Again, “The Lord is far from the wicked” (Proverbs 15:29), yet in Acts 17:27, we are told He is “not far from every one of us”—words which were addressed to a heathen audience! These two statements seem to contradict one another, yea, unless they be interpreted they do so. It has, then, to be ascertained in what sense God is “far from” and in what sense He is “not far from” the wicked—that is what is meant by “interpretation.” Distinction has to be drawn between God’s powerful or providential presence and His favorable presence. In His spiritual essence or omnipresence God is ever nigh unto all of His creatures (for He “fills heaven and earth”—Jeremiah 23:24) sustaining their beings, holding their souls in life (Psalm 64:9), bestowing upon them the mercies of His providence. But since the wicked are far from God in their affections (Psalm 73:27), saying in their hearts “Depart from us: for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14), so His gracious presence is far from them: He does not manifest Himself to them, has no communion with them, hears not their prayers (“the proud He knoweth afar off”—Psalm 138:6), succors them not in the time of their need, and will yet bid them “depart from Me, ye cursed” (Matthew 25:41). Unto the righteous God is graciously near: Psalms 34:18; 145:18.
Once more. “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true” (John 5:31)—
“though I bear record of Myself, yet My record is true” (John 8:14).
Another pair of opposites! Yet there is no conflict between them when rightly interpreted. In John 5:17-31, Christ was declaring His sevenfold equality with the Father: first in service, then in will. Verse 19 means He could originate nothing that was contrary to the Father, for they were of perfect accord (see 5:30). In like manner, He could not bear witness of Himself independently of the Father, for that would be an act of insubordination. Instead, His own witness was in perfect accord therewith: the Father Himself (v. 37), and the Scriptures (v. 39), bore testimony to His absolute deity. But in John 8:13, 14, Christ was making direct reply to the Pharisees, who said His witness was false. That He emphatically denied, and appealed again to the witness of the Father (v. 18). Yet again. “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30)—“My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). In the former, Christ was speaking of Himself according to His essential being; in the latter, in reference to His mediatorial character or official position.
Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures
Chance and the Sovereignty of God by Vern Poythress (Pdf)
Marrow of Sacred Divinity (1639) by William Ames (eBook)
Available in epub , .mobi & .pdf formats
Thanks to Bill Gross for his painstaking efforts to hand-type this true classic Christian book which he also mildly updated for modern readers. The 1279 footnotes alone would have been quite a task.
A Brief Premonition or forewarning of the Author touching the reason of his purpose.
Although I do not assume to comprehend in my mind all the thoughts of evil speakers, yet I foresee diverse exceptions which this, my endeavour, will fall into (proceeding certainly from a very good intent) pro seculi genio, according to the disposition of the world – the chief of which I purpose to address briefly.
Some, and those indeed are not unlearned, dislike this whole manner of writing – that the sum of Divinity should be brought into a short compendium. They desire great volumes in which they may loosely either dwell or wander. I desire to consider those who do not have so great a leisure, nor so vast a wit, as to hunt the partridge in the Mountains and the Woods. But the condition of many rather requires that the nest itself, or the seat of the matter which they pursue, be shown without any more ado.
Some do not dislike this way, if the chief heads are handled in a rhetorical way; they think that every particle is not to be insisted on so punctually.1 But indeed, when the speech is carried on like a swift stream, although it catches many things of all sorts, yet you can hold fast only a little, you can catch only a little; you cannot find where you may constantly rest. But when certain rules are delivered, the Reader always has, as it were at every pace, the place marked where he may set his foot.
There will also be some who condemn the care of Method and Logical form as curious 2 and troublesome. But to them a sounder judgment is to be wished, because they remove the art of understanding, judgment, and memory from those things which deserve only to be understood, known, and committed to memory.
On the other side, there will not be lacking some who require more exactness in the art of Logic, whom, through my own imperfection, I could not fully satisfy even if I would; nor indeed would I do so much as I could, because of the weakness of others. I imagine there will not be a few who will think that
setting forth such institutions as these is superfluous, after so many labours of learned men, of the same kind; and it is to do only what has been done before. I would readily be of such an opinion if anything of this kind were extant, and which pleased all in every respect.
Notwithstanding this, I would not have so taken to hope any such thing of this writing, as if it even came into my mind. But I am not out of hope that it may come to pass that two or three or so, may fall upon this work of ours, who may find something here more fitting to instruct and stir them up to piety, than they have observed in the more learned writings of others. If this conjecture does not fail me, I will think I have done a work worth the labor.
I can only expect to be blamed for obscurity by those who are not so skilful, whom I desire would learn from Cyrus, Radiorum ta<v dia fa>seiv latis luminibus non tam esse suaves, that is, ‘The diffused brightness of the beams of the Sun is not so pleasant in large windows.’ Certainly a contracted light, though it may seem small, yet it enlightens more (if a man comes near and observes) than that which is, as it were, dispersed by being enlarged too much.
The dryness of the style, and harshness of
some words will be greatly blamed by the same persons. But I prefer to exercise myself in that heresy, that when it is my purpose to Teach, I think I should not say in two words what may be said in one; and that key is to be chosen which opens best, even though it is made of wood, if there is not a golden key with the same efficacy.
Lastly, if there are any who desire to have some practical things more largely explained, especially in the latter part of this Marrow, we shall endeavor to satisfy them later (if God gives leave) in a particular Treatise which at this time we have an affection for, touching questions which are usually called cases of conscience.
