Category Archives: Soteriology

Rome’s anathemas against those who believe in justification by faith alone

Protestants are often accused of being arrogant, intolerant Catholic-bashing bigots when we point out that Rome’s gospel, being as it is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9), is a false and damnable one. Many evangelicals today seem to be oblivious to the fact that it was actually the church of Rome whom had officially anathematized Protestants as far back as the sixteenth-century at the Council of Trent. In other words, if we are “Catholic-bashers”, they were “Protestant-bashers” first. It is for this reason that Rome’s not-so-tolerant response to the reawakening of the true gospel was appropriately termed the Counter-Reformation. Naturally, if the gospel of grace which imputes sinners with the righteousness of Christ by virtue of His propitiatory work with no help of the sacramental sorcery of priestcraft, then the church of Rome is out of business.

In actual fact, and in contrast to Rome’s well-documented history of literally bashing Protestant skulls, we do not wish to “bash” anyone but seek to faithfully uphold and proclaim the plain, unequivocal gospel of Christ’s all-sufficient (Hebrews 10:12), once-for-all (1 Peter 3:18) atoning work at Calvary for the sins of God’s elect.

Rome has stolen the words of the Apostle Paul and misapplied his anathemas of the Judaizers by boldly anathematizing those who in fact believe the biblical gospel which Paul himself preached. Robert Reymond explains:

“Paul twice calls down God’s ‘anathema’ on the Judaizers who were ‘trying to pervert the gospel of Christ’ by their law-ridden ‘gospel, which Is really no gospel at all’ (Gal. 1:8-9). His words deserve citation: ‘…even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned [anathema estō]! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.’

The first thing that must be noted from Paul’s statement is that for him the gospel—justification by faith alone in Christ’s saving work—was already a fixed message needing no additions or alterations to it in the mid-first century when he first came to the Galatian region and proclaimed it. Neither he nor an angel from heaven could alter it in any way or to any degree without falling under divine condemnation. The implication of Paul’s statement here is clear: irrespective of whatever else they may believe—including even every tenet of the Apostles’ Creed—they who would teach others that in order to be justified before God and thus go to heaven when they die they must, in addition to trusting Christ’s saving work, ‘keep the law,’ that is, perform meritorious good works of their own, are in actuality ‘false brothers’ and stand under God’s condemnation. Rome’s Tradition, which has corrupted the law-free gospel with its many additions, falls under such condemnation. In fact, the sad truth is that from the post-apostolic age to the present time many church fathers and many church communions, in addition to the Roman Catholic Church, have proclaimed ‘a different gospel’ and thus stand under Paul’s apostolic anathema.

As for the word ‘anathema’…[it should be understood as referring to the] principle of ‘devoting’ or handing something or someone over to God for his disposal, usually to destruction.”[1]

Dr. Tony Costa, Professor of Apologetics at Toronto Baptist Seminary addresses Rome’s anathemas against Protestants on Iron Sharpens Iron Radio. They also briefly engage the issue of Rome’s synergistic soteriology’s relationship to modern semi-pelagian “evangelicalism”. This episode is highly recommended.

 

[1] Reymond, R.L., The Reformation’s Conflict with Rome: Why it Must Continue, Christian Focus Publications, Great Britain, 2001, p. 20.

The man in Romans 7

Whether the Apostle Paul—speaking in the first person—is referring to himself as a regenerate man in Romans 7:14-25 or as yet his unregenerate state has historically been an area of disagreement among theologians. Of course, I make no pretense of being able to contribute anything new to help settle the debate, but I am persuaded that this latter half of Romans 7 is referring to Paul as regenerate.

A recent article by Fred Malone was particularly beneficial to me, but first, a few samples to show the diversity of opinions on this passage.

Initially, I imagined that the differences of opinion with regards to Romans 7 may have been the result of differing theological persuasions and presuppositions. While there does indeed appear to be a correlation between the “sinless perfectionists” and the conviction that Paul cannot be describing a believer, such a conclusion does not appear to be a necessary consequence of one’s soteriology.

Consider, for example, Wesleyan-Arminian Adam Clarke for the view that this “carnal” individual could not possibly refer to the converted Apostle:

“…by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer…. It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept in the Church, or prevailed there, that ‘the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.’ This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is, here, either personating a Jew under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightiest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Acts ix. 17.”[1]

It appears that Clarke was merely following the exegeses of John Wesley and Arminius before him. McGonigle writes that

“It is important to Arminius’ argument [in asserting that Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of the convicted unregenerate] to demonstrate that the New Testament never designates a man ‘carnal’ and ‘spiritual’ at the same time. Although regeneration is never complete in this life, it does extend its renewing power to every human faculty…. He saw this as descriptive of the awakened, but as yet unregenerate, sinner.”[2]

Note the confused soteriology in Arminius, according to McGonigle: “…regeneration is never complete in this life.” This reversal of the ordo salutis[3] is perpetuated in the teachings of John Wesley. According to W. R. Downing, confusion with regard to regeneration, conversion, justification and sanctification is one of the key characteristics of Wesleyan-Arminianism:

“Wesley held that ‘justifying faith,’ or conversion, was two-fold: first, the exercise of faith in response to prevenient grace, which justified; and second, regeneration, or the beginning of sanctification (holiness). He was the first to reverse the order of conversion and regeneration, and to change the nature of the latter.”[4]

JC Ryle, followed by fellow Calvinist Gordon H. Clark “in opposition to Wesley, [realizes] that Romans 7 describes Christian struggles and not an unregenerate lack of struggle. Ryle comforts Christians by pointing out that the struggle is itself an evidence of sanctification rather than an evidence of its lack.”[5]

Henry Thiessen, who “held a mediating view between Arminianism and Calvinism”[6] and was a colleague of Clark’s at Wheaton College (and aggressively pushed for Clark’s dismissal, due primarily to Clark’s consistent Calvinism[7]), wrote that “In the 7th of Romans Paul pictures his own condition, as an unsaved man in vss. 7-13 and as a saved man in vss. 14-24. He finds deliverance from a life of defeat, not in the eradication of the carnal nature, but in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:25).”[8] This seems to be inconsistent with Thiessen’s Arminian forefathers, yet, he goes on to favorably quote Charles Finney, that infamous Pelagian heretic who taught sinless perfection (among other more grievous errors). Despite heaps of evidence to the contrary,[9] Thiessen insists that Finney did not teach sinless perfection but merely “the importance of rising up to our privileges of victory.”[10]

Robert Reymond devotes an entire appendix to the question of “Whom does the man in Romans 7:14-25 Represent” in his brilliant systematic theology[11] and comes to the opposite conclusion of fellow Presbyterian Calvinist Gordon Clark asserting that Paul is referring to himself as yet unregenerate (being “carnal”).

Baptist John Gill (Calvinist) comments on “I am carnal, sold under sin”:

“From hence to the end of the chapter many are of opinion, that the apostle speaks in the person of an unregenerate man, or of himself as unregenerate; but nothing is more clear, than that he speaks all along of himself in the first person, ‘I am carnal’: (autov egw) , ‘I myself’, as in (Romans 7:25), and in the present tense of what he then was and found; whereas, when he speaks of his unregenerate state, and how it was with him under the first convictions of sin, he speaks of them as things past, (7:5-11); besides, several things which are said by the apostle can neither agree with him, nor any other, but as regenerate; such as to ‘hate evil’, ‘delight in the law of God’, and ‘serve it with the mind’, (7:15, 22, 25)[12]

All of this to say that the differing exegetical conclusions regarding Romans 7 do not appear to be driven by a particular soteriology or creedal hermeneutic, but tendencies toward perfectionism (be it relative or sinless) remain typical of Arminians and Pelagians.[13] That being the case, Romans 7 will either be a source of great encouragement or defeatism and discouragement depending on one’s exegesis. Consider now the following insightful article by Fred Malone at Founders Ministries as he makes the case that Romans 7:14-8:4 describes Paul as a believer:

The Man in Romans 7, by Fred Malone

The 7th chapter of Romans is teeming with important pastoral and theological insights. A careful study of it yields help for Christians who are confused or despondent over their remaining sin. Paul’s comments in 7:14-8:4 contain important practical principles which dispel many erroneous and superficial depictions of the Christian life.

Consider the following theological questions as we approach this text:

1. What is the function of God’s Law for the unconverted? What is the function of the Law for the converted? And which Law is God’s Law? The Ten Commandments; the Nine Commandments; more or less?

2. Is the man in Rom. 7:14-25 regenerate, unregenerate?

3. If the man is a Christian, is this his entire Christian experience? Is it a periodic lapse from which he recovers? Or is this only a normal part of the daily Christian walk? Does one ever get out of Rom. 7 into Rom. 8?

4. Does the Christian have one nature or two natures? Is the Christian an Old Man and a New Man butting heads? Or is the Christian one unified nature? Where does sin come from in the Christian life? The Old Man, the New Man, or the bodily flesh?

These vital questions, which have implications for evangelism, sanctification, pastoral care, assurance of salvation and more, must be answered in the light of the seventh chapter of Romans. Specifically, verses 14-25 should be studied.

The New Covenant Christian

By delineating the biblical characteristics of a New Covenant Christian and comparing them to Rom. 7:14-25 we recognize that the kind of person which Paul has in mind is nothing less than a believer.

From Jer. 31:31-34 (fulfilled in Hebrews 8 and 10), we learn that a New Covenant Christian has two main characteristics: (l) a new record and (2) a new heart. His new record through the work of Christ is described this way: “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” And this is the new heart provided by the work of the Spirit: “I will put my laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them.” This is what it means to be born again by God’s Spirit.

One of the major differences between the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant is this: God’s law has been internalized in every covenant believer by the regenerating work of the Spirit. The Christian has a new attitude toward God’s law as well as having the forgiveness of sins and the knowledge of God.

Which Law? The same law which Jeremiah understood when he prophesied; the same law the Israelites understood when they heard the prophecy; and the same law the Jewish readers of Hebrews understood. It is the only Law which God Himself wrote: the Ten Words, specifically called “the covenant” in Deut. 4:13. Old Testament exegesis demands this understanding of Law in Heb. 8:8-12. Further, Paul illustrates his meaning of moral Law in Rom. 7:7-25 by describing the tenth of the Ten Words in 7:7. God’s moral Law has not changed between the Old and the New Covenants. Rather, it has been internalized in the heart of every New Covenant believer.

In Rom. 7:7-13, Paul uses the first person, past tense to recount his pre-conversion state. Before conversion, he was blameless as a law-keeper in his own eyes and before his countrymen (Phil. 3:6). However, when the Tenth Commandment came to his conscience, “Thou shalt not covet,” it killed Paul before God. It stirred up his heart, revealed coveting before God, and killed his self-righteous soul sometime before (or when) he looked into the righteous face of Christ on the Damascus road.

Rom. 7:7-13 perfectly parallels Paul’s past tense description of every Christian’s pre-conversion state in 7:5: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body, to bear fruit for death.” In Paul’s unconverted state, God took the Sword of His Holy Law and pierced his heart, unleashing all manner of filth and degradation which killed him before God. There was nothing wrong with the Law. Paul was the problem.

In Rom. 7:14-8:4, Paul moves to the first person, present tense. This is a perfect parallel to the shift from the past tense in 7:5 to the present in 7:6: “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” The shift from the past pre-converted state of every believer in 7:5 to the present converted state in 7:6 is illustrated by Paul’s personal experience in 7:7-13 and 7:14-8:4 respectively. The man of 7:14-8:4 is described in the first person, present tense. He is Paul as a Christian.

What characterizes this Christian man? In 7:14, he believes that “the Law is spiritual.” In 7:22, he “joyfully concurs with (delights in) the Law of God in the inner man.” In 7:25, he serves the Law of God with his mind inwardly and spiritually in a way that he did not before. The Law, described as one of the Ten Words in 7:7, is no longer written only on tablets of stone. Now it is written on Paul’s heart by the Holy Spirit. This is exactly the description of the New Covenant Christian above.

