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Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Pardon- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 1

Book Seventh

CHAPTER III.

BLESSINGS OF GRACE.

THE SALVATION OF MEN IS ENTIRELY OF DIVINE GRACE.[1]

Grace is unmerited favor. Paul distinguishes, in Rom. iv. 4, between the reward of grace and the reward of debt. When good is conferred because it is due, it is not of grace. Whatever may be claimed on the score of justice, cannot be regarded as unmerited favor. Justice gives to every man according to his works; and if salvation were of works, it could not be of grace. Paul has made this matter very plain: “To him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”[2]

For the same reason that salvation is not of works, it is not of the law. The law is the rule of justice, and takes cognisance of the men’s works. If it gave life to men, it could be only on the ground of their obedience to its requirements; for its language is, “the man that doeth these things shall live by them.”[3] Salvation by the law is declared to be impossible: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.[4] The Scriptures represent grace and law as opposed to each other: “The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”[5] “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”[6] “It is of faith, that it might be by grace.”[7] Sometimes the term law is used in an extended sense; as when the law of faith is opposed to the law of works;[8] and the law of the spirit of life, to the law of sin and death.[9] Hence we read of “the perfect law of liberty,”[10] which cannot be the rule of justice: that says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”[11] When the term law is used in this extended sense, it denotes the method of salvation by grace through faith, and is carefully distinguished from “the law of works.”

The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is taught in the sacred Scriptures with great clearness. In the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, the declaration is twice made, “By grace ye are saved.” Paul ascribes his own salvation to grace: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”[12] He traces the blessing of salvation to “the grace given in Christ Jesus, before the world began:”[13]–to “the riches of his grace:”[14]–to “the exceeding riches of his grace.”[15]

Salvation is entirely of grace. The passages already quoted show that salvation is not partly of grace and partly of works. Grace and works are so opposed to each other, that, when it is affirmed to be of grace, it is denied to be of works: “Not of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” “Not according to our works; but according to his own purpose and grace.”[16] The exclusion of all boasting,[17] was, that the blessing bestowed is entirely of grace: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”[18] Our works are wholly excluded; because they are all sinful, and can deserve nothing but the wrath of God. Faith renounces all reliance on our own works, all expectation of favor on their account; and asks and receives every blessing as the gift of divine grace through Jesus Christ. When salvation is so received, all boasting is effectually excluded.

That salvation is entirely of divine grace, may be argued from the condition in which the Gospel finds mankind. We are justly condemned, totally depraved, and, in ourselves, perfectly helpless. All this has been fully proved in a former chapter; is verified in the experience of every one who is awakened to a just view of his lost state; and precisely accords with the language of God to his ancient people: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help.”[19] The second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians describes the condition of men by nature: “Children of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and sins,” “without hope and without God;” and it attributes their deliverance from this wretched and hopeless condition, to the grace of God, who is rich in mercy: “But God, in his great love, wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together; and hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” In the eagerness of his desire to impress the minds of the Ephesian Christians with a sense of their obligation to divine grace, before he reaches the conclusion of his argument, as if impatient to express the thought with which his own mind was so deeply impressed, he introduced it parenthetically, by anticipation, “By grace ye are saved.” Afterwards, when his argument is completed, he repeats the declaration, and expands it to the utmost fulness of meaning, when he adds that faith itself is the gift of God. If the blessing bestowed is of faith, that it might be by grace, and if faith itself is the gift of God, it must be emphatically true that salvation is of grace.

The blessings which are bestowed in salvation, demonstrate that it is entirely of grace. We shall proceed to a particular consideration of these, in the sections which follow: but we may here, in a general view, comprehend them under two gifts, namely, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of Christ, to die for us, and to become to us the author of eternal salvation, is entirely of grace: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”[20] “God commendeth his love toward us.”[21] “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”[22] Without the death of Christ, our salvation was impossible: and we had no claim on God to draw forth from him the gift of his well-beloved. He was freely given, of God’s great love, wherewith he loved us: and as he was freely given, so all the blessings which flow through him are freely given also. If any man feels that Christ was under obligation to die for him, or that God was bound to give his Son to make the needed sacrifice for sin, he totally mistakes, on a point of vital importance to the salvation of his soul. The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is not a useless speculation; but it enters into the very heart of Christian experience; and the faith which does not recognise it, does not receive Christ as he is presented in the Gospel. It is, therefore, a matter of unspeakable importance, that our view of this truth should be clear, and that it should be cordially embraced by every power of our minds.

As the Son of God was freely given to effect our salvation by his death; so the Holy Spirit is freely given, to apply the salvation which the Son has wrought out: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”[23] We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift of the Father’s love, who bestows it, as earthly parents give good things to their children.[24] And this gift is not bestowed because of merit in the recipient. Paul asks, “Received ye the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”[25] From this inquiry we learn that this gift also is of faith, that it might be by grace.[26] The Spirit is given in answer to the prayer of Christ: and being thus bestowed through Christ, it is one of the good things freely given together with Christ. We are encouraged to pray that God would give us his Holy Spirit: but our prayer cannot be acceptable, and will not be heard, if we ask the blessing as one which is justly due, and which we may demand as a right. When our humbled hearts plead that God would, in the exceeding riches of his grace, grant us his Holy Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and fit us for his service, our petitions rise with acceptance to the ear of the Lord of hosts.

