Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Files – Chisholm Anatomy of an Anthropomorphism: Does God Discover Facts?

Robert Chisholm’s article "ANATOMY OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHISM: DOES GOD DISCOVER FACTS?" explains OT texts like Genesis 18:20-21 and 22:12, which seem to indicate God does not know everything. Chisholm is not satisfied with saying they are antropromorphic and leaving it at that; he seeks a full understanding of why the passages, on the surface, indicate God is learning something.

According to Chisholm “when God speaks within a metaphorical framework, His words may veil certain aspects of the divine nature, but they have a specific function to perform that contributes powerfully to His purpose) in the world of the narrative.” Chisholm continues “the literary context of each passage provides the key to understanding why God did this. In each case God's anthropomorphic self-revelation occurs within a metaphorical framework that is inherently relational in nature. God assumes a relational role and then speaks in a way that is consistent with it. Through His anthropomorphic self-revelation God made it clear that His relationship with Abraham was personal and dynamic. The metaphor boldly fleshes out the underlying reality. By revealing Himself in this way God also emphasized the importance of human responsibility. Human decisions would play a formative role in how the future of Abraham and his world would unfold. God grants human beings, whom He has made in (or as) His image, the dignity of causality. His plan for human history accommodates human decisions and actions, as well as His own responses to them.”

Regarding Genesis 18, Chisholm comments, “the context depicts the Lord in the role of cosmic judge. When Abraham heard the Lord speak of the moral condition of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded on behalf of the cities because of his concern for the well-being of Lot and his family. He asked rhetorically, "Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?" (v. 25).17 Judges, at least those committed to justice, typically get the facts straight before they issue a ruling and execute justice.”

Chisholm continues, “the Lord considered it appropriate to share His intentions with Abraham (v. 17), which suggests that the language was dynamic and motivational. Perhaps the Lord wanted to prepare Abraham emotionally to accept predetermined divine judgment. The angels' words to Lot in 19:13-14 may imply this was the case, but they do not necessarily carry such an implication.19 If judgment was not a foregone conclusion (at least from a historical perspective) before the angels' arrival, then it is possible the Lord's words in 18:20-21 were designed to motivate Abraham to assume the role of intercessor and to prompt the response they elicited.”

Regarding Genesis 22, Chisholm comments, “when God chose Abraham to be His covenant partner, the arrangement was comparable to the suzerain-vassal treaty relationship attested in the ancient Near East. The story reaches its climax when Abraham demonstrated his loyalty (22:12, 15-18) by obeying God's command (cf. 26:5). God then elevated the patriarch to the status of a favored vassal who now possessed a ratified promise, comparable to the royal grants attested in the ancient Near East. God contextualized His self-revelation to Abraham (and to the readers of the narrative) within the relational, metaphorical framework of a covenant lord. Thus one should not be surprised to hear Him speak in ways that reflect the relational role He assumed within this metaphorical framework.”

Chisholm points out “Open theists sometimes appeal to Genesis 22:12 in support of their position, but, as pointed out, this verse, like 18:21, pertains to God's present, not future, knowledge. Presumably open theists explain this language of uncertainty and discovery in 18:21 as anthropomorphic. But the same hermeneutical model one utilizes to explain how anthropomorphism works in 18:21 can be applied to texts that seemingly limit God's knowledge of the future.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Two Problems Unique to Supra-Lapsarianism

Calvinists generally face the issue of God punishing people for acts that they cannot avoid, since Calvinists deny libertarian free will and maintain we cannot do otherwise than what God has decreed for us to do, but supra-lapsarianism faces two additional issues: 1) God reprobates certain men for some reason other than their sins and 2) God necessitates the fall of mankind in order to accomplish election and reprobation. Supra-lapsarians believe that in the order of decrees ( which is a logical ordering of God’s plan from eternity, rather than a temporal order of the execution of His plan in time) election and reprobation come before the fall. In this sense the fall and sin are not the reasons God reprobates. So supra-lapsarians hold that God reprobates for some reason other than sin. After God has reprobated, He needs man to sin and be in a fallen condition, so He decrees the fall to accomplishing reprobation.

Infra-lapsarians avoid these two issues by saying that in the logical order, the decree of election comes after the fall.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steve Hays and the Nicene Creed

I was recently asked to back up my comments that Steve Hays disagrees with the Nicene Creed as understood and taught by the Church Fathers and the church at large. Specifically, I raised concerns about consubstantiality and eternal generation. Regarding consubstantiality, it seems Steve disagrees that the Father, Son and Spirit have a numerically one and simple divine essence. Regarding 'eternal generation', Steve seems to think it relates only to the roles each member of the Trinity plays and not to their mode of subsistence.

Admittedly, I see disagreements with the Nicene Creed as somewhat of a red flag, so it's possible I am jumping to conclusions. Further, I was basing this moreso on what Steve was opposing vs. what he was affirming. So below are a list of quotes from Steve on the subject and if he would like to take this opportunity to clarify his views on consubstantiality and eternal generation and square them with the orthodox position, that would be great.


You can’t logically say the Son is unoriginated and also say he receives his essence from a second party (the Father). If he receives his essence from a second party, then the second party is the source of his essence–in which case he has his source of origin in the second party.(link)

You also need to justify your use of these metaphors in the first place. Why should we frame our formulation of the immanent Trinity in terms of generation and procession? (link)

“Of themselves” connotes sourcehood. By contrast, there is nothing above, beyond, or behind the persons. They aren’t “from” themselves anymore than they are “from” another. We’ve already arrived at a bedrock fact. The end of the explanatory trail. (link)

Steve: From what I’ve read, there’s a scholarly dispute over the more specialized question of whether homoousios was also meant to denote generic identity or numeric identity.

Me: You appealed to Calvin. Here's what he had to say on the subject: While he proclaims his unity, he distinctly sets it before us as existing in three persons. These we must hold, unless the bare and empty name of Deity merely is to flutter in our brain without any genuine knowledge. Moreover, lest any one should dream of a threefold God, or think that the simple essence is divided by the three Persons, we must here seek a brief and easy definition which may effectually guard us from error. But as some strongly inveigh against the term Person as being merely of human inventions let us first consider how far they have any ground for doing so. (Instant Toots I 13.2)  So while Calvin may have done some groundwork for your views, he didn't go that far. He didn't leave the orthodox fold. Your views seem closer to Adam Clarke than John Calvin.

Steve: Since, in my response to Perry Robinson, I twice went out of my way to distinguish Calvin’s seminal corrective from subsequent refinements which take it a step further, your quotation is badly behind the curve. How do you think quoting Calvin’s position contradicts my appeal when I explicitly qualified my appeal to Calvin from the outset? Are you paying attention?

ii) And, no, my position isn’t closer to Adam Clarke. Rather, it’s closer to Warfield, Frame, and Helm.

If it also happens to be closer to Clarke, then that’s purely coincidental. Maybe we also use the same brand of deodorant.

You might as well say that Clarke’s position is closer to Warfield’s.

iii) BTW, it isn’t essential for me to ground my position in Reformed precedent. As I’ve often said, exegetical theology is the first and foremost consideration. I frequently help myself to the exegetical arguments of non-Calvinist commentators if they have a sound argument for their interpretation. (link

Now, I myself don’t affirm double procession. But, by the same token, I don’t affirm single procession either. (link)

As to Heb 1:3, we need to keep a couple of things in mind:
i) To speak of the Son as a “copy” of God is figurative image. A metaphor is an analogy. Every analogy has an element of disanalogy. So the question at issue is to single out the intended point of commonality.

Stafford, with wooden literality, acts as if the process of replication is the point of commonality. But x can be a copy of y in another sense: resemblance. A copy, while numerically distinct, may be essentially identical with the original. And that’s the point of comparison in Heb 1:3. Not the process, but the product.

And keep in mind, once again, that this is figurative. The Son is not the actual end-product of a process. The intention, rather, is to establish the consubstantial identity of the Son with the Father. (link)

“Calvin and Luther did not go back and re-write Nicea. They took it for granted.”

To my knowledge, that’s inaccurate. Calvin rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each Person. (link)

2.Furthermore, the Resurrection hardly commits one to Swinburne’s version of Nicene subordinationism.

Indeed, Reformed theologians like Calvin, Warfield, Frame, and Helm reject Nicene subordination in favor of the autotheos of each Trinitarian person. (link)

And to take the further step of exchanging this image for the role of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis is yet another wrong turn; metaphors are not interchangeable, and it is illicit to swap one theological metaphor for another. (link)

In formulating the Trinity, two opposing errors are to be avoided: tritheism and unitarianism. Nicene subordinationism is a harmonistic device to avoid tritheism by making the Father the primary God. Standing behind the phrases God “of” God, light “of” light, and true God “of” true God is the imagery of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis. And this is a form of modalism. It preserves monotheism by treating the Son as a secondary or second-grade divinity, and the Spirit as a tertiary or third-grade divinity. What you have is a continuity rather than identity of essence. Categories of generation and procession serve the same function.

