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Determinism and Evangelism

In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism.  Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism.  I appreciated that.  Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost.  Agreed with all that he wrote.  Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing.  W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life.  We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8).  We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food.  Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed.  Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).

I agree here with MacArthur as well.  Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot.  Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21).  When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).

Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional.  God alone is the first and ultimate cause.  God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2).  God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30).  God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13).  Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15).  God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48).  While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election.  To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory.  If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition.  If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition.  This is not consistent.

I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue.  Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well.  I appreciate Spurgeon much.  Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect.  Spurgeon even stated,

Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth.  Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism.  Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill).  The means is not a condition to salvation.  Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation.  They cannot be.  That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism.  The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live.  The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.

Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect.  The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible.  The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice.  The internal call of God is unconditional.  The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).  The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3).  J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace.  The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory.  The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).

Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism?  If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play?  In reality, none.  If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition?  How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?

I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call.  I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people.  God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8).  The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22).  The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5).  When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14).  This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).

Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power.  He does not need man nor does He even use man.  God alone saves His elect.  Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate.  Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.”  I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate.  In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian?  By God’s sovereign decree and timing.  In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life.  One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment.  Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not.  This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so.  While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.

Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct.  If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God.  As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!”  In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.”  How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them?  Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed.  Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel.  Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise.  In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd.  The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect.  The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter.  They will believe because God wills it so.  It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner.  Go back and read Spurgeon at the top.  God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44).  God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon.  This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism.  It is not practiced much but it is consistent.

Conclusion

Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong.  I may have.  I am not a Calvinist and have never been so.  However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist.  I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant.  I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system.  Calvinism is not practical.  Calvinism is not congruent.  Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved.  Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith.  Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching.  From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.

My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God.  I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air.  I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel.  Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel.  I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists.  I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord.  I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.

In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong.  I pray that God would show me where I am wrong.  I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me.  I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it.  I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome.  I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God.  Yet I am okay with mystery.  The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39).  Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.

In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37.  Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel?  We shall see.

May God be glorified in His Church!

Another Take on Prevenient Grace

I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace.  His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs.  His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all.  His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call.  He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe.  This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.

In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel.  The gospel is prevenient grace in his view.  The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16).  The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11).  As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation.  God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance.  All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32).  Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church.  This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation.  This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.

This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about.  I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner.  I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists.  The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance.  Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard.  Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view.  The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another.  Is it based on works?  Is it based on the response of the person?  Is it based on foreseen faith?  The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God.  While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).

However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint.  It reads:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul is speaking here of the Jews.  Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe.  He says that they have become dull.  These Jews have made themselves this way.  Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).

So why does one man believe while another man does not?  The issue is not with God.  The issue is humility.  Does one person humble themselves before God as a child?  Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief?  Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen.  The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.

This is this brother’s take.  No system of theology is perfect.  We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God.  We are so limited in knowing God.  A.W. Tower said:

The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.

The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God.  It is knowing Him!  Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1).  I want to know Him more and more!  I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2015 at 7:06 PM

Unconditional Election: People Still Go To Hell Before They Sinned

Whether one holds to singular predestination or double predestination, the results are the same: people go to hell first because they were not chosen.  Whether God is active in this rejection or not is beside the point.  Some Calvinists such as John MacArthur argue that God merely passes over the non-elect and leaves them in their sins so that they perish.  John Piper agrees and even states that God is glorified in this.  Some Calvinists such as John Gill are consistent and acknowledge that God is not only active in choosing His elect but He is active in the reprobation of the non-elect.

Either way, unconditional election holds that people still go to hell because of God’s sovereign choice even before time began.  This means that the sinner who died in 2012 went to hell because God willed it so.  Yes they went to hell for their sins but the first action was that God did not choose them.

The Arminian view is that sinners go to hell because of their own sins.  Calvinists would agree but Calvinism adds that God did not sovereignly choose to save that sinner.  He either passed over them (MacArthur) or He was active in their damnation (Gill).  Either way, because God chose not to save the sinner, the sinner goes to hell.  In this case, the sinner was passed over before time began or even if we grant that they were passed over after the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12). Either way, the sinner was passed over by God’s sovereignty and they do go to hell for their sins but there was also nothing to atone for their sins in the first place.  The sinner was doomed when they were conceived in the womb.

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ died to redeem all humanity (John 3:16).  All who will can come and drink and be saved (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17).  Jesus shed His blood for all people (1 John 2:2) and He is the Savior of the world (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14).  Jesus’ coming was good news for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11).  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; Romans 5:15).  He is the Savior of all men especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).  The sinner who sins shall die for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  The Lord’s will is for all people to repent (Ezekiel 18:32; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  Jesus even shed His blood for those who die in their sins (1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-3) but their unwillingness to repent leads to their destruction (Romans 6:23).

John Wesley’s Strong Words About Unconditional Election

I found this quote while reading some of John Wesley.  He wrote this about unconditional election:

This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine, upon the supposition of which, if one could possibly suppose it for a moment, (call it election, reprobation, or what you please, for all comes to the same thing,) one might say to our adversary, the devil, “Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needless and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not, that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that he doeth it much more effectually? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers, canst only so assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell! Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. Thou fool, why goest thou about any longer, seeking whom thou mayest devour? Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men” Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the ‘fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but ‘the smoke of their torment,’ because it is God’s good pleasure, ‘ascendeth up for ever and ever.'”

