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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Sovereignty of Grace

Part II

 

THE CRYSTALLIZATION

OF THE THEOLOGY OF GRACE

 

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ITRODUCTION

     The Canons of Dort (16181619) were the response of the Synod of Dort to the Five Points of the Remonstrants. They formed an extended Statement of Faith under the following headings: Divine Election and reprobation; the Death of Christ and the redemption of man thereby; the Corruption of man, his conversion to God, and the manner thereof; and the Perseverance of the saints. Each of these headings was treated by a series of Articles numbering fifty-nine in all with additional comments on errors which were to be rejected. This statement of faith has since been greatly simplified for ordinary teaching purposes into five points which correspond in substance but not in the order of presentation to the Five Points of the Remonstrants. These are now widely known under the acronym T U L I P, each letter standing for a simple descriptive phrase. These five descriptive phrases together summarize the Calvinist position. They are spelled out as follows:

T . . . . . Total Depravity

U . . . . . Unconditional Election

L . . . . . Limited Atonement

I . . . . . Irresistible Grace

P . . . . . Perseverance of the Saints

     Each of these requires a word of explanation and clarification.

     Total Depravity is not intended to signify that unregenerate man is wholly evil in everything he does, but rather that nothing he does is ever wholly good. In so far as motive determines the moral character and spiritual significance of an act, every deed has something of sinfulness about it because man's will is fatally corrupted by his fallen nature. Not all motives are equally sinful, but no motive is wholly pure. Hence, from a moral and spiritual point of view, human activity is always poisoned as to its motive, to a greater or lesser extent. This fundamental impurity of motive is the

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reason for saying that man is totally depraved. This depravity is reflected in man's entire impotence towards any spiritual good; in this respect unregenerate man is not merely sick but dead. Consequently the salvation of man is altogether a work of God, initiated and carried through by Him without the help of man, man being able neither effectively to resist nor to assist the elective purposes of God directed towards his salvation.
     Unconditional Election means that the Election of an individual to salvation in no way hinges upon foreseen merit in that individual. The Election of one as opposed to the by-passing of another rests entirely with God, and is according to his own good pleasure. Moreover, this choice was made before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). It is a sovereign act, predetermined without respect to the merit or demerit of the individual either before or after regeneration.
     Limited Atonement signifies that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, though sufficient for all men, is efficacious only for the elect. In the purposes of God, a full, perfect, and sufficient penal satisfaction for sin was provided and will be effectively applied only against the sins of those elected to a saving faith. The sufferings of Christ were not needlessly expended on behalf of those who the Father foresaw would not avail themselves of their benefits.
     Irresistible Grace indicates that because the grace of God in electing some to salvation is sovereign, it is not possible that the elect will effectively resist his grace. Nevertheless, for reasons known only to Himself, God may sometimes allow this work of grace seemingly to be delayed.
     Perseverance of the Saints denotes what today is commonly referred to as the eternal security of the believer. A more suitable expression might be the "Preservation of the Saints" since this is more precisely what is involved. The security of the believer is bound in with the sovereignty of God, the unchangeableness of his purpose, and the constancy of his good pleasure. It is the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ and not the faithfulness of the believer that guarantees this security.
     Now these Five Points form an organic unity, a single body of truth. They are based on two presuppositions which Scripture abundantly supports. The first presupposition is the complete impotence of man, and the second is the absolute sovereignty of the grace of God. Everything else follows. The meeting place of these two foundation truths is the heart of the Gospel, for it follows that if man is totally depraved, the grace of God in saving him must of necessity be sovereign. Otherwise, man will inevitably refuse it in his depravity, and will remain unredeemed.
     That man is wholly impotent to save himself does not signify, however, that he cannot be redeemed. He is redeemable: he has a capacity for salvation. Man is a redeemable creature such as no other creature appears to be, whether animal or angel. He was designed for this. He was fashioned of the

