ultimate reason some believe and not others is found in us and not in God. Hodge says this would make believers better, more impressible or less obstinate than other.1

Problem Non-Unique

Personally, I find this one of the most powerful Calvinistic arguments. The idea that I can take credit for my salvation is intolerable, as is the idea that I am better than someone else. But the Calvinist solution is no solution, and it creates more problems than it resolves.

Let’s take the argument that believers can take credit for their faith. But Calvinists also say people believe. Therefore Calvinism entails that people can take credit for their faith.

It does not good for Calvinists to object that in Calvinism, grace is the sufficient cause of faith and in Arminianism, it is not. That doesn’t impact responsibility. In Calvinism, people are responsible for their actions, even though they are predetermined by sufficient causes. The objection at first seems appealing, because it is built on the intuitive Arminian assumption of the link between LFW and responsibility (i.e. faith is predetermined, therefore we are not responsible for it.) But since Calvinists are compatiblists, this view entails the contradiction that we are and are not responsible for predetermined actions.

So Calvinism doesn’t solve the problem. Worse, it opens the can of worms regarding the reprobate.

Why Can’t Believers Boast?

Faith is a good thing. God commands faith and people are chided and punished for unbelief (1 John 3:23, Mark 16:14, John 12:48). Even the belief of demons is called good (James 2:19). Faith is listed among the three abiding virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13) and Hebrews 11 gives the so called “hall of faith”.

On the other hand, the command to believe is evangelical, not legal. Faith is not a work of the law, it excludes boasting, and it’s consistent with grace. (Romans 3:27-28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:5, Romans 4:16)

How is it that faith is both good and not a work of the law? God’s commands reflect His holy character. (Matthew 5:48, also cross reference Mark 12:28-31 with 1 John 4:8) But God never repented or trusted Christ for salvation. He has no need to. So faith is not a part of the image of God or Christ. In this sense it’s not a virtue, and that’s why it doesn’t earn God’s favor. Apart from God’s mercy, faith is worthless. And that’s why believers cannot boast. This resolves the difficulty for both Calvinists and Arminians.

The Ultimate Reason Some Believe and Not Others

We have already seen that faith is nothing to brag about, such that even if we are the ultimate reasons we believe, we still are no better than anyone else; but is it true the ultimate reason we believe is in us not God? Given our very existence depends on God, no, clearly not. But even in the less ultimate sense, assuming our existence, I still don’t think so. God, knowing how we would freely respond, decides to call us. 2 Hodge discusses this view, and concludes that since we freely believe, the ultimate reason is still in man. (link) But this ignores God’s role. It’s not an either us or God - the question is a false dichotomy. The ultimate reason is in both us and God, not either/or.


1Interestingly Hodge does not appeal to 1 Corinthians 4:7 (at least not directly, but he does quote Bellarmin who uses the passage). Perhaps the issue is in the translation. The KJV’s “who maketh thee to differ” seems highly supportive of Hodge’s case. But recent translations have moved away from this sense to “who sees anything different in you” (ESV, RSV and NRSV) or “who regards you as superior” (NASB). The Greek diakrino does seem to relate more easily to deciding something rather than making something. But in any case, Hodge doesn’t use this text. The passages Hodge does cite are those he supposes teach unconditional election, but don’t describe the nature of grace.

2I am an Molinist which opens this way of explaining things. It’s called congruism (i.e. the idea that God’s grace and man’s choice are congruent). I personally think Arminius was a congruist, but not all Arminians hold to this.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekly Wesley - And Can it be

Classic Charles Wesley Hymn "And Can it be"

1.And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood! Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

2.'Tis mystery all: th' Immortal dies! Who can explore his strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine. 'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; let angel minds inquire no more. 'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; let angel minds inquire no more.

3.He left his Father's throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!), emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam's helpless race.'Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me! 'Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!

4.Long my imprisoned sprit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

5.No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine; alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine, bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own. Bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.