Nicene subordinationism represents a compromise position, swapping one heresy for another. A Catholic is not a liberty to question dogmatic formulations or reopen an old debate. (link)

Calvinism is committed to the eternal distinction of the divine persons, but not to eternal generation and procession. Just because you are committed to Nicene Orthodoxy on this point doesn’t mean that a Calvinist is.

Calvin, for one, rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each divine person. And his precedent has been taken up by such Reformed theologians as Warfield, Murray, Helm, and Frame. This marks a higher Christology and pneumatology than Nicene Orthodoxy.  (link)

Steve’s quotation of Warfield

It may be very natural to see in the designation "Son" an intimation of subordination and derivation of Being, and it may not be difficult to ascribe a similar connotation to the term "Spirit." But it is quite certain that this was not the denotation of either term in the Semitic consciousness, which underlies the phraseology of Scripture; and it may even be thought doubtful whether it was included even in their remoter suggestions. What underlies the conception of sonship in Scriptural speech is just "likeness"; whatever the father is that the son is also. The emphatic application of the term "Son" to one of the Trinitarian Persons, accordingly, asserts rather His equality with the Father than His subordination to the Father; and if there is any implication of derivation in it, it would appear to be very distant. The adjunction of the adjective "only begotten" (John 1:14; 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9) need add only the idea of uniqueness, not of derivation (Psalms 22:21; 25:16; 35:17; The Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 margin); and even such a phrase as "God only begotten" (John 1:18 margin) may contain no implication of derivation, but only of absolutely unique consubstantiality; as also such a phrase as `the first-begotten of all creation' (Colossians 1:15) may convey no intimation of coming into being, but merely assert priority of existence. In like manner, the designation "Spirit of God" or "Spirit of Yahweh," which meets us frequently in the Old Testament, certainly does not convey the idea there either of derivation or of subordination, but is just the executive name of God--the designation of God from the point of view of His activity--and imports accordingly identity with God; and there is no reason to suppose that, in passing from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the term has taken on an essentially different meaning. It happens, oddly enough, moreover, that we have in the New Testament itself what amounts almost to formal definitions of the two terms "Son" and "Spirit," and in both cases the stress is laid on the notion of equality or sameness. In John 5:18 we read:

`On this account, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill him, because, not only did he break the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal to God.' The point lies, of course, in the adjective "own." Jesus was, rightly, understood to call God "his own Father," that is, to use the terms "Father" and "Son" not in a merely figurative sense, as when Israel was called God's son, but in the real sense. And this was understood to be claiming to be all that God is. To be the Son of God in any sense was to be like God in that sense; to be God's own Son was to be exactly like God, to be "equal with God." Similarly, we read in 1 Corinthians 2:10,11: `For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who of men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.' Here the Spirit appears as the substrate of the divine self-consciousness, the principle of God's knowledge of Himself: He is, in a word, just God Himself in the innermost essence of His Being. As the spirit of man is the seat of human life, the very life of man itself, so the Spirit of God is His very life-element. How can He be supposed, then, to be subordinate to God, or to derive His Being from God? If, however, the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father in modes of subsistence and their derivation from the Father are not implicates of their designation as Son and Spirit, it will be hard to find in the New Testament compelling evidence of their subordination and derivation. (link)

Steve’s quote of Warfield

But it is not so clear that the principle of subordination rules also in "modes of subsistence," as it is technically phrased; that is to say, in the necessary relation of the Persons of the Trinity to one another. The very richness and variety of the expression of their subordination, the one to the other, in modes of operation, create a difficulty in attaining certainty whether they are represented as also subordinate the one to the other in modes of subsistence. Question is raised in each case of apparent intimation of subordination in modes of subsistence, whether it may not, after all, be explicable as only another expression of subordination in modes of operation. It may be natural to assume that a subordination in modes of operation rests on a subordination in modes of subsistence; that the reason why it is the Father that sends the Son and the Son that sends the Spirit is that the Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son. But we are bound to bear in mind that these relations of subordination in modes of operation may just as well be due to a convention, an agreement, between the Persons of the Trinity--a "Covenant" as it is technically called--by virtue of which a distinct function in the work of redemption is voluntarily assumed by each. It is eminently desirable, therefore, at the least, that some definite evidence of subordination in modes of subsistence should be discoverable before it is assumed.

In the 2nd century the dominant neo-Stoic and neo-Platonic ideas deflected Christian thought into subordinationist channels, and produced what is known as the Logos-Christology, which looks upon the Son as a prolation of Deity reduced to such dimensions as comported with relations with a world of time and space; meanwhile, to a great extent, the Spirit was neglected altogether…..The language in which it is couched, even in this final declaration, still retains elements of speech which owe their origin to the modes of thought characteristic of the Logos-Christology of the 2nd century, fixed in the nomenclature of the church by the Nicene Creed of 325 AD, though carefully guarded there against the subordinationism inherent in the Logos-Christology, and made the vehicle rather of the Nicene doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit, with the consequent subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father in modes of subsistence as well as of operation. (link)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Response to Marcus on Ephesians 1

Marcus was kind enough to read and respond to my post on Ephesians 1. While his response covers a wide range of topics, D.V. I will restrict my response to the key topic: election in Christ.

Marcus: Did God predestine us or did he predestine the plan of salvation? God predestined us not a plan. Does a plan get adopted like children? Does a plan get seated in heaven?

This indirectly get’s at the key issue of understanding ‘in Christ’. The answer to your first question is both. God does choose us but He also chose and predestined to save through the Gospel. John 3:16, 1 Cor 1:21 especially in light of 1 Cor 2:7.

So the next question is naturally, is the Gospel the foundation of our election or is our election the foundation of the Gospel. In other words, does God first say ‘I want to glorify these people’ and then say ‘to do so I will use Christ, the cross and their union to Christ through faith’ or on the other hand does he first say ‘Christ is the foundation of Gospel through the cross and these people are united to Christ through faith’ and then say ‘I will glorify them and adopt them into my family’?

Me: The election is not of certain individuals whether or not they are united to Christ. It is all those and only those who are united to Christ. The election does not unite people to Christ. Rather it adopts them to God through their union to Christ. We are united to Christ by grace through faith.

Marcus: I agree election is not of certain individuals whether or not they are united to Christ. I have never heard or read James White, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper or any Calvinist say that it was.

Ah, but by implication, you say it when you say:

God has chosen to predestine some of us to unite with Christ and be reconciled to Himself.

If God first chooses us and then chooses to unite us to Christ, our election is not 'in Christ'. Again, if God chooses us before the foundation of the world and then in time uses Christ to fulfill that choice, we are not elected 'in Christ'. But if God views us as united to Christ through faith and then chooses to adopt and glorify us, then our election is in Christ.

Me: Also the election is in Christ, not unto union with Christ.

Marcus: I don't believe the author has been able to prove that there is a difference between being elected in Christ and being elected into union with Christ.

The text says "in Christ", not "into union with Christ", nor are these two things gramatically equivalant.  If I said I chose the chips in the cabinet for dinner, I am not saying I ate the chips in the cabinet.

Thanks again for the response!

God be with you,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arminius answers Beckwith

Frank states: Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-Biblical theological knowledge. (link)

Arminius responds:

But by the very arguments by which the Scriptures are Divine, they are also [proved to be] Canonical, from the method and end of their composition, as containing the rule of our faith, charity, hope, and of the whole of our living. For they are given for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for correction, and for consolation; that is, that they may be the rule of truth and falsehood to our understanding, of good and evil to our affections, either to do and to omit, or to have and to want. (Deut. xxvii, 26; Psalm cxix, 105,106; Rom. x, 8, 17; Matt. xxii, 37-40; 2 Tim. iii, 16; Rom. xv, 4.) For as they are Divine because given by God, not because they are "received from men;" so they are canonical, and are so called in an active sense, because they prescribe a Canon or rule, and not passively, because they are reckoned for a Canon, or because they are taken into the Canon. So far indeed is the Church from rendering them authentic or canonical, that no assemblage or congregation of men can come under the name of a Church, unless they account the Scriptures authentic and canonical with regard to the sum or substance of the Law and Gospel. (Gal. vi, 16; 1 Tim. vi, 3, 4; Rom. xvi, 17; x, 8-10, 14-17.) (link)

Beckwith’s challenge should be broken down into two parts: 1) where does the cannon come from and 2) how do we know what the cannon is? Each specific book declares itself to be God’s word, so God made the cannon that we are required to hold to. We know a book to be God’s word by its self assertion of authority, moral excellence, theological excellence, internal consistency and acceptance by God’s people. As soon as we know a book to be God’s word, we know it to be canonical. So our cannon of scripture is derived from scripture alone.