J. I. Packer was once asked if he really thought that Paul’s use of the present tense in Rom. 7:14-25 refers to Paul as a believer. Dr. Packer’s learned and scholarly reply was: “Of course!” The man in Rom. 7:14-8:4 is a Christian.

Objections to this View

The main objection to this view argues that Paul uses a first person, historical present tense in 7:14-25 to describe his pre-Christian state. This position states that surely noChristian, much less Paul, could say “I am carnal, sold under sin . . . nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh . . . wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death” (7:14, 15, 25). Rather, the argument goes, this must be the non-Christian of 8:7-8.

The problem with this objection is that it refuses to let 7:14-25 be admitted as evidence for the Christian life. This is presuppositional. This word “carnal” is used in 1 Cor. 3:1-3 of Christians caught in particular sins and acting as “babes in Christ.” How were they “carnal?” They were arguing over the best preacher and his baptism. They were not totally “carnal” as is popularly conceived in the erroneous, so-called “carnal Christian” doctrine. Neither were they treated as non-Christians because they acted “carnal, fleshly” in this area of division over preachers. There is no such thing as a totally “carnal” Christian nor a totally “spiritual” one.

Paul’s claim, “I am carnal, sold into bondage to sin,” is explained by Horatius Bonar in the following way:

This is not the language of an unregenerate or half-regenerate man. When, however, he adds, “I am carnal, sold under sin,” is it really Paul, the new creature in Christ, that he is describing? It is; and they who think it impossible for a saint to speak thus, must know little of sin, and less of themselves. A right apprehension of sin; of one sin or fragment of sin (if such a thing there be), would produce the oppressive sensation here described by the apostle–a sensation 20 or 30 years progress would rather intensify than weaken. They are far mistaken in their estimate of evil, who think that it is the multitude of sins that gives rise to the bitter outcry, “I am carnal.” One sin left behind would produce the feeling here expressed. Who can say, “I need the Word less and the Spirit less than I did 20 years ago”?

The true Christian knows very well that every time he falls into sin that “The Law is spiritual . . . [but] I am carnal, sold into bondage to sin.”

The same man who cries “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death (of this body of death)?” also cries, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (7:25-8:1). This man is not convicted under the weight of his sin’s condemnation. he is groaning as a regenerate man convicted under the weight of his remaining condition of sin. He cries out to Jesus Christ for help because he wants to be free from the condition of indwelling sin.

Granted, this is not all that there is to Christian experience. The man in 7:14-25 is also the man in 8:1-4 at the same time. He repents (7:14-25) and believes (8:1-4) daily. Rom. 7:14-24 is but one aspect of the mature Paul and every Christian. All Christians feel within the inward struggle against remaining sin. This is the man in whom God has written his Law upon the heart and who mourns over his daily failures to please the God of Grace. If you see yourself in 7:14-25, you are in the company of an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

Practical Lessons

First, every Christian delights in the Law of God in the inner man, agreeing that it is spiritual and good. To put it another way: You cannot have Jesus as Savior unless you bow to Him as Lord. By the very definition of the New Covenant, the covenant Law of Sinai (the Ten Words) is written upon the Christian heart by the Holy Spirit (Heb. 8:8-12). While we may be ignorant in many ways of the implications of those Laws, failing in many ways to keep them, still the saint has a disposition to walk in the commandments of God. And he is grieved and hurt and he mourns when he fails daily. Yet every mourner has this hope: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

No passage in the Bible better enables the saint to look within and know that he has come to know God (1 John 2:4). If he cannot say “I do all the good that I wish,” he can always say “the good that I wish, I do not do.” This is no excuse for sin, but it deals realistically and biblically with remaining sin. Pastors ought to open up God’s Word in Rom. 7:14-25 and read to struggling saints their spiritual condition so that they might know that God has not left them to hardness of heart. They must learn from 7:14-25 that repentance is still at work in their soul and is deepening. They must understand the Rom. 7 comfort that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:16). This is not “negative preaching” and “joyless experience.” It is the binding up of the broken-hearted. Should not every Christian say of every remaining sin: “I am carnal, sold into bondage under sin,” yet “I delight after the Law of God in the inner man?” Should not every Christian yearn to be free from this body of death?

Second, this passage teaches that sin remains in the New Covenant Christian. Some have tried to teach that there is no sin in the new creature and have been driven to distorted views of the Christian’s nature and life. This has resulted in the spiritual bondage of many. This error usually quotes Rom. 7:16-17 as a proof-text to divorce the existence of remaining sin from the new creature: “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me.” In other words, some say that when the Christian sins, he does not sin with his new heart. Rather, sin has a separated existence in the Christian. This path inevitably leads to irresponsibility, laxity, and antinomianism. This error takes several different forms.

One form of this teaching says that the Christian has two natures within–the sinful Old Man and the perfect New Man. Each is in a continual battle for supremacy. Sometimes the Old Man wins and sins. Sometimes the New Man wins and does righteous acts. They butt heads in Rom. 7:14-25. Theoretically, if one can “make Jesus Lord” and surrender to Him in an act of absolute faith and “total commitment,” He will take control and live His life through the New Man. Some proponents of this view go so far as to claim that perfectionism (of a limited kind) is possible.

However, if this line of reasoning is correct, when (not if) the Christian sins, who is responsible for the sin committed? In this view, the New Man cannot be responsible because he is “perfect” and “cannot sin.” The true saint who has surrendered all to Christ has to figure out how the Old Man (or Satan) became stronger than Christ who controls the New Man. How did Christ fail to prevent sin once He took over? This causes doubt, despair, depression, lack of assurance of salvation, and even suicidal thoughts in some because of this confused teaching. Others will not examine themselves. They overlook sin since the New Man is not responsible. The result is a prideful, arrogant, spiritual elite who will not deal seriously with God’s Law. Because of these errors the pastor who teaches holiness and obedience to God’s Law should expect despair from some and opposition from others.

Further, if this teaching is true, when one sins, who needs the forgiveness? It cannot be the New Man for he is perfect and needs no forgiveness. It cannot be the Old Man, for he cannot go to heaven or repent or change.

Finally, who is it that makes progress against sin? Not the New Man, for he is perfect. Not the Old Man, for he is beyond change. The two-nature view does not explain adequately the responsibility for sin in the Christian life, nor the need of forgiveness, nor the truth of progressive sanctification.

Another form of this view is that of David Needham in his work entitled Birthright. Needham rightly contends for a one-nature view of the Christian against the confusing two-nature view. However, he advocates that the New Man is perfectly new and does not sin. Rather sin resides in the bodily flesh of the Christian in his brain patterns, thoughts, and desires.

The problem with Needham’s view is that he does not explain satisfactorily how one can separate one’s sinful thoughts and desires in the bodily flesh from the New Man’s pure thoughts and desires, especially since the will of the Christian cooperates in the sin. Further, how can the sinful flesh overcome the perfect New Man, yielding sin? The practical effect of Needham’s one-nature plus sin-in-the-flesh is the same as the two-nature view. Either the Christian must deny full responsibility for sin when he sins or he must be cast into despair and confusion when he feels guilt for sin.

The truth that sin is found in the New Man is revealed in Rom. 7:14-8:4. Paul identifies sin as the culprit, but it is sin which indwells his new nature when he sins. “I do it,” he says, over and over. Paul summarizes and clarifies himself in 7:25, saying: “So then, on the one hand, I myself with my mind am serving the Law of God, but on the other (I myself) with my flesh am serving the law of sin.” “I myself” is the New Man who serves both the Law of God with his mind and the principle of sin with his flesh at the same time.

How can this be? Rom. 6:6 explains: “Our old man was crucified with Christ, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” The two-nature view above tends to say that the Old Man is only judicially dead, that he still exists, and must be reckoned as crucified daily by faith. But Paul states that our Old Man (our former pre-Christian nature) dominated by sin and hostility to God and His Law, has been done away with through the work of the cross and its application to us by the Holy Spirit in the new birth. Now the Christian is a New Man: “If any man is in Christ, he is [not has] a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Since you have laid aside the old man with its evil practices, and have put on the new man who is being renewed . . . .” (Col. 3:9-10). No longer are Christians slaves to sin as when they were Old Men. Now they are New Men, dominated by slavery to God and grace and righteousness and delight in his Law. The Old Man is dead.[4] Our slavery to sin is broken. However, the sins which once dominated us remain in the imperfect New Man.

This position is not popular. “Has God made the New Man imperfectly? Has He done an imperfect job? But God does nothing imperfectly,” say the objectors. This objection is full of emotion, not Biblical argument. The fact is that God has chosen to make the New Man so that the sinner’s (not God’s) sins remain. When Thomas Boston described regeneration in his Human Nature in its Fourfold State, he said:

It is a universal change; “All things become new.” It is a blessed leaven, that leavens the whole lump, the whole spirit, and soul, and body. . . . Yet it is but an imperfect change. Though every part of man is renewed, there is no part of him perfectly renewed.

John Murray clarifies this state in his Principles of Conduct:

The believer is a new man, a new creation, but he is a new man not yet made perfect. Sin dwells in him still, and he still commits sin. He is necessarily the subject of progressive renewal; he needs to be transfigured into the image of the Lord from glory to glory.

Rom. 7:14-25 teaches that the Christian has one nature, now dominated by service to God but in which remains sin. His mind seeks to know God’s ways, his affections seek to please God, and his will seeks to obey God. Slavery to sin is broken. But the existence of sin remains in his mind, his affections, and his will so that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you may not do the things that you please. “

Who then is responsible for obedience to God’s Law? It is the New Man who loves Christ and seeks to keep His commandments. He cries out to Christ for help and deliverance from his remaining sins by the power of the Spirit. He cooperates with God’s Spirit in obeying Christ and fighting against sin.

Who then is responsible for sin? It is the New Man who grows in sensitivity to remaining sin, who is grieved when he finds it each day, who confesses his sin and finds God faithful and just to forgive him his sins and to cleanse him from all unrighteousness. He continues to repent of his sins and deepens his repentance. He continues to believe and when he sins, he flees to His Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is not surprised by sin anymore. He knows he needs Christ daily. He knows that he must guard and keep his heart every day until he sees Christ in glory.

Rom. 7:14-25 teaches that the Christian has one nature. A new work has begun, but it is not yet perfected. There is hope here for those who struggle with sin, yearning to be free of it. There is assurance here for those who mourn over their remaining sins. And there is joy here for convicted ones because “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

A third lesson which Rom. 7:14-8:4 teaches is that the Christian life is not so much a stairstep by degrees to holiness nor a dramatic second experience, but it is an increasing dynamic of repentance and faith daily exercised. The Christian never gets out of Rom. 7:14-25 into 8:1-4 because he always lives in both chapters! Faith increases on the upper plane though sometimes weaker and sometimes stronger as we live by grace. We increasingly depend upon the blood and righteousness of Christ. We increasingly love Him and seek to keep His commandments. Moreover, repentance deepens on the lower plane, though sometimes weaker and sometimes stronger as we discover more sins that need putting to death. Daily we mourn and cry out, “I am carnal.” Daily we rejoice in the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Daily we die to sin. Daily we live to righteousness. Dailyby the Spirit we “put to death the deeds of the body that we might live.” Daily we put aside anger, wrath, malice, and slander while the inner man is being renewed day by day.

Rom. 7:14-25 and Rom. 8:1-4 speak of the Christian from different aspects. The first is the Christian’s inward battle against remaining sin and his imperfect obedience to God’s Law. The second is the Christian on the counterattack with faith in Christ and the Spirit’s assistance to fulfill the righteousness of the Law. Both aspects are a continual dynamic in Christian experience. This is a mark of true conversion. In 7:14-25 it is our guide to point out remaining sins and to deepen our hatred of them, and to increase our heart love for Christ and His graces (for he that is forgiven much loves much). In 8:1-4 it is our teacher to lead us in the paths of righteousness by the power of the Spirit. For “He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” If you live in Rom. 7 and find repentance deepening and live in Rom. 8 and still flee to Christ for redemption and the Spirit’s help to fulfill the righteousness of the Law, it is enough.

