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Preaching the Gospel at Auschwitz

1.1 million people died at Auschwitz.  It was pure evil.  Did God ordain this?  Did God cause this?

The Calvinist answer is that God did not cause the horrors of Auschwitz.  He did ordain it to come to pass and He used secondary causes to ensure that the deaths at Auschwitz did in fact take place.  John Calvin wrote, “The will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by his command or permission.  God then, according to Calvin, does not give permission for sinners to commit sin but He is the cause of all things including sin.  Calvin continues:

The hand of God no less rules the internal affections than it precedes the external acts, and that God does not perform by the hand of men those things which he has decreed without first working in their hearts the very will which precedes their acts.

Did you read that?  Calvin is stating that everything that comes to pass does so because God both decrees it and He works in the heart of man to make sure their acts come to pass as He ordains.

The mystery in Calvinism is how God can bring things to pass including evil and yet hold mankind responsible (or punishable would be a better term) for their sinful actions.  Calvin likewise stated that this responsibility is a mystery to him.  Calvin wrote,

“But how it was that God, by his foreknowledge and decree, ordained what should take place respecting man, and yet so ordained it without his being himself in the least a participator of the fault, or being at all the author (autor) or the approver of the transgression; how this was, I repeat, is a secret manifestly far too deep to be penetrated by the human mind, nor am I ashamed to confess our ignorance. And far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed to confess his ignorance of that which the Lord envelopes in the blaze of his own inaccessible light.”

Other Calvinists affirm this as well.  How can God hold wicked sinners responsible for the sins that He ordained for them to commit in the first place?  The answer: mystery with an appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29.

Most Calvinists are comfortable with that mystery.  I am not.

Someone has said that if you cannot preach the gospel at the gates of Auschwitz, it is not the gospel.  How can we look at 1.1 million people dead at Auschwitz and agree with Calvin?  That this happened by the will of God.  And for what?  I know that Calvinists like to preach that such a view would mean that evil is without purpose.  Yet can there be purposeless evil in a world with free creatures?

John Piper appeals to a greater evil and that would be the cross.  1.1 million sinners dying at Auschwitz is nothing compared to the perfect and holy one dying on the cross (Acts 2:22-23).  Piper points out that this evil, the murder of Jesus Christ, is worst than any other wicked acts and yet it was planned by God.

The problem is that we Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God.  While Piper holds that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of all things, I would disagree with his definition of sovereignty.  The Calvinist reads sovereignty and sees omnipotence.  I disagree.  God can be sovereign while allowing mankind to be free to make free choices.  The cross demonstrates this.  Further, God, because He is God, can step into His creation for His purposes.  God did this in the cross.  God will do this at the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  God can use evil for His glory such as in the cross.  Yet God did not make the Jews kill Jesus nor did He make the Romans crucify Jesus.  This was allowed.  Such language would be opposed by Calvin.  Calvin would argue that God not only ordained the cross but He would make sure that the people would do the very sinful acts that He purposed for them to do.  Piper seems to agree.

Dr. James White also holds that there is no such thing as purposeless evil.  Since White holds to divine determinism (even hard determinism), he holds that everything happens as Calvin states, because God wills for it to happen and He makes sure it comes to pass.  Every rape, murder, abortion (which is murder), theft, war, etc. happens because God wills it so.  God is perfectly holy so He cannot be accused of sinning but He uses secondary causes to bring about His decreed will.

Let us return then to Auschwitz.  I have never heard a Calvinist preach this at Auschwitz.  It would not preach well.  Imagine going back to 1944 and preaching to the souls at Auschwitz that all this is happening  because God wills it so.  Imagine preaching that God will hold the Nazis responsible for their sins of killing but He first ordained this to come to pass.  Imagine further preaching that the same God who ordained this evil to come to pass is now calling you to repent and come to faith in Christ.  How is this consistent with the God who gave His Son?

The Arminian gospel would be this: this evil is happening because of the sinful choices of mankind.  People are wicked and unless they repent, they will see the wrath of God in His judgment upon them (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The Bible is clear, however, that God wills not for anyone here at Auschwitz to perish but to come to repentance including you Nazis.  He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) but He wants all of you to repent and be saved from your sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  This wicked place is here because we live in a fallen world with fallen sinners who love evil and hate God.  May you repent and believe the gospel for eternal life (Romans 6:23).