Beckwith’s arguments is self-defeating. If we cannot recognize God’s word, then we cannot have a cannon; it doesn’t matter if the word is supposedly written or spoken via the Pope. Since the books themselves tell us they are God’s word, they were God’s word and a cannon before Trent. Further, the church didn’t have to wait around for over a thousand years for the pope to tell them they are God’s word.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arminius Catalogs and Refutes Calvinist Responses to ‘God is the Author of Sin’

During Arminius' day Calvinists used six distinctions to hold God decreed Adam's fall while denying God is the author of sin. Below are my paraphrases and summaries of the distinctions and Arminius’ responses. Here’s a link to the original text. (link)

The Act and the Sin
The first distinction is "in sin there are two things, the act and its sinfulness. God, by his own ordination, is the author of the act, not of the sinfulness in the act.

Arminius argues that the distinction works for sins of omission (i.e. giving money to the church for public praise is a good act done for the wrong reasons) but not for sins of commission, because the acts themselves are against the law. But Adam's fall was a sin of commission, so the distinction is unhelpful. Also, since God's goal was to illustrate His glory and justice, the fall was decreed in that it was evil, not just in that it was an act, since sin (not the act) is forgiven or punished.

Even if God predetermined someone to sin for some reason other than evil (i.e. someone steals because he wants money not because he hates God), God is still the author of sin. Often the devil solicits to evil based on some natural good associated with the sinful act.

Necessity and Compulsion
This distinction is between doing something willingly or by force. “If the decree of God, in which he ordained that man should fall, compelled him to sin, then God would, by that decree, become the author of sin, and man would be free from guilt: but God’s decree did not compel man. It only imposed a necessity upon him so that he could not but sin; which necessity does not take away his liberty. So since man sins freely, he is the cause of his own fall and God is free from the responsibility.

Arminius responds by accepting the distinction but rejecting the idea that the distinction resolves the difficulty. Freedom and necessity are opposites and to say an act is ultimately both necessary and free is a contradiction. So saying sin in necessary with respect to the first cause, God, and free with respect to the second cause, man, is a contradiction. A person acts freely when he has the power not to perform that act. Whoever necessitates sin is the cause of that sin. So if God’s decree necessitates sin, God is the cause and author of sin.

The Decree and its Execution
The distinction is that while God decreed from eternity to devote certain persons to death, and to accomplish this ordained the fall, yet God does not execute that decree, by their actual condemnation, until after the people themselves have become sinful by their own act, and, therefore, God is free from responsibility.

Arminius responds that “he cannot be the ordainer of the punishment, who was the ordainer of the crime.” Augustine rightly says, "God can ordain the punishment of crimes, not the crimes themselves," that is, He can ordain that they should take place.

Efficacious and Permissive Decree
Arminius states that Calvinists attempt to use a “permissive decree”. They define a permissive decree as an act of the divine will, by which God does not bestow, on a rational creature, that grace, which is necessary for the avoidance of sin.

Arminius responds that this type of permission joined with the enactment of a law, embraces in itself the whole cause of sin. If God imposes a law which a person cannot obey without grace, and denies grace that person, God is the cause of sin by the removal of the necessary hindrance.

If the efficacious vs. permissive decree distinction is rightly explained, it removes the whole difficulty and God is not the cause or author of sin; for the action of God will has reference to its own permission, not to sin. Nor is “God, in the exercise of His will, permits sin” equivalent to “God wills sin, since God wills permission not sin.

God’s Goal vs. Man’s Goal
The next distinction is “God intends, in His decree, to illustrate His own glory, but man intends to gratify his own desire.”

Arminius responds that a good end does not approve, or make good, an action which is unlawful in itself; for "we are not to do evil that good may come;" but it is evil to ordain that sin shall be committed. Also, man’s desire results from the decree of God, and, therefore, man is relieved from responsibility.

Addition of the End
The last defense is "We are accustomed to state the decree of God, not in these terms, that 'God has determined to adjudge some men to eternal death and condemnation’, but we add, 'that His justice may be illustrated to the glory of his name’ .

Arminius responds that the addition does not deny the previous statement and that the addition, even of the best end, does not justify an action which is not in itself formally good.

Ephesians 1 Chosen "In Him"


The central theme of the passage is that our blessings and salvation are in Christ Jesus. This is clear because the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalent expression) takes place a dozen times in verse 1-14. Redemption is an important aspect of salvation, but there are many other aspects of salvation. Christ is not just the basis of redemption but of salvation in its entirety, including God’s eternal plan.

The Father established Christ as the head of salvation and Savior of those in Him. Christ is central from creation to glory. Those that are united to Christ, are united by grace through faith (2:8) and are considered now as they will be in glory (2:6). God’s plan from eternity to save those that are in Christ is certain and unchanging, therefore those that are in Him are already considered as they will be in eternity.


1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

Chapter 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Verse by Verse Analysis

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

God the Father is truly the Father of Christ. Christ proceeds from the Father, yet Christ is no less eternal or God.

The phrase “heavenly places” is in Ephesians 5 times and nowhere else in the New Testament. (Eph 1:20; Eph 2:6; Eph 3:10; Eph 6:12). In Ephesians 2:6 the believer is already seated with Christ.

Eph 2:6 “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”

This could be taken as future or now but spiritually. Based on the next two verses, the future seems to be the correct understanding.

We are blessed in Christ Jesus. Our blessings are from and through and in Him. God the Father’s purpose of salvation was in Him. Only through union with Him is the Church blessed.

The “us” Paul refers to is the Church. Paul, a Jew, is uniting himself with his Gentile audience. In Christ, they are united.

4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

God’s choice, from eternity past, was to save the Church, those united to Christ, through Christ’s work. Election is in Christ. Christ is not simply the means to save those the Father elects. Rather, Christ is eternal and the very foundation of election.

We will be holy (positive) and without blame (negative). God will completely forgive those that are in Christ Jesus. God has decided to save those united to Christ. The phrase holy and without blame appears also in Colossians 1:22-23:

Col 1:22 yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him:
Col 1:23 if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister.

Here in Ephesians ending up holy and without blame is certain, unconditional and caused by God. In Colossians ending up holy and without blame is contingent and conditional based on our continuing in the faith. Here in Ephesians the Church is being addressed as a body. In Colossians, the individuals are addressed. The Church will never fail, but individuals may or may not be joined with or remain within the Church.

5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

God pre-arranged that the Church would become His children, through Christ. His plan is certain, and even though we are still on earth, we might as well be in heaven seated with Christ.

Corporate Election

Was it necessary for Christ to come and redeem us? Were the incarnation and atonement simply means of accomplishing God’s preexisting plan? This passage teaches that Christ’s role is both instrumental and all-inclusive in election.

The incarnation and redemption were indeed necessary. God’s very character of justice requires that sin cannot be ignored or go unpunished. There could not have been any salvation without redemption through Christ’s blood, which provides the forgiveness of sins. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). God loved the world so much that He gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16), He spared not His Son but delivered Him up for us all (Romans 8:32) and Christ’s death was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).

With that in mind, God’s election was based on Christ and His work. Election could not have been otherwise. God could not have chosen to save sinners apart from redemption in Christ Jesus. God’s holiness would not allow salvation through other means.

Christ was established by God’s choice to be the foundation of salvation. By His blood, sinners would be saved. But in the establishment of Christ as the Savior the Church is implicitly chosen. Those that are in Christ and united to Him have been established by God’s plan. All in Christ are elected to salvation and apart from Christ, no one is elected to salvation.

The election is not of certain individuals whether or not they are united to Christ. It is all those and only those who are united to Christ. The election does not unite people to Christ. Rather it adopts them to God through their union to Christ. We are united to Christ by grace through faith.

The Gift of Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Faith is a gift from God and through this gift, we are united to Christ and thereby saved. 1 A gift implies a giver and a receiver. If the receiver does not want the gifts, they may be rejected and returned. Gifts are never earned or deserved. They are given freely.

So in what sense is faith a gift? First we must understand what faith is. In Hebrews 11 we read that:

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them. By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.