Conclusion

Do not deny that Rom. 7:14-25 is the Christian. You will despair if you are honest with your soul. Do not think that you will ever get out of Rom. 7 into Rom. 8. If you do, you will chase a figment of men’s theological imaginations which will destroy your assurance of salvation and blind you to the work of God in your soul or else it will foster a spiritual pride and antinomianism which may end up destroying your soul in hell. Rather, look into Rom. 7:14-25 and see the work of God begun in the Christian soul and rejoice that He has not left you alone to harden your conscience against sin. Rejoice that the dominion of sin is broken and he is leading you into deeper repentance, increased holiness, and greater dependence upon Christ and joy in His free and ever available grace. Then do with your people what Bunyan did: “I preached what I smartingly did feel.”

There will be a day when faith will be needed no more. For then faith will become sight in His beautiful face. And repentance will be no more, for the need of it will be gone–eradicated from our glorified soul. But until then we live in need of deepened repentance and increased faith every day as we endeavor to love Him and keep His commandments. Learn the lessons of Romans 7. “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

John Newton has expressed it well:

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.

‘These inward trials I employ
‘From self and pride to set thee free;
‘And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
‘That thou may’st seek thy all in me.’

 

[Article at Founders]

 

[1] Clarke, A., Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. VI (Romans—Revelation), Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, New York, p. 86.

[2] McGonigle, H.B., Sufficient Saving Grace: John Wesley’s Evangelical Arminianism, Paternoster, Waynesboro, GA, 2001, p. 23.

[3] Downing, W.R., Theological Propaedeutic, PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2010, p. 589.

[4] Downing, W.R., Lectures on Calvinism and Arminianism (rev. ed.), PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2007, pp. 305—306.

[5] Clark, G.H., What is the Christian Life?, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2012, p. 50

[6] Douma, D.J., The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR, 2017, p. 51.

[7] Douma, ref. 6, pp. 47-52.

[8] Thiessen, H.C., Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1949, p. 382.

[9] See for example W.R. Downing’s study of Finney in ref. 4, chapter 8.

[10] Thiessen, ref. 8, p. 383.

[11] Reymond, R.L., A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, 1998, pp. 1127-1132.

[12] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/romans-7-14.html

[13] Downing, ref. 4, p. 334.

A brief note on Dave Hunt’s attack on Particular Redemption as it relates to evangelism

“Paul could and did honestly say to everyone he met, ‘Christ died for you.’ In complete contrast, a book on biblical counseling that we have long recommended to readers declares, ‘As a reformed Christian, the writer [author] believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died.’”[1]

In the above excerpt from What Love is This?, Dave Hunt addresses a statement by Jay Adams,[2] a reference Hunt also utilizes in Debating Calvinism.[3]

What we find in this brief excerpt from the late founder of the Berean Call concerning the subjects of the extent of the atonement and its relation to evangelism is a fine example of the dangerous tendency of letting unjustified theological presuppositions determine one’s approach to Scripture. If Hunt’s assumption (that the atonement is universal and general and a provision made for every individual that ever lived) is true, then it is reasonable to assume that Paul and the Apostles would have shouted from the hilltops, “Christ died for you!” But, in fact, one would search in vain to find the phrase, “Christ died for you” anywhere in the Bible. Hunt boldly states that “Paul could and did honestly say to everyone he met, ‘Christ died for you”, but he cites no Scripture whatsoever to prove this unwarranted assertion.

Though there is no instance where Paul makes the above declaration in Scripture, it is at least possible that he may have made such a statement to fellow Christians as an encouragement to them. But, contra Hunt, it is inconceivable that Paul would have told unbelievers that Christ died for them seeing that for Paul the atonement meant that all the sins of particular individuals were actually atoned for, a declaration Paul could not make to the yet unconverted.

Understand that the importance of this issue comes to light when we realize that what Hunt is essentially arguing is that if Calvinism is true, the gospel is necessarily hindered from going forth to every single creature. The reason why Hunt and many other synergists accuse Calvinists of being unevangelistic—or at the very least inconsistent with their own theology in their practical evangelism—is that some of these non-Calvinists have a confused definition of what preaching the gospel actually entails.

Incidentally, while proclaiming, “Christ died for you”, may be an improvement over modern evangelicalism’s so-called gospel of, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, it still has significant flaws. As we have already noted, there is a reason you will find no such declaration made to the lost in any of the recorded sermons in the book of Acts. Does this mean the apostles failed to preach the gospel? Hardly. Paul tells us precisely what the gospel is in 1 Corinthians chapter 15:

“I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures….”

Notice first of all that the very same apostle whom Hunt claims announced a potential, universal atonement “to everyone he met” actually says quite plainly that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Paul knows that Christ died for his own sins as well as the sins of the entirety of the ecclesia (1 Corinthians 1:24; Jude 1:1), but he does not irresponsibly extend the atonement beyond the bounds of God’s elect people. Also, since Paul is writing to the church and not preaching a sermon on Mars Hill or writing a tract directed at the lost, he could say in his epistle, “Christ died for our sins”.

The irony is this: Hunt accuses Calvinists of undermining the proclamation of the gospel via Limited Atonement because, “the Calvinist cannot look an unsaved person in the eye and say with confidence, ‘Christ died for you!’”.[4] But if Hunt’s view of the atonement is correct, that “…Christ died to save all mankind…” and that some sinners are not saved simply “because all do not accept that payment”[5], this means that there is nobody in particular for whom Christ died. If Hunt would follow the logic of his own propositions he would restrict himself from declaring to anyone, “Christ died for you”. Hunt and other synergists are forced to redefine the atonement and turn it into a general, potential, take-it-or-leave-it offer which secures no particular individual’s salvation. In spite of this equivocation, he is persistent that such a position poses no theological problem. He writes,

“Unquestionably…the blood of the Passover lambs was shed for multitudes who perished. In fulfillment, the blood of Christ, the true Passover Lamb, must also have been shed for many who perish.”[6]

To illustrate the absurdity of this statement, think of a false convert upon his death descending into hell and declaring among those weeping and gnashing their teeth that “Christ died for you”. Such an “atonement” is truly vacuous, having actually atoned for nothing since the sinner is still condemned (John 3:36) having died in his sins (John 8:24) being eternally separated from a thrice-holy God.

It is also worth noting that this last statement from Hunt is built upon a faulty hermeneutic which views the NT in light of the Old. His argument therefore suffers an additional blow when this Dispensational error is shown to be built upon sand, being itself a clear departure from the principle of progressive revelation and the analogy of faith.[7] We will not attempt to take up these  subjects here but simply note that one would do well to acknowledge that everyone employs an interpretive framework:

“The major issue in interpretation is, should the New Testament be brought into conformity to the literalism of the Old Testament, or should the Old Testament be interpreted and understood in the light of the New? Dispensational theology makes the Old Testament determinative in interpretation and non–Dispensational theology makes the New Testament determinative and explanatory of the Old.”[8]

It is my experience that many Dispensationalists are often unconscious that such interpretive methods must even come into play for those who simply “take the Bible literally”.[9] But the reality is that the New Covenant is not like the Old (Hebrews 8:8-9). It is a new and better covenant, and, unlike the Old, everyone under the New Covenant has actually been redeemed and become children of God (John 1:12-13; Hebrews 8:11-13).[10] Reading the Bible through the lense of arbitrary dispensations and ignoring covenantal distinctives and progressive revelation is detrimental to biblical theology. It is completely unacceptable to develop a theology of the atonement by interpreting the NT through the preparatory types and shadows found throughout the OT as Hunt erroneously does.

For whom did Christ die? The Calvinist has both logic and Scripture on his side to maintain that Christ died to secure the salvation of God’s elect people and can simultaneously evangelize the lost (since evangelism is not indiscriminately declaring, “Christ died for you”). The atonement pertains to a particular people (“those who are the called” [1 Corinthians 1:24 NASB]) and is not a general, “potential atonement” (whatever that is) intended to secure the salvation of no one in particular.

We can proclaim the truth of God’s Word and rightly carry out the Great Commission without declaring to the lost, “Christ died for you”. Likewise, synergists should take some of their own medicine, follow the logic and likewise refrain from the use of such a statement since an atoning sacrifice which does not actually propitiate the wrath of God and credit the sinner with Christ’s imputed righteousness is not a ‘universal atonement’ but rather no atonement at all.

[1] Hunt, D., What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (3rd ed.), The Berean Call, Bend, OR, 2006, p. 31.

[2] Adams, J.E., Competent to Counsel, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1970, p. 70.

[3] Hunt, D., and White, J., Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, OR, 2004, p. 106.

[4] Hunt, ref. 1, p. 316.

[5] Hunt, ref. 1, p. 339.

[6] Hunt, ref. 3 p. 367.

[7] Downing, W.R., Biblical Hermeneutics, PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2002, pp. 174-75.

[8] Downing, W.R., Theological Propaedeutic, PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2010, p. 266.

[9] This is not meant to be condescending. It is in the nature of Dispensationalism to view any departure from what may be perceived to be the “literal” reading (which often entails reading the NT in light of the OT) as spiritualizing or allegorizing the text. I was as guilty of this mentality as Hunt was.

[10] These covenantal distinctions are blurred by our paedobaptist brethren as the continuity between the OT and NT is overemphasized (in my opinion) in paedobaptist covenant theology. Note also that it is because of these covenantal distinctives that reformed Baptists argue for regenerate church membership.

Justification by faith alone and the role of repentance: Interacting with an inverted soteriology

The doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ has been rightly regarded as a foundational tenet of Protestantism. Having been anathematized at the Council of Trent[1], it not only continues to be the archenemy of Romish dogma but has undergone more recent attacks by professing Protestants who have given in to Federal Vision and/or the New Perspective on Paul.

But apart from these more obvious assaults on this key doctrine, it is common for even conservative evangelicals to encounter confusion when struggling to understand how the doctrine of repentance fits within the parameters of sola fide. Like many other persistent errors in American evangelicalism, much of this can be blamed on dispensationalism and its entanglement in conservative and fundamentalist churches for more than a century. At the least, many dispensationalists simply fail to understand the three-fold division of the law, despite frequently giving lip-service to it. At most, some are blatantly antinomian, considering any appeal to repentance a relic of Old Covenant, pharisaical legalism. If “the Law” collective (including the moral law which predates the Mosaic Covenant) has been abrogated under the current dispensation (as has been sometimes alleged), quite obviously there is no standard by which one’s actions can be assessed and judged needful of repentance. After all, we are reassured, the church is under the dispensation of grace. Further, we are warned, one dare not pervert grace by adding repentance as a condition for receiving it.

The problem of repentance to which I am referring can be summarized as follows: Justification is by belief alone, yet the NT also teaches the necessity of repentance. The question necessarily arises, what if someone believes the gospel but does not repent? Are they saved? Or, are they somehow “provisionally” saved but retain the potential to fall away (when their repentance is quantified and found wanting at the final Judgment)? This appears to be John Wesley’s view. Gordon Clark quotes from Wesley’s Doctrinal Summaries and notes an obvious implication:

“Q.12. Can faith be lost but through disobedience?

A. It cannot. A believer first inwardly disobeys…. Then his intercourse with God is lost, i.e., and after this [he is] like unto another man.

Q.13. How can such a man recover faith?

A. By repenting and doing the first works.

…Wesley must, if consistent, assert that a man once regenerated can nonetheless fail to arrive in Heaven and on the contrary be eternally lost in Hell.”[2]

Some have attempted to address the faith/repentance dichotomy by simply conflating repentance with belief. Indeed, repentance does refer in large part to a changing of the mind, and may even be the primary meaning in its Scriptural usage. Yet some go farther and argue that repentance and belief are purely synonymous, the terms being a mere redundancy as they are found in the NT. This “solution” ensures that sola fide is maintained and the “works” of repentance pose no threat to simple belief in the gospel.