The cross shows us God.  In the cross we have a humble Savior who left the glory of heaven to abide on earth (Philippians 2:5-11).  We have a Savior who prays even for sinners while He is dying (Luke 23:34).  In the cross we see a God who would rather die than mankind go to hell (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  The cross shows us the love of God (Romans 5:8-9) and this love is not confined merely to those of who have believed but to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14).  This is our God.  He is glorious.  He is loving.  He is good (Psalm 145:8-9).

John Wesley wrote:

“While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.”

But Wesley also preached that all that we have from God, His love, His salvation, etc. are gifts of His love:

All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

This is our God.  This is the God of the Bible.  The glorious God whom I love and adore.  He rescues sinners by His grace and I am a testimony of His love and grace.  What evil may befall me I will not cast at His feet but know that He is able to work even through evil for His glory and good (Romans 8:28).  The mystery in Arminianism is how God’s will is done despite allowing mankind free will.  I would rather have that as my mystery while preaching at the gates of Auschwitz.

Calvinist Debates (And What We Can Learn From Them)

Over the past year or so Calvinists have been debating one another more frequently.  There has always been some debating going on with both Arminianism and Calvinism among those who agree but disagree over minor points.  As of late, Calvinists have turned it up somewhat in their debating.

Most of their debating has been over theonomy.  Theonomy is the view that the law of God is still applicable to all cultures today and not merely for the Israelites.  Some Calvinists believe that every nation should be under the law as its basic structure and to follow the law as the Bible gives it to us.  This would include men such as the late Greg Bahnsen (whom I respect greatly) or Gary DeMar.  Other Calvinists argue against this and believe that the law of Moses was just for the Israelites and not for all nations under heaven.  They point out that Christ fulfilled the judicial and ceremonial law as well as being our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) for our moral sins.  They point to passages such as Galatians 4:1-6 or Hebrews 10:1-4.

I am not here to settle this issue.  I think we all agree that Jesus saves sinners and this should be the heart of our message and not side issues.  I welcome healthy debates but sadly these debates among Calvinists have turned pretty ugly with some on one side saying the other side is not even saved.  I have experienced these sort of attacks before.  It is not loving nor kind.  I have received e-mails from Calvinists who tell me I am lost, that I am going to hell along with John Wesley, that Arminius is in hell, that God will judge me by the “doctrines of grace” and whether I held to them.  I use to receive almost daily e-mails from a Calvinist from California who told me I was a puppet of Satan, that I was dead in my sins, that I was preaching a false Christ, that I rejected the Word of God, etc.  I would always reply, “Thank you for your love for me” or “Please pray that Jesus would be glorified through me and not through casting me in hell.”  After I starting just replying, “Romans 5:8” he gave up.  I suppose he is still out there praying for us Arminians to be saved.

Another guy on Twitter use to send me tweets almost daily seeking to debate me over every little word that I wrote.  I could post on prayer and I would get a tweet from him wanting to debate the sovereignty of God.  If I posted something about my children he would tweet me and ask me about the doctrine of unconditional election.  I finally blocked him altogether.

In fact, on Twitter there are a group of Calvinists that spend their time watching Twitter for any tweets on Calvinism.  All you have to do is go onto Twitter and hashtag #Calvinism with something negative about the system and watch them come to life.  They will tweet you hundreds of times till you either block them or pull down the tweet.

Then there are the followers of Dr. James White.  Now I will admit up front that I regard Dr. White as a brother in the Lord.  I enjoy his works.  I listen to his podcasts (until he goes off on Arminianism).  His works on Mormonism have been a source of great help to me over the years.  He was one of the first apologists that I ever heard of and read as a young disciple of Christ over 20 years ago.  I was shocked to learn he was a Calvinist but this has not stopped me from loving him and appreciating him.  Yet Dr. White has an army of loyal followers who follow him completely.  If you ever question Dr. White, these folks will come out like ants to defend their man.  Dr. White will occasionally jump in with them but he normally stays out.  They are on Twitter and Facebook but they are out there defending Dr. White as the greatest apologist in the history of Christianity.

