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Archive for the ‘Arminianism’ Category
Dr. Dan Wallace’s comments against the corporate election model have been referenced many times on the internet by various Calvinists as an authoritative critique of the view. Because of this we have asked our very own Dr. Brian Abasciano to take some time in his very busy schedule to write a reply. Dr. Abasciano, being one of the leading proponents of the model and thus an expert on the issue, agreed. Due to the informality of the original comments, Dr. Abasciano has attempted to reply in a similar fashion, but, in this writer’s opinion, he remained absolutely thorough in his critique and correction of many of Dr. Wallace’s comments. Here is his reply:
I have known about Dan Wallace’s comments about corporate election (originally posted on the internet in 2004 at http://bible.org/article/corporate-election and now reprinted at http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/10/corperate-election-dan-wal…) for some time. But I have regarded my 2006 article on the topic in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, to nullify their thrust, and so have not thought it necessary to respond to his comments. My recent article in the Ashland Theological Journal strengthens and expands on the same basic perspective that renders much of Dan’s informal article misguided and unpersuasive in its opposition to the corporate election perspective. But I have not interacted with Dan specifically in either of those articles, and it has been suggested to me that I address his comments, occasioned by their recent reposting at the “Parchment and Pen” blog. So I will intersperse my responses into selected portions of Dan’s article, marking Dan’s comments and my comments accordingly. But I will try to limit my responses here to avoid going over the view of corporate election in detail since I have addressed that elsewhere. I would urge readers to read my two articles on the topic for a full explanation of the biblical view of corporate election.
Dan starts out on a bad note when he defines corporate election in an erroneous manner. At least he defines it differently than the strongest version of the view does, and thereby sets the course of his comments to consistently fall short of squarely addressing the best and most biblical corporate election view.
Dan comments: First, allow me to clarify the issue: By corporate election I suppose you mean that only those who will be in Christ are chosen and that God does not specifically choose individuals but only chooses the sphere (“in Christ”) in which the elective purposes of God can take place. Thus, if one embraces Christ he is chosen.
My Reply: Here is where Dan begins to go wrong. He is correct to speak of corporate election as holding “that only those who will be in Christ are chosen.” But he is wrong to state that the view holds “that God does not specifically choose individuals but only chooses the sphere (“in Christ”) in which the elective purposes of God can take place.” The biblical view of corporate election (held by scholars such as William W. Klein and myself) holds that God does specifically choose individuals, but only those who are “in Christ”. So Dan rightly says of the view, “Thus, if one embraces Christ he is chosen.” But it should be obvious that “if one embraces Christ he is chosen,” then the view entails the election of specific individuals, such as the one who is chosen! It is just that the election of specific individuals is subordinated to the election of Christ on the one hand, and of the Church as a group on the other hand. If one is united with Christ by faith, then he is part of his people and shares in the election of Christ and his people. This is a critical mistake that Dan makes, essentially taking corporate election to exclude individuals as being elect.
Dan comments: First, the authors you cited seemed to make a conceptual-lexical equation (i.e., if the word “elect” was used, only groups were in view; ergo, election is only corporate). That view has been regarded by linguists and biblical scholars as linguistically naïve. James Barr in his Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, 1961) makes a lengthy and devastating critique of Kittel’s ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for its numerous linguistic fallacies. Among them is this conceptual-lexical equation. Allow me to unpack this a bit more: conceptual-lexical equation means that one does not find the concept unless he sees the words. That seems to be an underlying assumption in the authors you cited. However, where else do we argue this? Would we not say that the concept of fellowship occurs everywhere in the New Testament? Yet the word κοινωνια is found only twenty times. Or consider the deity of Christ: If we could only speak of Christ’s deity in passages where he is explicitly called “God,” then we are shut up to no more than about half a dozen texts. Yet the New Testament wreaks of the deity of Christ—via his actions, attributes that are ascribed to him, Old Testament quotations made of him, implicit and explicit statements made about him. Hence, our first question needs to be: Do we see the concept of election as a corporate notion or an individual one?
My Reply: I do not know who the authors are that Dan refers to, since he does not name them. But he is quite right that the conceptual-lexical equation is a fallacy. However, when the language of election is used, that is obviously important for determining the nature of election. Using the language of election explicitly gives it some priority in formulating the doctrine of election. The fact that the language of election unto salvation is invariably corporate is strong evidence for the corporate view of election. That seems almost self-evident. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that passages where the explicit language of election is absent but the concept is present are important for formulating the biblical doctrine. So it is valid for Dan to consider such passages. But his treatment of such passages is faulty in my opinion and fails to establish his case. See below.
Dan comments: Second, I think that there may be a false antithesis between corporate and individual election. Proof that God elects corporately is not proof that he does not elect individually (any more than proof that all are called sinners in Rom 3:23 is a denial that individuals are sinners). I embrace corporate election as well as individual election. As Douglas Moo argues in his commentary on Romans (pp. 551-52),
… to call Rom. 9-11 the climax or center of the letter is going too far. Such an evaluation often arises from a desire to minimize the importance of the individual’s relationship to God in chaps. 1-8. But the individual’s standing before God is the center of Paul’s gospel.… Individual and corporate perspectives are intertwined in Paul.
My Reply: Ironically, Dan’s article betrays the very type of false antithesis between corporate and individual election that he decries. As already stated, the corporate election view does not exclude individuals from its purview; it simply subordinates them to the group and understand election as coming to them as a consequence of their membership in the group (and ultimately, their union with Christ). The group (the Church) is elected primarily and the individual secondarily. This is the type of covenantal election that is found in the Old Testament. So the corporate election view poses no false antithesis between the group and individual. It merely relates them in the way the Bible does, with the emphasis on the group. However, some of Dan’s argumentation aims to disprove the corporate election view merely by showing individuals are elect. But this arises from his false conception of corporate election as excluding individuals altogether. I completely agree that, “Individual and corporate perspectives are intertwined in Paul.” The important question is, how are they intertwined? The individual perspective claims (typically assumes) that the individual is primary and the corporate election results from the individual election. The corporate election view claims that the individual election results from the corporate election (and ultimately from the election of the corporate head) just as it did in the Old Testament. There is no indication that this character of covenantal election changes in the New Testament, but every indication that it continues. Indeed, we are dealing with the New Covenant, an inherently corporate reality.
Dan comments: Evidence for this can be seen in Romans 9 itself: the examples that Paul uses to show the meaning of election are individuals: Pharaoh, Jacob and Esau, etc. Yet, these very examples—these very individuals—also represent corporate groups. If only corporate election were true, Paul could not have written Romans 9 the way he did.
My Reply: Here we find Dan’s false premise of corporate election excluding individuals at work. Since it is the basis of his argument and false, it invalidates his argument. Ironically, the examples he cites here strongly corroborate the corporate perspective. As Dan notes, these individuals “represent corporate groups.” That is something distinctive about them, and something distinctive about the corporate view. It observes that the corporate election of the Old Testament was rooted in the individual election of the corporate head of the people of God. The people, and the individual members of that people, were elect as a consequence of the election of the individual corporate head, which they shared in because of their association with him. In the Old Testament, that was Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob. Finally, the New Testament tells us that Christ was the seed of Abraham to whom the covenantal promises were made, the mediator of the New Covenant, and that all who are united to him by faith become members of God’s people and heirs to his covenantal promises. They are elect by faith in Christ. The individual corporate heads Paul mentions in Romans 9 exemplify the corporate election perspective perfectly and militate against Dan’s individualistic perspective.
Dan comments: Third, going back to the conceptual-lexical equation for a moment: let’s look at the evidence.
Mark 13:20—“but for the sake of the elect whom he chose he has cut short those days.” If we take only a corporate view of election, this would mean “but for the sake of all humanity he has cut short those days.” That hardly makes any sense in the passage; further, election is doubly emphasized: the elect whom he chose. It would be hard to make any clearer the idea that election is of individuals.
