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“A Comparison of Systems”

September 2, 2015 Leave a comment

by A. A. Hodge (1823-1886)

1. What, in general, was the state of theological thought during the first three centuries?

During the first three hundred years which elapsed after the death of the apostle John the speculative minds of the church were principally engaged in defending the truth of Christianity against unbelievers — in combating the Gnostic heresies generated by the leaven of Oriental philosophy — and in settling definitely the questions which were evolved in the controversies concerning the Persons of the Trinity. It does not appear that any definite and consistent statements were made in that age, as to the origin, nature, and consequences of human sin; nor as to the nature and effects of divine grace; nor of the nature of the redemptive work of Christ, or of the method of its application by the Holy Spirit, or of its appropriation by faith. As a general fact it may be stated, that, as a result of the great influence of Origen, the Fathers of the Greek Church pretty unanimously settled down upon a loose Semi-Pelagianism, denying the guilt of original sin, and maintaining the ability of the sinner to predispose himself for, and to cooperate with divine grace. And this has continued the character of the Greek Anthropology to the present day. The same attributes characterized the speculations of the earliest writers of the Western Church also, but during the third and fourth centuries there appeared a marked tendency among the Latin Fathers to those more correct views afterwards triumphantly vindicated by the great Augustine. This tendency may be traced most clearly in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage, who died circum. 220, and Hilary of Poitiers (368) and Ambrose of Milan (397).

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Free Ebook-Sovereign Grace

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Sovereign Grace
An Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism
by Brian Schwertley

Introduction

The modern era is a time of great theological ignorance, indifference, and declension. Most of the denominations and churches which are generally referred to as conservative, Bible-believing and evangelical have in the past few hundred years succumbed to Arminian1 or semi-Pelagian interpretations of the doctrine of salvation. The doctrines of sovereign grace which have been nicknamed “Augustinianism” or “Calvinism” have been abandoned as obsolete, unfair, unbiblical, and irrational. The typical evangelical usually hears the name Calvin or the term Calvinism treated scornfully from the pulpit or at a Bible study. It is even labeled a dangerous heresy by some. People are falsely told that Calvinism destroys personal responsibility; that it teaches that people are little better than robots, etc.

The purpose of this book is to examine the five points of Calvinism in order to prove that they are thoroughly scriptural and to dispel the common misconceptions often heard regarding them. This task will involve refuting some of the typical Arminian doctrines which are so popular today. Many poor souls have been seduced by Arminianism’s appeal to human autonomy. People need to be made aware that Arminianism is a deadly perversion of the gospel of Christ. It implicitly denies the sovereignty of God; it perverts the doctrine of original sin; it turns the doctrine of election upside down and makes the new birth dependent upon man’s will. In the Arminian scheme men are not saved through faith, which is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), but rather because of faith. Furthermore, Christ’s atoning death is not viewed as securing any person’s salvation, but merely making salvation possible between God and sinful man.

To download the book click here. (Pdf only)

Introduction to Election

September 5, 2014 1 comment

Election! —What a blessed word! What a glorious doctrine! Who does not rejoice to know that he has been chosen to some great blessing? Election is unto salvation—the greatest of all blessings. And strange to say, this is a neglected truth even by many who profess to believe it, and others have a feeling of repulsion at the very mention of this Bible-revealed, God-honouring, and man humbling truth. Spurgeon said, “There seems to be an inveterate prejudice in the human mind against this doctrine, and although most other doctrines will be received by professing Christians, some with caution, others with pleasure, yet this one seems to be most frequently disregarded and discarded.” If such were true in Spurgeon’s day, how much more so in this our day. Concerning this doctrine there is an alarming departure from the faith of our Baptist fathers. Touching this article of our faith Baptists have come to a day when they have a Calvinistic creed and an Arminian clergy.

But there are some who love the doctrine of Election. To them election is the foundation dug deep for the other doctrines of human redemption to rest upon. They love it enough to preach it in the face of criticism and persecution. They will surrender their pulpits rather than be silenced on this precious tenet of the once delivered faith. But all who love the doctrine were once haters of it, therefore, they have nothing in which to take pride. Every man by nature is an Arminian. It takes the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, taught by the Holy Spirit, to cause a man to love the doctrine of election. How deeply important that believers should be learners. To do this we must acknowledge the superior wisdom of God whose thoughts are not as our thoughts. The Bible was given to correct our thinking. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of thinking. We are not to come to the Bible as critics; the Bible is to criticize us. We cannot come to the Bible infallibly, but by grace we can come humbly. May grace be given to every writer and reader that we may have the right attitude of heart before God. The surest evidence of a saved state is to have the right attitude towards the Word of God. Dear reader, let the writer warn you against “poking fun” at any doctrine of the Bible.