Normally we assent to truth as soon as we see and understand the proof. That’s the difference between a belief and an opinion. The proof is the evidence of the truth. Often the truth is its own proof, or rather; it is self evident. In faith, we hold a conviction of something not seen. Faith itself is the assurance. Faith itself is the evidence. Faith acts as the proof in convicting us of a truth we have no other proof for.

Once we understand basic math, believing that 1 + 1 = 2 is not really a choice. Once it’s understood, it can not be rejected. The evidence forbids it. Believing or not believing is not volitional. The evidence, not our will, moves us to assent to the truth.

Faith is like opinion in that we don’t have evidence moving our mind to hold a conviction. Rather, we choose to do so, voluntarily. In contrast to the math equation example where the evidence moves our mind to hold a conviction, our will moves our mind to hold a conviction. Faith differs from opinion in that faith is the substance or assurance. Faith itself causes us to accept the truth.
So faith is a gift from God, in that He moves our wills to assent to the truth of the Gospel, which we have no other proof of. He starts our will moving towards believing the truth, and as long as we don’t resist His grace, He carries us through to fully assent to the truth of the Gospel.

By way of example, let’s say a dog is stuck in a house, unconscious and the house is on fire. Rubble falls on the dog and breaks its legs. The dog will certainly die. A man runs into the house and wakes up the dog. The dog gets scared, but doesn’t know how to escape. The man shows the dog the way out, but the dog can’t follow because of its broken legs. The man picks up the dog and runs to safety.

If the dog had bitten the man when he ran for safety, the man may have dropped the dog and it would have died. But if the dog doesn’t resist, we still wouldn’t say that it saved itself.

In the same way God carries our wills to assent to the truth of the Gospel.

Answers to Calvinist Objections

Based on this passage three arguments in favor of unconditional election have been asserted:

Argument 1: He chose us to be holy, not because we were holy
Argument 2: The choice happened before the foundation of the world and not at the moment individuals come to faith
Argument 3: No further reason was given other than the good pleasure of His will

The Calvinist view breaks down into two major varieties. The first called supra-lapsarian states that God predestined some for glory, others for destruction before considering man as fallen or in Christ. The second, infra-lapsarian states that God predestined some for eternal life and passed by the rest after considering man as fallen and in sin.

The first argument does not support the supra-lapsarian (pre-fallen mankind) position. In fact it opposes it. Those that were predestined were unholy. They were sinners. But Adam, before he fell was not a sinner in need of saving grace. Verse 6 states that predestination is to the praise of the glory of His grace. Grace is given to sinners so a reference to grace here seems to consider man in a fallen condition. Further, the passage states that we are made accepted in Christ, but we must first be considered rejected because of our sin. This is evidence that God considers men as sinners prior to predestination.

The infra-lapsarian (post-fallen mankind) position does not have this problem. They concur that man was considered as sinners when they are predestined to salvation. The mistake is not that the election is made prior to individuals believing, but that the election relates to individuals and not the group. Also the election is in Christ, not unto union with Christ.

Verse 4 describes the individuals as “in Him” but only believers are united to Christ. Because Christ is the foundation of salvation, no one could be predestined to salvation apart from union with Christ.

Further, the “us” in verse 1 is “the faithful in Christ Jesus”. Verses 13 & 23 indicate that the reference is to a group and not individuals. In verses 22 & 23 those that are “in Him” are named the Church, but the Church is a group of believers not “individuals without being considered believers”. In verse 13 only after believing did the gentiles join the Jews who first believed and were officially added to the group by the Holy Spirit who sealed them.

Paul is saying is that God before the foundation of the world chose to save believers through Christ and predestined them to heaven. Basically, this is the formulation of the gospel before the foundation of the world. God did not have to choose to save anyone at all. Believers do not earn salvation through faith. God out of the good pleasure of His will, graciously chose to save believers.


Ephesians 1 teaches that God before the foundation of the world chose to save believers through Christ and predestined them to heaven. God does not accept sinners nor does he choose anyone to eternal life except in Christ and for the sake of Christ. "He hath chosen us in Him," verse 4; "wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved," verse 6. This demonstrates that man’s condition prior to election was fallen and in need of saving grace. This grace is in Christ and provided through faith which unites us to Him.

1 Some people object that faith itself is not the gift here, noting the gender of it and faith are different in the Greek. They prefer to understand that salvation or the economy of salvation through faith as the gift. The Greek is inconclusive and has been read either way. Though I prefer the understanding that faith is the gift, either read is permissible. But the concept that we need God’s grace to believe is clear from many passages of scripture, such as John 15:5 (without me ye can do nothing), Acts 18:27 (he helped them much that had believed through grace) and 2 Timothy 2:25 (if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pyramid Power

The following is a response to Steve Hays in our discussion on the Trinity and Eternal Generation. (link)

Me: “There is a difference between what consubstantial means with how it can be. No one has any idea as to how the Trinitarian persons can be consubstantial, but that doesn't mean we don't know if consubstantial means numeric or generic identity.”

Thee: And how do you know that? On the basis of exegetical theology? Historical theology? Philosophical theology? What’s your frame of reference?

Exegetical, from the passages which teach God is one. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Mark 12:32-34; James 2:19; Galatians 3:20; Deuteronomy 32:39; 2 Kings 19:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 37:20; Zechariah 14:9; John 5:44; Romans 3:30; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 2:5; Jude 1:25. It is in this sense that we understand John 10:30.

Historically, the church explained the scriptures this way and used philosophy to reconcile this idea with other scriptural truths. I am not sure it that’s what you had in mind by historical theology/philosophical theology.

Me: “Through generation essence is passed from one to anther. In the Trinity, generation provides for the mode of continuation of existence.”

Thee: “Continuation” is a temporal concept, involving duration through time.

Yes, and continuation of existence throughout eternity involves all points in time. If we look at time as originating at creation then the Father's generation of the Son covers the Son's a-temporal being as well.

Me: “Not origination, for the Son is unoriginated.”

Thee: You can’t logically say the Son is unoriginated and also say he receives his essence from a second party (the Father). If he receives his essence from a second party, then the second party is the source of his essence–in which case he has his source of origin in the second party.
It's true the metaphor 'receives' and 'generates' breaks down at points. Since our experiences are in time, in some significant way this generation is unlike what we experience. Your argument assumes that the analogy must be like the reality in all points. What does not ‘break down’ is “One God, three persons”. But your view of three distinct divine essences seems to contradict this view.

Me: “Not caused, for cause implies temporality and this generation is eternal.”

Thee: If the Son has a divine essence because that essence is conveyed to him by the Father, then his possession of a divine essence is something caused by the conveyance of the essence from the Father to the Son.

Why? Take for example the logical order of the decrees. The decrees don't cause each other as if God had internal parts temporally interacting with each other, yet each decree explain and is the foundation of the next. A syllogism does not cause the truth of the conclusion, nor does the math equation 1/3 cause .3333… to increase infinitely.

Me: “But in a logical and ontological order, the Son proceeds from the Father.”

Thee: If the Father transmits a (the) divine essence to the Son, then that transaction involves causal priority as well as logical and/or ontological priority.

Again, why?

Me: “This does not follow from eternal generation.”

Thee: How does making the generation eternal avoid making the Son a creature of the Father? Why wouldn’t that simply make him an eternal creature?

Because God is not a creature. The Divine essence is numerically one.

Me: “The generation may be seen as natural and necessary rather than volitional.”

Thee: And where’s your argument for that claim?

Clearly some things we do are natural and others are by choice. Sadly, not even all generation is by choice.

Thee: If the Son and Spirit receive their essence from the Father, then what necessitates the Father to transmit his divine essence to another party?

It could be via His nature.

Thee: Did you get that from exegetical theology? Philosophical theology? What?

I don't take a strong stance on this question, but I am inclined to speculate it's natural rather than volitional based on philosophical theology.

Me: “You undersell natural generation and oversell eternal generation to make space for this problem. In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity.”

Thee: i) Parceling the Trinity into three different parts doesn’t strike me as a terribly promising way to preserve the unity of the Godhead. On your explanation, the Father possesses the whole nature while the Son and Spirit only possess a part of the essence.

I didn't parce the Trinity into three different parts; the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence.

Me: “Indeed without it, I doubt monotheism can be defended. Three distinct divine essences that are of them divine, is tri-theism.”

Thee: I don’t think that a modalistic paradigm of the Trinity is preferable to tritheistic paradigm.

Right, neither represent the Trinity well.

Thee: iv) As I’ve already said to you, as well as having said on other occasions, if we want a model of how the Godhead can be three-in-one, I think enantiomorphic symmetries afford a more satisfactory illustration.