An objection to the views which have been presented, may arise from the fact, that, in the last day, men will be judged according to their works.[27] But the good works of the saints are the fruit of grace bestowed; and, although the sentence in the great day will be according to their works, the reward will nevertheless be of grace, and not of debt. Their works will be an evidence of their faith; and Christ, the Judge, will refer to them, as proof of love to him. The kingdom which he will bestow, will be, not a reward for the merit of their works, but an inheritance prepared for them before the foundation of the world.[28] It will be as true on that day, as it is now, and it will be felt to be true by all the saints, that eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.[29]

SECTION I.–PARDON.

ALL WHO REPENT OF SIN OBTAIN FORGIVENESS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.[30]

Forgiveness implies deliverance from the penalty due to sin. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness: and when men become sensible to the danger to which they are exposed, deliverance from the impending wrath becomes an object of intense solicitude. Hence arises an anxious desire to obtain forgiveness. To persons in this state of mind, the doctrine that there is forgiveness with God, is most welcome.

All forgiveness is bestowed through Jesus Christ. It is he who delivers from the wrath to come.[31] In him “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”[32] He had power on earth to forgive sins;[33] and he is now exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.[34] That we might be delivered from the penalty due to our sins, it was necessary that Christ should bear it for us. Hence it is true, that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission;[35] and hence, in the teachings of Scripture, the forgiveness of sins stands connected with redemption by the blood of Christ. With this agrees the language of the redeemed: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his own blood.”[36]

The blessing of forgiveness is bestowed on all who truly repent of their sins. This is taught in various passages of Scripture. “Repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”[37] “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”[38] Repentance and remission of sins[39] were preached in the name of Christ, and are associated blessings, bestowed by “the exalted Prince and Saviour.”[40] When Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,”[41] it was implied that, if they repented, they would escape. God, in the gospel, commands all men everywhere to repent, in view of the approaching judgment.[42] The hope of escape in that great day, is clearly held out to those who obey the command, and sincerely repent of their sins.

Forgiveness is sometimes represented in the Scriptures, as received by faith in Christ: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sin.”[43] Repentance and faith are twin graces, proceeding from the same Holy Spirit, and wrought in the same heart; and, although they may be contemplated separately, they exist together, and the promise of forgiveness belongs to either of them.

In the New Testament, a connection appears, between the remission of sins and the ordinance of baptism. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;[44] and Ananias commanded Saul, “Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”[45] In the Old Testament, a similar connection appears, between remission and the sacrifices of that dispensation. “Almost all things were by the law purged with blood, and without the shedding of blood is no remission.”[46] Yet Paul has taught us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin;[47] that these offerings were only figures of things to come; and that the only effectual removal of sin is by the blood of Christ. Baptism under the gospel, is as truly a figure, as the sacrifices were under the law. In the ceremonies instituted by Moses, the death of Christ was prefigured by the death of the slaughtered victims; and in the gospel ceremony, the burial and resurrection of Christ are figured forth in the ordinance of baptism: and in both cases, the remission connected with the ceremony is merely figurative. Our sins are washed away in baptism, in the same sense in which we eat the body and brink the blood of Christ, in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper.[48] Baptism and the Lord’s supper are duties to be performed under the gospel dispensation; as the various ceremonies instituted by Moses, were duties under the former dispensation; but the figures ought not, in either case, to be confounded with the things which they represent. In a figure, baptism washes away sin: in reality, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” We must be careful not to rely on the figure, instead of the reality which it represents.

To escape the wrath to come, is the first desire of the awakened sinner; and mercy, mercy, forgive, forgive, are the first words uttered in his earnest prayers. Forgiveness is bestowed on repentance, and repentance is the first duty enjoined in the gospel. It is fit that the first blessing of grace which the sinner anxiously seeks, should be connected with the first duty required of him. It shows, on the one hand, the holiness of God, who will not pardon sin, except on the condition of the sinner’s return to obedience; and, on the other, God’s readiness to forgive, inasmuch as his wrath is averted at the first step of the sinner’s return. He might have required that the sinner should undergo a long discipline of painful penance, and a long course of laborious service, as a condition of release from the indignation and wrath so long provoked. But God’s readiness to forgive, is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, by the conduct of the father, who, while his son was yet a great way off, ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,[49] with free and full assurance of pardon and acceptance. Such is the love which God manifests to the returning sinner. It hastens to receive him on the first indication of true penitence. Nor is it a partial forgiveness which is then bestowed. The storm of divine wrath, which had been gathering over the sinner’s head, during all his life of impenitence, is at once dispelled, and his sins, as a thick cloud, are at once blotted out.[50] To show the completeness of his pardon, his iniquities are represented as buried in the depths of the sea;[51] not in some shallow place, where an ebbing tide might leave them uncovered; but in the depths of the ocean, where, if they should be sought for, they could never be found. Such is God’s forgiveness. Why are sinners so averse to seek it?