My Reply: Here we see again Dan’s false assumption that the corporate view of election excludes individuals. This completely undermines his appeal to Mark 13:20. But beyond that, his assertion that the corporate view would view the elect as all humanity is frankly bizarre. The corporate view would understand the elect here to be those who believe in Jesus, the Church. Finally, Dan blatantly begs the question here in pointing out that election is doubly emphasized. The corporate view of election fully affirms election. That should go without saying. It is a view of election! Simply pointing out that election is doubly emphasized says nothing about whether election here is viewed as primarily corporate vs. primarily individual. Therefore, his conclusion is frankly astonishing: “It would be hard to make any clearer the idea that election is of individuals.” This is astonishing for more than one reason. The first reason we have already mentioned: rank question-begging. But second, Dan has taken a reference to a group as elect, a group identified as “the elect”, and somehow concluded that this is as clear a reference to individual election as there could be. But ironically, if anything, this passage attests to corporate election! It views the elect as a group just as speaking of “the Pharisees” or “the Sadducees” or “the Jewish leaders” or “the Apostles” or “the believers” refers to these referents as groups. Now what seems to lie behind Dan’s incredible conclusion is, again, the mistaken notion that the corporate view excludes individuals altogether. Hence, since a group consists of individuals, he seems to think that mentioning the group as elect disproves the corporate view. But this is founded on the same fundamental misunderstanding we have had to point out repeatedly. It is strange, though, that Dan follows this line of argumentation when he began by trying to escape the force of reference to “the elect” as indicating a group by invoking the conceptual-lexical equation fallacy and urging us to look at instances where the concept of election might occur where the word might not occur to see if this might yield an individualistic picture of election. In other words, Dan seems to have already implied that such references to “the elect” do betray the corporate nature of election. But he beckons us to attend to other material for evidence of individualistic election. We are finding that other evidence unsupportive of Dan’s view and his objection to a corporate view of election.
Dan comments: Luke 6:13; John 6:70—Jesus chose twelve of his disciples out of a larger pool. True, he chose more than one; but this also was of particular individuals. Jesus named them individually, indicating that his choice of them was individual. This election was not toward salvation, as we see in John 6:70. [On dan’s footnote # 1, see below in this section on Luke 6:13, 70.] But this election was entirely initiated by Jesus (“you did not choose me, but I chose you”). Initiation and selection are the prerogatives of the Lord. Corporate election makes absolutely no sense in this context; and further, the elective purposes and methods of God incarnate are the same, whether it is of his apostles for service or of sinners for salvation.
My Reply: Dan has found an instance of primarily individual election. (It would be helpful to note here that, just as corporate election entails the election of individuals as a consequence of their membership in the group, so individual election of a plurality of people entails the election of the group as a consequence of the separate, individual election of each person. Sharing the common trait of having been chosen, these individuals may then be gathered into a group or considered a group.) But this is irrelevant for the question of the corporate vs. individual orientation of election. The corporate election view does not deny that there are instances of individual election in Scripture, just that the election of God’s people as his own covenant people/heirs is such an instance. Or to put it more simply, the claim is that Scripture presents election unto salvation as corporately oriented rather than individualistically oriented. This is clearly the type of covenantal election in the Old Testament. So Dan’s observation that Luke 6:13 and John 6:70 do not deal with election unto salvation makes his appeal to these texts illegitimate. But surprisingly, he essentially argues that if God ever elects individualistically, then he always does, because “the elective purposes and methods of God incarnate are the same.” This is an incredible claim that is nothing more than mere assertion. Take Dan’s own principle. If God’s purposes and methods of election are always the same, would that not mean that all election must be to salvation? But Dan admits that God’s purpose in election is not always salvation. How can this be when, according to Dan, his elective purposes are always the same? Moreover, multiple instances of primarily corporate election can be shown in Scripture, such as the election of Israel. Shall we then argue that since God always elects in the same way, all instances of election are actually primarily corporate? Of course not. The problem is that the basis of Dan’s argument here is false. There are instances of individualistic election and corporate election in Scripture. The question is, what type is the New Covenant election unto salvation? As I have argued elsewhere, the biblical evidence supports corporate rather than individualistic election unto salvation.
One further problem needs to be addressed in Dan’s comments on Luke 6:13 and John 6:70. He points out that “this election was entirely initiated by Jesus (“you did not choose me, but I chose you”). Initiation and selection are the prerogatives of the Lord”, and concludes with a terrible non-sequitur, that, “Corporate election makes absolutely no sense in this context.” But corporate election in no way denies God’s initiation or selection. It affirms both. It simply observes that God initiates and carries forth his election with the people united to his son, the people that is “in Christ”, the Church. That is his prerogative, is it not? Or shall we tell him who he is allowed to choose and who not? Shall we dictate to him the criteria of his initiative and election? May it never be! He is the sovereign God who has mercy on whomever he will have mercy.
Dan’s footnote # 1: What is significant here is that the choice of Judas actually illustrates that election is entirely unconditional. Judas certainly did not possess the kind of character that made him suitable to be an apostle. Yet Jesus chose him anyway—knowing his character and what he would do.
My Reply: This is another surprising comment. It is debatable whether Judas never had good character. But I will readily grant that point for the sake of argument. The really surprising thing is that Dan concludes from Judas’ poor character that he was chosen unconditionally, without reference to anything about him. Dan points out that Jesus chose Judas despite knowing about his poor character and what he would do. But it is far more likely that Jesus chose Judas because he knew that someone of his character would act as he did and help bring about the cross and our redemption. Far from being unconditional, Jesus’ choice of Judas appears to have been quite conditional. I think the case of Judas is far more complicated than these simple comments. But at the very least, Dan seems to be reaching here into unhelpful speculation to try and bolster his point. But in my opinion, it backfires on him.
Dan comments: Luke 9:35—“This is my Son, my Chosen One.” Certainly election of Christ is both individual and corporate: Christ as the elect of God (see also at John 1:34 the textual variant that is most likely original, and is the text reading of the NET Bible) is the vehicle through whom God effects his elective purposes today. That is, God chooses those who would be saved, but he also chooses the means of that salvation: it is in Christ (see also Eph 1:4).
My Reply: This is yet another surprising text for Dan to appeal to. I have described some of Dan’s arguments as ironic a few times already. And this reference invites that description with a vengeance. Ironically, in principle this passage is foundational to the corporate election perspective, since the election of Christ stands at the center of the view. Christ is “the Chosen One”, and those who come to be united with him share in his election. See my reply to Dan’s invocation of the corporate heads mentioned in Romans 9 above. It is doubly ironic and then some that Dan also refers to Ephesians 1:4, for that is perhaps the most prominent text supporting the corporate election view. For it indicates that the Church has been chosen as a consequence of its union with Christ. The reference here is both to the corporate people of God and to covenantal union with him (which is entered into by faith) as the condition for election. Christ is the means of the election of the Church because, as the text of Eph 1:4 says, God chose the Church (“us”) in Christ. As has often been pointed out, the text does not say that God chose the Church to be in Christ, but that God chose the Church in Christ, that is, as a consequence of its union with Christ. I have already urged readers to read my articles on election for a full explication of these matters. But let me say that again in regard to Eph 1:4, especially my article, “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election,” in which I discuss Eph 1:4 in detail and interact with erudite Calvinist exegesis of the verse and its context, which often unwittingly provides support for the corporate view.
Dan comments: John 15:16—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Again, we see that election is done by the initiative of God. Further, those who are chosen become what they are chosen for (in this case, apostles). A view of corporate election that allows a large pool of applicants to be “chosen” then permits a self-selection to narrow the candidates seems to ignore both God’s initiative and the efficacy of God’s choice: all those who are chosen become what they are chosen for.
My Reply: Pointing out that election is done by the initiative of God does nothing to gainsay corporate election, which takes place every bit as much by the initiative of God. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above. Similarly, pointing out that those who are chosen become what they were chosen for also does nothing to gainsay corporate election. In corporate election, the Church is elected and so becomes God’s people and heir to his blessings, including salvation.
Moreover, Dan again mischaracterizes corporate election, this time in a rather egregious way. The corporate view does not hold that there is a large pool of applicants chosen and then a self-selection narrows the candidates. As I mentioned in my response to Dan’s first point, it holds that the election of specific individuals is subordinated to the election of Christ on the one hand, and of the Church as a group on the other hand. If one is united with Christ by faith, then he is part of his people and shares in the election of Christ and his people.
Dan comments: John 15:19—“I chose you out of the world.” The same theme is repeated: election may have many individuals in view, but the initiative and efficacy belong to the Lord.
My Reply: This is the same faulty argument about divine initiative. See immediately above.
Dan comments: Acts 1:2—same idea as above.
My Reply: Same as above.
Dan comments: Acts 1:24—This text reveals a choice of one individual as opposed to another. The apostles vote on which of two candidates they had put in the pool would fill Judas’ spot. But even their choice is dictated by the mandate of heaven: “Show us which one you have chosen.”
My Reply: Here is that same fundamental misunderstanding I have repeatedly had to point out. Dan thinks that showing an instance of individual election unto service contradicts the corporate view of election unto salvation. See my response to his first 2 major points above and my comments on Mark 13:20 and Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above.
Dan comments: Acts 15:7—Peter notes that God had selected him to bring the good news to the Gentiles. Again, though this is not election to salvation, it is election that is initiated by God and effected by God (for, as you recall, Peter was quite resistant to the idea).
Thus, election is seen to be initiated by God and effected by God. Those who are chosen—whether individuals or groups—become what they are chosen for. Corporate election simply ignores this consistent biblical emphasis.