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dust of the ground in human form as an appropriate vessel for the housing of a redeemable human spirit.
     It is clear that as man's body lay on the ground, awaiting the infusion of a spirit when God would breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, his body was wholly unconscious of any need of any such infusion and quite incapable of either preparing itself to receive it or refuse it. His inanimate body had an aptitude for spiritual animation but it was a passive not an active aptitude. This also is the position of the spiritually dead who thus await the infusion of new life by a process of re-creation. The spiritually dead are recipients of a process of re-animation which must be as wholly a work of God as the infusion of spirit into Adam's body was. Adam's body could no more prepare itself to become the receptacle of an animating spirit than the man who is dead in trespasses and sins can prepare himself as a receptacle for the grace of God in salvation.
     Thus in man's fallen state he is truly without strength (Romans 5:6), and in no position to prepare himself for the grace of God. The Westminster Confession (Article XI.25) describes man's situation thus:

   Man, in his state of innocence, has freedom of power to will and to do that which is well pleasing to God. . . .
   Man, by his fall into a state of sin, wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so that a natural man is dead in sin and is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself hereunto
[my emphasis].
   When God converteth a sinner and translateth him into the state of grace he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enableth him freely to will . . . that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.
   The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

      Here we see four stages. Unfallen man was free to choose either good or evil. Fallen man's will has become free in one direction only, uni-directionally towards evil. By his grace, God undoes this uni-directionality of the will and sets it free again to choose either good or evil. This is the third stage. But it is not the final stage, for in heaven we shall have a will constitutionally equipped with the capacity only of willing good. The human will therefore is capable of operating under four different conditions: bi-directionally to good or evil as unfallen, uni-directionally to evil as fallen but unredeemed, bi-directionally to good or evil as redeemed, and uni-directionally to good only as glorified.
     None of us can recover Adam's innocence even in our redeemed state, for the bi-directionality of our will is not the same as the bi-directionality of Adam's unfallen nature. We, the redeemed, still have a bent towards evil in

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spite of the liberating effect of our redemption, a bent which Adam did not have to begin with. So profoundly has Adam's Fall affected human nature that even regeneration does not entirely undo it. Not until these mortal bodies are laid aside, and we are re-housed in a new and glorious body like the Lord's resurrection body (Philippians 3:21), shall we be finally free. As Paul said in Romans 8:23: "Ourselves also which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our bodies." And Paul has already, in chapter 7 of Romans, made it clear how much of our spiritual defeat originates through this defective housing.
    We may suppose therefore that the transmission of the effects of the Fall in Eden has resulted primarily through the acquisition by natural generation of a defective, corrupted, mortal body which early in life infects the spirit which it was designed to house.
     Now one's view of the nature of Original Sin determines one's view of the nature and extent of man's depravity. For if sin is an inherited disease which is inescapable and which inevitably bears fruit in the form of sins, then man is lost indeed so long as he is naturally born. There is no natural way in which the course of events can be circumvented. By his disobedience one man, Adam, made human nature sinful; thereafter human nature has made every man a sinner. We do not inherit an active sinfulness but we inherit a fatal disease, the morbid symptoms of which inevitably find expression if we survive childhood. On the other hand, if, as Pelagius held, sin is not an inheritable disease but an alien condition acquired sometime later in life in the process of growing up and as a result of yielding to temptation, then some men will not be sinful as soon as others are, because they have been hedged in during the growing-up process and protected against some of the temptations which have brought about the downfall of other men. Pelagius believed that man could be educated into a highly cultured being, and thus so preserved against failure that, with God's help, human nature could be humanly perfected. He admitted that God's help was needed, but he did not mean that this help came by divine intervention. It came by the illumination of the mind by which a man would be enabled to emulate the example of Christ and obey his instructions for living. For this purpose, God had sent his Son into the world as an example and not as a sacrifice for sin. Pelagius' thesis was in effect a Christianized humanism. Sin was thus to be kept out, not merely kept down.
     Pelagius viewed each child that was born as being like unfallen Adam, and that child's subsequent growth in experience as being like Adam's subsequent temptation and fall. As Adam might have turned innocence into virtue but failed to do so by yielding to temptation, so every newborn child faces the same possibility. Education and culture are the means whereby innocence might become righteousness. In this sense the child that sins and