Others have responded by stating that if ‘justification by faith alone’ is correct, then repentance is not necessary for salvation because to demand repentance in addition to faith would be adding something other to the soteriological order. Thus, the doctrine of the “carnal Christian” is born, and those few who actually do repent of their transgressions and turn from the life of the “old man” have thus attained to some higher-order Christianity, not to be expected of the average believer. These answers are hardly satisfactory in light of passages like Luke 13:3.

I have heard good men tackle this issue many times. I can remember having discussions with certain brothers where the issue seemed complicated and paradoxical, some having a zeal to maintain the Protestant doctrine but knowing that repentance was preached by Christ Himself. I personally wondered if using the word “repent” in evangelism would pervert the truth of sola fide. It took many years for me to realize that there always was a solution to this alleged faith/repentance dichotomy that both demanded repentance yet did no injustice to the purity of ‘justification by faith alone’. The biblical solution has been largely ignored because of a prior commitment to an inverted ordo salutis (order of salvation) in contemporary evangelicalism. This prior commitment to synergism is one that I was not quick to part with.

Ultimately, the whole issue hinges on what human beings allegedly need to “do” in order to be made right before a holy God. Must we simply believe the gospel, or must we believe the gospel and…? Surely something is amiss when an evangelist gives the impression that one might believe the gospel and still be lost because he hasn’t repented. If such a scenario is possible, then justification is obviously not by belief alone. And if repentance must precede conversion, how much repentance constitutes a sufficient degree of turning, seeing that sin is not completely abolished from one’s existence at the time of conversion?

Consider the following from Bob Wilkin of the Grace Evangelical Society:

“Either justification is by faith alone or it is not by faith alone. It can’t be by faith alone and not by faith alone. That is logically impossible.”[3]

Wilkin’s logic in this statement is commendable. We wish that every theologian would speak with such precision and directness instead of paradoxical pandering and linguistic lollygagging. Elsewhere, in a paper responding to Thomas Schreiner’s book on justification, Wilkin writes:

“…The expression ‘bare faith’ is synonymous with ‘faith alone.’ How can justification be by faith alone and yet not by bare faith?”[4]

We find in these statements by an opponent of Calvinism a logical consistency concerning sola fide reminiscent of a devoted Calvinist by the name of Gordon Clark.[5] Indeed, The Trinity Foundation (created principally for the purpose of keeping Clark’s work in print) has likewise taken issue with Schreiner’s book and included Brandon Adams’ criticism of Piper’s Foreword in a recent Trinity Review.

Unfortunately, however, because of Wilkin’s devotion to synergism and allegiance to anti-reformed soteriological presuppositions, he and the society he represents see repentance as essentially optional. The difference between Wilkin’s criticism of Schreiner’s book (and Piper’s waffling) and the criticism of Brandon Adams—though both are in agreement that justification is by faith alone—is that Calvinists have no need to maintain a diminished view of repentance (as Wilkin clearly does), nor do they see repentance as optional but regard it as a necessary consequence of having been born-again by the Spirit of God.

Wilkin insists that “God [has] a one-condition only requirement for entrance into His family” Of course, he is speaking of faith as that one condition. He chides Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur and John Piper for being inconsistent on this particular sola, because these men speak of the necessity of repentance. To Wilkin, such is incompatible with ‘justification by faith alone’. But in the particular quotes provided by Wilkin (Piper’s Foreword to Schreiner’s book not among them), there is no inconsistency, and I encourage the reader to assess them for himself. In contrast to Wilkin and the Grace Evangelical Society, the theology of these men demand the recognition of God’s regenerating grace as the causative agent of both faith and repentance. In other words, Grudem, MacArthur and Piper are able to speak of the necessity of repentance without violating sola fide because they are Calvinists, regarding both repentance and faith as gifts from God and knowing that God does not give one of those gifts to His children while failing to provide the other. Wilkin’s folly is in refusing to admit that the “one-condition only requirement” he speaks of is preceded by the regenerating work of God in the heart/mind of the individual. So while faith may be the only “condition” for justification, regeneration is the “condition” which must be met by God Himself prior to faith on the part of man, and that by the will of God alone (John 1:13; James 1:18).

Bob Wilkin’s error serves to illustrate why it is that if one adhere to the reformed soteriological order he is not confronted with the alleged dilemma regarding faith and repentance. The reformed “solution” is not new; it has simply been buried under centuries of synergistic strata. The NT text supports the view that there are no such “Christians” who believe the gospel yet refuse to repent. There are no carnal Christians, and there are no “believers” who obtain both justification and glorification yet are free to forego sanctification. We can say this with confidence, and it is not because Calvinists are advocating a sort of sinless-perfection. In commenting on chapter 15 of the Second London Baptist Confession, Sam Waldron notes that

“forsaking of sin is not the achievement of perfect or sinless obedience forever. It is a genuine ‘purpose and endeavor’ to this end.”[6]

Being born-again is the work of God alone, and this divine work (regeneration) precedes faith, contra Rome, Bob Wilkin, Dave Hunt, and synergists in general. If regeneration precedes faith, it also precedes repentance. Both faith and repentance are gifts of God given to His children who have been born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Note that only the non-Calvinist who retains any regard for repentance finds himself in the aforementioned uncomfortable dichotomy because he views belief and repentance as actions one takes upon himself to do according to his own volition (not without a little help of the grace of God, of course) in order that he might be saved. So the question of what happens to a man who believes but refuses to repent is a legitimate one only for those who hold that faith precedes regeneration. How can such a person solve the problem of holding to Protestantism’s ‘justification by faith alone’ without neglecting the necessity of repentance? Since there is no consistent way to do this, men like Bob Wilkin are diligent to kick repentance entirely out of the conversion experience. Other synergists, like Wesley, have dealt with this problem by arguing for the necessity of repentance, with the possibility of losing one’s salvation, inadvertently treating ‘justification by faith alone’ not altogether differently from Trent’s repudiation of it.

Calvinism affords us the simple solution of regarding the ability to believe, repent, persevere and exhibit any other fruit of the Spirit as necessary consequences of having been regenerated by the Spirit of God. Such gifts are given to all whom God has called, “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Sam Waldron, in keeping with the Second London Baptist Confession, posits that

“…all believers repent and thus are given repentance by God…. By calling repentance a grace, the Shorter Catechism makes clear that it is a gift of God. It is a plant that grows in the renewed soil of the regenerate heart (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25)”.[7]

If someone regards himself as a believer but is blatantly and perpetually unrepentant, we feel no obligation to whisk their dead dry bones up to heaven with the simple caveat that they may miss out on some “heavenly rewards”. On the authority of Scripture we can regard such a one as an unbeliever—someone who has not actually been born from above. This is why Waldron can put it so bluntly:

“Is repentance, confession, and renunciation of sin, turning from it with grief and hatred for it, your constant, even daily, experience? If you are a true Christian, it is.”[8]

“But”, the objection comes, “so-and-so does believe; how can we say he is an unbeliever?” Here we must note carefully the oft-used and abused text from the Epistle of James. Many people have used passages like 2:14 to assert that faith alone is insufficient for being made right with God. But notice that James says “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Note that the person says he has faith, but his lack of works testify to the contrary. There is no indication in the epistle that works—even repentance—combined with an otherwise “dead faith” would have wrought justification before God. The sooner we realize this the sooner we will see no tension between Paul and James. But the point for now is that not all who say they believe the gospel actually do believe it. They may be able to articulate its propositions. They may hold an orthodox doctrine of God. But it is quite possible that they do not actually believe that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. This point is deserving of much greater attention, but for now, consider this short excerpt from fellow scripturalist Sean Gerety:

“Note carefully, for Calvin the question is not between those who have faith where one person’s faith is alive and the other’s is dead, as if they both had faith, but rather between the one who believes and the other who does not.  The distinction James is drawing is between the person who possesses genuine belief and the hypocrite.  Calvin rightly understands in describing faith as alive or dead that James is using a rhetorical device as he ‘disputes against those who made a false pretense as to faith, of which they were wholly destitute.’”[9]

God does not sanctify some of His children and not others. If faith and repentance are gifts of God, then we should rightly expect that God would grant both of these gifts to all of those whom He has graciously regenerated.

It may be helpful to see how Charles Hodge carefully contrasted Jacobus Arminius’ view of repentance within the soteriological order with that of the Reformers:

“…Whether any man does thus repent and believe, or, having believed, perseveres in a holy life, depends on himself and not on God. The purpose of election, therefore, is not a purpose to save, and to that end to give faith and repentance to a definite number of individuals, but a purpose to save those who repent, believe, and persevere in faith until the end.”[10]

Obviously, in such a system, repentance, belief and perseverance must be regarded as separate and distinct conditions which may or may not be met by the individual. It is the reason why the consistent Arminian holds that salvation must be kept by the individual, with actual apostasy of the Christian a real potentiality. Dave Hunt asked essentially, What Love is This that neglects to provide the potential for justification to an amorphous mass of humanity? But we ask, what justification is this that either, 1) cannot secure the individual for eternity via the imputed righteousness of Christ unless he perseveres with a certain level of repentance, or, 2) does not lead to sanctification because repentance is only realized by higher-order Christians, and that dependent upon their own volition?

If faith precedes regeneration, as the majority of evangelicalism today maintains, then the question of where repentance fits into soteriology is an unavoidable one. Wilkin simply eliminates it from conversion altogether. It is my contention that all non-Calvinistic solutions are problematic for sola fide, another example of one way in which synergists are necessarily at peace with Rome. The best they can offer is to say that the unrepentant is probably not really saved, but they cannot place repentance within a logically coherent and consistent soteriological construct.

If, on the other hand, regeneration precedes faith the problem of where to place repentance is no problem at all. It, like faith, is a gift of God. Our Heavenly Father graciously sanctifies all whom He has justifies. He puts into the heart of His children the desire to keep His moral law, that is, a desire to repent:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).[11]

 

[1] Canon IX:  “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

[2] Clark, G.H., What is the Christian Life?, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2012, pp. 37-38.

[3] https://faithalone.org/blog/justification-by-faith-alone-plus-repentance-and-good-works/

[4] Wilkin, R.N., The role of good works in justification: A review of chapter 16 of Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 28(55):18, 2015.

[5] Another free grace advocate even references Clark’s Faith and Saving Faith for support in his assertion that belief has to do with being “persuaded that a proposition is true” (Biery, R.M., Belief as a cognitive phenomenon, especially in regard to salvation: An expanded discussion, Journal of the Grace Evangelical 29(56):58, 2016).

[6] Waldron, S.E., A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession (5th ed. Revised and Corrected), EP Books, Welwyn Garden City, UK, 2016, pp. 240-41.

[7] Waldron, ref. 6, p. 233 & 235-37.

[8] Waldron, ref. 6, p. 241.

[9] https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/faith-alive/

[10] Hodge, C., Justification by Faith Alone, in Bonar & Hodge, Not What My Hands Have Done, Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2005, pp. 269-70.

[11] Of course, the Dispensationalists have a way around the implications of this passage having regarded it as a prophecy for a future restoration of ethnic Israel. They do not seem to see that this attaches the New Covenant to ethnic Jews in the last days and not to the church. That is to say, Dispensationalists do not regard the New Covenant as the constitution of the church. Yet, “Every New Testament use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 [including this excerpt from Hebrews 8] relates it to a present fulfillment in the Church. Conversely, there is no justification anywhere in the New Testament for seeing its fulfillment as future and millennial” (Waldron, S.E. and Barcellos, R.C., A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, RBAP, Palmdale, CA, 2004, p. 21).