My Reply: This repeats the mistake of thinking divine initiative and efficacy is somehow inconsistent with corporate election. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above.
Dan comments: Fourth, when we look at the broader issue and involve words other than from the ἐκλέγ- — word-group, we see that the concept of God’s initiation and efficacy is very clear. For example, in Acts 13:48 we read that “as many as had been appointed for eternal life believed.” This is a group within the group that heard the message. The passive pluperfect periphrastic ἦσαν τεταγμένοι indicates both that the initiative belonged to someone else and that it had already been accomplished before they believed.
My Reply: Again, corporate election fully embraces the initiation and efficacy of God’s election of his corporate people. See my reply to Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above. However, I would interpret Acts 13:48 much differently than Dan. I do not think it refers to election. A better translation of the passage is, “as many as were set in position for eternal life believed” or “as many as were disposed to eternal life believed.” The word typically translated “appointed” can also be translated “to set in position” and can be used of human disposition/attitude, which fits the context of Acts 13:48 better, as it stands in contrasting parallel to the attitude of the Jews of the same episode who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, opposing Paul and rejecting the gospel (Acts 13:46). No agent of the action is identified for the passive verb, meaning it could be another agent like God that prepared the subjects for eternal life, or Paul as the preacher of the gospel, or the preaching of the gospel itself, or even the subjects of the passive verb themselves (akin to saying, “as many as were set for the test passed it”), or most likely, a combination of these and other factors. It would be too involved to present an exegesis of this text in this setting; the matter deserves a whole article of its own. But suffice it to say here that Acts 13:48 fails to establish Dan’s point. Moreover, it is worth noting that Friberg’s lexicon lists “as many as had become disposed toward eternal life” as a possible translation. Similarly, distinguished grammarian Max Zerwick indicates “who had been set (in the way)” as a possible translation in Zerwick and Grosvenor’s well known A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. And the most authoritative lexicon for New Testament studies (abbreviated BDAG) does not take the verb in question to mean “appoint,” but construes it under the meaning of “to put in place.” It is not surprising, then, that the distinguished biblical scholar Henry Alford argued for the rendering, “as many as were disposed,” in his well respected 4 volume work, The Greek Testament. (John Piper of all people sings Alford’s praises thus: “When I’m stumped with a . . . grammatical or syntactical or logical flow [question] in Paul, I go to Henry Alford. Henry Alford mostly answers-he . . . comes closer more consistently than any other human commentator to asking my kinds of questions.”) Alford’s treatment of Acts 13:48 can be found in this volume available online.
Dan comments: Fifth, this leads to the issue of election in relation to depravity. I would encourage you to again look at the essay I have posted on the bsf website called “My Understanding of the Biblical Doctrine of Election.” The basic point is that if we cannot take one step toward God (Rom 3:10-13), if we are unable to respond to anything outside the realm of sin (Eph 2:1), then if anyone is ever to get saved, God must take the initiative. This initiative cannot be simply corporate; he must initiate in the case of each individual. Eph 2:1-10 is explicitly about God’s initiation in the case of individual believers; this sets the stage for 2:11-22 in which corporate election is seen. But there can be no corporate election unless there is first individual election. Corporate election, at bottom, is a denial of total depravity. Or, to put it another way, if corporate election is true and if total depravity is true, then no one will ever get saved because no one will ever freely choose to be in Christ. Only by the gracious initiative of God does anyone ever choose Christ.
My Reply: These comments are curious. There is nothing about corporate election that is inconsistent with the doctrine of total depravity. Arminians affirm that God must take the initiative if anyone is ever to get saved. But there is no conflict between the idea of God initiating with each individual to draw them toward salvation and the corporate nature of election. In the corporate view, the individual does not become elect unto salvation until he trusts in Christ. God’s initiative in drawing people toward salvation is distinct from election. So there is no conflict with God’s gracious drawing of each individual toward salvation and his corporate election. Indeed, God’s drawing activity aims to bring each person to become united with Christ by faith and to thus share in the corporate election unto salvation. It must be remembered that corporate election has no problem with God relating to individuals. It simply holds that his election unto salvation is primarily corporate and secondarily individual.
Dan’s comments appear to beg the question of the irresistibility of God’s grace. He assumes that grace is irresistible, and therefore assumes that “if corporate election is true and if total depravity is true, then no one will ever get saved because no one will ever freely choose to be in Christ”, and this because, “Only by the gracious initiative of God does anyone ever choose Christ.” However, this clearly assumes that if God initiates with someone towards coming to faith in Christ, then that person will necessarily come to faith in Christ. However, we see God frequently initiating with people to come to faith in Christ in the New Testament who nevertheless do not do so. Indeed, orthodox theologians agree that God issues a general call to salvation. But not all submit to that call and become saved. God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30). It is difficult to see how one could reasonably deny that this is God’s initiative towards people for salvation. It is similar with the fact that Acts 17:27 indicates that God has positioned people so that they would seek him, John 1:6-7 says that God sent John the Baptist so that all people would believe through him, John 12:32 tells us that Jesus draws all people toward himself, John 16:8 states that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world of its sin, and of course, the New Testament declares that Jesus died for all people (1 John 2:2; John 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4-6). Is this not God’s initiative towards the salvation of all? Surely it is. Dan might want to argue that distinctions need to be made of whether God is taking resistible vs. irresistible initiative in any particular instance. But that seems rather contrived.
Regarding Eph 2:1-10, it is surprising that Dan regards the passage to be explicitly about God’s initiation in the case of individual believers. For the passage uses corporate language. (Cf. my comments on Mark 13:20 above.) The raising up/new creation of the Church in Christ in 2:6–10 is obvious in its corporate emphasis. Indeed, the “in Christ” concept, present in this passage, is rooted in corporate, covenantal thought. It speaks of Christ as a corporate figure whose history, identity, and destiny those who come to be united with him share in. But it should be remembered that corporate thought does not exclude individuals. It simply subordinates them to the group and attends to them as members of the group. So while the passage does refer to things that the individual members of the group experienced or did, Paul’s comments about these things applies to individuals as members of the Church.
Dan comments: Sixth, corporate election offers no assurance of anything to the individual. If election is corporate only, then the promises given to the elect are only given to them corporately. This would mean that we cannot claim individual promises about our salvation. This would include the promise of eternal security. Paul writes, “who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33)—an allusion to the election of the Son (Isa 50:8). This allusion suggests that God looks on us as he looks on his own Son. But if we read this as saying that only groups are chosen, then the charge that is brought against the elect must be a corporate charge. How does that offer any comfort to the individual? To be consistent with a corporate-only view, when Paul says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”(Rom 8:35), we would have to read that corporately. It would not be a promise to individuals (and it is interesting that Paul says “us” not “me” in vv. 35-39; his lone reference to himself is in the line “I am convinced” [v 38]). If election is only corporate, then eternal security is only offered on a corporate plane. No personal assurance can take place. The irony is that those who hold to corporate election often also hold to eternal security. They don’t realize the extreme inconsistency in their views. You can’t have it both ways: either we are individually chosen by a free act of God’s will and are eternally secure, or we are neither.
My Reply: Let me begin by saying that Dan’s comments here are problematic on just about every level. First, it is not true that corporate election is necessarily inconsistent with unconditional eternal security. While it is true that the corporate model provides for a natural, biblical model of “conditional salvation security by faith”, and that this is the most natural position suggested by the model, there is nothing about the view that necessarily prohibits its adherents from believing that once united to Christ, one of the benefits that flows to all members of the chosen people is that God will prevent them from forsaking faith in Christ.
But second, let me state that I think the Bible is clear that genuine believers can stop believing, turn away from Christ, and so perish. That is why Scripture warns us against doing this very thing. There is no point in warning someone against doing something he knows he cannot do and suffering consequences he knows he cannot possibly experience. So the thrust of this point from unconditional eternal security lacks any force for those who think it is a false doctrine. Third, Dan’s mistaken notion that corporate election excludes individuals altogether pops up again here. He asserts that, “corporate election offers no assurance of anything to the individual.” But as we have repeatedly seen, the benefits of the corporate election flow personally to each member of the elect people because of the individual’s membership in the people (and ultimately, because of the individual’s union with Christ, the corporate head of the covenant people). So there is great assurance for the individual believer provided for him on the condition of remaining united to Christ by faith, which God will enable the believer for, though he will not irresistibly cause him to continue believing. So the believer has tremendous grounds for assurance although he is not given unconditional grounds for assurance. And this matches the Bible’s conditional promises of salvation (conditioned on faith) and its warnings to persevere in the faith lest we perish.