Although, on the first movement of a sinner in his return to God, the first blessing of divine grace is bestowed on him, so full, so freely, so gloriously; it does not follow, that he may safely stop short in his progress. The doctrine of the saints’ final perseverance, which we shall hereafter consider, is misunderstood and misapplied; if men take encouragement from it, to relax in their efforts to advance in the way of holiness. The blessing of forgiveness, and the exercise of repentance, are connected with each other, at the beginning of the divine life; and their connection remains throughout its progress. We have occasion to pray for forgiveness, as often as we pray for our daily bread,[52] and the prayer cannot be presented with a well grounded hope that it will be heard and answered, unless it proceed from a penitent heart. Penitence is as necessary to pardon, in the saint who is just finishing his warfare, and taking his departure for the other world, as it was in the first moment of his drawing near to God. Christ was exalted “to give repentance and remission of sins:” and if these do not accompany each other, they do not come from Christ. He who believes that all his sins, past and future, were forgiven at his first conversion, in such a sense that he may dispense with all subsequent penitence, and rest satisfied with his first forgiveness, has need to learn again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.

[1] Eph. ii. 5, 7, 8; 2 Tim. i. 9; Rom. iii. 24; viii. 23; xi. 5, 6; ix. 15, 16.

[2] Rom. xi. 6.

[3] Rom. x. 5.

[4] Gal. iii. 21.

[5] John i. 17.

[6] Gal. iii. 2.

[7] Rom. iv. 16.

[8] Rom. iii. 27.

[9] Rom. viii. 2.

[10] James i. 25.

[11] Gal. iii. 10.

[12] 1 Cor. xv. 10.

[13] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[14] Eph. i. 7.

[15] Eph. ii. 7.

[16] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[17] Rom. iii. 27.

[18] Eph. ii. 9.

[19] Hosea xiii. 9.

[20] John iii. 16.

[21] Rom. v. 8.

[22] Rom. viii. 32.

[23] Rom. v. 5.

[24] Luke xi. 13.

[25] Gal. iii. 2.

[26] Rom. iv. 16.

[27] Rev. xx. 12.

[28] Matt. xxv. 34.

[29] Rom. vi. 23.

[30] Isaiah lv. 7; Jer. iii. 12, 22; Luke xxiv. 46, 47; Acts ii. 38; iii. 19; v. 31.

[31] 1 Thess. i. 10.

[32] Eph. i. 7.

[33] Matt. ix. 6.

[34] Acts v. 31.

[35] Heb. ix. 22.

[36] Rev. i. 5.

[37] Acts iii. 19.

[38] 1 John i. 9.

[39] Luke xxiv. 47.

[40] Acts v. 31.

[41] Luke xiii. 3.

[42] Acts xvii. 30.

[43] Acts x. 43.

[44] Mark i. 4.

[45] Acts xxii. 16.

[46] Heb. ix. 22.

[47] Heb. ix. 13.

[48] 1 Cor. x. 16.

[49] Luke xv. 20.

[50] Isaiah xliv. 22.

[51] Mic. vii. 19.

[52] Matt. vi. 11, 12.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Covenant of Grace- Book Seventh- Chapter 2

Book Seventh

CHAPTER II.

COVENANT OF GRACE.

THE THREE DIVINE PERSONS CO-OPERATE IN MAN’S SALVATION ACCORDING TO AN ETERNAL COVENANT.[1]

On a former occasion, it was shown that the Scriptures use the term covenant with great latitude of meaning. The propriety of its use in the present case, cannot well be questioned. We have three divine persons, who are parties in this covenant; and the doctrine of God’s unity cannot exclude the notion of a covenant, without, at the same time, excluding the distinction of persons in the Godhead. We are not to imagine, as included in this covenant transaction, a proposal of terms by one party, and a deliberation, followed with an acceptance or rejection of them, by the other parties. These things occur, in the making of human covenants, because of the imperfection of the parties. In condescension to our weakness, the Scriptures use language taken from the affairs of men. They speak as if a formal proposal had been made, at the creation of man, addressed by one of the parties to the others: “Let us make man:” but this is in accommodation to our modes of conception. An agreement and co-operation of the divine persons, in the creation of man, is what is taught in this passage. This agreement and co-operation extend to all the works of God: “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.”[2] The idea of counsel in all these works, accords with that of consultation which is presented in the account of man’s creation. In every work of God, the divine persons must either agree or disagree. As they alike possess infinite wisdom, disagreement among them is impossible. The salvation of men is a work of God, in which the divine persons concur. It is performed according to an eternal purpose; and in this purpose, as well as in the work, the divine persons concur; and this concurrence is their eternal covenant. The purpose of the one God, is the covenant of the Trinity.

In the work of salvation, the divine persons co-operate in different offices; and these are so clearly revealed, as to render the personal distinction in the Godhead more manifest, than it is in any other of God’s works. Beyond doubt, these official relations are severally held, by the perfect agreement of all; and, speaking after the manner of men, the adjustment of these relations, and the assignment of the several parts in the work, are the grand stipulations of the eternal covenant.