I suppose there are Arminians out there like these above.  I don’t know of any.  I am not one for sure.  I would disagree with Calvinists all day on Twitter or other forms of social media but my battle is not against Calvinists. I simply want to exalt Christ, see the gospel go forth, and yes, along the way, promote biblical theology as I see it and that would be Arminianism.  I have been called a raving Arminian only once and I believe this brother go me wrong (he lives in the UK and doesn’t know me).  Most who do know me including my Calvinist friends are often shocked to find out that I am an Arminian.  It is not what I seek to promote.  My agenda is not to exalt Arminius.  In fact, I don’t care if people know who is Arminius is or not.  I appreciate the man but he is not the one who is worth praising.  Jesus alone is!

Paul the Apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 words we need to read and hear:

12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

I ask the same: Is Christ divided?  Was Arminius, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, White, Campbell, Reasoner, Owen, Watson, etc. crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Bunyon, Ravenhill, Tozer, Lewis?

The reality is that we divide over issues that are not truly related to the gospel.  I know some will contend that Calvinists have the gospel messed up or that Arminians promote works-righteousness but if you stop and ponder these things you will learn that we both get the gospel right but we divide on how we get there and sometimes what takes place after.

I heard Dr. Douglas Wilson say to an atheist who asked him why if you gave five people each a Bible and put them in a room all by themselves and told them to just read the Bible, why would the five people come out with five different views.  Wilson answered that this is not an attack on the Bible nor upon the gospel but upon the sinfulness of man.  The fact is that five people with five different views shows us nothing about God nor His Word but rather it shows us that we should not trust people and their opinions.

I agree.  I am an Arminian in my soteriology but this does not define who I am.  I am much more than just Arminius and his works.  In fact, I don’t agree with all that Arminius wrote.  My Arminianism is not what defines me nor does it dominate me.  I read all sorts of Christian theology and I have hundreds of Calvinist books and commentaries.  One of my favorite study Bibles is The MacArthur Study Bible.  I appreciate many Calvinist theologians and preachers.  I am not blinded by my Arminianism to not appreciate Calvinism nor what they offer to me as a child of God.

The reality is that Jesus Christ is the One that I adore the most.  The sinless Son of God is the One whom I pray to, worship, long to be like, rejoice that He shed His blood for my sins.  I long to go to heaven to just be in His holy presence.  Heaven will be heaven because of Jesus and not because of any theologians who will be there.  When I was lost, Jesus found me!  When I was dead in my sins, Jesus gave me life!  When I was blind, He opened my eyes so I could see!  Jesus is my life (Colossians 3:4).

If people hear about Wesley, they might be smarter when they leave me but still dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).  If they hear about Arminius, they might be impressed with his life but they will not have eternal life (John 5:24).  If they hear me talk about John Calvin, they might agree that he was an exceptional expository preacher but they will walk away still under condemnation from sin (John 3:18).  If I explain to someone theonomy, they might agree that the law of God is good (1 Timothy 1:8-11) but if the law doesn’t show them their sins and lead them to Christ, what is the point (Galatians 3:22-24)?  I can possibly try to explain my view of the millennial reign of Christ but if they don’t know Christ, what is the point?

I am not demeaning the need for sound doctrine nor am I seeking to demean the need for theological debates. We need them (see Acts 15).  Yet at the same time, if Christ is not being preached, if His cross is not being lifted up (John 12:32; 1 Corinthians 2:2), what is the point?  Christ is the One who alone is worthy to be praised and sinners need to hear the truth of the gospel to be saved by His grace (Romans 10:14-17).  Christ is our salvation and not any theologian (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

My earnest prayer is for the Church to exalt Christ.  We have over 35,000 denominations.  This doesn’t disprove the truth of the Bible nor does it disprove the validity of the existence of God (Romans 1:19-20) but it proves that man is fallible and sinful at heart (Jeremiah 17:5-9).  Most denominations started out simply longing to restore the Church back to the centrality of the gospel.  Somewhere along the way they became focused on man and his agenda took over.  This is why we have 35,000+ denominations.  Our hope, nonetheless, must be on Jesus Christ.  No church will save us.  Only Christ will save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  The reality is that Jesus has only one Church and it is those who are His true disciples (John 8:31-32).