It is actually the position of unconditional election that undercuts assurance. For to remain consistent with the doctrine, one cannot really know if he is saved. For those who fall away, Calvinists typically respond by saying that the person was never really saved to begin with. But then there is no way to know if one will eventually give up the faith and show oneself to have not been unconditionally elected and to have never been truly saved. One could reply that God has promised to make believers persevere (though I contest that), giving us assurance. But according to unconditional election, he will only do so for those whom he has unconditionally elected. The rest will fall away as have so many seemingly strong and fruitful believers, who fully thought themselves (and were so regarded by many faithful believers) to sincerely believe in Christ and to be saved by his blood. Moreover, if one has not been unconditionally elected, then there is no way one can persevere in the faith. The matter of whether one will do so is totally up to God. While that might be thought to enhance God’s sovereignty, it completely undercuts assurance since one cannot really know for sure whether he has been unconditionally elected, which will only be proven if one perseveres.
Now one could argue that perseverance is actually not necessary for final salvation so that if one believes but then gives up the faith, he is still saved. But this is violently unbiblical. As Paul says of sinful living, “I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!” (Gal 5:21 NET). And again, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8; NASB). And as he says in Eph 5:5-7, “For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (NET).
Dan comments: Seventh, Rom 8:29-30 seems to be decisive on this issue: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The relative pronoun throughout refers to the same group each time: no one is lost—from foreknowing, through predestination, through calling, through justification, and to glorification. At any point if we wish to broaden the group beyond those who are actually saved, we violate the grammar of the text and the point of the apostle. Thus, unless we want to hold to universal salvation, we must surely view this text as being restrictive. God’s initiative and efficacy in our salvation are clearly indicated here.
My Reply: This is yet another surprising appeal by Dan to a text for countering corporate election when the text itself is corporate in its orientation! It is critical to recognize that the passage speaks in the plural of the corporate people of God. Dan himself admits that the relative pronoun used throughout the passage refers to a group. But in such corporately oriented passages, the focus is on the group and what is said applies to the group primarily, and to individuals secondarily insofar as they are members of the group. As B.J. Oropeza observes,
Paul stresses the use of the plural and collective terms such as “those,” “many,” and so forth to refer to the Christians in 8:28-39 . . . . Paul in 8:28-39 may indeed affirm that the collective community of God is foreknown, predestined and elect in the eternal plan of God and will persevere to final glorification. This would be a great comfort to Paul’s readers when he mentions the various trials that the Christians in Rome may face. The readers, as individuals, could take comfort in the promises of this passage, but only as they are identified as members of the Christian community. The passage centers on the Christian community as elect, not the Christian individual. A person who is not part of this community has no claim to its promises.
Now one could carry this perspective on to argue that individual Christians could apostatize and perish as individuals who are no longer part of the elect people and therefore have no claim to its promises, as Oropreza rightly does (see the original context of these quotations). But as pointed out above in my reply to Dan’s sixth major point, that is not the only option open to the corporate election perspective even though it is the most natural one. The point here is that Dan’s invocation of this text does not support his point or stand against the corporate election perspective. The corporate view understands this text as restrictive (it is only the Christian community that obtains these promises), and as pointed out repeatedly above, it fully embraces God’s initiative and efficacy in our salvation (See e.g., my reply concerning Luke 6:13/John 6:70 above).
Dan Wallace’s argument against the corporate election view is riddled with misunderstanding of the view he opposes (at least its strongest, most biblical version) and makes use of surprisingly poor arguments, often drawing attention to evidence that actually militates against his own view and supports the corporate election perspective. I would urge readers to read some good material on corporate election. A convenient place to start would be with this link: http://evangelicalarminians.org/A-Concise-Summary-of-the-Corporate-View-…, which contains links to further online reading. These sources contain further references to material on the subject
 Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”, JETS 49/2 (June 2006) 351-71, available online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Corporate-Election-in-Romans-9…. Tom Schreiner responded in the same issue of JETS (Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano”, JETS 49/2 [June 2006] 373-86), but I believe his response to be seriously flawed, continuing the same basic misunderstanding I originally pointed out. I was not allowed to respond to Tom in that issue of JETS per jounral rules for limiting debate. But I have responded to most of his points in a subsequent stand-alone article in another journal in a way that I believe makes clear the untenability of his position: “Clearing Up Misconceptions about Corporate Election”, Ashland Theological Journal 41 (2009) 67-102, available online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Clearing-Up-Misconceptions-abo…. On corporate election, see also my book on Romans 9:1-9, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (JSNTSup/LNTS, 301; London: T & T Clark, 2005), and my forthcoming book on Romans 9:10-18, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (LNTS, 317; London: T & T Clark, 2011).
 Many assume that a passive requires that the subject is acted upon by another. But this is a misconception, and can be demonstrated as false (for examples of the passive of tasso with the subject as the obvious agent, see e.g., Philo Quod. Det., 166 ["set in alliance with you"]; Virt., 211 [set in a better class]; or for a reference in which the subjects are the implied agent, but in which there is probably no specific agent really in view, see Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 3.78.1 ["the ones who were set against them"]). Surprisingly, Dan makes this grammatical mistake when he comments that the construction in Acts 13:48 indicates “that the initiative belonged to someone else.” Dan’s own distinguished grammar affirms the existence of the causative passive in which the subject of the passive verb causes the action of the verb (cf. Smyth’s grammar, § 1736; Blass, Debrunner, and Funk’s grammar § 314; and Robertson’s grammar, 816d). The passive surely represents the subject as acted upon. But technically, the passive alone does not indicate who the agent of the action is, and does allow for the subject himself to be the agent. However, I am not claiming that the passive in Acts 13:48 is causative or permissive. I actually believe that there are several factors that disposed the Gentiles who believed for eternal life, and that this is one reason why Luke does not specify an agent. In any case, there is no indication that any of these disposing influences were necessitating or irresistible. That would be something one would have to read into the text in order to uphold a particular theological position.
 Friberg does think “disposed” less likely, but that is essentially an interpretive decision. That then means context etc., not grammar or pure lexicography, must decide. And as already mentioned, the context favors taking the Gentiles as being set on eternal life in contrast to the Jews of the same episode who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
 BDAG happens to assign a specific sense within that meaning that would practically arrive at a similar theological place as "appoint", but with a decidely different lexical meaning for the word: "belong to, to be classed among". Nevertheless, it is significant that they conclude that the meaning of tetagmenoi in Acts 13:48 lies in the domain of placement/position, and specifically under the meaning of people being put into a specific position. It is also worth noting that BDAG places the use of tasso in 1 Cor 16:15 under this specific heading (people being put into a specific position), an instance that specifically means "to devote to" (speaking of the household of Stephanus: "they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints", which obviously refers to an inward positioning of will or intent, a disposition/commitment or something along these lines). The use of tasso for disposition can be seen in non-biblical texts as well such as Philo Quod. Det., 166. One might want to see Daniel Whitby on this (you can find his treatment here: http://www.google.com/books?id=D809AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=g…).
 I am aware of the typical Calvinist argument in favor of this possibility having to do with a general call vs. a particular, effectual call. But this line of argument is unpersuasive. See my Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9, pp. 198-208 (this material may also be found online in my doctoral dissertation on which the book is based, at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Abasciano-Pauls-Use-of-the-Old-Testament…, pp. 339-51 of the pdf viewer count [327-339 of the actual page count printed in the text]).
 B.J. Oropeza, Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation (WUNT 2.115; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2000), from the excursus, “Election in Romans 8:28-39 in Light of Israel’s Election and Apostasy,” found on pp. 206-10. These quotes and more excerpts from this excellent excursus can be found online at http://evangelicalarminians.org/Perseverance-Oropeza-on-Romans-8.28-39.
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(article from: The Works of Reverend James Arminius : Volume 2)
A DISSERTATION OF THE TRUE AND GENUINE SENSE OF THE SEVENTH CHAPTER OF ST. PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
BY THAT FAMOUS DIVINE
THE REV. JAMES ARMINIUS, D.D.
A Native of Oudewater, in Holland
TO THE MOST HONORABLE AND NOBLE WILLIAM BARDESIUS, LIEUTENANT OF WARMENHUYSEN, A NOBLEMAN WHO IS OUR PATRON, AND WHO, ON MANY ACCOUNTS, IS TO BE HONORED BY US
MOST HONORABLE AND NOBLE SIR:
That expression of the apostle Paul, by which he designates the doctrine of the gospel as “the truth which is according to godliness,” (Titus 1:1) is very remarkable and worthy of perpetual consideration. From this sentiment, with the leave of all good men, we may collect that this “truth” neither consists in naked theory and inane speculation, nor in those things which, belonging to mere abstract knowledge, only play about the brain of man, and which never extend to the reformation of their will and affections. But it consists in those things which imbue the mind with a sincere fear of God, and with a true love of solid piety, and which render men ’”zealous of good works.” Another passage, not less famous and remarkable, in the same epistle and by the same apostle, tends greatly to confirm and illustrate this view of the matter; it is thus expressed:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.” (Titus 2:11, 19.)