That the covenant is eternal, may be argued from the eternity, unchangeableness, and omniscience of the parties, and from the declarations of Scripture which directly or indirectly relate to it: “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”[3] “His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus.”[4] “In hope of eternal life promised before the world began.”[5] “Grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began.”[6]

Although God’s purpose is one, we are obliged, according to our modes of conception, to view it, and speak of it, as consisting of various parts. So, the eternal covenant is one; but it is revealed to us in a manner adapted to our conceptions and to our spiritual benefit. The work of redemption by Christ is presented in the Gospel as the great object of our faith; and the stipulation for the accomplishment of this work, is the prominent point exhibited in the revelation which is made to us respecting the covenant of grace. The agreement between the Father and the Son is conspicuously brought to view, in various parts of the sacred volume: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.”[7] “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”[8] “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire. Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God:”[9] and in Isaiah, chapter xlix., the stipulations between the Father and the Son are presented, almost as if they had been copied from an original record of the transaction.

According to the covenant arrangement, the Son appeared in human nature, in the form of a servant; and, after obeying unto death, was exalted by the Father to supreme dominion. The Holy Spirit also is revealed as acting in a subordinate office; but appears as sustaining the full authority of the Godhead, sending the Son, giving him a people to be redeemed, prescribing the terms, accepting the service, rewarding and glorifying the Son, and sending the Holy Spirit. In all this the Father appears as the representative of the Godhead, in its authority and majesty. The Son also sustains a representative character. The promise of eternal life was made, before the world began, to the people of God, in him as their representative. The reconciliation between God and men is provided for by the covenant engagement between the Father and the Son; the Father acting as the representative of the Godhead, and the Son as the representative and surety of his people. The Holy Spirit concurs in this arrangement, and takes his part in the work, in harmony with the other persons of the Godhead. His peculiar office is necessary to complete the plan, and to reward the obedience of the Son by the salvation of his redeemed people. The promises of the Father to the Son include the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, the sending of the Spirit is attributed to the Son;[10] and sometimes to the Father at the petition of the Son.[11]

In this order of operation, inferiority of nature is not implied, in the subordination of office to which the Son and the Spirit voluntarily consent. The fullness of the Godhead dwells in each of the divine persons, and renders the fulfillment of the covenant infallibly sure, in all its stipulations. The Holy Spirit, in the execution of his office, dwells in believers; but he brings with him the fullness of the Godhead, so that God is in them, and they are the temple of God, and filled with the fullness of God. The Son or Word, in the execution of his office, becomes the man Jesus Christ; but the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him; so that, in his deepest humiliation he is God manifest in the flesh, God over all, blessed for ever.

The order of operation in this mysterious and wonderful economy, can be learned from divine revelation only. Here we should study it with simple faith, relying on the testimony of God. In the representation of it here exhibited, we may discover that the blessings of grace, proceeding from God, appear to originate in the Father, “of whom are all things,” to be conferred through the Son, “by whom are all things,” and by the Spirit, who is the immediate agent in bestowing them, the last in the order of operation. The approach to God, in acts of devotion, is in the reverse order. The Spirit makes intercession in the saints, moving them, as a spirit of supplication, and assisting their infirmities, when they know not what to pray for. Their prayers are offered through Christ, as the medium of approach; and the Father, as the highest representative of the Godhead, is the ultimate object of the worship. Through him [Christ] we have access by one Spirit to the Father.[12] The Spirit moves us to honor the Son and the Father: and for this purpose takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us, that we may believe in him, and through him approach the Father. In this work he acts for the whole Godhead, and therefore his drawing is ascribed to the Father: “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.”[13] When we come to Jesus Christ, the whole Godhead meets us again in the person of the Mediator: for “God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.”[14] And when we address the Father, as the ultimate object of our worship, the whole Godhead is there, and receives our adorations. In the covenant of grace, the triune God is so presented to the view of the believer, that he may worship without distraction of thought, with full confidence of acceptance, and with clear perception that God is to him all and in all. In the retirement of the closet, the devotional man addresses God as present in the secret place, and holds communion with him, as a friend near at hand. When he comes forth into the busy world, he sees God all around him, in the heavens, and in the earth; and holds converse with him in this different manifestation of himself. When he lifts his thoughts to the high and holy place where God’s throne is, and prays, “Our Father which art in heaven,” his mind is directed to the highest and most glorious manifestation of the Deity. In all this he suffers no distraction of thought. The same omnipresent One is addressed, whether conceived to be in the closet, or in the world, or in the highest heavens. With equal freedom from distraction we may worship the Infinite One, whether we approach him as the Holy Spirit, operating on the heart; or as the Son, the Mediator between God and men; or as the Father, representing the full authority and majesty of the Godhead. We worship God, and God alone, whether our devotions are directed to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit; for the divine essence, undivided and indivisible, belongs to each of the three persons.

To guard against mistake, it should be observed, that the covenant which we have been considering is not identical with the new covenant of which Paul speaks in the epistle to the Hebrews. The latter made, according to the prophecy which he quotes, “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah;”[15] whereas the covenant of which we have treated, is not made with man. There is, however, a close connection between them. In the eternal covenant, promises are made to the Son, as the representative of his people: in the new covenant, these promises are made to them personally, and, in part, fulfilled to them. The promises are made to them: “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:”[16] and they are, in part, fulfilled. “I will put my law in their minds, and write it in their hearts.”