The doctrines of grace have found expression in two systems of theology commonly known as Calvinism and Arminianism. These two systems were not named for their founders, but for the men who popularized them. The system of truth known as Calvinism was preached by Augustine at an earlier date, and before Augustine by Christ and the Apostles, being especially emphasized by the Apostle Paul. The system of error known as Arminianism was proclaimed by Pelagius in the fifth century. Between these two there is no middle position; every man is either one or the other in his religious thinking. Some try to mix the two but this is not straight thinking. To say that we are neither Calvinistic nor Arminian is to evade the issue. Paulinism is represented by either Calvinism or Arminianism. The true system is based upon the truth of man’s inherent and total depravity; the false system is based upon the Romish dogma of free-will.

 

Dr. C. D. Cole-The Bible Doctrine of Election-Part I-Bible Doctrine of Election

 

Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism Pt 1

June 30, 2014 1 comment

A consistent charge against Arminianism is that it is a form of semi-Pelagianism. Arminians consistently deny this charge and so it warrants an examination. This paper seeks to examine the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace and to demonstrate that it supports the charge of semi- Pelagianism. In the course of the examination, I hope to show that the doctrine of prevenient grace does not bear the weight of the biblical evidence against it.

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

The Pelagianism controversy in the early 5th century pitted the teachings of Augustine’s view of divine grace against that of Pelagius. Basically Pelagianism is understood as teaching that the natural man has “the capacity of self-determination by asserting the possibility of achieving sinless perfection in this life without grace.”1 In popular terms, Pelagianism would be the purest form of salvation by works. Pelagianism denies the doctrine of Original Sin and therefore of the depravity of man. It affirms free will in the libertarian sense in which man has a natural capacity to choose contrary to all possible factors that might otherwise determine one’s choices. Thus, it denies that God determines or decrees the actions of men. This would violate human liberty. Subsequently, the internal work of divine grace is not necessary in order to procure acceptance before God who demands moral perfection as a prerequisite of salvation.2 In affirming libertarian free will, Pelagianism asserts that man has the ability to act with sinless perfection if he so chooses. This is an absolute sort of anthropocentric construct and as such is rejected as heretical by all orthodox Christians including Arminians.

In the wake of the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy Semi-Pelagianism took hold in several quarters by a number of theologians. It was regarded as a middle ground between Augustine and Pelagius and his followers. However, the term semi-Pelagianism was not used until the 16th century Reformation.3 In contrast to Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism states that man is affected by the fall of Adam, but that his free will is retained so that while he is inclined toward sinful behavior, he is not in full bondage to sin. John Cassian, the principal proponent of semi- Pelagianism, states, “There are by nature some seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator.”4 Although, divine grace is necessary for salvation, that grace is resistible due to our natural freedom to choose contrary to its influence. Cassian and other semi- Pelagians rejected Pelagianism as heretical but felt Augustine’s doctrine of unconditional election and predestination went too far in combating Pelagius’ error. Augustine regarded the semi-Pelagians as brothers in Christ. Likewise, the charge from Calvinists that Arminianism is semi-Pelagian, while a serious charge, is not intended to consign Arminianism to heresy. Calvinists who do so have been unfair to the genuine teachings of Arminians.5

In order to be saved, semi-Pelagianism gives priority to the initiation of faith via one’s free will, the latter being regarded as a gift of God’s grace to all men. This in turn provokes God to supply further helping grace that the person must cooperate with in order for his faith to have a saving character to it. The capacity one has in exercising faith is the degree to which God will supply grace toward salvation.6 There is a balance between the human initiative and the subsequent divine initiative.7 Rebecca Weaver says concerning John Cassian:

“Human dependence on grace meant for Cassian that at every stage of the process of salvation grace must be operative; however, the freedom of the human will meant that grace must function in such a way as not to deprive the will of its freedom to choose. The operation of grace as conceived by Cassian, therefore, is highly variegated. God interacts with the multitude of individual persons in the multitude of ways necessary to assist them toward salvation while at the same time preserving their freedom. The notion of grace as variegated was important to Cassian’s position, for it served to protect the self-initiating character of the human will.8”

There seems to be some debate in defining the parameters of what semi-Pelagianism espouses. Our concern here focuses upon the priority of grace versus free will. For example, Roger Olson quoting Nazarene theologian Orton Wiley states in essence that semi-Pelagianism teaches that in the partial depraved nature of man, he makes the first move toward God in procuring salvation but then needs divine grace to move further. The initiating act of man provokes God’s response with the necessary grace to complete salvation.9 Thus, semi- Pelagianism would teach that man initiates the process of salvation and God responds by supplying the necessary grace to help the process along. In contrast, Classical and Wesleyan Arminians argue that God must first initiate the process via prevenient grace and then man responds. In either case, there seems to be no debate that whoever initiates the process, man or God, that a cooperative effort is necessary. Thus, both positions affirm a synergistic view of salvation.