The pyramid analogy has problems as well, the least of which is it’s susceptible to pyramid power jokes.

Me: “Now it's true that the metaphor is restricted. Natural generation is in time, not eternal and only part of the nature is transferred, not the whole. And this is because we know God is one and eternal. Are these restrictions add hoc?”

Thee: i) Eternality doesn’t distinguish between generic and numeric unity.

ii) Procession doesn’t distinguish between generic and numeric unity.

True, but God's being one does. Hum… when I say eternal generation preserves the unity of the Trinity, I am not say the metaphor grants us full understanding. Rather, I am saying the reality the metaphor represents unites the three persons.

Thee: iii) You also need to justify your use of these metaphors in the first place. Why should we frame our formulation of the immanent Trinity in terms of generation and procession? For my part, I’ve already discussed the traditional prooftexts.

Fine. Besides the passages on the generation of the Son, we have other texts that help us understand the generation analogy. For example:

John 6:57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

So the Son's life is because of the Father.

Also we have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God.

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”

Revelation 3:12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,

Colossians 1:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

Further, we have passages where the Father gives authority to the Son

Philippians 2:9-11 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

John 17:2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.

John 5:22-26 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,

Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Hebrews 1:2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Mark 9:37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

John 7:16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.

Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.

Me: “But I like the rays of the sun or a river flowing from a lake.”

Thee: i) River water from lake water is a case of generic unity, not numeric unity.

ii) And it also involves you in a cause-and-effect relation. The lake causes the river.

Same problems with your solar metaphor.

How about the brightness of His glory?

Me: “On the other hand, if Leibniz is really saying that logically two things can't be identical, and you accept his principle, that rules out your own understanding of consubtantiallity.”

Thee: i) Of course you’re equivocating. The persons of the Godhead aren’t identical in every respect: otherwise, they wouldn’t be distinct persons.

If x and y are distinct then there is at least one property that x has and y does not, or vice versa.
Conversely, if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y.

ii) It’s not my job to make sense of your terminology. You were the one who defined numerical unity/simplicity in contrast to “ just two things with identical properties.”

My concern here isn't the divine persons but the divine essence. If the Son's divinity is somehow unlike the Father's in your view, that's a denial of consubstantially to go along with your denial of eternal generation. But you previously asserted you accepted consubstantiality. So by your principles either Leibniz's rule or your view of consubstantiality has to go.

However Leibniz's rule is perfectly consistent with one divine essence, nor do I see a problem with three persons sharing one essence.

Me: “But you deny they have their essence from another (either eternally or via origination), no? So in one sense they are of themselves or auto-theos, no?”

Thee: “Of themselves” connotes sourcehood. By contrast, there is nothing above, beyond, or behind the persons. They aren’t “from” themselves anymore than they are “from” another. We’ve already arrived at a bedrock fact. The end of the explanatory trail.

Three first principles is tri-theism.

Me: “How can the Father be Christ's God, if He does not receive His essence from the Father. How can He be His Son, without eternal generation?”

Thee: i) The metaphor of fatherhood/sonship...

That the Father is Christ's God is not a metaphor.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big Game Tonight

Hard to remember a time Dallas was under more pressure. Having beaten the Eagles twice already this year, we are suppose to win. But the Eagles have a good defense and can score quickly. Also, last time Dallas won a playoff game, I was a freshman in college and a Calvinist. Either Dallas or the Eagles are going into the off season with a bad taste in their mouth. The way the boys have been playing I think we will win. Go Cowboys!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Steve Hays on Eternal Procession

Steve Hays' post denying eternal procession in the Nicene creed caught my eye. (link) Here's our recent exchange (link).

1. I don’t regard Wikipedia as the gold standard of theological discourse.

Nor do I, but it is popular and common.

2. ”Consubstantial” simply means “of one and the same substance or essence” (OED).

Yes, but in the context of the Arian dispute, it carries an additional connotation, since neither side considered multiple divine essences.

3. At a minimum, the purpose of the homoousios clause was to exclude the notion that the Son is merely of “like essence” with the Father, rather than identical essence.

True, that's the core.

4. From what I’ve read, there’s a scholarly dispute over the more specialized question of whether homoousios was also meant to denote generic identity or numeric identity.

You appealed to Calvin. Here's what he had to say on the subject:

While he proclaims his unity, he distinctly sets it before us as existing in three persons. These we must hold, unless the bare and empty name of Deity merely is to flutter in our brain without any genuine knowledge. Moreover, lest any one should dream of a threefold God, or think that the simple essence is divided by the three Persons, we must here seek a brief and easy definition which may effectually guard us from error. But as some strongly inveigh against the term Person as being merely of human inventions let us first consider how far they have any ground for doing so. (Instant Toots I 13.2)

So while Calvin may have done some groundwork for your views, he didn't go that far. He didn't leave the orthodox fold. Your views seem closer to Adam Clarke than John Calvin.

5. You confuse the semantic question of what the word or concept means with philosophical question of how the Trinitarian persons can be consubstantial. That’s not a semantic question. Rather, that’s a question for philosophical theology. A Christian can affirm the consubstantiality of the Trinitarian persons without having to endorse any particular explanation.

6. I don’t have to explain how the Trinitarian persons are consubstantial to affirm their consubstantiality. I certainly don’t require a philosophical explanation or justification for my affirmation. Rather, it’s sufficient for me to affirm their consubstantiality in case I have exegetical warrant for the full divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

There is a difference between what consubstantial means with how it can be. No one has any idea as to how the Trinitarian persons can be consubstantial, but that doesn't mean we don't know if consubstantial means numeric or generic identity.

7. Sexual metaphors like “generation” as well as kinematic metaphors like “procession,” don’t begin to explain the way in which the persons of the Godhead are consubstantial.

i) For one thing, a metaphor is, by definition, figurative rather than literal.

ii) For another thing, a metaphor posits an analogy between one thing and another.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), you need to delimit the intended scope of the metaphor to isolate and identify the literal comparison.


8. How do you decipher these metaphors? Do you think they stand for a source of origin and/or mode of origin? Do you think the Father caused the Son and the Spirit to be?

Through generation essence is passed from one to anther. In the Trinity, generation provides for the mode of continuation of existence. Not origination, for the Son is unoriginated. Not caused, for cause implies temporalityand this generation is eternal. But in a logical and ontological order, the Son proceeds from the Father.

If so, then that reduces the Son and the Spirit to the level of a creature. It also suggests some form of pantheism, like Neoplatonic emanationism.

This does not follow from eternal generation.

Or else it treats the Son and the Spirit as contingent beings whom the Father wills into being. That’s a self-defeating way to affirm the full divinity of the Son and the Spirit.

The generation may be seen as natural and necessary rather than volitional.

9. If your objective is to preserve numerical identity of the Father and Son, then “generation” undermines your objective since what is begotten shares the same specific nature as the begetter, but not the same numerical nature. Both the begetter and the begotten are property-instances of a generic quality. They concretely exemplify an abstract exemplar, which stands over and above them.

If you’re going to make an exception in the case of the Trinity, then that betrays the inherent limitations of the metaphor. And you need to show why your exception isn’t an ad hoc restriction on the controlling metaphor.

You undersell natural generation and oversell eternal generation to make space for this problem. In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity. Indeed without it, I doubt monotheism can be defended. Three distinct divine essences that are of them divine, is tri-theism.

Now it's true that the metaphor is restricted. Natural generation is in time, not eternal and only part of the nature is transferred, not the whole. And this is because we know God is one and eternal. Are these restrictions add hoc? Why can't we include what we know about the recipients of an analogy in understanding the analogy. Is it add hoc for me to think that if someone calls me chicken that they mean I am scared rather than that I have feathers and a beak?

10. The Bible doesn’t explain how the Trinitarian persons are consubstantial. And I doubt we could even grasp the explanation.


11. The best that philosophical theology can do is to offer analogies. And that can be useful as far as it goes. But even in that respect, we can come up with better analogies than generation and procession to illustrate the consubstantiality of the Trinitarian persons. As I’ve said in the past, I think the principle of symmetry is a better analogy.

At some point all analogies break down and crack and become messy like the egg analogy. But I like the rays of the sun or a river flowing from a lake. What's your preference, three dancers in unison?

12. Your effort to contrast two things that share an essence which is numerically one and simple over against two things with identical properties is decidedly unclear. For if two things share identical properties, then they are really one thing rather than two, according to Leibniz’ law (i.e. the identity of indiscernibles).

So if you have two identical glasses of water in each hand, what happens if you drink one? Did you really drink them both?

On the other hand, if Leibniz is really saying that logically two things can't be identical, and you accept his principle, that rules out your own understanding of consubtantiallity.