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fails to achieve this desirable goal has sinned "after the similitude of Adam." It is to combat this vain hope implicit in Pelagianism that Calvinists are careful to include a statement to the effect that each man becomes a sinner but not after the similitude of Adam. We become sinners because we inherit a fatal disease which inevitably exhibits its characteristic symptoms. We are born with the disease, or, to put it slightly differently, we are born in SIN (singular). But we are not born in SINS an accusation which the Pharisees wrongly made against a certain man (John 9:34). On the other hand, the Lord spoke with precision when He told these same Pharisees that they would die in their SINS (John 8:21). The difference between these two terms, though they look so similar, is really profound, and it is a difference which is consistently recognized throughout the New Testament and emphasized in Paul's epistles. Calvin put the matter this way:

     We are not corrupted by an acquired wickedness but do bring an inborn corruption from the very womb...All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. (Institutes, II.i.5).

     It is noteworthy that Augustine in his Anti-Pelagian Writings said, "Original Sin is derived from the faulty condition of the human seed"* It is even more remarkable that Luther himself attached this inheritable factor to the male seed, when he wrote: "Through the fall of Adam SIN entered into the world and all men have as a result sinned. For the paternal sperm conveys the corruption from generation to generation". ** It is interesting also to find that Karl Barth in his Credo claimed that the "sin-inheritance is transmitted through the male parent only." (1)

     My object in this introduction has been to show that human nature has been corrupted at its source in such a way that it is incapable of any kind of self-help. Man is not merely lost and searching consciously for a way out of his predicament: he is lost so completely that he can no longer recognize the nature of his lost condition for what it is.
     There are only two basic positions that one can take in this matter. The first is that man's lost condition, though severe, is nevertheless only partial, leaving him with some hope of self-redemption. This self-help may take the form of active good works, or it may take the form merely of an earnest desire to be helped, or it may take the form only of a spirit of non-resistance towards the help that is provided. But always there is some supposed faint glow in the embers of man's heart which God uses to fan into a new flame. In the other view the fire has simply gone out. There is nothing which can be fanned alight. Which of these two positions one takes determines

* Augustine: "On Marriage and Concupiscence", Book II, chapter 20 in Anti-Pelagian Writings, vol.5 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Buffalo, Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887 , p.290.
** Luther: Luther's Theology, Theodosius Harnack, 1st edition, Erlangen, 1826-1857; English translation by J. N. Lenker, 1903, vol.10, p.304.

1.Karl Barth: quoted in R. G. Gromacki, The Virgin Birth. Doctrine of Deity, New York, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1974, p.119.

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virtually all else in one's theology. Do we start with man and some imagined potential for goodness or do we start with God who must be the author of salvation in its entirety? Do we start with the effectiveness of evangelism in generating a responsiveness in man's heart which then becomes the entree for the grace of God, or do we start with the sovereign grace of God as the only basis for man's hope? The Arminian view, and also the view of much modern evangelism, takes as its starting point the ability of man to respond, making the assumption that he has at least this much goodness upon which God can then act. The Calvinist position is that man is completely dead spiritually and all the initiative must be of God. This position, I believe, is the biblical one.

     It is in this light that we must consider how and why the Five Points of the Remonstrance were ordered and arranged as they were, and how the order of the Calvinist reply differed in its emphasis. The difference reflects the contrasting importance attached to the starting point, which in turn reveals much about the attitude of the two parties in their view of the potential of human nature. The Arminian Remonstrance attaches prime importance to man's freedom of will, and insists that he is only partially debased in his nature. There is a contribution which man must make and can make before God will act. The Calvinists saw this as a basic fallacy: man is not free to make such a contribution, being spiritually dead. Hence while Election was freely admitted by both parties, it was given first place in the Remonstrance and was presumed to be based upon God's foreknowledge of man's ability to respond out of the residual goodness of his heart. For the Calvinist the starting point for man must always be recognition of his own total spiritual impotence. The rest of the Points in each statement are ordered accordingly. In the tabulation which follows the arrows indicate which Points on each side are actually in counterbalance.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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