To the Protestants I became as a Protestant…; Jerry Walls’ Jesuitical deception and the logical consequences of unlimited atonement

Jerry Walls is probably best known for his 2004 book with Joseph Dongell titled, Why I am not a Calvinist. He has since written a number of other books, and if I were a continuationist exercising my prophetic prowess I might predict a future publication by Walls entitled, Why I am not a Christian, for it seems he has altogether departed from the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Jerry Walls provides us with a perfect example of what can and often does happen when the doctrine of particular redemption is displaced in favor of a more general, potential or universal atonement (making “salvation available to every single person”). In a previous post, I noted how Arminianism (more accurately, synergism generally) necessarily lends itself toward Rome’s false gospel because it introduces variables into the soteriological order that man, not God, controls. As it turns out, Jerry Walls’ other recent publications set out to defend the Romish heretical doctrine of purgatory (Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation [2011]; Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most [2015]). Strategically scheduled for release in October 2017 is, Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation (I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make the wild speculation that “unity” will be the thing alleged to “remain at stake after 500 years”). So, to honor the Protestant Reformation, Jerry Walls will undoubtedly repudiate it.

2016 saw the release of Walls’, Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What’s Wrong with Calvinism. As of late, Wipf and Stock Publishing has been pumping out books by mystics, anti-Protestants, social gospelers and various other heretics faster than Benny Hinn can discharge rounds from his Holy Ghost machine gun. This book likewise fulfills the apparent publication requirement of promoting heterodoxy. From the back cover:

“Does God truly love all persons? Most Christians think the obvious answer to this question is, ‘Yes, of course he does!’ Indeed, many Christians would agree that the very heart of the gospel is that God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person. This book shows that one of the most popular and resurgent theological movements in the contemporary evangelical church–namely, Calvinism–cannot coherently and consistently affirm this vital claim about the love of God. While some Calvinists forthrightly deny that God loves everyone, more commonly Calvinists attempt to affirm the love of God for all persons in terms that are compatible with their doctrines that Christ died only for the elect–those persons God has unconditionally chosen to save. This book shows that the Calvinist attempts to affirm God’s love for all persons are fraught with severe philosophical and theological difficulties. Calvinism, then, should be rejected in favor a theology that can forthrightly and consistently affirm the love of God for all persons. Nothing less is at stake than the very heart of the gospel.”

Note the immediate and obvious Scripture twisting: “Many Christians would agree that the very heart of the gospel is that God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person.” Indeed, this claim is likely true. That is, that many Christians would agree with this erroneous statement. But note carefully what is being purported by Dr. Walls. The proposition that “God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person” appears to be his primary axiom, used to justify his anti-Calvinism. Indeed, according to Walls, this is “the very heart of the gospel”. Dr. Walls wants us to accept his primary axiom and subsequent accusation that Calvinists are guilty of compromise because one must somehow find a way to reconcile particular redemption with universal, general, potential salvation for all. What Walls doesn’t seem to understand is that we are under no such obligation to reconcile particular redemption with universalism. His primary axiom is not found in Scripture.

Repeat:  the proposition: “God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person” is not in the Bible. It is not stated explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not “expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scriptures” (Second London Baptist Confession), nor is it a proposition which by “necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession). So much for his primary axiom. I could end my post here, but we need to see the consequences of his faulty starting point.

Perhaps he is hoping that since the beginning of his misquote sounds like John 3:16 we will be foolish enough to let his Scripture twisting slip by. When Walls is interviewed by Episcopalian host Ronald Way on Author Talk his aversion not only to Calvinism but Protestantism in general becomes all the more evident (transcript available here). The Protestant Reformation has been rightly called the greatest movement of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost by many pastors, theologians and church historians. Not surprisingly, Walls doesn’t see it that way. He says:

“The protestant reformation is…in many ways unfortunate, but still I think necessary split in the western church when a number of people recognized the deep corruption that was prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church in terms of financial abuse, spiritual laxity, and so on.”

So the Reformation was not a glorious awakening to the truth of the gospel which sets the captives free and led a world dominated by Romish superstition out of spiritual darkness, it was, according to Walls, unfortunate. Then he does what other ecumenists have done when describing the “necessity” of the Reformation; he pretends it was a necessary evil; a house-cleaning of sorts. In other words, it wasn’t the accumulation of false doctrines and dogmas and papal perversions of gospel truth that was concerning to the Reformers, it was merely some financial and moral corruption. And once the corruption got cleaned up, “Holy Mother Church” was good to go, and the dissenters should have returned to her fold instead of creating the alleged “34000 denominations” that exist today.[1] Walls goes on in the interview:

“What I’m saying is, if this is what … If this is the case, there’s no meaningful sense in which God loves everybody. That’s the heart of the problem, and if God doesn’t truly love everyone, he’s not a truly good being, he’s not a God of perfect love, he’s not a God of perfect goodness. The problem of Calvinism is the way it depicts the character of God. It makes him fall far short of the biblical view of a God whose heart is love, who desires the salvation of all of his children.”

Firstly, it should be noted that God does in fact desire the salvation of His children. So much so that he secured their salvation at the cross of Calvary. But Walls makes the same error that unbelievers make when they regard the entire human race as “God’s children”. Nothing in the Scriptures would indicate that such is the case, however. The Scriptures teach that since the Fall we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), and that the designation “children of God” is reserved only for those who believe in Him:

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

Secondly, Dr. Walls’ presumption that God’s goodness is predicated upon the extension of His redemptive love to every member of the human race, is wholly without biblical justification. God’s goodness is intrinsic to His being, and He was free to secure the salvation of whomever He chose when the covenant of redemption was inaugurated in heaven.[2] God’s love is satisfied within the triune godhead; He requires nothing outside of Himself to satisfy His love. To put it plainly, why did God extend salvific love to a remnant of His fallen creation? Because He wanted to.

God’s love is not quantified by the number of people who end up in heaven. But even if we were to grant Walls’ erroneous premise for the sake of argument, one could argue thus: If it holds that God’s love can indeed be quantified by the number of people He desires to save due to His universal love, but in reality most people reject His love and subsequently don’t make it to heaven, then God is actually quantitatively less loving than the sovereign God of the Calvinists. But don’t worry. We will soon see that Walls has a solution for this dilemma extending from his first premise.

Note firstly that He makes the same errors as Dr. David Stone regarding “freedom”:

“The view that I hold is that God sincerely desires to save all persons. He enables all persons to be saved. He truly prefers them to respond to his grace, and accept his grace, but here’s the point, a genuine relationship of love and trust cannot be caused by God. Not even God can do that. If he gives us genuine freedom, and genuine freedom is the necessary condition for genuine love, genuine faith, genuine worship, genuine relationship. Given that is the case, necessarily if we choose not to trust, not to love, then we separate ourselves from God, and choose not to receive the good that God offers us and gives us. God enables all persons to respond, desires all persons to respond, but by nature, given the fact that we are truly free human beings that God calls us to be in a relationship with him, we can decline that. If persons are lost, it is because they will not accept the grace and love that God sincerely, genuinely extends to them.”

I will not reiterate the points I made to Dr. Stone on this topic (see here and here), but will simply add the following: If the concept of freedom as Jerry Walls is espousing here—that fallen man can reciprocate God’s love uncoerced and prior to divine regeneration— is not actually taught in Scripture, then the rest of the argument falls apart. If man’s alleged freewill is taken out of the equation (seeing that his will is in bondage to sin), there is apparently nothing that remains in the way of God’s obtaining His desire (since for Walls man’s freedom is the obstacle to Him obtaining what he desired, i.e., the salvation of all). It seems to be quite an affront to the sovereign God of the Bible to maintain that driveling, vile and putrid worms armed with our “freedom” should thwart God’s eternal desire, no less His immutable decrees. If Walls’ argument ended here, one would have to suppose that God must live eternally in perpetual misery, or at least in some blasé melancholy state, because His universal desire has been filibustered by His own creation. Rather, the Scriptures teach that “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3), and, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). God does get what He desires because fallen man in all his vileness can do nothing to stop Him.

Well, fair enough. Jerry Walls rejects Calvinism. That’s no surprise and that in and of itself does not put him outside the camp. But what is important to note is the logical consequence resulting from his false premises. The interview goes on:

Ron: “What about Christians who would say that if you seek God with an open heart, whether through Christ or not, whether you’re a Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Taoist, you find the presence of the Divine? It’s my guess that you’d say that they’re not Christians, and they’ll all be condemned. Is that true?”

Jerry: “That is not in fact what I would say.”

Ron: “Good.”

Jerry: “Again, I’ve written about this in my books on hell. I believe God desires the salvation of all persons. I believe Christ died for all persons. They may not know about Christ. They may not know who he is, but he knows who they are, and they may not know that he died for them, but he did anyway. Many persons have not heard the gospel of Christ, but they’re still responding to whatever light, or understanding, or grace that they have, and so the point of the matter is this, I believe that God is drawing every single person to himself, using whatever resources are available in terms of light and revelation that they have. If persons are responding to the light that they have, I think they will ultimately come to see the truth in Christ.

“What I believe is that God will give every person every opportunity, even if that includes postmortem opportunities for repentance and salvation. I don’t think people are condemned for not believing a truth to which they’ve not had access. If people are responding to the truth that is available to them, if they’re sincerely responding to the grace of God … Again, I’m not saying this is a matter of works, but I believe God’s grace is at work drawing all persons, and I believe Jesus died for all persons, again, whether they know it or not, and so grace is extended to all persons, and I think there are a lot of people who are responding to Christ, who are coming to Christ even though they may not be aware of it until maybe after their death.”

Can it be any more evident that Jerry Walls has completely departed from Christian orthodoxy? He pats himself on the back for not crediting man’s salvation to his own “works” all the while defending the idea of postmortem repentance and salvation, and all detached from belief in the gospel. Walls’ defense of purgatory as a logical consequence of postmortem repentance is evident, and is articulated in his other books. Ron Way, in accordance with his own apostate religious tradition, closes the interview with this gem:

“I was happy to hear that Dr. Jerry Walls said that he thinks that good people of all faiths might still be saved. That’s a wonderful thing, and I appreciated that. I choose to believe that this is what Jesus meant when he taught so long ago that we’re all God’s children, no matter our tradition or faith, when he was asked, ‘What is the most important thing about his teaching?” He said, “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and secondly love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I suppose Ron Way thinks that he— as well as every fallen man from every pagan religion— has the innate ability to keep this commandment.

Dr. Jerry Walls has not descended into heresy because he rejects Calvinism. He has descended into heresy because his unbiblical primary axioms used to justify his rejection of Calvinisim, when brought to their logical extension, drive him to heretical conclusions. This explains why synergists never have a truly systematic and logically coherent theology. They have to cry “paradox” before they let their axioms drive them to universalism. Dr. Jerry Walls, who has passed himself off as an evangelical Christian, has grossly perverted the Scriptures by affirming universalism, defending purgatory and postmortem salvation, and denying justification by faith alone. As a former professor at Notre Dame and currently a scholar in residence and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, Jerry Walls must make the Jesuit pope proud.

-Nick Sabato

[1] For example, see James R. Payton Jr., Getting the Reformation Wrong, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2010, p. 253, footnote 4. This is a bogus number often paraded by Romanists and ecumenists in order to ridicule and deride the results of the Reformation. For a refutation of this myth, see James White’s article here.

[2] For a simple treatment of the covenant of redemption, see Blackburn, E.M. (ed.), Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, AL, 2013, pp. 26-30.

Caricatures of Calvinism and the denial of depravity: A rebuttal to Dr. David Stone, part 2

In part 1, I addressed some of the concerns I had regarding Dr. Stone’s rejection of Total Depravity, praise of freewill, distortions of Calvinism, and other pelagian leanings found in his article, “Calvinism: It’s not just irrational. It’s atheism”. The next quote from his article displays the great abhorrence he has for Calvinism. It makes you wonder how—if his conclusions are correct—he can reasonably concede that Calvinists are Christians at all.