13. I don’t think the Trinitarian persons have the same essence “of themselves,” as if each person is the “source” of his own essence (if that’s what you mean), for sourcehood is inapplicable to a divine mode of subsistence.

But you deny they have their essence from another (either eternally or via origination), no? So in one sense they are of themselves or auto-theos, no?

14. Since you seem to think Eph 1:3 is in tension with my position, it’s up to you to spell out why you deem that to be so.

How can the Father be Christ's God, if He does not receive His essence from the Father. How can He be His Son, without eternal generation?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Arminius on Regeneration

The purpose of this paper is to delineate Arminius’ view on regeneration. The Arminian view on regeneration is frequently been mischaracterized, both by Calvinistic opponents, as well as adherents to his views. His view is often mischaracterized as semi-Pelagian (the view that man initiates salvation, but God completes) and sometimes go as far as to say Arminius denied original sin. Since to goal of this paper is to outline Arminius’ view, and not to defend the doctrines themselves, there will be a large number of quotations from Arminius and only a limited amount of scriptural exegesis.

We will begin with a brief explanation of Arminius view of pre-fallen Adam, showing that his view was that Adam required grace to avoid sin. Next, we will show Arminius’ view of the disabling effects of the fall. Then we will cover the restorative nature of regeneration. Then we will cover the most controversial part, the order of salvation, in which we will outline Arminius’ view of the three states of man. Finally, we will cover the specifics of how regeneration operates on the mind and will of men.

Arminius taught that regeneration is the rebirth or a spiritual birth. It’s the illumination of the mind from darkness to spiritual truth and inclination of the will from evil towards the spiritual good. In order to fully understand what Arminius taught about regeneration, it’s necessary to start with a brief explanation from Arminius on Adam in his original state, and then mankind in their fallen state.

Adam in his Original State

Arminius taught that Adam had the ability to avoid sin but only through God’s grace.

“In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.” (link)

The “through grace” aspect, thought not unique to Arminius, is different than some theologians. Some say that Adam had this ability through nature. Arminius taught that: 1) God and Adam were in a covenant, 2) Adam was filled with the Holy Spirit, 3) Adam and Eve were the first church, and 4) only through grace could Adam avoid sin.

His reason for teaching God and Adam were in a covenant was based on Genesis 2:17:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

In this command, he found an implicit promise to bless. And since the blessing was spiritual life not just natural life, Adam must have had a spiritual gift. Arminius thought that “supernatural happiness cannot be acquired by the powers of nature alone”. link Therefore, it was through spiritual assistance that Adam was able to obtain the spiritual blessing. If Adam had kept the law, he would have been translated to heaven:

“So, likewise, if they had persisted in their obedience to both laws, we think it very probable that, at certain periods, men would have been translated from this natural life, by the intermediate change of the natural, mortal and corruptible body, into a body spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible, to pass a life of immortality and bliss in heaven.” (link)

It is this spiritual blessing, eternal life, that made it necessary for Adam to be given the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The Effects of the Fall

Arminius taught that God’s punishments for the fall were 1) deprivation of the Holy Ghost 2) liability for physical death 3) liability for spiritual death 4) the curse on the ground, pain in childbearing, toil and so forth.

The Holy Spirit was removed because of Divine displeasure.

“The withdrawing of that primitive righteousness and holiness, which, because they are the effects of the Holy Spirit dwelling in man, ought not to have remained in him after he had fallen from the favor of God, and had incurred the Divine displeasure. (Luke 19:26.) For this Spirit is a seal of God’s favor and good will. (Romans 8:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 2:12.)” (link)

This deprivation of the Holy Spirit and “withdrawing of primitive righteousness” left Adam incapable of thinking, wanting or doing anything good.

“But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good.” (link)

Understanding man’s original and fallen state helps set the stage for understanding what Arminius had to say about the new birth or re-generation.

The New Birth

Arminius does not have a public or private disputation dedicated to the topic of regeneration. His most prominent writings on the subject are found in his commentary on the 7th chapter of Romans especially part 1 “Thesis to be Proved”, article 16 of his Apology against Certain Theological Articles and Article 20 in Certain Articles to be Diligently Weighed and Examined.

In his commentary on Romans 7, Arminius contrasts the regenerate man with the “almost saved” man described in passages such as Hebrews 6:4-6 & 2 Peter 2:20-22. These people had experienced the Holy Ghost, but were not yet regenerate. He emphasizes that the regenerate is free from the bondage of and experiences victory over sin. He uses this description to contrast a regenerate man to the man described in the second half of Romans 7 who is under the bondage of sin.

The regenerate man, through the assistance of grace, is enabled to think, will and do what is truly good.

"When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace." (link)

Regeneration restores every part of man, his mind, will, desires and thoughts:

"Regeneration not only illuminates the mind and conforms the will, but it likewise restrains and regulates the affections, and directs the external and the internal members to obedience to the divine law." (link)

His view was that regeneration restores man back to the state they were in innocence. This can be seen from his frequently appeals to Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24 to describe regeneration.

"This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Genesis 1:26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (2:17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.) (link)

Col 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him

Eph 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Adam was created in the image of God, but that image was damaged by the fall. Regeneration renews that image and corrects what that fall corrupted. Adam was able to sin or not, so therefore the regenerate man is able to sin or refrain from sin. He views the Calvinist position that regeneration necessitates that a person believes as opposed to leaving man’s options open as contrary to restoration.

“For, if we do not say that the mind of a man may possibly be inclined in another direction, even at the time when it is inclined in a given direction by efficacious grace, it follows that the will of man acts not according to the mode of liberty, but according to the mode of nature, and thus not the free-will, but the nature of man, will be saved. But the free-will, at least as to its exercise, will be, in that case, destroyed by grace, while it belongs to grace not to take away, but to correct nature itself, wherein it has become corrupt.” (link)

The Order of Salvation

In his commentary on Romans 7, Arminius also made an important point that would later become a major point of contention between the Reformed and Arminian camps. Arminius said that regeneration completes only after saving faith. Arminius’ reason that faith must come first was that regeneration is given through our union with Christ and we are united to Christ through faith.

“Besides, even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken, and consisting of the mortification or death of the old man, and the vivification of the new man, as Calvin has, in the same passage of his Institutes, openly declared, and in a manner which agrees with the Scriptures and the nature of faith. For Christ becomes ours by faith, and we are engrafted into Christ, are made members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones, and, being thus planted with him, we coalesce or are united together, that we may draw from him the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, by which power the old man is mortified and we rise again into a new life”. (link)

The premises Arminius followed, that lead him to the conclusion that regeneration follows faith, was that regeneration comes about through union with Christ. If we are united to Christ through faith, and regeneration completes through union with Christ, then regeneration follows faith. Looking at the passage of scripture Arminius uses to define regeneration, we gain a fuller understanding of where he was coming from.

Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

Here are Arminius’ comments on this verse:

"Let us consider the third verse, in which the same thing may appear still more plainly to us; for in it the cause is explained why men who are under the law, cannot be made free from the dominion and condemnation of sin; but it is shown that this is obtained for them and effected by Christ. But the cause is this, because deliverance from the law of sin and death, or freedom from condemnation, could not be obtained except by the condemnation of sin, that is, except sin had been previously despoiled of the [assumed] right which it possessed, and of its power which it exercised over men who were subject to it. But it possessed the right and power of exercising dominion and of killing. But sin could not be despoiled of its right, and deprived of its power, by the law; for the law was rendered "weak, through the flesh," for the performance of such an arduous service.

When God saw this state of things, and was unwilling the unhappy race of men should be perpetually detained under the tyranny and condemnation of sin, "he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and indeed for sin," that is, for destroying it, and he condemned sin in the flesh of his Son, who bore sin in his own body [on the tree] and took away from it that authority over us which it possessed, and weakened its powers." (link)

Notice how he is interpreting the verse that Christ, through His death, took away sins authority and rule over us through our flesh. Since union to Christ with respect to His death is essential to the death of our old man, then regeneration must complete after we are united to Christ through faith.

Rom 6:4-7 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.

Here are Arminius’ comments on this passage:

"For mortification and vivification, which, as integral parts, contain the whole of regeneration, are completed in us by our participation of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Romans 6.)" (link)

Other passages Arminius used to defend this order were:

Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

2Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name

Debatably, Reformed authors up to this point (most notably Calvin, Beza and Brucer), had not taken a firm position if the new birth precedes or comes after faith in the order of salvation. Arminius argued that they view regeneration as following faith. However, subsequent Calvinists have taken a clear stance that regeneration precedes faith.