Jesus Himself said in Luke 8:19-21:

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Why Do Calvinists Despise Unlimited Limited Atonement?

I have a friend who posted from A.W. Pink, Pink’s infamous (from my viewpoint) talk on John 3:16 in which (like John Owen before him) Pink insists that John 3:16 does not teach that Jesus died for the world but rather the world here must be mean the elect that God has chosen out of the world.  If John 3:16 means that Jesus died for all men then all would be saved (this is their reasoning) and since all are not saved then it follows that Jesus did not die for all men and thus John 3:16 is not saying that Jesus died for the whole world but rather that He died only for the elect that God has chosen out of the sinful world.

And Calvinists rejoice in this view!

But why?  Why do Calvinists rejoice that John 3:16 doesn’t teach that Jesus shed His blood for all people?  What hope can they give lost sinners that they can be saved?  What comfort does it bring Calvinists to read John 3:16 and say to themselves, “This is not referring to all but only to the elect.”  Do they ever wonder then if Jesus perhaps did not die for them?  Remember that both Augustine and Calvin taught that God sometimes gives sinners a false assurance that they are saved but in reality He will condemn them to eternal hell because He simply did not choose them.

However, one could argue that Calvinists despise unlimited limited atonement for several reasons.  Some are obviously better than others. Let me offer just a few.

1.  It’s Not Biblical.

This would be the standard answer from your more intelligent Calvinists.  They honestly believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus shed His blood only for the elect and unlimited passages such as John 1:29 or John 3:16-18; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2.  They believe that if this doctrine were true, Jesus shed His blood in vain since most people are not saved.

Calvinists often will reply as well that when Jesus died on the cross, He truly saved people on the cross.  They believe that all the Old Testament saints were now saved through Christ’s work as well as the New Testament saints yet to come.  The doctrine of definite atonement (or particular redemption or limited atonement) is said to have been completed on the cross.  However, nearly all Calvinists believe that the atonement must be appropriated by faith.  In other words, while they teach that the elect were justified in Christ at the cross, the elect only become the elect through faith.  Ask any normal Calvinist when they were saved and they will reply the same as the Arminian, “At this point in time when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Christ.”  Yet this is a denial of the Calvinist doctrine if in fact the elect are not eternally justified in the mind of God.  If Christ shed His blood for the elect and Calvinism teaches that the elect are saved in Christ at the cross then the elect are never born with sin.  They are eternally justified before God because of Christ.  The elect were saved at the cross and thus none need to repent in time.  This is the logic of Calvinism if you carry it out.

The Arminian answer is simple: Christ shed His blood for all people and all can come and be saved.  However, only those who repent of their sins and place their saving faith in Christ Jesus are saved and thus the elect (1 Timothy 4:10).  The Bible even mentions that some are lost despite Jesus shedding His blood for them (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-2).  Calvinists often say that all whom the Lord loves (or chosen) will be saved yet Jesus loved the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 yet he was not saved.  Salvation is by faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.

2.  Comfort in God’s Choosing.

Some Calvinists find comfort that the Bible teaches that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and they consider themselves His elect.  Calvin wrote about false assurance that God gives to the non-elect so the non-elect actually believe they are elect but in reality are not:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.

For more on this subject view this blogpost.

Calvin taught that God does not give us reasons why He allows people to believe they are the elect when they are not.  In the end, as always with the Calvinist doctrine of election, the choice is purely arbitrary.  While I don’t believe that the Calvinist view of election is the same as in Islam, both views end with a sovereign God choosing merely based on His own choice whom He will save and in both Calvinism and Islam, God does allow people to falsely believe they are the elect.  I have been told many times that I am not part of the elect because of my rejection of Calvinism (since Calvinism is seen as the gospel among some Calvinists).  I have been told that I have a false assurance and that I am lost.

For some Calvinists, the doctrine of election brings comfort to them since they believe that God looked throughout time and chose them.  From my vantage point, it seems God has favored Europeans and Westerners for most of the history of the Church.  Thankfully, God must now be finally choosing to save non-whites as He is saving people all across Africa and Asia.  Yet perhaps He is not and just giving these poor sinners a false assurance of their election.