Strong words but I believe Wesley is correct.  How can one preach that God is loving and good when you turn around and teach that God has chosen, before time began, whom He will save and whom He will damn.  God has then created people knowing that the vast majority will be cast into hell and God has chosen this for His glory.  The Calvinist simply points to Deuteronomy 29:29 and lives it there.  I say, “No, no, no!  This is not the picture of the God of the Bible.”

Of course, the true Calvinist will respond in one of two ways.  The hyper-Calvinist would respond with clear affirmation of this doctrine that John Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  Some would respond with glee that God will punish most people for their sins (even before they were born and had nothing to add or take away from their predestination).  Other Calvinists will respond that the Calvinist doctrine of conditional election shows the goodness of God and His love that despite our sinfulness, God has chosen a remnant of grace (Romans 11:5-6).

However, the truth remains.  Calvinism teaches that God has predestined some to eternal salvation and most to eternal damnation.  John Calvin preached from Romans 9:22-23 that God had indeed prepared vessels of honor and wrath meaning that God did create most people as vessels of wrath for the purpose of destroying them.  This is where Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  It was horrible only from the human viewpoint according to Calvin but from God’s viewpoint is loving and good.  After all, reasons the Calvinist theologian, God could have just destroyed all of humanity for their rebellion but He chose instead to redeem a few from among the sinful and sent His Son to save them.

The Arminian view is very different.  Our view is that God punishes each sinner for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  People die for their own sins (John 3:16-18).  People need divine grace to be saved (John 6:44) and God has sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity by His grace (Titus 2:11-12).  Jesus came to save whosoever will come and be saved (Romans 10:13).  Those who hear the gospel are given free grace to either receive this salvation or reject this gift.  God does not force salvation upon anyone.  Those who believe are saved by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  The work of God is to believe the gospel and be saved (John 6:29; Acts 2:37-38).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God by grace (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Timothy 4:10).

Thank God for His free grace by which He saves sinners!  I pray that we would preach the grace of God to the lost and call them to repentance (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10).  All men need the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and I pray that all would hear the gospel and hear that Jesus will save those who come to Him in true saving faith.

Misreadings of Romans 9

I have told this story before but I once knew a Calvinist who admitted to me that he read Romans 9 nearly everyday.  To him, Romans 9 was the backbone of Calvinism.  It was his refuge when he doubted the sovereignty of God in salvation.  This Calvinist saw God’s sovereignty in individual salvation all in Romans 9.  He said that he also read John 6 and Ephesians 1 nearly as much as Romans 9 but Romans 9 was his refuge when in doubt.

Calvinists believe that Romans 9 is the go to chapter to tear down Arminianism.  They see Romans 9 as teaching that God elects some to salvation while electing others to damnation.  Well, not really.  Most see God electing some in Romans 9 but ignore Calvin’s comments on Romans 9:23 and his “horrible decree” of double predestination.  I have met a few Calvinists who have no problem with Calvin’s view on double predestination and some affirm that Romans 9 does teach this view.  R.C. Sproul, for example, acknowledges that Calvin taught this from Romans 9:23 but he can’t swallow the idea that God elects people to hell.

So how is it that Arminians can read Romans 9 and miss the clear evidence of that personal election?  As an Arminian, I love Romans 9.  I don’t have any trouble reading the text and dealing with the issues involved.  I have dealt with it here on my blog from time to time.  Arminians have never ignored the text nor is there not an Arminian reply.  I once heard a Calvinist teacher say, “Romans 9 shuts the mouths of Arminians and leaves them humbled at the sovereign grace of God in salvation.”  In reality, Arminians have dealt with the text since Arminius.  We have always understood that Romans 9 is a chapter that Arminians had to deal with and we have.

In short, when we read Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:4 is becomes clear what Paul is dealing with.  He is not dealing with individual persons here but cooperate groups.  Gentiles and Jews.  Paul is arguing against the Jews who would say that they are the elect of God because of their race.  Paul is arguing that people are saved by grace and that God has the sovereign right to save whoever He chooses.  If God so chooses to save Gentiles instead of Jews, that is His right as God.  Notice Paul’s use over and over again of Israel and the Gentiles.  He never once even mentions salvation in Romans 9.  The word salvation doesn’t appear until Romans 10:1 which is Paul praying for the Jews to be saved through Christ (which would be pointless if absolute monergism were true).  There is no doubt that God chose Israel in the Old Testament for the purpose of the Messiah (Romans 9:1-5) but not once is salvation mentioned in Romans 9:1-5.  The Jews were the chosen nation for the Messiah but this did not guarantee individual salvation.

So here is the premise.  Calvinists read Romans 9 with the presupposition that the point is God is sovereign in individual salvation and He has elected some to salvation and others to damnation but we are not question His absolute sovereignty in this issue (Romans 9:18, 20).  Calvinists see individual salvation in Romans 9.

The Arminian reads Romans 9 and sees the sovereignty of God in choosing to move past the chosen people of Israel to the Gentiles but He will save all who call upon Him in truth (Romans 10:13).  Romans 11:32 is clear: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”  The Israelites are now disobedient to Him by rejecting His Son but God will save both Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus (Romans 10:4).  Arminians see God choosing groups in Romans 9.

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).

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