In an article written by the staff of Modern Reformation, a Calvinistic journal, the authors make a distinction between semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism.10 In a helpful chart they categorize both as forms of synergism. However, they make the same distinction that Olson and other Arminians make, that in Semi-pelagianism man takes the initiative in salvation and in Arminianism, God takes the initiative. In either case, grace and man’s free will cooperate in the procurement of salvation. In their chart they make a distinction between 2 types of monergism. On the one hand, there is the monergism which teaches that God alone initiates and completes salvation. This is consistent with the teaching of the Augustinian/ Calvinist understanding of soteriology. On the other hand, there is the monergism of Pelagianism in which man alone initiates and completes salvation. In between these two poles exists various forms of synergism. The authors place Arminianism closer to that of the Augustinian/ Calvinist side and semi- Pelagianism closer to the Pelagian side. The closer one comes to the theocentric monergism of Augustine and Calvin the greater the affirmation of Original Sin and human inability. The closer one comes to the anthropocentric monergism of Pelagius the greater the denial of Original Sin and human inability. Although there is some merit to the distinctions the chart makes under the rubric of synergism between Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism, it would seem the distinctions are more sharply made than the evidence may warrant.

It must be agreed that Arminianism affirms in principle a similar view of Original Sin and human inability that the Augustinian/ Calvinist tradition teaches. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Arminianism teaches the priority of divine grace working inwardly to initiate the process leading to salvation. However, it is not equally clear that semi-Pelagianism consistently affirms that man always is the first to initiate the first move towards God. Historical scholarship has taken note of this. Jaroslav Pelikan indicates that semi-Pelagians believed that sometimes faith preceded the supply of grace and at other times grace preceded the exercise of faith.11 This is confirmed by Weaver’s study. She states that for Cassian, “In the case of some persons, grace will assist the will that already desires the good, whereas in the case of others, grace will arouse the will to good when it is not so inclined.”12 In either case, faith is always exercised via the free will of man by either cooperating with or resisting the grace of God and that seems to be the main point of semi-Pelagiansim. However, as will be argued, the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace in terms of its practical outworking is not a one-time static event, but an ongoing and successive process whereby the unbeliever is drawn by stages to the culminating point of exercising saving faith. Yet, all along that process, the unbeliever must continually cooperate with grace in order to procure more grace. In this sense, Arminianism concurs with the semi-Pelagian notion that free will triggers the grace of God whether strictly in the initiation of the process or according to their view of prevenient grace in the continuing invocation of further supplies of grace.

Scott Christensen-Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism

 

 

1 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition: 100-600 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 313.
2 Pelagius affirmed the grace of God but that it was an external grace in the form of God’s moral law. It has no necessary influence on whether one chooses to obey it or not.
3 For more on the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian controversy see R. C. Sproul, Wiling to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), especially chapters 1, 2 and 3.
4 Quoted in Pelikan, Catholic Tradition, p. 323-24.
5 Some of the reason for this stems from the departure of Classical and Wesleyan Arminianism by influential figures like Charles Finney whose theology was much more in line with Pelagianism. His subsequent influence on Evangelical Christianity has been debilitating in a pervasive way. See Sproul, Willing to Believe, p. 169-85.
6 Ibid., p. 324.
7Rebecca Weaver, Divine Grace and Human Agency: A Study of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1996), p. 72.
8 Ibid.
9 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2006), p. 30.
10 “Grace, Sin and the Will: The Structure of the Debate” Modern Reformation 21:1 (Jan-Feb. 2012), p. 12-17.
11 Catholic Tradition, p. 324.
12 Divine Grace, .p. 72.

A Brief Definition of Calvinism

March 24, 2014 2 comments

Every so often I will get an email or comment on my blog, that will seek to warn me of God’s impending judgment, if I continue to use the term ‘Calvinism’ to describe my theological views concerning scripture. This email will invoke 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 against me and state that we are not to divide ourselves into different sects by being followers of certain men of whom God called out. Now I do agree that it is divisive to separate into different groups and claim to be this man’s disciple or that man’s disciple. This is what Paul was addressing in the letter to the Corinthians. Nevertheless, those who send these emails have no understanding what it means when I use the term ‘Calvinism.’