The Arminian answer is simple: you can have assurance that you are part of the elect through faith in Christ (John 6:37) and in perseverance in faith (2 Peter 1:10-11).  The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  The Word of God also bears witness to our adoption (1 John 5:13).  We can know that we are saved because of the work of Christ (Hebrews 9:14) and not our works.  If you are trusting in Christ alone to save you from the wrath to come, you are part of the elect of God!  You can have the assurance that Jesus shed His blood for you because of the doctrine of unlimited limited atonement.  The reason that we are seeing so many souls come to faith in Christ in Africa and Asia is because of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17) and the lack of faith in Europe and the West is because of the rejection of the true gospel.  Where the gospel is preached, God is faithful to save (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:38-39).

Conclusion

I want to close by writing about how we should now preach.  Calvinist evangelists preach just like Arminians do when calling sinners to repentance.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist truly preach Calvinism to the lost.  I have found that Calvinism is often taught after one repents and not before.  When Calvinism is preached, it can lead to despair (see the case of Joseph Hawley, the uncle of Jonathan Edwards).

In reality, the Bible is clear that God wills the salvation of all (1 Timothy 2:4).  His will is for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9).  The Bible says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked but that they should turn and live (Ezekiel 18:32).  Jesus shed His blood for all sinners but only those who place their faith in His saving work are the elect of God.  All others go to hell because of their own sins and their own unwillingness to repent of their sins.

Romans 3:23-25 is clear:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

We receive salvation by grace through faith.  Let us preach this truth to all creation (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Our View of God

I saw this statement floating around several Calvinist sites.  It reads:

God is glorified in the salvation of His people, and He is also glorified in the just condemnation of the wicked.

Now at just a reading of this, I have no problem with it.  It is true!  Those who repent and are saved are His people (1 Timothy 4:10) and God is glorified through saving them.  The opposite is true as well.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus and reject His salvation, these two glorify His name because they will bow their need and confess that He is Lord as well (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 20:11-15).  None will escape the judgment of our God (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Those who go to hell go there because of their own sinfulness and their own rejection of the truth of God (Romans 1:18-32; 2:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:10).  John 3:18 reads:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The error that Calvinists make about this statement is that they are meaning that God is sovereign in His choosing whom He will save and in whom He will condemn.  They see this as God glorifying His name either way.  God is glorified when He acts to save by His unconditional electing and irresistible grace to salvation of His elect (notice “His people” which typically means “His elect”) and the Calvinist reasons that God is also glorified in His just condemnation of the wicked.

The problem is not in the glory of God.  The problem is in the reasoning.  If election is based on a condition then those who meet the condition that God has established are saved and bring Him glory  The condition in Scripture is faith and repentance.  This is contrasted to works in Romans 4.  Works can never produce eternal salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  What we do does not earn God’s perfect righteousness.  This is a gift given to those who have faith and repentance that is wrought in us by the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44).  I have no problem teaching that salvation is a gift or that faith is a gift or that repentance is a gift since all of these only come to sinful mankind by the goodness of God (Romans 2:4).

The problem I do have is when we begin to discuss God’s glory in the condemnation of the wicked.  I understand the condemnation and I agree with it.  However, Calvinism seeks to establish that God is glorified in His just punishment of sin even though the wicked are simply doing what God elected for them to do.  Some Calvinists teach that God simply “passes over” the non-elect (this seems to be the view of John MacArthur).  God does not actively harden the non-elect and in fact, some Calvinists argue that He loves them to a degree by giving them this world, this life, the air they breathe, etc.  Yet Calvin was clear that God does harden the non-elect.  Calvin even taught that God will allow some to think they are elect only to condemn them on the day of judgement.

Calvin wrote:

“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.”

And then he wrote:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.”

Notice that Calvin even asserts that there is “an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.”  Remember that reprobate are all non-elect.  Calvin is saying that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the non-elect to even give them false hope.  Notice that Calvin even writes that the reprobate “accept the gift of reconciliation” but are “under a covering of hypocrisy.”  The reprobate believes himself to be elect but Calvin says they are wrong and only the elect receive regeneration.

So God misleads the reprobate? For what purpose?  The Calvinist would say for His own glory.  This is why they read Romans 9:22 and see the vessels of destruction as the reprobate whom God sovereignly has not chosen.