[1] Ps. ii. 8; xl. 6–8; lxxxix. 3; Isaiah xlix. 3–12; John xvii. 6; Heb. xiii. 20; Titus i. 2.

[2] Eph. i. 11.

[3] Heb. xiii. 20.

[4] Eph. iii. 11.

[5] Tit. i. 2.

[6] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[7] John xvii. 6.

[8] Ps. ii. 8.

[9] Ps. xl. 6–18.

[10] John xvi. 7.

[11] John xiv. 16.

[12] Eph. ii. 18.

[13] John vi. 44.

[14] 2 Cor. v. 19.

[15] Heb. viii. 8.

[16] Heb. viii. 10.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: The Trinity- Book Seventh- Chapter 1

Book Seventh

CHAPTER I.

THE TRINITY.

THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT, ARE THREE PERSONS IN ONE DIVINE ESSENCE.[1]

The unity of God is a fundamental doctrine of religion; and no doctrine can be true which is inconsistent with it. All admit that the Father is God; and we have seen that the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, according to the teachings of the sacred Scriptures. To reconcile the proper deity of these three, with the strict unity of God, is a matter of great difficulty. All admit that they cannot be three and one in the same respect; and divines have usually held that they are three in person, and one in essence.

The doctrine of a three-fold distinction in the Godhead, belongs especially to the economy of grace, and is therefore more clearly revealed in the New Testament than in the Old. Some intimations of it, however, may be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the very first verse of the Bible, the name of God is plural, and the verb “created,” with which it is construed, is singular. This countenances the opinion, that there is plurality as well as unity in the Godhead. But since words which are plural in form, are sometimes used to denote objects which are singular, this argument for a plurality in the Godhead cannot be regarded as in itself conclusive. It derives strength, however, from two considerations: 1. The Hebrew scriptures guard the doctrine of God’s unity with great care; and if all plurality were inconsistent with it, this important purpose of the revelation made to the Hebrews, would have been better subserved if none but singular names for the deity had been admitted, yet plural names are very commonly employed. And in one remarkable case, the Hebrew name Elohim, is used in an express declaration of the divine unity. “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah, our Elohim, is one Jehovah.”[2] Why was the plural name here introduced? The declaration of the divine unity would have been complete without it. If it was introduced to guard against an improper inference from the use of plural names, it shows the use of such names to have been dangerous, and therefore difficult to reconcile with the wisdom of revelation. If the name Jehovah be understood to refer to the divine essence; and the name Elohim, to the three divine persons; the passage may be interpreted consistently and beautifully, and it becomes an explicit declaration of the New Testament doctrine. 2. The Hebrew scriptures contain other intimations of a plurality in the Godhead. Plural pronouns are applied to God, and consultation is attributed to him. “Let us make man.”[3] “Let us go down and confound their language.”[4] A consultation with created beings cannot here be supposed. The opinion that God spoke in these cases, after the pompous manner of eastern monarchs, besides being, on other accounts, wholly improbable, is completely set aside, by the passage, “Behold, the man is become as one of us.”[5] No eastern monarch ever spoke of his individual unity, in this style. No consistent interpretation of this language can be given, without admitting a plurality in the Godhead; and this admission explains the use of plural names for God.

That the plurality in the Godhead is three-fold, has been inferred from the three-fold ascription of holiness[6] to God, and the three-fold benediction of the High Priest.[7] A more satisfactory argument is derived from passages in which the three divine persons are distinctly brought to view.[8]

This doctrine is more clearly revealed in the New Testament. In the formula of Christian baptism it is clearly exhibited.[9] We are baptised into one name, because God is one; but that is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, because it belongs alike to each of these divine persons. Here, this doctrine meets us, at our very entrance on the profession of the Christian religion. If Christ was not God, he was justly condemned to death, and his religion is false; and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter whom he promised, is as little entitled to regard as he was. If Christ and the Holy Spirit are not God, the form of baptism should be rejected, as of a piece with the false religion into which it introduces us. No man can consistently receive Christian baptism, without believing the doctrine of the Trinity.

We have spoken of this doctrine as belonging especially to the economy of grace. It is here that it is most clearly unfolded to our view, and without this doctrine, the covenant of grace, and its developments in the great work of salvation, cannot be understood. Yet there are fainter exhibitions of the doctrine in the works of God. This is true of creation. The consultation at the creation of man has already been noticed, as a proof of plurality in the Godhead. Moses says, “The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.” Job says, “By his Spirit he garnished the heavens.” John says, “By him (the Word) all things were made.”[10] All the divine persons, therefore, were concerned in creation: and other passages teach that they are also concerned in providence.[11]

The most sober-minded divines admit that there is incomprehensible mystery in the doctrine of the Trinity. All attempts to explain it have failed. Two methods which have been proposed to bring it within our comprehension, deserve special notice.