Although, Arminius did say that faith precedes regeneration, this can be a confusing point. It’s confusing because Arminius does say that salvation is necessary to do anything good, of which saving faith eminently is. How can faith precede regeneration, if regeneration is first needed to think, want or do anything good?

The resolution is in Arminius’ use of two senses for the term regeneration. At times Arminius used regeneration in the sense of the completed work of the Holy Spirit. That is a man that has a new nature. At other times, Arminius used the term as the process by which the Holy Spirit gives us a new nature. The former “regeneration” is regeneration “strictly taken” and comes after faith. The latter “regeneration” or rather the “grace that belongs to regeneration” comes before faith.

Arminius lays down stages for man:

1) unregenerate (no motions of the Holy Sprit)
2) preparation for regeneration (fear and sorrow through the law)
3) regeneration
a. in process regeneration (repentance)
b. completed regeneration (after faith, through union with Christ)

We will get into the distinctions between these stages, but at this point it’s worth pointing out that this is simply different then reformed theology. Without getting into the details, we simply say regeneration as a process, not a one time event.

"The First that this work of regeneration and illumination is not completed in one moment; but that it is advanced and promoted, from time to time, by daily increase. For "our old man is crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed," (Romans 6:6,) and "that the inward man may be renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16.) For this reason, in regenerate persons, as long as they inhabit these mortal bodies, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit." (Galatians 5:17.)" (link)

The first important distinction among the unregenerate is between those who are entirely hardened in their sins and those whom the Holy Spirit is starting to bring to fear of God.

But an unregenerate man is, not only he who is entirely blind, ignorant of the will of God, knowingly and willingly contaminating himself by sins without any remorse of conscience, affected with no sense of the wrath of God, terrified with no compunctions visits of conscience, not oppressed with the burden of sin, and inflamed with no desire of deliverance — but it is also he who knows the will of God but does it not, who is acquainted with the way of righteousness, but departs from it — who has the law of God written in his heart, and has thoughts mutually accusing and excusing each other — who receives the word of the gospel with gladness, and for a season rejoices in its light — who comes to baptism, but either does not receive the word itself in a good heart, or, at least, does not bring forth fruit — who is affected with a painful sense of sin, is oppressed with its burden, and who sorrows after a godly sort — who knows that righteousness cannot be acquired by the law, and who is, therefore, compelled to flee to Christ.

"For all these particulars, in what manner soever they be taken, do not belong to the essence and the essential parts of regeneration, penitence, or repentance, which are mortification and vivification and quickening1; but they are only things preceding, and may have some place among the beginnings, and, if such be the pleasure of any one, they may be reckoned the causes of penitence and regeneration, as Calvin has learnedly and nervously explained them in his Christian Institutes." (link)

Arminius did not take a firm stance as to whether or not this preparatory work of initial fear was itself regeneration, but he leaned away from that direction and preferred to think of it as a distinct step, in-between the completely regenerate and the completely unregenerate.

"From this order, it appears that some acts of the Holy Spirit are occupied concerning those who are unregenerate, but who are to be born again, and that some operations arise from them in the minds of those who are not yet regenerate, but who are to be born again. But I do not attempt to determine whether these be the operations of the Spirit as He is the regenerator. I know that, in Romans 8:15-17, the apostle distinguishes between the Spirit of adoption and the spirit of bondage. I know that, in 2 Corinthians 3:6-11, he distinguishes between the ministration of the law and of death, and the ministration of the gospel and of the Spirit. I know the apostle said, when he was writing to the Galatians, that the Spirit is not received by the works of the law, but by the faith of the gospel of Christ. And I think that we must make a distinction between the Spirit as he prepares a temple for himself, and the same Spirit as He inhabits that temple when it is sanctified. Yet I am unwilling to contend with any earnestness about this point — whether these acts and operations may be attributed to the Spirit, the regenerator, not as He regenerates, but as He prepares the hearts of men to admit the efficiency of regeneration and renovation." (link)

The Holy Spirit’s goal of this distinct step is to prepare a person for the work of regeneration, but the effect of the Spirit’s work is fear, not repentance and faith. So the Holy Spirit first brings a person to fear, and then in a separate act brings a person to faith. On this point Arminius referred to Romans 8:15 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”, which seems to indicate two works for the Holy Spirit. But the end goal of the Spirit’s work of fear and regeneration is the same: our conversion.

"The proper effect of the law is, that it convicts us of being inexcusably guilty of sin, subjects us to the curse, and condemns us, (Gal. 3,) and when we are deeply affected with the smart of sin and condemnation, it renders us, anxious and earnest in our desires for the grace of God. Hence, arises that of the apostle, which is the subject of his investigation in Romans 7, and at the close of which he exclaims, O wretched man that l am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? THE GRACE OF GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST."

"But is this, therefore, the work of the regenerating Spirit?" With regard to the END, I confess that it is; but with regard to the EFFECT itself, I dare not make any assertion. For mortification and vivification, which, as integral parts, contain the whole of regeneration, are completed in us by our participation of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Rom. 6.) In Romans viii, 15, the apostle distinguishes between "the Spirit of bondage to fear," and "the Spirit of adoption." Many persons denominate the former of these, "a legal Spirit," and the latter "the Spirit of the gospel of Christ." I, therefore, make the service of the Spirit of bondage to precede that of the Spirit of adoption, though both of them tend to one design. (link)

This step is technically still fits under the term unregenerate, but with a distinction. In his Apology he spells out the difference between an unregenerate man and a man undergoing regeneration:

"For 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)

One final distinction to note, albeit too subtle to be called an independent step, is between those undergoing regeneration, and those who have completed regeneration.

“Let us now see about the regenerate and the unregenerate man. That we may define him with strictness, as it is proper to do in oppositions and distinctions, we say that a regenerate man is one who is so called, not from the commenced act or operation of the Holy Spirit, though this is regeneration, but from the same act or operation when it is perfected with respect to its essential parts, though not with respect to its quantity and degree” (link)

The Holy Spirit’s work prior to faith is two parts, impacting both fear and repentance. The Holy Spirit’s work during repentance is an essential part of regeneration, but it is still not yet complete. The Holy Spirit completes regeneration after faith and it is an entire change: the old man being mortified and the new arising. Thus those undergoing regeneration are able to have faith in Christ, but regeneration does not complete till after the person believes.

Coming back to the question of how can an unregenerate man do anything that pleases God, in addition to different stages of regeneration, Arminius also saw a distinction in the way things are “pleasing to God”.

"Are the works of the unregenerate [those Arminius would have understood as undergoing the process of regeneration], which proceed from the powers of nature, so pleasing to God, as to induce Him on account of them to confer supernatural and saving grace on those who perform them?

Christ says, "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Not, indeed, because such is the worthiness and the excellence of the use of any blessing conferred by God, either according to nature or to grace, that God should be moved by its merits to confer greater benefits; but, because such are the benignity and liberality of God, that, though these works are unworthy, yet He rewards them with a larger blessing. Therefore the word "pleasing" admits of two meanings, we can reply to the question proposed in two ways — either affirmatively, if that word be viewed as signifying "to please," "to find favor in his eyes," and "to obtain complacency for itself;" or negatively if "placeo" be received for that which it also signifies, "to please by its own excellence." Yet it might be said, that good works are rewarded, in a moral view, not so much through the powers of nature, as by some operation in them of the Holy Spirit." (link)

This differentiation in terminology makes communication difficult between the Reformed and Arminians and when one or the other side seeks a simple yes or no answer they receive back something rather complex. But the summary is this: those in the process of regeneration, but are not yet completely regenerate, cannot perform an act that is good of its own excellence, but can perform one which God chooses to graciously reward.

Response to the Argument that Faith is Made a Work

Arminius’ response to the common Calvinistic argument that Arminians make faith a work would be that the work is performed by God not us. Our initial response to grace is passive, not active. We cannot commence grace, nor carry out its completion. We cannot do anything that earns salvation. We simply don’t use our ability to resist. We don’t choose to accept converting grace, but rather, don’t choose to reject it.