Whosoever they be, therefore, that profess themselves the heralds of this divine “truth,” they ought to give additional diligence that, casting aside all curious and thorny questions, and those idle subtilities which derive their origin from human vanity, they commend to their hearers this one and only “godliness,” and that they seriously instruct them in faith, hope and charity. And, in return, those of their auditors who are enamored with this “truth,” are bound strenuously to conform themselves to this course of conduct — to pass by and to slight all other things which may come across their path, and constantly to aim at this “godliness” alone, and keep their eyes intent upon it. For both clergy and laity may receive this as a principle, that they are yet rude and complete strangers in true theology, unless they have learned so to theologize, that theology may bear the torch before them to that piety and holiness which they sedulously and earnestly pursue.
If this admonition ever was necessary, it is undoubtedly the more necessary at this time; because we see impiety overflowing in every direction, like a sea raging and agitated by whirlwinds. Yet, amidst all this storm, such are the stupor and insensibility of men, that not a few who remain exactly the same persons as they formerly were, and who, indeed, have not changed the least particle of the manner of their impure life, still imagine themselves to be in the class of prime Christians, and promise themselves the favor of the supreme God, the possessing of heaven and of life eternal, and of the company of Christ and of the blessed angels, with such great and presumptuous confidence, and with such security of mind, that they consider themselves to be atrociously injured by those who, judging them to be deceived in this their self-persuasion, desire them in any wise to entertain doubts about it. In a condition of affairs thus deplorable, no endeavor appears to be more laudable, than to institute a diligent inquiry into the causes of such a pernicious evil, and, by employing a saving remedy, to arouse erring souls from this diabolical lethargy, and induce them to alter their lives, under the felicitous auspices of the gospel and the Spirit of Christ, to devote their energies to a solid amendment of manners, and thus, at length, from the divine word, to promise themselves, when answering this description, grace with God and eternal glory.
The causes of this evil are various, and most of them consist in certain erroneous and false conceptions which, being impressed on their minds, some men carry about with them, being either their own inventions, or furnished to them from some other quarter; yet, either in general or in particular, either directly or indirectly, such erroneous conceptions lay a stumbling-block and an impediment before the true and serious study of piety and the pursuit of virtue. We will not, in this place, introduce any mention of the impious conceptions of some men who do not believe either that there is a life eternal, or that, if it really exists, it is of such great and sublime excellence as it is described to be in the Holy Scriptures — who either despair of the mercy of God towards repentant sinners, or who consider it to be impossible to enter on that way of piety and new obedience which has been prescribed by the prince of our salvation. We say nothing about these persons, because they not only relax the asseverations and the promises of God, which are the true foundations of the Christian religion, but they likewise entirely overturn them, and thus, with one effort, they pluck up, by the roots, all piety, and all desire and love of it, from the hearts of men.
We now begin to make some observations on those hypotheses, whether secret or avowed, which are injurious to piety, and which obtain among Christians themselves, whether they be publicly defended or otherwise. Among them, the first which comes under enumeration, is the dogma of unconditional predestination, with those which depend on it by a necessary connection; and, in particular, the so highly extolled perseverance of the saints, in a confidence in which such things are uttered by some persons as we dread to recite, for they are utterly unworthy of entering into the ear of Christians. It is no small impediment which these dogmas place in the way of piety. When, after a diligent and often-repeated perusal of the Holy Scriptures, after long meditations and ardent prayers to God, with fasting, our father, of blessed memory, thought that he had made a sure discovery of the baneful tendency of these dogmas, and had reflected upon them within his own breast, and that, however strenuously they might be urged by certain divines, and generally instilled into the minds of students by scholastic exercises, yet neither the ancient church nor the modern, after a previous lawful examination of them, ever received them or allowed them to pass into matters that had obtained mature adjudication. When he perceived these things, he began by degrees, to propose his difficulties about them, and his objections against them, for the purpose of shewing that they were not so firmly founded in the Scriptures as they are generally supposed to be; and, in process of time, being still more strongly confirmed in the knowledge of the truth, especially after the conference which he had with Doctor Francis Junius, and in which he had seen the weakness of his replies, he began to attack those dogmas with greater boldness; yet on no occasion was he forgetful of the modesty which so eminently became him. But, of the arguments with which he attacked those dogmas, this [on the seventh chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans] in which we have now engaged, was not the last — that is, such was the nature of these doctrines that they were calculated to relax the study of piety, and thus to extinguish it. In that labor he also occasionally employed subtilities. and such reasons as are not at once obvious to the multitude; but they were subtle distinctions, necessary for overturning dogmas which, in his judgment, were very baneful. And, undoubtedly, as love is not conquered except by another love, so that subtlety, which is the inventor and establisher of falsehood, can scarcely be conquered and overturned without the subtlety which is the assertor of the truth and the convictor of falsehood. Therefore, the subtilities which he employed on that occasion, [his conference with Junius,] were useful and necessary — not insignificant, trifling, and invented for pleasure, ostentation or display. But with regard to other things, it is known to all those who were on terms of familiarity with him — especially during the last years of his life, when he was much engaged in the schools, in which it is an established custom principally to pursue subtilities — what a rigid enemy he was of all subtilities and of lofty language; and even those whom he had among his students that differed on some other points from him, could testify, if they would conscientiously relate the truth, that he referred all things to use and to the practice of a Christian life; and thus that piety and the fear of the divine Majesty uniformly breathed in his lectures, in his disputations, (both public and private,) in his sermons, discourses and writings. But it is not necessary for us, in this place, to rehearse the method by which he proved the genius of unconditional predestination and its annexed dogmas to be adverse to godliness; because his writings on this subject are partly extant, and the remainder, under the divine auspices, will soon be published. It is better that prudent readers should listen to him uttering his own words, than to us who are but stammerers about him. The water is sweeter which we taste at the fountain, than that which we drink at a distance from the spring.
Various are the other hypotheses which operate as hindrances to piety, and the whole of which we are not able now to mention; but we will briefly discuss a Jew of those which occur, that we may not produce weariness in you, most noble sir, by our prolixity.
A capital error which first offers itself, and which closely adheres to the inmost core and fibers of nearly all mankind, is that by which they silently imagine in their own minds that illimitable mercy exists in God; and from this they opine that they will not be rejected, though they have indulged themselves a little too much in vicious pursuits, but that, on the contrary, they will continue to be dear to God and beloved. This error is in reality joined with notorious incredulity, and, in a great measure destroys the Christian religion, which is founded on the blood of Christ. For, in this way, is removed all necessity for a pious life, and a manifest contradiction is given to the declaration of the apostle, in which he affirms that “without holiness no man shall see God.” (Hebrews 12:14) Alas for the insanity of men, who have the audacity to bless themselves when they are cursed by God!
This is succeeded by the false hypothesis of others, who, revolving in their minds the designs, the morals, and the life of mortals, and reflecting on the multitude, among men of all orders, of those who are wandering in error, conclude that the mercy of God will not permit eternally to perish so many and such infinite myriads of rational creatures, formed after the divine image. The consequence is, that, instead of performing their duty according to the tenor of Christianity, by opposing the torrent of impiety, they, on the contrary, suffer themselves to be carried away by the impulse of such views, and associate with the multitudes of those who are devious in error. They seem to forget that the many walk in the broad way, whose end, according to the truth of God, will be “destruction from the presence of the Lord.” A multitude will preserve no man from perdition. Unhappy and most miserable solace, to have many companions in enduring everlasting punishment!
Let the force of this deception, likewise, be considered, that vices are dignified with the names of virtues, and, on the other hand, virtues receive the defiling appellation of vices. The effect of this is, that men, who are of themselves, prone to vicious indulgences, pursue them with the greater avidity when they are concealed under the mask of virtues, and, on the contrary, are terrified at virtues, in the attainment of which any difficulty is involved, as though they were clothed in the monstrous garb of the most horrid vices. Thus, among mankind, drunkenness obtains the name of hilarity; and filthy talking, that of cheerful freedom; while sobriety in food and drink, and simplicity in dress, are opprobiously styled hypocrisy. This is really to “call good evil, and evil good,” and to seek an occasion, by which a man may cease from the practice of virtue, and devote himself to vicious courses, not only without any reluctance of conscience, but likewise at the impulse and instigation of his [seared] conscience. Into this enumeration, must come that shameful and false reasoning by which unwise men infer, from those passages in Scripture in which we are said to be justified by faith without works, that it is not, therefore, necessary to attend to good works, they being of such a nature that without them we may be justified, and, therefore, saved. They never advert to the fact that, in other passages, it is recorded — True faith, that is, the faith by which we are justified, must be efficacious through charity; and that faith, without works, is dead, and resembles a lifeless carcass.