Some who are called Sabellians, maintain, that the distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is official and not personal. They hold that God is one in person, as well as in essence; but that he manifests himself in three different ways, and that the three different names denote these three modes of manifestation. This simplifies the doctrine; but it does not accord with the Scriptures. According to this view of the doctrine, we might paraphrase the words of Christ, in John, xiv. 16, thus: “I who am the same person with the Father, will pray the Father, who is no other than myself, in a different office, or mode of manifestation, and he shall give you another comforter, who is not another, but the same person as my Father and myself.” We see, from this specimen, that this explanation of the doctrine is at variance with the word of God.

Others admit the distinction of persons in the Godhead, and explain that the three possess one essence, just as three men, Peter, James, and John, possess one nature. This is Tritheism. It makes the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three Gods, just as Peter, James, and John, are three men. If we may call the three persons one God, merely because they are alike in their nature; we may, with equal reason, call all mankind one man; and we may maintain that Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, and all the heathen deities were one God. Paul’s distinction, “There are gods many; but to us there is but one God,”[12] is a distinction without a difference; for the many gods are one, in the same sense in which the three divine persons are supposed to be one. This explanation must, therefore, be rejected, as inconsistent with the proper unity of God.

Attempts have frequently been made, to illustrate the mystery of the Trinity, by means of material objects. One of these may be cited as a specimen of the rest. Water, ice, and snow, it is said, are different things, and yet they are but one. For aught that appears, it would have served quite well, to illustrate the mystery, by three separate glasses of water, all in the liquid form. The distinction between them would have been as perfect; and the identity of nature would have been as real, and more apparent. All such illustrations darken counsel with words without knowledge. What shall we liken to the Lord?

These efforts to explain the doctrine, are not simply fruitless, but they lead to error. If the mind receives satisfaction from them, it is by a false view of God’s mode of existence, and thinking him such an one as ourselves. It is far wiser to admit, that none by searching can find out God; and to abstain from unavailing efforts to comprehend what is incomprehensible to our finite minds. What God tells us on the subject, we ought to believe; and with this measure of knowledge, we ought to be satisfied; and all beyond this is human speculation, of which it is our duty and interest to beware. Nor are we justly liable to the reproach of believing what we do not understand. The teaching of divine revelation, we may understand, and we should labor to understand; and the mystery which remains unrevealed to our understanding, is not an object of our faith. The proposition, God is incomprehensible, is simple and intelligible, and our faith embraces it. God is the subject of this proposition; and, if a full understanding of the subject were necessary to faith, a belief of this proposition would be impossible. Though we do not comprehend God, we comprehend the meaning of the proposition; and this is what we believe. So the doctrine of the Trinity, as an object of our faith, may be expressed in propositions, each one of which is intelligible, notwithstanding the incomprehensibility of the subject.

The view which has been presented, is important, to strengthen our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity. So long as we imagine that a full comprehension of the subject is necessary to the exercise of faith, we must embrace the truth feebly. But let us examine the propositions, in which the doctrine may be expressed, and we shall find each one of them perfectly intelligible. The Father is God;–the Son is God;–the Holy Ghost is God;–there is but one God. All these propositions, we may understand, and receive with unwavering faith; while we are well assured that our understandings fall infinitely short of comprehending the great subject, and that, in harmonizing the last proposition with the preceding three, there is a difficulty which finite intelligence cannot explain.

In receiving a truth which is attended with difficulty, our faith may be assisted, by noticing that other truths, which we are compelled to admit, are attended with equal difficulty. The Omnipresence of God, may be shown to be as incomprehensible as the Trinity. If, at the same moment, a ball of matter is here, a ball there, and a ball yonder, we know that there are three balls. If, in the illustration, we substitute an angel for the ball, we know that there are three angels in the three places, and not one and the same angel. Yet the doctrine of God’s omnipresence teaches, that a whole is here, a whole deity there, and a whole deity yonder; and yet it is one and the same deity which is present at each place. If an entire deity may dwell, at the same time, in three separate places, and yet be but one, why may not an entire deity dwell in the three separate persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and yet be but one God? There is, perhaps no analogy between the two cases, except in this, that they alike confound our arithmetic; but this analogy is sufficient for our present purpose. Were God’s mode of existence like that of created things, either material or spiritual, he could not be in several places at the same time, or in three distinct persons; and yet be an undivided unit. We are compelled to admit the omnipresence of God, and we should admit, with equal faith, on the authority of God’s word, the doctrine of the Trinity, ascribing the difficulty of the subject to the incomprehensibility of the divine nature.

The doctrine of God’s omnipresence has, in one particular, greater difficulty, than that of the Trinity. The latter has a relief not discoverable in the other, arising from the consideration, that God is not three and one in the same respect. God is three in person, one in essence; and, although we may be unable to explain the precise difference between person and essence, the fact that there is a difference, relieves the doctrine from the charge of inconsistency.