“In the very commencement of his conversion, man conducts himself in a purely passive manner; that is, though, by a vital act, that is, by feeling, he has a perception of the grace which calls him, yet he can do no other than receive it and feel it. But, when he feels grace affecting or inclining his mind and heart, he freely assents to it, so that he is able at the same time to withhold his assent”. (link)

A More Precise Understanding of How Regeneration Works

Arminius made his boldest theological statement in Certain Articles to be Diligently Weighed and Examined. These were perhaps musings as opposed to articles he held as convictions. In any case, we come across a statement on regeneration which might easily be passed by, or might advance our understanding of regeneration bit deeper. He said:

“The proximate subject of regeneration, which is effected in the present life by the Spirit of Christ, is the mind and the affections of man, or the will considered according to the mode of nature, not the will considered according to the mode of liberty. It is not the body of man, though man, when renewed by regeneration through his mind and feelings, actually wills in a good manner, and performs well through the instruments of the body.” (link)

To understand this statement, we need to understand the difference between the will acting in the mode of nature and the will acting in the mode of liberty. In perusing Arminius’ other writings, we find some statements that make the will acting in the mode of nature sound like a physical impulse or automatic reaction.

Here’s a quote in which he is talking about God’s providential prevention of acts performed by the freewill of men.

"An impediment is placed by the Deity, upon the propensity and the will of a rational creature, in a two-fold mode, according to which God can act on the will. For He acts on the will either by the mode of nature, or according to the mode of the will and its freedom. The action, by which He affects the will, according to the mode of nature, may be called physical impulse; that, by which He acts on the same, according to the mode of the will and its freedom, will be suitably styled suasion. God acts, therefore, preventively on the will either by physical impulse or by suasion, that it may not will that, to which it is inclined by any propensity. He acts preventively on the will, by physical impulse, when He acts upon it, by the mode of nature, that, from it may necessarily result the prevention of an act, to which the creature is inclined by any propensity. Thus the evil disposition of the Egyptians towards the Israelites seems, in the judgment of some, to have been prevented from injuring them." (link)

From this it’s clear that the mode of nature, as opposed to the mode of freedom, results in a necessary act. That is, the will acting according to the mode of nature cannot be otherwise or can only produce one result. But the will acting according to the mode of freedom is able to produce this or that result. So Arminius is saying that not every act proceeding from man’s will is free.

His view was that when the will is acting naturally and not freely, man is not responsible. Freedom is fundamental for responsibility.

“For the former has this effect, that the will may consent to the sin, but the latter has no such effect, though that consent is not according to the mode of free-will, but according to that of nature, in which mode only, God can so move the will, that it may be moved necessarily, that is, that it cannot but be moved. And in this relation, the will, as it consents by nature to sin, is free from guilt; for sin, as such, is of free-will, and tend towards its object, according to the mode of its own freedom. The law is enacted not for nature but for the will, for the will as it acts not according to the mode of nature, but according to the mode of freedom.” (link)

However, this gives rise to the questions of how the will is necessitated and why does it have a mode of nature at all?

In Arminius’ discussion of the will of God he gives some hints. The necessity has to do with the relationship between the will and its object (i.e. what is willed).

“The will of God is borne towards its object either according to the mode of nature, or that of liberty. In reference to the former, God tends towards his own primary, proper and adequate object, that is, towards himself. But, according to the mode of liberty, he tends towards other things -- and towards all other things by the liberty of exercise, and towards many by the liberty of specification; because he cannot hate things, so far as they have some likeness of God, that is, so far as they are good; though he is not necessarily bound to love them, since he might reduce them to nothing whenever it seemed good to himself.” (link)

This concept came from Aquinas, who influenced Arminius’ thought greatly. Aquinas taught that the will always moves to good, just as the mind always moves to truth. The freedom of the will isn’t in the ability to want evil, but rather in specifying the means of obtaining its end goal. The problem isn’t that we don’t want good, but that we are sometimes unable to identify what is good.

“The will is a rational appetite. Now every appetite is only of something good. The reason of this is that the appetite is nothing else than an inclination of a person desirous of a thing towards that thing. Now every inclination is to something like and suitable to the thing inclined. Since, therefore, everything, inasmuch as it is being and substance, is a good, it must needs be that every inclination is to something good. And hence it is that the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that "the good is that which all desire."

But it must be noted that, since every inclination results from a form, the natural appetite results from a form existing in the nature of things: while the sensitive appetite, as also the intellective or rational appetite, which we call the will, follows from an apprehended form. Therefore, just as the natural appetite tends to good existing in a thing; so the animal or voluntary appetite tends to a good which is apprehended. Consequently, in order that the will tend to anything, it is requisite, not that this be good in very truth, but that it be apprehended as good. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 3) that "the end is a good, or an apparent good." (link)

Aquinas concluded that if the will were to be presented with an object that it sees as good, and only good, it would necessarily acts on it.

“Wherefore if the will be offered an object which is good universally and from every point of view, the will tends to it of necessity, if it wills anything at all; since it cannot will the opposite. If, on the other hand, the will is offered an object that is not good from every point of view, it will not tend to it of necessity.” (link)

It’s the exact correspondence of the nature of the will to its object that would give rise to necessity. However, when an object might be seen as good in some respects and not in other respects, the will is free to choose or not choose it.

"If, on the other hand, the will is offered an object that is not good from every point of view, it will not tend to it of necessity. And since lack of any good whatever, is a non-good, consequently, that good alone which is perfect and lacking in nothing, is such a good that the will cannot not-will it: and this is Happiness. Whereas any other particular goods, in so far as they are lacking in some good, can be regarded as non-goods: and from this point of view, they can be set aside or approved by the will, which can tend to one and the same thing from various points of view." (link)

So the mode of nature is the source of desires. The will can only desire good. If the object is only good, the will necessarily moves a man towards that object. If the object is part good and part bad, the will remains free. The will cannot desire what isn’t good. So good, is somewhat of a guardrail, which the will cannot pass.

To give an example let’s say the objects of the will are A, B, C & D. If A is only good, the will necessarily moves us to A. If D is only bad, the will cannot choose D. If B and C are part good and part bad, the will is free to select between them.

So if the will only desires good, and man can choose what is at least good in part, why can’t the unregenerate man choose to obey God’s law?

This is because the unregenerate mind cannot see that the law is good, in every respect, and because the unregenerate will cannot desire what is spiritually good. In order to understand this, we must first understand the difference between the naturally and spiritually good. What is naturally good, is good for the body or good for us mentally. What is spiritually good, is good for the soul. Arminius explained this difference when explaining man’s depravity, but dismissed natural good as unimportant to the discussion of man’s depravity.

"The Good Things presented to man are three, natural, which he has in common with many other creatures; animal, which belong to him as a man; and spiritual, which are also deservedly called Celestial or Divine, and which are consentaneous to him as being a partaker of the Divine Nature. ….But because it is of little importance to our present purpose to investigate what may be the powers of free will to understand, to will, and to do natural and animal good things; we will omit them, and enter on the consideration of spiritual good, that concerns the spiritual life of man, which he is bound to live according to godliness, inquiring from the Scriptures what powers man possesses, while he is in the way of this animal life, to understand, to will, and to do spiritual good things, which alone are truly good and pleasing to God." (link)

This diagram with examples helps differentiate between natural and spiritual good.

From Arminian Pics

The unregenerate man’s will only seeks the naturally good. This helps explain why unsaved people do so many things that seems on the surface to be obedient to God’s law, but they never do them out of a love for God. On the other hand, the regenerate man seeks what is spiritually good. They fail in the identification of the spiritually good, but they want what is spiritual good.

Regeneration does not necessitate that we believe or do good. Rather it changes the will so that its desire isn’t just what’s naturally good, but also what is spiritual good. Without regeneration, the will’s object is natural good only, but with regeneration we desire what is spiritually good.

The mode of nature sometimes specifies an action. In this case the action is necessary. At other times, however, the mode of nature acts as a guard rail. Things within certain boundaries may be chosen, but things outside those boundaries may not be chosen. The boundary is that the mind must see some good in an object, for the will to be able to choose it.

So, in summary, the will acting in the mode of nature, acts necessarily and not freely. The limitation on action is either complete or partial. In the case of an object presented to the will, which is seen as good in every respect, the will is completely limited to that object. In the case that objects have some good and some bad in them, the will may choose or not choose them. In the cause that object is all bad, the will cannot choose it.

So what did Arminius mean when he said that regeneration acts on the will according to the mode of nature, not the mode of freedom?

Regeneration moves the “boundaries” to include spiritual good. Now, the mind is able to see and the will is able to desire what is spiritually good. In this life, we only see that good in part, and hence we are still free to choose or not choose that good. But with regeneration, spiritual good is now an option.

1 Another distinction here is the difference between essential and non-essential elements of regeneration. Holy Spirit’s working repentance in us is an essential part of regeneration, but initial fear is not. Arminius spoke of initial fear, that is different to, but a precursor to repentance. This initial fear is brought about by the law showing sinners that they are sinners and that they are under judgment. As soon as one moves from fear to a turning from sin, they are undergoing an essential part of regeneration.