This vain idea also, in no trifling degree, consoles the men who try to flatter themselves in those vices to which they have a constitutional propensity — that they are not given up to all vices, they have not run into every excess of wickedness, but, though addicted to certain vices peculiar to themselves, they feel an abhorrence for all others. As men are most ingenious in the invention of excuses for themselves, in support of this incorrect view are generally cited these common phrases: “No man lives without sin;” “Every man is captivated by that which he finds to be pleasing to himself.” Such men, therefore, consider themselves to be true Christians, and that, on this account, it will be eternally well with them, when, as they foolishly persuade themselves, they abstain from most evils, and, as for the rest, they cherish only some one vice, a single Herodias alone. A most absurd invention! since no one is, no one can be, addicted to all vices at once; because some among them are diametrically opposed to others, and are mutual expellers. If this conceit be allowed, no mortal man either will or can be impious. The subjoined passage in the epistle of St. James ought to recur to the remembrance of these persons:
“Whosoever shall offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (2:10.)
We are also commanded to “lay aside,” not some one, but “all malice, guile, and hypocrisy,” (1 Peter 2:1, )that we may thus the more fully devote ourselves to God.
Others suppose that, if in some degree their affections be partly drawn out towards God and goodness, they have adequately discharged their duty, though in some other part of their affections they are devoted to the service of the prince of this world and of sin. These men assuredly have forgotten, that God must be adored and loved with the whole affections of the heart — that the Lord God of Heaven, and the prince of this world, are opposing masters, and, therefore, that it is impossible to render service to both of them at once, as our Savior has most expressly declared.
Not very dissimilar from this is that invention by which some persons divide their time into portions, and when they have marked off one part for God and Christ, and another part for the flesh and the affections, they imagine that they have most excellently performed their duty. But these men, whosoever they be, never reflect that our whole lives, and all the time of which they are composed, must be consecrated to God, and that we must persevere in the ways of piety and obedience to the close of life; and for this brief obedience of a time which is short at the longest, God has, of grace, covenanted to bestow on the obedient, that great reward of life eternal. Undoubtedly, if at any time a man falls, he cannot return into favor with God until he has not only deplored that fall by a sincere repentance, and is again converted in his heart to God, with this determinations — that he will devote the remaining days of his life to God.
Those men must not be forgotten who are in this heresy — that all those things which are not joined with blasphemy to God, and with notorious injury and violence to one’s neighbor, and which, with regard to other things, bear the semblance of charity and benevolence, are not to be reckoned among the multitude of sins. According to their doctrine, they are at liberty to indulge their natural relish for earthly things, to serve their belly, to take especial care of themselves, to gratify their sensual and drunken propensities, to live the short and merry life which Epicurus recommends, and to do whatsoever a heart which is inclined to pleasure shall command; provided they abstain from anger, hatred, the desire of revenge, bitterness and malice, and the other passions which are armed for force and injury. If we follow these masters, we shall assuredly discover a far more easy and expeditious way to heaven, than that which has been taught us by the divine ambassador of the great God, whose sole business it was to point out the way to heaven.
Occasion is also afforded to unjust conceptions respecting the extreme of piety, by the mode in which some theological subjects are treated, and by some ecclesiastical phrases which are either not sufficiently conformable to the Scriptures, or which are not correctly understood. We must briefly, and without much regard to order, animadvert on a few of these, for the sake of example. When our good works are invested with the relation of gratitude towards God, it is a well ascertained fact, that men collect from this that they are now the heirs and proprietors of life eternal, and are in a state of grace and everlasting salvation, before they ever begin to perform good works. This delusion makes them think it expedient also to follow the hypothesis that the performance of good works is not absolutely necessary. In this case, it must be maintained from the Scriptures, that a true conversion and the performance of good works form a prerequisite condition before justification, according to this passage from St. John,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
This is consonant with that celebrated passage in Isaiah, in which the Lord promises to the Jews the cleansing and the destruction of all their sins, even those which were of the most aggravated kind, after they turned themselves to him, and corrected their ways. (Isaiah 1:15–20.) When the sacraments are considered only in the light of sealing to us the promises and the grace of God, but not as binding us to the performance of our duty and admonishing us of it, the discussion of them is not only defective, but it may also, through such defect, be accounted injurious to the work of personal piety. “Believers and the regenerate are still prone and inclined to every evil;” and “the most holy among them have only the small beginnings of the obedience which is required.” These are phrases which describe, in a manner far too low and weak, the efficacy of the new creation, and they are, therefore, κατα τον ρητον in reality exceedingly dangerous. For the former of these phrases seems entirely to remove all distinction between the regenerate and the, while the latter seems to place such minutiae of obedience in the regenerate, as will induce a man, who has been accustomed to bless himself if he perceives even the slightest thought or motion about the performance of obedience, immediately to conclude himself to be a partaker of true regeneration.
When the continued imperfection of the regenerate, and the impossibility of keeping the law in this life, are urged unseasonably and beyond measure, without the addition of what may be done by holy men through faith and the Spirit of Christ, the thought is apt to suggest itself to the mind even of the most pious of their hearers, that they can do nothing which is at all good. Through this erroneous view, it happens that sometimes far less is attributed to the regenerate than the unregenerate are themselves able to perform. The ancient church did not reckon the question about the impossibility of performing the law among those which are capital: This is apparent from St. Augustine himself, who expresses a wish that Pelagius would acknowledge it possible to be performed by the grace of Christ, and declares that peace would then be concluded. The apostles of Christ were themselves occupied in endeavoring to convince men, when placed out of the influence of grace, of their incapability to perform obedience. But about the imperfection and impotency of the regenerate, you will scarcely find them employing a single expression. On the contrary, they attribute to believers the crucifying of the flesh and the affections, the mortification of the works of the flesh, a resurrection to a new life, and walking according to the Spirit; and they are not afraid openly to protest, that by faith they overcome the world. The acknowledgment of their imperfection was but a small matter, because that was a thing previous to Christianity. But the glory of Christians lies in this — that they know the power of the resurrection of Christ, and, being led by the Spirit of God, they live according to the purest light of the gospel. The distribution of theology into God, and the acts of God, introduces to us a speculative religion, and is not sufficiently well calculated to urge men to the performance of their duty. To this may be added that too subtle disquisition, which is an invention unsanctioned by Scripture, about the relations of those acts which are performed by us.
As unsuitable for the promotion of piety, seems likewise that deduction or dispensation of our religion, by which all things are directed to the assurance of special mercy as the principal part of our duty, and to the consolation which is elicited from it against the despair that is opposed to it, but in which all things are not directed to the necessary performance of obedience in opposition to security. It derives its origin from the idea that greater fear ought to be entertained respecting despair than respecting security, when the contrary to this is the truth. For in the whole history of the Old and New Testament, which comprises a period of so many thousand years, only a single instance occurs of a person in despair, and that was Judas Iscariot, the perfidious betrayer of his Savior — the case of Cain being entirely out of the question; while, on the contrary, as the world was formerly, so is it now, very full of persons in a state of security, and negligent of the duty divinely imposed on them; yet these men, in the mean time, sweetly bless their souls, and promise themselves grace and peace from God in full measure.
To proceed further: To these and all other delusions of a similar nature, we ought to oppose a soul truly pious, and most firmly rooted in the faith of God and Christ, exercising much solicitous caution about this — not to be called off from the serious and solid study of piety, and not to yield ourselves up to sins or to take delight in them, either through the deceptive force of any conceits, such as have now been enumerated or any others, or by the incautious use of any phrases and the sinister distortion of particular subjects; but, on the contrary, denying all ungodliness, let us sedulously and constantly walk in the paths of virtue; and let us always bear in mind the very serious admonition which the apostle Paul propounds to the Ephesians; having dehorted them from indulging in impurity and other crimes, he says: “Let no man deceive you with vain words” or reasons; “for, because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” (Verse 6) It is worthy of observation, how significantly the hypothesis and arguments on which men depend when they bless themselves in their vices, are designated as “vain speeches;” For “vain” they truly are; that is, false and deceitful are those reasons with which men are deceived while they are in bondage to their lusts, and persuade themselves that they are in a state of grace and salvation, when, on the contrary, they are in a state of wrath and eternal perdition; than which, no other more capital imposture or deception can be produced.