We study the human mind in the phenomena which it exhibits. The operations of memory, imagination, reasoning, &c., differ widely from each other; but we refer them all to the one indivisible substance, called mind, of which we have no knowledge, except what we acquire from the phenomena. What we know of God, we learn from the manifestations which he has made of himself, in his works and word. In these manifestations, we discover the personal distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; yet, as taught by the divine word, we refer all the manifestations to the one indivisible essence, in which the unity of God consists. It is not a threefold manifestation of the same person, as the Sabellians hold; but a manifestation of three distinct persons, counselling and covenanting with each other, one sending another, one speaking to another, and of the third, &c. Nothing like this appears in the phenomena of one human mind: but we cannot thence infer, that it cannot be in the manifestations of one divine mind.

The word Trinity is not in the Bible, and objection has therefore been made to its use. As signifying tri-unity, three in one, it is an expressive name for the doctrine. As a convenient word, we are at liberty to use it, as we do many other words not found in the Bible; and the propriety of using it is the greater, because there is no single word in the Bible, which can be substituted for it. But we are under no obligation to contend for the name, which is human, provided we firmly maintain the doctrine, which is divine.

The word person, also which is used in stating this doctrine, is without Scripture precedent. Some have cited, as authority for its use, the passage in Heb. i. 3: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” Here, it is alleged, the person of the Father is mentioned; and, as the Son is his express image, we must conclude that he, also, is a person; and, having established the personal distinction between the Father and the Son, no doubt can remain, that the Holy Spirit is a third person. To all this, it may be answered, that the word person is not a good rendering of the Greek word here used, the sense of which would be better expressed by the word substance. The passage properly interpreted, refers to the full display of the Godhead, made through Jesus Christ as mediator, and not to the relation subsisting among the divine persons. But though there is no Scripture precedent for the use of the word, must it therefore be abandoned? A scrupulosity, which should refuse to use any word not found in the Bible, would be unwise, and lead to no good result. No one would refuse to apply the word person to Jesus Christ, and speak of him as a holy and just person, an extraordinary or wonderful person; or to say that his divine and human natures are united in one person: yet it would be difficult to produce Scripture precedent for this application of the term. Paul does speak, in 2 Cor. ii. 10, of “the person of Christ:” but a better rendering of this passage would be, “in the presence of Christ:” and Pilate’s wife said, Matt. xxvii.: “Have thou nothing to do with this just person:” but the word person is here supplied by our translators, and has no word corresponding to it in the original text. Yet our translators, in applying this word to Christ, have conformed to the common usage of the word, adopted and sustained by the common sense of mankind. Now, if Jesus Christ was a person, in the common acceptation of the term; and if he addressed his Father, and spoke of the Holy Spirit, as one human person would address another, and speak of a third, it must be an excessive scrupulosity, which refuses to apply the term to the Father, and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Son. Some have preferred to substitute the word manifestation; but this is equally without Scripture precedent; and to say, that one manifestation speaks to another, and of a third: would be unintelligible. We may, therefore, defend the use of the term person, provided we remember that it is a human expedient to avoid circumlocution. But if any one proceed to draw from the term, an inference which will affect the doctrine, he must be reminded that the word is human. If any one should infer, when we speak of the three divine persons, that they are as distinct from each other, in every respect, as the three human persons, Peter, James, and John, he is building an inference, on a foundation not authorized by the word of God.

[1] Matt. xxviii. 19; 2 Cor. xiii. 14; Rev. i. 4; Gen. i. 26; iii. 22; xi. 7; Isaiah xlviii. 16; John xiv. 16; Matt. iii. 16, 17.

[2] Deut. vi. 4.

[3] Gen. i. 26.

[4] Gen. xi. 7.

[5] Gen. iii. 22.

[6] Isaiah vi. 3.

[7] Num. vi. 24–26.

[8] Isaiah xlviii. 16; lxi. 1; lxiii. 7–10.

[9] Matt. xxviii. 19.

[10] Gen. i. 2; Job xxvi. 13; John i. 3.

[11] Heb. i. 3; Isaiah xxxiv. 15, 16.

[12] 1 Cor. viii. 5, 6.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Introduction- Book Seventh

Book Seventh

INTRODUCTION.

DUTY OF GRATITUDE FOR DIVINE GRACE.[1]

As love is the affection which should arise in our hears, from a view of God’s character, so gratitude is the affection which should be produced, by a view of the benefits that he confers. The stream of his benefits flows incessantly so that our cup is ever full. To receive the benefits thoughtlessly, like the brutes that perish, and to enjoy them without thanksgiving to him from whom they come, is demonstration complete of human depravity. Such demonstration is given daily and hourly in the conduct of mankind, and by it God is offended and his wrath provoked. The unthankful man is the evil man,[2] and the enemy of God. Hence, when we are called on to love our enemies, the example proposed for our initiation is the bestowment of God’s providential blessing on the unthankful.

Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

We are bound to thank God for the blessings of providence so incessantly and so richly bestowed; but far higher obligations to gratitude, arise from the grace that bringeth salvation.[3] This grace includes God’s gift of his Son, a gift so great that no name for it can be found. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”[4] The love of the Son, which demands our gratitude, is not less unmeasured, than the love of the Father: whence Paul labored to explore “the height, the length, the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”[5] And our gratitude is not complete till we acknowledge and celebrate also the love of the Spirit,[6] by whom believers are fitted for the enjoyment of God, and brought into fellowship with him.