I do believe in the justice of God.  I do believe that all people will stand before a holy God and apart from being clothed in Christ, they will not be saved.  I do believe the way to eternal life is narrow and hard (Matthew 7:13-14) and I believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) which is why we must preach the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19).  God certainly foreknows those who are His (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) but I disagree that God is actively misleading people, condemning people apart from their sins.  Ezekiel 18:4 tells us that the soul that sins shall die.  Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.  His desire is for us to turn and live.  This is done by the preaching of the gospel of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:21, 30-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Now go and preach the gospel to all (Romans 11:32).

Hell Makes Sense If Conditional Election Is True

Hell is a hotly debated subject (sorry for the pun).  Is hell eternal conscious torment?  Is hell just a figure of speech for death for the ungodly?  Are people really burning forever in hell or is hell just where people are thrown and then destroyed forever?  These are all debated.

Yet hell is a biblical reality.  Even those who hold to conditionalism believe in hell.  They deny that hell is eternal conscious torment but they do believe in hell.  They can even warn people of hell and the need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus alone to save them or they will go to hell.

But hell doesn’t make sense unless one holds to conditional election.  Otherwise, one is faced with the idea that God has arbitrarily chosen to save a few while damning most human beings in hell not because of their sins but also because of His sovereign choice.  Hell, for those who hold to unconditional election, is simply the glory of God being manifested as He casts the lost into hell.  Calvinists such as John Piper teach that hell for the non-elect glorifies God by showing His goodness toward the elect.  Calvinists often will say that the fact that God chooses to save sinners from among the sinful lump shows His goodness.

John Calvin went further.  Calvin taught from Romans 9:22 that the vessels of wrath are people whom God has not just passed over but He hardens.  Calvin wrote:

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

Romans 9:21, according to the unconditional view of election, is clear that God has made both His elect and the non-elect for His own purposes.  God, from the foundation of the world, has chosen whom He will save and whom He will damn.  This is not merely God passing by the non-elect but His active choice to prepare them for the purpose of hell.

R.C. Sproul admits that he struggles with Romans 9:20-24.  He admits that the idea of double predestination seems very strong here and that hyper-Calvinism finds its heart in these texts.  Yet Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist and so the best he can do is to teach that there is one batch of sinful creatures and that God endures the vessels of wrath which are reprobate (Chosen by God, p. 153).

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, taught that Romans 9:21 is mankind not yet made and much less corrupted.  In other words, Beza taught that God sovereignly chose to elect before even creating mankind while also choosing to reject those whom He had not chosen.  God then made humans and even before the Fall, He chose to elect and harden.  Beza taught that this view alone protects God of His sovereignty and glorifies Him since everything (including the Fall) was for the glory of God.

For the Arminian, Adam Clarke taught that Romans 9:22 were the unbelieving Jews.  Clarke taught that Romans 9 has the Jews and Gentiles in mind and not individual unconditional election.  Romans 9:24-29 point to Clarke’s view.  God has in mind Israel as the vessel of wrath since they rejected His grace.  Thomas Oden states that people harden themselves by the rejection of the grace of God.  2 Timothy 2:21 states the people can turn from vessels of wrath to vessels of honor by the grace of God.  This is conditioned upon faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Why then would God, in the Calvinist viewpoint, create mankind for destruction?  There is no clear teaching on this.  Most simply will quote Deuteronomy 29:29 as the end all of the debate.  Calvin warned that this is indeed a mystery that one need not ponder too deeply.

For the Arminian, hell makes sense since God has been reaching out to the world since the Fall.  Mankind was created in the image of God and by their own willful choice, brought sin into the world (Genesis 3:1-7).  Even in the Garden of Eden, Yahweh reached out to mankind in His grace by calling them (Genesis 3:9), giving them a promise even in the midst of the curse (Genesis 3:15) and then clothing them (Genesis 3:21).  From Genesis onward, God is preparing the world for His Messiah.  The Messiah would come and would bear the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 1:29).

In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks much of two’s.  He says there are two gates (Matthew 7:13-14), two types of fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), two confessions (Matthew 7:21-23), and two types of people who either obey or disobey (Matthew 7:24-27).  Even now there are two types of people: lost or saved.  The saved become the elect.  The lost remain outside of His elect but do so by their own free choice.