But, beside those things of which we have made previous mention, and which place obstructions to the progress of piety, another also occurs, which particularly belongs to the subject on which we are now treating; that is, the depraved and perverted interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, by which, in general, either all attention to good works is superseded, or in particular some part of it is weakened. This kind of hindrance ought undoubtedly to be reckoned among those which are the greatest; for thus either evil itself seems to be established by divine authority, or a more remiss pursuit of good, which, of the two, is without exception the greater evil. Wherefore, as all those persons deserve praise who endeavor to overturn every kind of hypothesis that is injurious to piety, so those among them are worthy of the highest commendation who try to give a correct interpretation, and such as is agreeable to “the form of sound words,” of those passages which are, through common abuse, generally so explained as, by such exposition, either directly or indirectly to countenance a disorderly course of life — to free them from such a depraved interpretation, and to act as torch-bearers, in a thing so useful and necessary to Christian people and chiefly to the pastors of the church. Many are those passages which are usually distorted to the injury of godliness; and from which we shall in this place select only the three following.
(1.) In the Proverbs of Solomon it is said, “A just man falleth seven times.” This sentence is in the mouth of every one, with this gloss superadded, “in a day,” which is an interpolation to be found in the Latin Vulgate. This passage ought to be understood of falling into misfortune; yet it is most perversely interpreted to signify a fall into sin, and thus contributes to nourish vices.
(2.) In the prophecy of Isaiah, when the Jewish church, after having been defiled by manifold idolatries, by her defection from God, and by other innumerable crimes, was severely punished for all these her foul transgressions; in a tone of lamentation, complaining of the heaviness of her punishment, and at the same time making humble confession of her sins, she acknowledges, amongst other things, that “her righteousnesses are as the cloth of a menstruous woman,” designating by this phrase the best of those works which she had performed during her public defection. This passage, by a pernicious contortion, is commonly corrupted; for it is very constantly quoted, as if the sense to be inferred from it was, that each of the excellent works of the most eminent Christians, and therefore that the most ardent prayers poured forth in the name of Christ, deeds of charity performed from a heart truly and inwardly moved with mercy, and the flowing of the blood of martyrs even unto death for the sake of Christ — that all these are as the cloth of a menstruous woman, filthy, detestable and horrid things, and thus mere abominations in the sight of God. And as this name is, in the Scriptures, bestowed only on flagitous crimes and the greatest transgressions, it further follows [from this mode of reasoning] that the best and most excellent works differ in no respect from the most dreadful wickedness. When a man has once thoroughly imbibed this conceit, will he not east away all care and regard for piety? Will he not consider it of no great consequence whether he leads a bad or a good life? And will he not, in the mean time, indulge in the persuasion, that he can, notwithstanding all this, be a true disciple of Christ Jesus? The reason, undoubtedly, seems to be evident, since, according to this hypothesis, the best works are equally filthy with the worst crimes in the sight of God.
(3.) In this number of abused passages is included the seventh chapter of the epistle of Paul to the Romans, from the fourteenth verse to the end of the chapter; that is, if the apostle be understood, in that chapter, to be speaking about a man who is regenerated. For then it will follow that a renewed man is still “carnal, and sold under sin,” that is, the slave of sin; that “he wills to do good, but does it not; but the evil which he wills not, that he does;” nay, that he is conquered, and “brought into captivity to the law of sin,” that is, under the power and efficacy of sin. From this view it is further deduced, that, if any one be regenerate, it is sufficient for him “to will that which is good,” though with a will that is incomplete, and that is not followed by action; and “not to will that which is evil,” though he actually perpetrates it. If this view of that chapter be correct, then all attention to piety, the whole of new obedience, and thus the entire new creation, will be reduced to such narrow limits as to consist not in effects, but only in affections or feelings. Every man, at first sight, perceives how languid, cold and remiss such a belief will render all of us, both in our abstaining from evil, and in the performance of that which is good. Those, indeed, who defend this opinion, have their subterfuges and palliatives; but they are of such a kind, that the comment is generally repugnant to the text on which it is founded. With respect to the exercise of piety, it is dangerous for men to have this conceit previously impressed on their minds: “This chapter must be understood about regenerate persons;” for they who hold it as a foundation, in other things wander wherever they are led by their feelings, and never recollect the glosses proposed by their teachers. This effect was observed by St. Augustine, and being afraid of giving offense, in the more early period of his Christian career, he interpreted the passage as applicable to a man under the law, but in his latter days he applied it to a man under grace; but he held this opinion in a much milder form than it is now maintained, and almost without any injury to godliness. For “the good” which the apostle says “he willed but did not,” St. Augustine interprets into “a refraining from concupiscence;” and “the evil” which the apostle declares “he willed not and yet did,” he interprets as “an indulgence in concupiscence;” — though this novel interpretation involves a wonderful mixture of the preceptive and prohibitive parts of the law. Modern interpreters [among the Calvinists] understand it as relating to actual good and evil — a most notable distinction! But as our venerated father labored with all diligence in removing the other hindrances of piety, so did he principally expend much toil and unwearied study in searching out the true meaning of such passages of Scripture as were imperfectly understood, particularly if they placed a stumbling-block in the way of those who were studious of piety. If, in that species of labor, he ever had eminent success, it must undoubtedly be confessed that it was in his attempts on this seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans; for he wrote a commentary on it of great length, which, with the greatest accuracy, he prepared and finished, and which we now publish.
When he returned from Geneva to his native country, he understood this very chapter as it is now commonly explained; having been instructed in that view of it by his teachers, whose authority was so great among the students, that not one of the latter durst even inquire about any thing which they uttered. But when, in the exercise of his ministry in the church of Amsterdam, he had afterwards taken epistle to the Romans as the subject of a series of discourses from the pulpit, and when he had come to the explication of the seventh chapter, concerning the received interpretation of which he had then begun to conceive scruples in his mind, because it seemed both to undervalue the grace of regeneration and to diminish all zeal and attention to piety; he diligently considered the chapter from the beginning to the conclusion with a good conscience, as it was proper that he should do, and as the nature of his public function required; he collated it with those passages which preceded it and followed; he revolved all of them, in their several particulars, as in the presence of God; he read all the various commentators upon it which he could procure, whether among the ancients, those of the middle ages, or among the moderns; and, at length, after having frequently invoked the name and aid of Almighty God, and having derived his chief human assistance from the commentaries of Bucer and Musculus on that part of Holy Writ, he discovered that the received interpretation could not bear the scrutiny of truth, but that the passage was to be entirely understood in reference to a man living under the law, in whom the law has discharged its office, and who, therefore, feeling true contrition in his soul on account of sins, and being convinced of the incapability of the law to save him, inquires after a deliverer, and is not, in fact, a regenerated man, but stands in the nearest grade to regeneration. This explanation of the chapter he publicly delivered from the pulpit; because he thought that such a course was allowable by the liberty of prophesying, which ought always to have a place in the church of Christ. Though this diligence in elucidating the Scriptures, and the candor which he displayed, deserved singular praise and commendation, especially from all persons of the ecclesiastical order, yet, by some zealots, in whom such a conduct was the least becoming, it was received in a manner which shewed that the author ranked no higher with them than as one who, instead of receiving a reward, ought to be charged with mischief and insanity. Such is the result of employing a sedulous care in the investigation of the Scriptures, and of cultivating the liberty of prophesying; and it is esteemed a preferable service, to render the servants of Christ the slaves of certain men who lived only a short time before ourselves, and almost to canonize their interpretation of the Scriptures as the only rule and guide for us in our interpretation.
When our father perceived these things, he began to write this commentary, which at length he brought to a conclusion. If God had granted him longer life, he would have corrected his production with greater accuracy, as he had already begun to do; but as he was prevented by death, and thus rendered incapable of giving it a final polish, and yet as, in the judgment of many great men, it is a work that is worthy to see the light, we have now ventured to publish it. Here then, Firstly, the author proposes his own sentiments, and proves them by deductions from the entire chapter, as well as from the connection in which it stands with the preceding and following chapters. Secondly. He shows that this interpretation has never been condemned, but has always had the greatest number of supporters. Thirdly. He defends it from the black charge of Pelagianism, and demonstrates that it is directly opposed to that error. Fourthly. He contends that the interpretation now generally received is quite new, and was never embraced by any of the ancients, but rejected by many of them. Lastly. And that it is injurious to grace and hurtful to good morals. He then enters into a comparison of the opinion of St. Augustine, and of that which is now generally received with his own interpretation; and concludes the work with a friendly address to his fellow-ministers.