“I submit that free will is axiomatic to human existence. We live each day, moment by moment, just as if we are persons. But if this is quite meaningless, that man is constrained at every point by Calvinist-defined sovereignty, then you and I are not persons. Consequently, the One in whose image we are made, is no person either. If man doesn’t exist as a person, then neither does God, and God as a person doesn’t exist. This is atheism, except that atheists are not such blasphemers as to credit God with the moral evils that plague our world.”

So again, Calvinists are essentially blasphemous atheists because they do not hold to Dr. Stone’s unbiblical view of freewill. To reiterate a bit from part 1, it is perfectly logical to assert that people do make actual choices, but it is also perfectly logical to assert that their choices are governed by their nature. The real issue here is that fallen man will never seek after the God of Scripture, repent and believe the gospel unless God graciously gives them a new nature. Any relative good the natural man does is irrelevant to this discussion. Man does what he wants to do. But what fallen man wants to do cannot be separated from his fallen nature, his nature being at enmity with God.

So, Adam’s fallen progeny act accordingly, that is, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and not freely and willingly seeking after the things of God. This teaching does not equate to atheistic/mechanistic determinism, and it certainly does not substantiate the charge of blasphemy.

Dr. Stone goes on to say that the Calvinist depends on “Calvinistic sovereignty” because, due to “unconditional damnation” (his phrase; addressed in part 1), sovereignty must exist to prevent the individual from seeking after God since, of course, it would be a real letdown for one to seek after God and believe the gospel only to find that he has been “unconditionally damned” from eternity past. He writes:

“It’s not a big leap, by the way, from Unconditional Damnation to Calvinist sovereignty. Otherwise, what if a non-elect fellow gets curious about salvation and seeks God? …John 6:37b teaches, ‘. . . him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ That fellow could get saved if he decides to come to Christ. And so the Calvinist needs his version of sovereignty to prevent that!”

The biblical data obtained from a proper exegesis of John 6 seem to be lost on Dr. Stone. He clearly ignores the fact that no one of their own accord will seek after God—“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God” (Romans 3:11)—so his concern for lost sheep haphazardly seeking after the Shepherd is unfounded. Calvinism does not teach that God executes sovereignty in order to hold back the “unconditionally damned” who might otherwise “choose to repent…choose to believe…humble themselves, recognize their lost condition, turn from sin, and turn to Christ”. Such an idea implies that man’s natural inclination is toward God, rather than away from Him. Obviously, God would have no need of doing this because all men’s hearts are by nature set against Him in the first place. Furthermore, the atonement was made for God’s elect people in the covenant of redemption. The cross-work of Christ secured the salvation of those same people who have been “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Those, and only those, will come to Christ. God’s sovereignty does not need to suppress their wills against coming to Him, for opposing Christ is their natural inclination. So, those for whom Christ died will receive the entirety of salvation, including regeneration, faith and repentance.

“If you’re not a Calvinist and fairly new to this ‘debate,’ you might think I’m making all this up. It’s too ridiculous to even warrant consideration. Yet Calvinism is gradually taking over most of evangelicalism, and much of fundamentalism is infected with portions of the heresy. The Calvinist insists he believes in God. Perhaps, then, he’s closer to pantheism than atheism, per se…. Calvinists tend to see such blatant contradictions as predestination vs. free will as mysteries, not wanting to admit the gross illogic. The mystic can always invoke mysteries when his religion doesn’t make sense.

“…The fact that such nonsense can propagate so readily within Christendom, including among born again Christians, is evidence of the spectacularly free will we enjoy. As I suggested before, God doesn’t save us from willful stupidity.”

With a foundation of mischaracterizations in place, Dr. Stone goes on to employ his “freewill” in executing abusive ad hominem attacks. Thus Calvinism is both “too ridiculous to even warrant consideration” and “heresy” (later he adds “poison” and “insanity”), and Calvinists are atheistic, illogical, stupid mystics. I think it is now clear why I didn’t receive much of a response from Dr. Stone after he read my discourse on “freewill”. He goes on:

“I’m teasing the Calvinist reader by choosing 6:37b. Part ‘a’ of that verse refers to the eleven disciples, which should make many passages much clearer to the Calvinist who is willing to examine Scripture freely, without the blindfold of TULIP.”

It is unclear what point Dr. Stone is trying to make here. As anyone familiar with debates surrounding Calvinism could attest, the broader context of this passage from John chapter six is a logical stronghold for the doctrine of predestination. Dr. Stone makes no attempt at exegesis here but only makes a passing reference to the phrase, “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”. He is apparently using this as a counter-measure to the strawmen of “Unconditional Damnation” and what might be termed ‘Suppressive Sovereignty’. (There you go, I just coined a phrase for Dr. Stone’s view of sovereignty—that which prevents unbelievers from freely choosing God. Dr. Stone, feel free to use this term in identifying your strawmen if you like).

I am curious which caricature of Calvinism is correct. On the one hand, Dr. Stone says that according to “Unconditional Damnation” and Suppressive Sovereignty, God prevents those fine truth-seeking folk from ever finding Christ. But on the other hand, he says that Calvinism teaches that God directly controls the movement of every atom, even our thoughts, so that “we mechanically play our parts”. But if this mechanistic view of the universe were true there would be no point in the charade about God stepping in to prevent autonomous man from believing the gospel. Pick a caricature and go with it. These strawmen are not getting along well.

Despite the pelagian tendencies in some of Dr. Stone’s argumentation, he does rightly go on to point out the corruption of man’s heart. He writes:

“False doctrine derives from corruption in the heart, not misunderstanding in the mind. Consider a well-known passage, Jeremiah 17:9-10. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.’

“The ‘heart’ is the center of man’s being, as represented in Scripture, your controller, the part of you that weighs the alternatives and says, “That’s what I want to do.” A man’s heart is corrupted by sin – transgressions of God’s laws – coupled with man’s flesh . . . his natural inclinations….”

He is right that the man’s heart is corrupted by sin, and this affects his natural inclinations. But somehow this is used to prove that man’s corrupt heart causes some to embrace Calvinism (that, or, an obsession with “pseudo-intellectualism”). Apparently though, man’s heart is yet not so corrupt that it would prevent him from making choices contrary to his nature, such as believing the gospel.

Stone’s passing over of the implications of Jeremiah 17:9 depend in part on the popular notion of a ‘head-heart distinction’. Perhaps this allows him to separate the inward corruption of the heart from the autonomous and free will of man. I do not believe the heart and mind are two separate and distinct entities. Consider a very small sample of Gordon Clark on this point:

…heart is a Scriptural expression for mind. It does not mean emotions…. If anyone would take a few moments and look up every instance of this word in the Old Testament, he would find that about seventy-five percent of the time it means mind. The remaining one-fourth of instances are divided between the will and the emotions. Strictly the word heart, it seems to me, means ‘the whole personality.’ And the proportion shows that the mind is the most important factor in the whole personality.”[1]

To conclude, Dr. Stone has downplayed the effects of the Fall, separated the will from the rest of man (the will being somehow insulated from man’s intrinsic fallenness), set up a blatant strawman with regards to Unconditional Election (by fabricating a parallel “Unconditional Damnation”), likened “Calvinistic sovereignty” to mechanistic determinism, atheism, and Islam, and made other various lesser errors in his assault on Calvinism.

I can relate to his sentiments. I was quite opposed to Calvinism for years and would latch onto any argument that seemed to quench the fiery darts of the Reformed ones. I was influenced by some of the same material that it appears he has drawn from. I do not expect him to become convinced of the reformed soteriological order by reading my short response, but as Dr. Stone says himself, Truth Really Matters. It is out of love for the Truth that I am compelled to call out some of his erroneous contortions of Calvinism and contend for a God-centered, monergistic theology of redemption.

-Nick Sabato

 

[1] Clark, G.H., What is the Christian Life? The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2012, pp. 189-190.

Caricatures of Calvinism and the denial of depravity: A rebuttal to Dr. David Stone, part 1

Recently, after reading my review of William R. Downing’s book, The Bible and the Problem of Knowledge published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ), a Dr. David Stone contacted me with a desire to discuss apologetic methodology.

Dr. Downing’s book dealt with the subject of epistemology and its relation to apologetics. My review of Downing’s work was favorable considering his presuppositional approach as well as his commitment to a biblical, reformed anthropology. Dr. Stone, being himself quite enthusiastic about apologetics and evangelism, asked me to review his article, “The Missing Heart of Apologetics” [accessed 1/23/2017]. I was honored to do so, and we engaged in a somewhat lengthy exchange.

As I read Dr. Stone’s work it was quite apparent that he was a man zealous not only for the proper method of apologetics, but for regular, one-to-one, personal evangelism. I told him that I applaud his enthusiasm for evangelism and that he was quite right that 1) apologetics is intimately connected to the subject of evangelism and not to be detached from it, and, 2) that apologetics must not remain in the realm of the theoretical but must make its way to actual encounters with the lost.

This particular article did not confine itself to apologetics and evangelism, however, but touched on two other important subjects in which I did not share his opinion. One was the Bible version debate, (which I had addressed in a book review published in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, (found here [please note that I completely reject the primary theological tenets of the GES, namely dispensationalism, Arminianism and antinomianism]). The other subject was Calvinism, which Dr. Stone wholeheartedly denounces as damnable heresy.

In our exchange, I was directed to another article Dr. Stone had recently written titled, “Calvinism: It’s not just irrational. It’s atheism” [accessed 1/23/2017]. There were some very concerning statements made by Dr. Stone relating to Calvinism initiated in the article he asked me to review and reiterated in our conversation. But since the particular article directed at Calvinism seems to summarize his objections to reformed theology, and since comments are not welcome on Dr. Stone’s website (the comments always appear to be “closed”), I thought I would take the time to address some of his statements here. Though his article is not very long, the issues he raises are numerous and require some attention. My response will be posted in at least two separate posts.

Let me begin by stating that nothing herein is meant as a personal attack on Dr. Stone. As far as I can tell, he appears to be a man who is zealous for evangelism and reaching the lost. Also, it took many years of listening to reformed preaching and reading a variety of material before my buttress set against Calvinism had finally been eroded. But because some of his statements against Calvinism are quite bold, misleading, and just plain absurd, and since in God’s providence I have been given the opportunity of interacting with him on this subject, I think it would be irresponsible for me not to provide an honest rebuttal for both his sake and the sake of his readers, should they ever be providentially directed to this site. Though Dr. Stone has been made aware of this site, I am quite certain he will not be the one directing his readers to nopeacewithrome.com anytime soon. In any case, we offer this short rebuttal.

Obviously, the title of his article itself is a bit shocking. To assert that Calvinism is atheism is beyond the allowable limits of “agreeing to disagree” over a “secondary doctrine”. I could argue—and it has been argued—that the God of Arminianism is not sovereign, therefore not the God of the Bible, making Arminianism atheistic. But I will be cautious enough not to proceed along those lines, even though that seems quite a bit more logical than asserting that faith in a perfectly sovereign God who controls the universe somehow equates to atheism.

I also found it amusing that he chose to use the word “irrational” to describe Calvinism. I say this because it was the logical precision of men like Gordon Clark which convinced me of the perfectly rational, interconnected and systematic nature of reformed theology. In fact, it was a growing resentment toward the irrationalism and paradoxical nature of the non-Calvinist position that forced me to embrace Calvinism. You can reject Calvinism for some other reason if you like, but one thing you cannot accuse it of is irrationality. The logical consistency of Calvinism is usually not what is up for debate. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have acknowledged that “the five-points stand or fall together”. The issue is not whether Calvinism is rational or logical, but whether it is biblical. That is where the debate typically centers, while unexegeted proof-texts are launched in typical elephant-hurling fashion.