If there are any who still find fault with this, or who desire other things, I would entreat them to candidly impart their thoughts to me, which may afford desired matter for a just apology, or a due amendment.
An Incorrect View of the Human Will
Inherent in Arminianism’s deficient view of the impact of the sin nature upon the unbeliever is a corresponding view of the human will that does not comport with Scripture. Olson states that prevenient grace liberates the will from its bondage to sin and allows it libertarian freedom. He states, “All classical Arminians believe in libertarian free will, which is self-determining choice; it is incompatible with determination of any kind. That seems to amount to belief in an uncaused effect – the free choice of the self to be or do something without antecedent.”27 In the libertarian conception of free will, choices that are caused are choices that are coerced and coercion is a hindrance to freedom. In other words, free will means the absence of any hindrances (impediments) to the choices one makes (i.e. it is freedom from hindrances). Hindrances and impediments are primarily the various internal and external influences or causes that may direct the will towards a particular choice including one’s desires, his nature, or arguments in defense of a particular choice. Olson states that free will “includes being able to do other than one wants to do and other than one does.”28 He states that free will is “the personal power of choice over motives and between alternatives.”29 Thus, the will must have the power to override any motives that might direct our choices.
Libertarian free will also affirms that the power of God’s Word and even the powerful gracious influence of the Holy Spirit cannot determine choices that are made. They can have an influence and must have an influence in persuading the will if one is to be saved, but the will is the final arbitrator in whether to resist or embrace the influence God and His Word may have upon it. Olson says, “God’s influence lies directly on every subject so that nothing can happen without being pulled or pushed by God toward the good. However, free and rational creatures have the power to resist the influence of God. This power was given to them by God himself.”30 Nothing can determine choices except the self-determining power of the will. Anything else that would determine the choices the will makes is regarded as coercive. Without such freedom Arminians believe human beings cannot be responsible for their actions.
But Scripture nowhere teaches a libertarian concept of free will. First, it teaches that God ultimately determines all that takes place. As the Psalmist says, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa. 103:19). And again, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psa. 115:3). The Psalmist also notes God’s ownership rights upon the world: “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1; cf. Deut. 10:14; Exod. 19:5; Job 41:11). Paul says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). One cannot argue with the Supreme Lord of all. The Potter has the right to do as He pleases with the clay (Isa. 45:9-11; cf. Matt. 20:1-16). God’s sovereignty extends from the broad flow of history (Dan. 2:21; Acts 1:7) to the most minute detail of everyday existence. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29; cf. Luke 12:6-7). All God’s actions and future plans are unconditionally made. “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-11). “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19; cf 1 Sam. 15:29). God’s sovereign plans are irrevocable by anyone or anything. Nebuchadnezzar after being humbled by God acknowledged His sovereignty in this regard saying, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35). This indicates that God’s sovereign determination extends to the choices and actions of human beings (Prov. 16:1, 9; 19:21; 21:1; Isa. 46:9-11).
Scripture also rules out libertarian freedom by teaching that we cannot act apart from what our natures dictate. God never acts in such a way as to mitigate the immediate causes of one’s actions. Those secondary and immediate causes are connected directly to our human natures. The Biblical concept of human nature refers specifically to the spiritual disposition of the heart and mind. It is mission control central (Prov. 4:23). We are bound to our natures that determine the sorts of choices we are capable of making. In this regard, both Jesus and Paul make it clear that unregenerate mankind is in bondage to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:17). Paul says to believers in Titus 3:3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” This enslavement to the sinful nature is the normal disposition of all unbelievers. There is no possibility of being inclined to repentance, faith or any truly undefiled act of righteousness in such a state of existence. In other words, the will remains in bondage to the sinful nature and all one’s choices are directed by such a sinful nature. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18; 12:33-35; 15:18). Jeremiah communicates this truth in a memorable manner: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). Mankind has no freedom to act contrary to his nature. And the sinful nature never inclines a person to seek God or exercise faith and repentance. Furthermore, these passages do not support the notion that some superintending grace mitigates the impact of the sinful nature. Salvation in no way depends upon the will of man (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16). The consistent affirmation of Scripture is that men are in unmitigated bondage to sin. They have no universally divinely endowed freedom to escape it.
Scott Christensen-Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism
27 Arminian Theology, p. 71.
28 Ibid., p. 129.
29 Ibid., p. 174.
30 Ibid., p. 131.
Four: It inspires pride in those who think they are elect.
Answer: This is possible only in the case of those who pervert the doctrine. On the contrary, its proper influence is to humble men. Those who exalt themselves above others, upon the ground that they are special favorites of God, have reason to question their salvation. Such people know nothing of sovereign grace.
Christian hymnology witnesses the effect that believing election has on a humbled heart:
Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come.
Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin.
Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious word abroad,
And bring the wanderers home. Issac Watts
Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be:
This heart would still refuse Thee;
But thou hast chosen me;
Hast, from the sin that stained me,
Washed me and set me free,
And to this end ordained me
That I should live for Thee.
Twas sovereign mercy called me,
And taught my opening mind;
The world had else enthralled me,
To heavenly glories blind. J. Conder
William Sasser-Objections to Election
A. It is required of them who would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, (1 Corinthians 11:28,29) of their faith to feed upon him, (2 Corinthians 13:5) of their repentance, (1 Corinthians 11:31) love, (1 Corinthians 11:18-20) and new obedience, (1 Corinthians 5:8) lest coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon-A Puritan Catechism