There are three definitions that one could use when using the term Calvinism. In a short Pdf by Ben Dally he identifies three concepts that people think of when the term ‘Calvinism’ is used:

“To begin, “Calvinism” represents different things in the minds of different people. For some, the term denotes simply what is contained in the writings of John Calvin himself, primarily as expressed in his final edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his expansive biblical commentary, and his other treatises on various subjects and pieces of correspondence. To others, Calvinism is primarily to be understood as the doctrinal system espoused by those who deem themselves the “Reformed” churches in distinction from Lutheranism, Anabaptism, and other progeny of what might be loosely grouped together under the term “Protestant.” This generally coherent doctrinal system (though certainly not entirely uniform in every detail), as expressed in various Reformed formulas and confessions, is primarily acknowledged to have been derived from the teachings of John Calvin. Perhaps its most general (and most well known) formulation was composed at the Synod of Dort in 1618, in response to the Five Points of Arminianism derived from the teachings of Jacobus Arminius and his followers. A third and perhaps the most broad definition of Calvinism, according to B. B. Warfield, is “the entire body of conceptions, theological, ethical, philosophical, social, political, which, under the influence of the master mind of John Calvin, raised itself to dominance in the Protestant lands of the post-Reformation age, and has left a permanent mark not only upon the thought of mankind, but upon the life-history of men, the social order of civilized peoples, and even the political organization of States.” 5 Obviously there is great overlap among these three definitions; however, for sake of clarity and for the purpose of this article, Calvinism will be defined in accordance with the second definition given above, most popularly known as TULIP, the “Five Points of Calvinism,” or the doctrines of grace. We will briefly define and expound these points and then trace some of the practical implications of these basic Calvinistic propositions.” 1

 

I also use the second definition of Calvinism given by Dally in the quote above. To me Calvinism is a theological system and not merely an idolatrous term that seeks to provoke men to bow at the altar of a certain man. As one who identifies themselves as a Reformed Baptist, I hold to much of what Calvinism teaches. Calvinism could easily be called Augustinianism, Paulinism, or Christianity. When I use the term Calvinism I am not bowing down to a man, who was a great theologian, but rather identifying my theological convictions over and against erroneous views which have arisen within Christianity known as Pelagianism, Cassianism, Arminianism, and Roman Catholicism.

 

Augustus Toplady stated concerning Calvinism:

“Time has been when the Calvinistic doctrines were considered and defended as the Palladium of our Established Church; by her bishops and clergy, by the universities, and the whole body of the laity. It was (during the reigns of Edward VI, Queen Elizabeth, James I, and the greater part of Charles I) as difficult to meet with a clergyman who did not preach the doctrines of the Church of England, as it is now to find one who does. We have generally forsaken the principles of the Reformation, and Ichabod, or ‘the glory is departed,’ has been written on most of our pulpits and church-doors ever since.” 2

 

Charles Spurgeon stated concerning Calvinism:

“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.” 3

 

So for those who do not know what the term ‘Calvinism’ means, I suggest they download the Pdf below and read Dally’s definition of the term.

 

(1) A Brief Definition of Calvinism by Ben Dally

 

(2) The Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner-Quoted from the preface of Zanchius’ Predestination Pg. 16

 

(3) A Defense of Calvinism by Charles H. Spurgeon

Chapter IX : Of Free Will

1. God hath indued the Will of Man, with that natural liberty, and power of acting upon choice; that it is (a) neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.

a Mat. 17.12.Jam. 1 14. Deut. 30.19.

2. Man in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power, to will, and to do that (b) which was good, and well-pleasing to God; but yet (c) was mutable, so that he might fall from it.

b Eccl. 7.29.

c Gen. 3.6

3. Man by his fall into a state of sin hath wholly lost (d) all ability of Will, to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, (e) and dead in Sin, is not able, by his own strength, to (f) convert himself; or to prepare himself thereunto.

d Rom. 5.6. ch. 8.7.

e Eph. 2.1.5.

f  Tit. 3 3,4,5. Joh. 6.44.

4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of Grace (g) he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone, enables him (h) freely to will, and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that by reason of his (i) remaining corruptions he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good; but doth also will that which is evil.

g Col. 1.13. Joh. 8.36.

h Phil. 2.13.

i Rom. 7.15.18,19 21.23.

5. The Will of Man is made (k) perfectly, and immutably free to good alone, in the state of Glory only.

k Eph. 4.13.

The 1677/89 London Confession of Faith

 

Can We Keep God’s Commands?

Benjamin Cox Answered an Objection by a Pelagian to a Certain Passage

The Objection

If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.

Answer:

Here you must consider to whom our Savior spake this, viz., of one who sought to establish his own righteousness, and to get Heaven by his own doing of the good works which the Law required, who accordingly had propounded this question, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The meaning of our Savior’s answer is this, if thou wilt think to get eternal life this way, you must keep the commandments, that is, you must be found as a person not any way guilty of any transgression against God’s commandments. This was a thing of mere and utter impossibility and our Savior’s scope in returning to him this answer, was to discover unto him the vanity and madness of his proud and foolish imagination. Thus, this place rightly understood has not in it the least show of opposition against our doctrine.

Benjamin Cox-Some Mistaken Scriptures Sincerely Explained, in Answer to One Infected With Some Pelagian Errors 1646.