Stone opens with a statement which cannot be brushed aside. He writes, “…You wouldn’t dream of calling Reformed Theology a damnable heresy, would you? Yes, I would. I’m not kidding about my title….” I am genuinely concerned for someone who uses such extreme language concerning the doctrines of grace. On what basis can it be alleged that Calvinism is a damnable heresy? Furthermore, if it is such, that puts all Calvinists on the path through the wide gate to hell. So if Dr. Stone is going so far as to relegate Calvinists to the lake of fire, we should offer an equally bold rebuttal. Surprisingly, however, he then goes on to say that “many Calvinists are born again Christians….” So, either Stone is using the phrase “damnable heresy” improperly, or he chose it for its emotional impact, or “damnable heresy” is not so damnable after all.

He explains, “Where Calvinism is damnable heresy is that children raised on that doctrinal diet will miss their personal responsibility to choose to repent, to choose to believe, that it’s up to them whether and when to humble themselves, recognize their lost condition, turn from sin, and turn to Christ.”

In an attempt to keep this article from getting so long that no one will read it (my last response to Dr. Stone was sixteen pages), I will try to work through this and the following errors quickly and pass over the lesser ones. It should be obvious that Dr. Stone engrafts fallen rebels with a capacity to take it upon themselves to choose their eternal destiny, according to the whims of their autonomous freewill. He appears to have no reservations about proclaiming the innate ability of those described in Romans 1 as being in epistemological futility to simply “choose to repent, choose to believe…humble themselves…turn from sin, and turn from Christ.” Typically such Arminian sentiments are at least prefaced by a recognition of the divine initiative, that is, that God must at least commence the process of conversion via “prevenient grace” or some other prior work before man can do any of these things. Dr. Stone’s insistence upon such innate ability in man makes me wonder if he is more pelagian than he is “non-Calvinist”. I would like to believe that is not the case, since pelagianism actually is “damnable heresy”.

He then goes on to issue an attack on “total depravity”. Dr. Stone should be informed that rejecting total depravity is not something historic Arminians would likely recommend. His latent pelagianism rises more and more to the surface when he puts himself at odds not only with Calvinists but historic Arminians as well. Consider the words of Dr. Ronald Cooke on this point:

“Some people who have not done their homework either in church history or theology imagine that Total Depravity is a ‘Calvinistic” doctrine only; and that those who are not Calvinists do not believe in it. However, Orton Wiley, who was the premier conservative Wesleyan-Arminian theologian of the 20th century wrote, ‘By the total depravity of man we do not mean that he is so thoroughly depraved that there can be no further degrees of wickedness. Rather, the term is used in its extensive sense, and carries the thought that the contagion of sin is spread throughout man’s entire being. It vitiates every power and faculty of spirit, soul, and body. The affections are alienated, the intellect darkened, and the will perverted…. St. Paul affirms, For I know that in me (that is my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.’”[1]

To emphasize, Dr. Cooke writes:

“When one looks at church history he will find that conservative Lutherans, conservative Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, conservative Episcopalians, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Wesleyan-Arminians have believed and taught this doctrine [total depravity]. Biblical Christians for centuries have taught that all sinners need a Vivifier, just like Augustin said. [Charles] Finney, however, sought to revive the anti-christianity of Pelagianism in Protestant churches.”[2]

It should be clear why my concern for Dr. Stone—that his abhorrence for what he perceives to be a distinctively Calvinistic doctrine has driven him to abandon a biblical anthropology in favor of a form of pelagianism—is well justified. Finney’s pelagianism has infected American evangelicalism at large in both soteriology and evangelistic methodology.

His next caricature is in regards to Unconditional Election and that such a doctrine inevitably means that “vast multitudes…are Unconditionally Damned”. Note the category error here. He is attempting a parallel between Unconditional Election and the reprobate, as if to say, in the same way that some are elected to salvation unconditionally, others are damned unconditionally. Such a statement reeks of an appeal to the emotions and is itself a shocking distortion of biblical election. The damned are not damned “unconditionally”. They are justly condemned because they are sinners both by nature and by choice. But Dr. Stone’s repudiation of Total Depravity leaves us with an apparently neutral being, and so perhaps that is the logic behind the allegation that the reprobate are condemned “unconditionally”—that is, for no apparent reason.

But man is not neutral (Luke 11:23). He is set against God in every fiber of his being (Romans 3:10-23). Post-Fall, such is every man’s natural condition. His willful sin adds to the weight of his cumulative wickedness, thereby justifying his destruction and consignment to the lake of fire. He is not condemned “unconditionally”. He is judged with righteous judgment, on the condition that he has willingly and knowingly broken the moral law of God. Since God’s law is embedded in the image of God, man is rendered inexcusable.

Unconditional Election is such that there are no conditions that fallen man has met or can meet which put him in a right standing with God. Dr. Stone seems to think that if Calvinism were true it would mean that God randomly and arbitrarily selects from a pool of neutral beings who will go to heaven and who will go to hell; both original and ongoing sin somehow excluded from the equation.

Election is unconditional because there are no conditions that fallen man is capable of meeting that will make him right with God, or even prepare himself as a candidate for God’s grace. But condemnation is God’s justice rightly executed on sinners. It is not “unconditional”, but conditioned upon the undeniable reality of man’s own sinfulness as compared to the moral law of God.

Stone goes on to say that at conversion, according to Calvinism, there is “no intellectual or emotional or willful choice” on the person’s part. Not so. Justification is by faith alone (I hope Dr. Stone would at least agree with that), and faith is intellectual assent to a proposition. Saving faith is belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The regenerated person is given the gifts of faith and repentance, as well as a new heart desirous to do the will of God. The will, mind and emotions of the unregenerate are intimately connected and equally infected with the depraved nature. The believer is made willing because he has been given a new nature. But apart from God’s Spirit breathing new life into dry bones, there is no willingness to be raised to life, and no power of contrary choice. Those dead in trespasses and sin do not of their freewill decide to be resurrected. Bruce Ware elaborates:

“…[Man] is not constrained or coerced in his choosing but rather chooses according to his deepest desire, his strongest inclination, or according to what he most wants. Of course, since the agent chooses according to his deepest desire or strongest inclination, it makes no sense to imagine that his freedom consists in his ability to do otherwise—right? If his deepest desire and strongest inclination is to choose A, then what sense does it make to say that he might, instead, have chosen –A or B? Why would he choose contrary to his deepest desire or strongest inclination? What sense does that make? For to choose –A or B would be to choose against what may be thought to be his highest desire, but if he really did that, then his choice of –A or B would actually be the choice he desired most! The simple way to understand freedom of inclination is this: as morally free agents, we always choose and do what we most want.

“…His freedom, then, [is] seen in his ability to choose and act according to his strongest inclination, not in some supposed power of contrary choice.”[3]

Another cause for concern is that in quoting non-Calvinist David Cloud who, while making his own case against Calvinism notes that he appreciates the Calvinists’ emphasis of God’s sovereignty, Dr. Stone “totally disagrees”. He writes, “Calvinist sovereignty (a word not found in the KJV) is nothing like the concept of sovereignty in common usage in the English language and in the history of the world.” Unfortunately one faulty assumption is used to buttress another. Dr. Stone and I exchanged a few words about the Bible version debate, Stone revealing his devotion to the KJV. Part of his argument against “Calvinistic” sovereignty here is based on the apparently infallible KJV. Interestingly, the word sovereignty is indeed found in a number of other translations. And although the following point is irrelevant to Dr. Stone, having been influenced by Jack Moorman and his outright dismissal of any other translation, it is noteworthy that the ASV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, HCSB, NRSV and even Darby’s translation all contain the word “sovereignty”.

More importantly, Dr. Stone asserts that the common English usage of the word should determine its meaning. Well, if the KJV English is more relevant than the Hebrew and Greek texts then I suppose there is some argument here. But of course the Hebrew and Greek words in their proper context determine the meaning of the word, not the English of a seventeenth century translation. Further, it is the concept that is ultimately in question, not the use of a particular word. I shouldn’t have to give the obvious example that the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible while no orthodox Christian denies this doctrine. I don’t want to belabor the point but I think it should be given a little more attention.

Is it unusual that we should insist on the truth of a doctrine—such as “Calvinistic sovereignty”—based on the analogy of faith and the cumulative weight of evidence from Scripture rather than the success of finding one specific verse that uses the exact terminology in question? Many theological concepts deduced from Scripture are explained in terms that are not used in Scripture. To name a few, consider the use of such terms as, inerrancy, epistemology, hermeneutics, omnipresence, omniscience, impassibility, soteriology, monergism, depravity, eschatology, millennium, etc.[4] None of these words are in Scripture but the teachings can be easily deduced and defended. To insist upon a “chapter and verse” where such terms can be found and declare victory when it is shown that they are not used in Scripture is very faulty reasoning indeed. Such is the word-thing fallacy: “Words and things are not the same. The absence of a particular term does not entail the absence of a particular concept.”[5]

Naturally, freewill is a major component of Dr. Stone’s objection to Calvinism. He writes, “Every man knows that our system of laws and justice make no moral sense whatsoever if man has no free will.” He essentially argues that it is illogical to punish someone for a crime which they had no freedom not to execute. This is typical of anti-Calvinistic rhetoric and I am guilty of having once used similar arguments myself. The flaw is twofold: One who argues this way is conflating “freewill” with the freedom with which morally responsible agents are endowed. While man is a free moral agent—committing sin of his volition and not of coercion—he is not free in the Arminian sense of the word. Lazarus was not free to be resurrected or not, depending upon his power of contrary choice, mood, weariness, or any other emotion. Again, man is not a morally neutral being free to decide whether or not he will enjoy resurrection life. Yet he is responsible for his actions and must suffer the due penalty of the law as carried out by the civil magistrate. More importantly, his responsibility to repent and believe the gospel does not imply that he possesses the natural ability to do so. More than once he confuses responsibility and ability. I take this up in Human ability and the imperative mood.

Dr. Stone likens the sovereignty of the almighty God of Scripture to the atheistic/mechanistic/deterministic “universe’s master computer program”. An issue he raised in our exchange was that my denial of freewill entailed the embrace of a universe in which everything happened according to the decrees of God and there was subsequently no room for human choice. Without delving into a long discourse here, I would simply question why someone with a passion for biblical inerrancy (albeit a misguided view of such due to unjustified textual allegiances) seems to prefer a universe governed by the free and arbitrary actions of billions of wicked, selfish, God-hating, idolaters. Perhaps a review of Romans chapter one’s descriptive list of the natural man would be helpful at this point. Would you prefer a universe where billions of vile worms with their freewills perpetually collide in a constant state of rebellion? That such would be a better hope for humanity’s fate? I will opt for the God of Scripture who unapologetically does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11).

“But Calvinism blasphemes God by teaching Limited Atonement and Unconditional Damnation for 98% (or more) of the human race. This must be a doctrine of Satan, to blaspheme the grace of God and the love of God, deceiving people that God is arbitrary, that all fates are in His hands without human recourse. By the way, this is also Islam!”

I will assume that Dr. Stone is using the word “blaspheme” here for the emotional charge and dramatic effect it supplies and not because he actually believes it blasphemous to assert that God is not obligated to rescue every wicked sinner from their rightful and just condemnation. In what sense is it blasphemous to insist that God saves His own elect people according to His purposes in accordance with the covenant of redemption established “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9)? One may not like that God did this, he may prefer that God merely made a general, potential atonement for those who would of their own volition “decide to follow Jesus” (in which case no one would be saved), but it could hardly be called blasphemous for God to save whomever He wills. Rather, if we are going to throw the word blasphemy around, it would more rightly be applied to the pelagian path upon which Dr. Stone appears to be walking.

Calvinism is likened to both atheism and Islam by Dr. Stone. It is difficult to take such charges seriously. He assured me in our exchange that he had not missed any relevant reformed works in settling on the position he now holds, but we have to wonder just how much actual reformed writing Dr. Stone is acquainted with that he could with good conscience hurl such accusations. He appears to take an even stronger position against Calvinism than some of the non-Calvinists he seems to have been influenced by.