If this is the case, if the lost are still in rebellion because of their own hardness, their own refusal to submit to the Lordship of Christ, their own rejection of God’s grace and mercy, etc. then hell makes sense.  Hell is fitting for those who would reject the Lord God.  No sinner will be able to stand before a holy God and said, “You made me a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction” but will simply acknowledge the justice of God and condemning them in their sins.  It is sin that sends a person to hell and not God’s unconditional election (Romans 6:23).  It is willful rebellion against God that leads to mankind’s utter destruction.

If I were a Calvinist, I would then reject unending conscious torment in hell since I would hold that people go to hell because God has not chosen them to be elect.  The thought that a loving and good God would send people to hell not because of their sins but because He simply did not choose them to be His elect would be grievous to me.  God is pictured in the Bible as loving and good.  John 3:16 is probably the most known verse in the Bible yet how does it fit into the idea that God loved the world so much that He created vessels of wrath whom He fitted for everlasting destruction and misery in hell?  The only comfort I would be able to find is that people are destroyed in hell (or annihilated) because God simply did not choose them.

Jesus said that hell was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.  Hell was not created for the glory of God in condemning the non-elect but in destroying Satan.  Those who are not found in Christ will also go there (Revelation 20:11-15).  I believe that this is based on either salvation in Christ or rejection of Christ but is not based on the unconditional election of people.  Hell makes sense to me because I see hell as the final destruction for those who have hated God and rebelled against Him while on earth.  Hell makes sense because of the cross (John 3:17-18, 36).

Where Was Arminius on Eschatology?

Unlike John Calvin, Arminius did not leave behind massive amounts of writings.  Much of what we know about Arminius comes to us from those who knew him and wrote about him after his death.  We have his letters which make up his Works.  I have read Arminius’ Works and they are both public and private debates he had with theologians of his day over the issues that would become Arminianism versus Calvinism.

One aspect we know little about with both John Calvin and Arminius is their eschatological views.  The Puritans were clearly postmillennialists and they found their views in the works of Calvin.  Iain Murray, in his book The Puritan Hope, documents how the Puritans passion for the gospel and for Christian living was based in large part because of their postmillennial views.

Arminians, like Calvinists, are not set on one eschatological viewpoint.  There is room in the body of Christ for various views.  The only view that all of us should reject is either a full preterist view that teaches that Christ has already returned or fixing dates (see the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Harold Camping for such a view).  We know that Jesus will come back (Acts 1:11; Hebrews 9:28) but we know not when.  There is room in the Church for various views on this issue and I am not fixed on one though I would align myself with partial preterism and toward a postmillennial viewpoint.

But where was Arminius on this issue?  I think the best we can guess is that he was postmillennial.  This seems to be the view of Calvin and the Reformers.  John Wesley was clearly postmillennial.  Postmillennialism was the dominant view at the time of the Reformation and even into the late 1800’s, it was the most common view.  I remember when I first was reading John Wesley and I was, at that time, a premillennialist.  I was shocked to see that Wesley was a postmillennialist.  I thought the view was only held by liberals who believed that mankind would usher in the millennial kingdom but was shocked to learn that not just Wesley but many others held to postmillennialism.

Dr. Vic Reasoner wrote an excellent book on this issue that he called The Hope of the Gospel.  His passion was to present a Wesleyan understanding of eschatology.  He goes back and shows how the early Methodists passion for revival and for world evangelism was based on their postmillennial views.  They believed that the preaching of the gospel would usher in the millennial kingdom.  They took serious the great commission because they believed Jesus, as King, was establishing His kingdom (Hebrews 12:28).  They believed that Acts 1:8 promised them the power of the Spirit to accomplish this mission and that the gospel would tear down the strongholds of Satan (Romans 1:16-17).  As Reasoner wrote, “They took Psalm 110:1 as they anchor.”

I am not here to persuade you on this issue.  Again, I know that Arminians and Calvinists alike disagree over this issue.  I know many godly Arminians who are premillennialists.  I know Calvinists who are as well.  I know some amillennialists brothers as well.  On this side of eternity, we see through a glass rather dimly.  I do know Jesus will return but I don’t know when.  Neither does anyone else (Matthew 24:36).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/24/2014 at 9:27 PM

Arminius the Rebel?