In exercising and cultivating our gratitude for the blessings of salvation, we must distinctly recognise that they come from God, and that they are intentionally bestowed. When we trace them to their source, the infinite love of the triune God; and when we receive them, as conferred according to his eternal counsel, we are prepared while we enjoy the benefit, to return thanks to its Author, and to exclaim with liveliest emotion, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”[7]

That our gratitude to God may be proportional to the blessing received, we should count his mercies over, and survey their magnitude. Unmeasurable! unspeakable! passing knowledge!–yet we should labor to know them; and as we make progress in this spiritual knowledge, our gratitude should swell and fill the enlarged capacity of the mind.

In order to the full exercise of gratitude to God it is necessary to be thoroughly impressed with the conviction that the blessings received are wholly undeserved, and proceed entirely from the mere mercy and grace of God. When we feel that we are less than the least of all God’s mercies, that our only desert is hell, and that if salvation is bestowed on us, it will be of his own good pleasure; we are prepared to give thanks for the unspeakable gift, and to say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.”[8]

[1] 2 Thess. ii. 13. We are bound to thank God alway for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

1 Cor. xv. 10. By the grace of God, I am what I am.

2 Cor. ix. 15. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.

[2] Luke vi. 25.

[3] Tit. ii. 11.

[4] John iii. 16.

[5] Eph. iii. 18, 19.

[6] Rom. xv. 30.

[7] Ps. ciii. 2.

[8] Ps. cxv.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

The Wednesday Word: Butter, Water and Sovereign Grace

What does Sovereign Grace mean? Sovereign Grace is the combination of two of God’s attributes, Sovereignty and Graciousness.

When we say that God is sovereign, we mean that He has total and entire control of all things past, present and future. When we say He has total and entire control, we mean that He is the absolute King. When we say He is the absolute King, we mean that He is in charge. Sovereignty means that no one elected Him to office; that means, no one voted Him in and no one can vote Him out. No one can stop His purposes or forbid Him from acting. He is the absolute and omnipotent ruler of the universe.

Sovereignty means that all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, ‘What are you doing?’ (Daniel 4:35).

But God is not only Sovereign, He is also gracious. When we say that God is gracious, we mean that He gives His favour to those who deserve the exact opposite. Mary found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Luke 1:28). This means that she was chosen to have the undeserved privilege of bearing the Lord. She may indeed have been a godly young woman, but by her own admission, she needed a saviour (Luke 1:47). Only sinners need saviours! She was, therefore, the recipient of God’s grace. As believers, we too are the beneficiaries of God’s grace. The Scriptures boldly declare, “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).

He gives his grace to those whom he wishes to give His grace. Grace is not given to any who deserve grace…if that were the case then salvation wouldn’t be by grace. But when God acts, he does so in His almighty sovereignty. As He saves sinners, he does so by sovereign grace. Here’s something we all must learn, all grace is sovereign. If grace is not sovereign then it is not grace.

John 1:17 tells us that “Grace and truth came by Christ Jesus.” No permission was sought by the Father to send grace in the person of Christ Jesus. Furthermore, no permission is sought by the Lord to save anyone for we read in Acts 15:11, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.”

Sovereignty and grace go together; one is implied in the other. It’s like butter. My good friend, Mark Webb, drew my attention to the fact that, in the States, there is a company that advertises Country Butter. But, he pointed out, there’s no need to say ‘country’ butter since all butter is from the country.

Mark is right! I’ve not yet eaten City Butter. Indeed, in the USA, I’ve not encountered dairy farms or herds of milk cows in the midst of an urban setting. All butter is county butter and all grace is sovereign.

Likewise with water, water is wet. If we are in a restaurant and ask for a glass of water, we have no need to ask the server if the water is wet. All water is wet. I have never yet had a glass of dry water. Likewise, all grace is sovereign. If it’s not sovereign, it’s not grace. Butter is country, water is wet and grace is sovereign.

And that’s the Gospel Truth!

Miles Mckee

www.milesmckee.com 

Those who covet originality, and have a penchant for bringing out something new or startling, without regard to the analogy of faith, are sure to err

Arthur PinkTo say that all our interpretations must conform strictly to the Analogy of Faith may sound very simple and obvious, yet it is surprising to find how many not only unskilled but experienced men depart therefrom. Of course, those who covet “originality,” and have a penchant for bringing out something new or startling (especially from obscure passages) without regard to this basic principle, are sure to err. But as J. Owen observed, “Whilst we sincerely attend unto this rule, we are in no danger of sinfully corrupting the Word of God, although we shall not arrive unto its proper meaning in every place.” For example, when we learn that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24), incorporeal and invisible, that prevents us from misunderstanding those passages where eyes and ears, hands and feet are ascribed to Him; and when we are informed that with Him there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17), we know that when He is said to “repent” He speaks after the manner of men. Likewise, when Psalm 19:11, and other verses make promise of the saints being rewarded for their gracious tempers and good works, other passages show that such recompense is not because of merit, but is bestowed by Divine grace.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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.