There is much more worth addressing in Dr. Stone’s article. I plan on taking some of it up in part 2. For now, let it be recognized that the blind allegiance to “freewill” so prevalent in our day is nothing more than the fruit of Charles Finney and his pelagian anthropology. What concerns me most with Dr. Stone is not his refusal to embrace reformed soteriology. TULIP is not the gospel as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is not required that one be a Calvinist in order to be saved. What concerns me is that a denial of Total Depravity and the epistemological futility of the natural man results in other departures from orthodoxy. His own defense of presuppositionalism, for example, is quite inconsistent with his appraisal of man as an apparently neutral being. If he is neutral, like a jury who has not heard any opening statements yet, why not just do your best to convince him of the gospel using all evidentialism has to offer?

Furthermore, a patent denial of Total Depravity does not put one outside of reformed theology but outside of orthodox Christian theology. As has been shown, it is not a distinctively Calvinistic doctrine. It may be argued that only the Calvinist holds the doctrine consistently, since it is the foundation for the rest of the five-points, but it is not something exclusive to avowed Calvinists. Man has an innate problem. It is not merely that he sins, but that he “was brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5).

I humbly exhort Dr. David Stone to reconsider his objection to this heartily biblical doctrine.

-Nick Sabato

[1] Cooke, R., Pelagianism, Barthianism, Self-Esteem & Romans 5:12-18, Truth International Ministries, Max Meadows, VA, 2012, pp. 48-49.

[2] Cooke, R., ref. 1, p. 146.

[3] Ware, B.A., The compatibility of determinism and human freedom, in Barrett, M. and Nettles, T.J., (eds.), Whomever He Wills, Founders Press, Cape Coral, FL, 2012, p. 228.

[4] Excerpted from a more exhaustive list in Blackburn, E.M. (ed.), Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, Solid Ground Christian Books, Vestavia Hills, AL, 2013, p. 24.

[5] Taylor, J., Was there a covenant of works?, in ref. 4, p. 137.

Arminianism, the back door to popery

During my ‘non-Calvinist’ days, having long been a staunch opponent of Rome and her heresies, when I stumbled upon a book titled Arminianism, the Back Door to Popery (Jonathan Warne) I was quite a bit insulted. Similarly, Augustus Toplady had written, Arminianism, the Road to Rome, and, Arminianism: A Jesuit Drug.

I did not consider myself to be Arminian or Wesleyan, but having read some of the things John Wesley had to say about Romanism and his interpretation of antichrist as being fulfilled in the papacy, I could not fathom how one could see a connection between Arminianism and popery. Consider, for example, the following brief excerpts from Wesley’s notes on Revelation 13:

“And they worshipped the dragon – Even in worshipping the beast, although they knew it not. And worshipped the wild beast – Paying him such honour as was not paid to any merely secular potentate. That very title, “Our most holy Lord,” was never given to any other monarch on earth….

“And there was given him – By the dragon, through the permission of God. A mouth speaking great things and blasphemy – The same is said of the little horn on the fourth beast in Daniel. Nothing greater, nothing more blasphemous, can be conceived, than what the Popes have said of themselves, especially before the Reformation.

“To blaspheme his name – Which many of the Popes have done explicitly, and in the most dreadful manner.

“…By this the Pope manifests that he is antichrist, directly contrary to Christ….

“…The name of the beast is that which he bears through his whole duration; namely, that of Papa or Pope: the number of his name is the whole time during which he bears this name. Whosoever, therefore, receives the mark of the beast does as much as if he said expressly, ‘I acknowledge the present Papacy, as proceeding from God’….”[1]

Similar statements concerning the identity of antichrist are found in Clarke’s Commentary and Barnes’ Notes. Dr. Ron Cooke points out that in his commentary on Revelation, Wesley “mentions the Papacy over and over again in connection with Antichrist…. The fact remains that Wesley identified the Papacy with the Antichrist [and this is] clearly demonstrated…no matter what else Wesley may have written on other subjects.”[2]

I also thought of how Dave Hunt had written extensively on the subject of Romanism, denouncing it as blasphemous heresy, and also debated many Roman Catholic apologists. All that despite his anti-Calvinistic soteriology.[3]

It seemed to me, therefore, an overzealous and emotional outburst to claim that Arminianism was somehow a bridge to Rome seeing how some prominent Arminians of the past as well as many contemporary non-Calvinists had stood and continue to stand firmly against the aberrant works-righteousness of Romanism and the battery of other heresies the scarlet-colored Beast spews from its mouth.

It was not until I understood that underlying all of the mariolotry, saint worship, necromancy, sacerdotalism, etc., was in fact a common bond with the non-Calvinistic, non-confessional evangelicalism so prevalent today. It is an oft overlooked bond that was present within Wesley’s (and presumably Adam Clarke’s and Albert Barnes’) theology, despite any allegiance to the historic Protestant interpretation regarding the identity of the man of sin. That common bond is synergism. 

Wesleyan Arminianism may not be pelagian, and therefore should not be regarded as a damnable heresy. But then again, neither is Rome’s soteriology pelagian (it is semi-pelagian). However, synergism is what they have in common. So, despite the offense that most evangelicals would take to the allegation that Arminianism is a backdoor to popery, when it is realized that any conceivable theory of salvation and associated ordo salutis must ultimately fall into one of two categories—monergism or synergism—it cannot be denied that Arminianism must necessarily sit beside its Papal predecessor under the synergistic heading. In this regard at least, Arminians are at odds with their reformed, monergistic counterparts, and of necessity, at peace with Rome.

That is not to say that Arminians are in bed with the Scarlet Harlot, that they embrace Rome’s false gospel, or that they are diabolical Jesuits in disguise. Numerous examples can be given of men who are familiar with Rome’s counterfeit gospel and stand in direct opposition to it despite their reluctance to embrace reformed soteriology. I was one of them.

Primarily, sound exegesis, systematic theology and Baptist covenant theology worked together to bring me out of synergism. But at least part of the impetus for my parting ways with my non-Calvinist position is my abhorrence for peace with Rome. There truly cannot be peace between Christ and antichrist. Synergism is that common thread that runs from pelagianism through Arminianism right through to Romanism. But the thread is cut at Calvinism. The cancerous root of synergism is severed by the sword of a truly consistent, Protestant reformed soteriology, and synergism is ultimately smashed by the hammer that is the Word of God (Jeremiah 23:29).

Synergism undermines and eats away at an otherwise grace-centered gospel. The purity of grace is preserved by the bulwark of monergism.

-Nick Sabato

[1] Wesley, J., Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, The book of Revelation, ch. 13.

[2] Cooke, R., Antichrist Exposed: The Reformed and Puritan View of Antichrist, Truth International Ministries, Max Meadows, VA, 2006, p. 431 [Available here].

[3] Of course, despite Hunt’s forceful attacks on the papacy and Romanism, he could not fully embrace the historic Protestant position that had identified the papacy as the antichrist because of his prior commitment to Dispensational futurism. I hope to address this subject in a future post.

Human ability and the imperative mood

While I was struggling with issues relating to Calvinism, I often repeated an assertion that I had picked up from my Dispensational brethren which was essentially this: God’s giving of a command to fallen man necessarily implies that man has the ability to respond to the command. In other words, responsibility necessitates ability. For God to demand something that His creatures were innately incapable of responding to would not have sat well with the non-confessional, non-denominational Dispensational church I was brought up in, and it did not sit well with me.

Not having a sufficiently coherent theological framework in place, such an assertion regarding man’s ability to repent seemed reasonable, especially when the “prevenient grace” of God would necessarily be bestowed upon all. It was not that man in his natural state could keep the commandments, but that God had enabled all men to do what He commands by extending His grace to all people. And all you had to do to make this case was show from the Scriptures that “God…commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), remind objectors that only some men actually do repent, and chalk up the difference to man’s inviolable and autonomous will which sometimes stubbornly resists the grace of God.

It wasn’t until years later (and my dogmatism on this point had been already eroded by a variety of authors and pastors, including my own) that I heard a lecture by the late John W. Robbins which cut right through my objection and exposed the logical fallacy in my reasoning. It was his first lecture in a series titled, “An Introduction to Logic“. Ironically, while I was criticizing the Calvinists for being illogical on this point, I learned from Robbins that I was the one who was being illogical. Without realizing it, many of us may be regurgitating the arguments Erasmus hurled at Luther, despite the fact that the Reformer had obliterated the objections of the Romanist almost 500 years ago.

In 2010, during a sermon series addressing the five-points of Calvinism, Pastor Ed Moore contended that it was incorrect to assume that responsibility implies ability. But at that time I had my own illustrations sufficient to keep me under the delusion that he was wrong in this bold assertion. As it turns out his argument was logical and biblical and I had totally missed it.

Below I have transcribed the segment of Robbins’ lecture that struck me and showed where my logical blunder was. Following the transcription I have included a relevant excerpt from Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Links to both of these resources are also provided.

Hopefully this will be useful to anyone struggling with the issue of responsibility and ability.

-Nick Sabato

“In [The Bondage of the Will, Luther] deals with many of the logical blunders that people make in interpreting and understanding Scripture.  One of the things he deals with is this (and this will become clearer as we go on):  …You cannot draw an inference from a command. You can draw an inference only from a proposition.  You cannot draw an inference from a sentence in the imperative mood. […] The imperative mood  is something like the Ten Commandments, ‘thou shalt not do something’.  It’s a command.  A declarative mood sentence is something else. It’s a statement about something.  David was king of Israel; it’s not a command. It’s simply a sentence in the declarative mood.

“…One of Luther’s arguments in Bondage of the Will is that people are drawing inferences from commands. They think, for example, that because God tells them to be perfect, they can be perfect. And Luther says this is an elementary blunder, a blunder worthy of schoolchildren. He says it’s a logical mistake. He says, ‘God tells you to be perfect to show you that you can’t do it.’ And that’s why you need a Savior. If you can do it in your own power, there’s no point in having Christ die on the cross. But many people in that day, and in our day think that because there’s a command in Scripture, that implies we can do it. And Luther gives a little lesson in logic, right there in the Bondage of the Will about drawing inferences from commands rather than from declarative sentences.”

Robbins, J., “Introduction to logic” (lecture 1 of 18) in ‘Collection 11 Introduction to Logic’ 23:15-25-15.

Martin Luther:

“And this is the place, where I take occasion to enforce this my general reply: — that man,by the words of the law, is admonished and taught what he ought to do, not what he can do: that is, that he is brought to know his sin, but not to believe that he has any strength in himself. Wherefore, friend Erasmus, as often as you throw in my teeth the Words of the law, so often I throw in yours that of Paul, “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” — not of the power of the will. Heap together, therefore, out of the large Concordances all the imperative words into one chaos, provided that, they be not words of the promise but of the requirement of the law only, and I will immediately declare, that by them is always shewn what men ought to do, not what they can do, or do do. And even common grammarians and every little school-boy in the street knows, that by verbs of the imperative mood, nothing else is signified than that which ought to be done, and that, what is done or can be done, is expressed by verbs of the indicative mood.

“Thus, therefore, it comes to pass, that you theologians, are so senseless and so many degrees below even school-boys, that when you have caught hold of one imperative verb you infer an indicative sense, as though what was commanded were immediately and even necessarily done, or possible to be done. But how many slips are there between the cup and the lip! So that, what you command to be done, and is therefore quite possible to be done, is yet never done at all. Such a difference is there, between verbs imperative and verbs indicative, even in the most common and easy things. Whereas you, in these things which are as far above those, as the heavens are above the earth, so quickly make indicatives out of imperatives, that the moment you hear the voice of him commanding, saying, “do,” “keep,” “choose,” you will have, that it is immediately kept, done, chosen, or fulfilled, or, that our powers are able so to do.”

Luther, M., De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, pp. 111-12.