When people fail to study Church History, they fail to see their own ignorance and errors.  Arminius is a case in point.  It is amazing to me how many people I see on the Internet or even have spoken with who believe many lies about Arminius.  Some lies about Arminius are just ignorance to his times such as some teaching that Arminius opposed Calvin when in fact Calvin died when Arminius was but a toddler.  Arminius never met Calvin.  Arminius though did study under Calvin’s son-in-law, Beza, and was appointed by Beza to argue against the Anabaptists.

Some assume that Arminius was nothing more than an agitator, a rebel at heart and practice.  Some assume that Arminius was a champion of free will and made mankind his focal point of his studies and thus he turned to humanism and embraced a false theology that robs God of His glory and splendor.  Others falsely assume that Arminius liked being a rebel and wanted the attention.

None of these lies are true.

Arminius began his ministerial life as a Calvinist.  He had studied under Beza in Geneva and was one of their top students.  Arminius was a brilliant man and the Calvinists of his day recognized this.  He returned to his home country in the Netherlands where he took up pastoring.  His church was full as Arminius became one of the most popular preachers of his day.  The controversy that would become “Arminianism” began when Arminius was preaching through the book of Romans.  He came to Romans 7 and he differed with the Calvinistic view of his day that said that the man of Romans 7 was a saved man who struggled with sin.  Arminius disagreed and taught that Paul was describing his own sinful condition before his salvation.  Arminius had come to this viewpoint after his debates with the Anabaptists who also held to this position.  Arminius in turn preached his new convictions about Romans 7 before his church.  The sermons were very popular and became known.  This led to Calvinists contacting him about his views regarding Romans 7.  One simply did not disagree with Geneva in those days.

From Romans 7, Arminius went on to preach against the popular Calvinist view of Romans 9-11, that it teaches unconditional personal election.  Arminius disagreed and he proceeded to preach conditional election.  He also began to preach that Jesus died for all and that all can be saved through faith and repentance.  He called for the church to not believe a doctrine just because the catechisms teach this.  Preach the Word of God and believe the Word of God would be the motto of Arminius.

So was Arminius then a rebel?  Much of what we know of Arminius comes to us by his personal writings.  They are not sermons.  They are not as lengthy as the works of Calvin or Luther so we are limited in how we can understand this man.  But what we do gleam from Arminius is a man who was a deep thinker, a man who preached the Word of God and loved the Word of God, and a man who was not ashamed to state his views nor defend them.  We don’t find a man hungry for controversy.  We find a man hungry to communicate the Word of God.  Arminius praised both Calvin and Beza in his writings.  He commended the works of Calvin and his commentaries even while he disagreed with Calvin over some issues.  In his personal debates (through letters) with other Calvinists, Arminius was gracious and loving toward them.  He did not attack them but did attack their views by appealing to Scripture, reason, and to the Church Fathers.

I have seen some mean things written about Arminius.  One Calvinist blogger (who also holds that only Calvinists are saved) wrote that he believed Arminius is in hell and he was happy to think that.  He wrote, “The thought that Arminius sought to destroy the Church of God must be replaying over and over in his mind while he burns.”  Another Calvinist blogger wrote, “Arminius sought to destroy the work of God that He had begun with Calvin in the restoration of His true church.  Praise God that the Lord killed Arminius and then ended the heresy of Arminianism at the Synod of Dort.”

Now that sort of misled thinking is not rampant among Calvinists so please don’t confuse them for speaking for Calvinism.  Sadly, while Knox, Luther, Calvin, and Tyndale are upheld as “reformers” who are worthy to be praised, Arminius is often not found.  I understand that historically the Synod of Dort was a “victory” for Calvinism but Arminius was not even present at the Synod.  He had died before the Synod convened.  Arminius, if you read his writings, was a man who was passionate for the truth of God and was not bent on rebellion or even to attack Calvin.  His goal was simple: obedience to the Word of God.

I pray that Arminians and Calvinists alike will follow Arminius’ example there and seek to obey the Word of God at all costs even if it runs contrary to what is popularly taught in the Church.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/27/2013 at 10:30 AM

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