It was our wish, most noble Bardesius, to dedicate and address this work to your mightiness; for this desire, we had several reasons. From the first entrance on his ministry, a sacred friendship subsisted between our revered father and that nobleman of honored memory, your excellent father — a friendship which continued till our venerable parent came down to the grave, full of years and loaded with honors. You, as the lawful inheritor of your father’s possessions, have also succeeded in his place as the heir of his friendships; and this is the reason why the closest intimacy was formed between you and our good father, immediately after your return from your travels, which you had undertaken for the purpose of prosecuting your studies and visiting foreign nations. You were accustomed to place a high estimate on his endowments, and frequently consulted him on questions of theology, and very often acted upon his advice — as he did, also, upon yours. But after he had reflected in his mind, that he was not the slave of men, but the servant of Jesus Christ, and that he was under an oath [to the observance of] his words alone, when, on this account, he had begun freely to inquire into the sentiments invented by men, and into their truth and necessity, and, after comparing them with the Scriptures, had also occasionally proposed, with great modesty, his doubts concerning them, and His animadversions on them — when for this reason, many of those who were formerly his acquaintances and intimate friends, became alienated from him as from one who had removed the ancient land-marks out of their places; and when some of them, by degrees, both in public and private, began either to take an occasion or to make one, to circulate sinister reports concerning him, while others, with sufficient plainness, openly renounced all friendship with him; and when the whole chorus of ecclesiastical zealots had excited each other to rise up against him; yet, amidst all these things, you took no offense, but, having weighed the matter in the just balance of your judgment, you persisted to cherish a constant love for him. When he was debilitated by a slow and constant malady, as soon as the mildness of the weather and the intervals in his disorder would permit his removal, you invited him to your house in a manner the most friendly, and, on his arrival, you received him as the angel of the Lord; and a friendship, thus pure and refined, you cultivated with him, until he departed out of this life, and ascended to Christ, his Lord and Master. Besides, after his decease, by your conduct to our afflicted family, you shewed yourself such a one as it became that man to be who was not a pretended friend to the survivors of his departed friend — affording, by words and deeds, such substantial proofs of your kindness and beneficence towards his sorrowing widow and distressed orphans, as far exceed the feebleness of our expressions. Therefore, unless we wished not only to be the most ungrateful of mortals, but likewise to be generally depicted as such, it was exceedingly proper in us, while the posthumous writings of our revered parent are occasionally issuing from the press, to inscribe some portion of them to your very honorable and most friendly name, and by this method, as by a public document, to testify at once before the whole world our gratitude to you as well as our vast obligations.
To these considerations, we may add that our father had determined within himself, if God had granted him life and leisure, to write a system of the whole Christian religion, not drawing it out of the stagnant lakes of Egypt, but out of the pure fountains of Israel, and to inscribe it to your mightiness. As he was unable to execute his purpose, partly through the multiplicity of his engagements, and partly through the lingering nature of his disorder, you have here, in the place of the other world, the present commentary; for in no other way than this, can the design of our father now be fulfilled. We hope the subject itself, which is treated in this commentary, will not be disagreeable to you; for it is one which is excellently accordant with your genius and disposition. It is a fact which is well known to all those who are acquainted with you and which you do not wish to be regarded as a secret, but which you openly profess, as often as occasion demands, that you take no delight in those thorny disputations and discussions which contribute nothing to the practice of the Christian life; but that you place the chief part of religion in the pursuit of real and solid piety. As our honored father also shows in this work that his wishes and purposes were in this respect similar to yours, we have thought that nothing could be more appropriate than to dedicate to a man of extensive learning, who is likewise deeply attached to the interests of religion, a work which is highly conducive to the promotion of piety.
Accept, therefore, with a cheerful heart and a serene countenance, this small gift, which we and our dear mother are desirous to commit to posterity, that it may perpetually remain as an endless monument of that sacred friendship which subsisted between you and James Arminius, our venerated parent, and, at the same time, of our own great obligations to you. To you, who have been under the influence of mercy towards our afflicted family, may the Lord God in return shew mercy; and may he enrich you and your very honorable family with every kind of heavenly blessings, to the glory of his name and to the salvation of all of us! Amen.
So pray those who are most attached to your mightiness,
The Nine Orphan Children of James Arminius, of Oudewater.
Leyden, 13th August, 1612.
A DISSERTATION OF THE TRUE AND GENUINE SENSE OF THE SEVENTH CHAPTER OF THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
BY JAMES ARMINIUS, D.D.
This admirable treatise was prepared about the close of the year 1599, while the author was a pastor at Amsterdam.
1. What is the subject of inquiry concerning the meaning of this chapter?
2. The manner in which this question is made a subject of dispute; formerly, a latitude of sentiment respecting it, was permitted.
3. Those who explain this passage as relating to a man under the law, are rashly charged with having some affinity With the Pelagian heresy.
4. Distribution of the subjects to be discussed in this Commentary.
1. The subject of inquiry concerning the meaning of the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans, and particularly of the latter part of it, which is treated upon from the beginning of the fourteenth or fifteenth verse to the end of the chapter, is this: “Does the apostle there treat of himself, such as he then was?” Or, which is almost the same question, “Under his own person, does he treat about a man living in the possession of the grace of Christ, or does he there personate a man placed under the law?” This question is also usually proposed in other words, thus: “Does the apostle there treat about a man who is still unregenerate, or about one who is already regenerated through the Spirit of Christ?” The latter question differs a little in its meaning from the former,
(1.) because the word “unregenerate” has a more extensive signification, embracing even those who are under the law, and at whose state the apostle has also briefly glanced in the ninth verse of this chapter, and
(2.) because the same word, with some persons, denotes not only the mere absence of regeneration, but likewise of all those things which are necessarily previous to regeneration; and these previous things are so far from being excluded by the words, “under the law,” that, on the contrary, a great part of them is necessarily comprehended in the ample compass of that state which these words describe. This ought not to be passed over without some animadversion; because this notion about the word “unregenerate” which many persons have previously formed, is no small cause why they think they must reject the opinion, which declares that this passage of Scripture relates to an unregenerate man, that is, to one not only devoid of regeneration, but likewise of all those things which usually precede regeneration; and why they suppose that they ought to approve of the one contrary to this, without any further attentive consideration of the words and of the things signified.
2. But this question has now become a subject of dispute, not as one of those about which the writers who treat on Catholic doctrine may be allowed to maintain different sentiments, but as if it was one of such importance and weight to the truth of faith, that, without great detriment to truth and manifest heresy, no determination can be made concerning it except in one way, which is the affirmation that the apostle is there treating about a man who lives under grace and is regenerate. This judgment about the question seems new to me, and is one which was never heard in the church before these our times.
In those better days, liberty was granted to the divines of the church to maintain an opinion on the one part of this question or on the other, provided they did not produce an explanation of their meaning that was at variance with the articles and doctrines of faith. The thing itself will shew that it is possible to do so in this matter, and such was the persuasion which was entertained on the subject by those who granted this liberty of sentiment, because no man ever supposed that any opinion was to be tolerated in the church which could not admit of an explanation that was agreeable to the doctrines and articles of belief.
3. Those who explain this passage in reference to a man living under the law, are charged with holding a doctrine which has some affinity to the two-fold heresy of Pelagius, and are said to ascribe to man, without the grace of Christ, some true and saving good, and, taking away the contest between the flesh and the spirit which is carried on in the regenerate, are said to maintain a perfection of righteousness in the present life. But I ingenuously confess that I detest, from my heart, the consequences which are here deduced; in the mean time, I do not perceive how they can flow from such an opinion. If any one will deign to prove this, I will instantly abjure an opinion thus conducting to heresy; knowing that nothing can be true, from which a falsehood may, by good consequence, be concluded. But if this cannot be demonstrated, and if I can make it evident that neither these heresies, nor any other, are derived from this opinion when it is properly explained, then, under these circumstances, it seems that I may require, in my own right, that no molestation shall be offered to me, or to any one else, on account of this opinion. If I shall confirm this opinion by arguments which are not only probable, but likewise incapable of refutation, or which at least have a greater semblance of probability than those by which the contrary opinion is supported, then let me be allowed to request that, by at least an equal right, this sentiment may obtain a place with the other in the church. If, lastly, I shall prove that the other opinion as it is in these days explained by most divines, cannot, without the greatest difficulty, be reconciled to many of the plainest passages of Scripture, that it is in no small degree injurious to the grace of the indwelling Spirit, that it has a hurtful effect on good morals, and that it was never approved by any of the ancient fathers of the church, but, on the contrary, disapproved by some of them, and even to St. Augustine himself; then may I be permitted by a most deserved right to admonish the defenders of that other sentiment, that they reflect frequently and seriously, whether they be wishful to excite the wrath of God against themselves by an unjust condemnation of this better opinion and of those who are its defenders.
4. Having premised these things, let us now enter on the matter itself, which shall be treated by us after being distributed in the following parts:
(1.) I will show that, in this passage, the apostle does not speak about himself, nor about a man living under grace, but that he has transferred to himself the person of a man placed under the law.
(2.) I will make it evident that this opinion has never been condemned in the church as heretical, but that it has always had some defenders among the divines of the church.
(3.) I will show that no heresy, neither that of Pelagius, nor any other, can be derived from this opinion, but that it is most evidently opposed to Pelagianism, and that in a most distinguished manner and designedly, it refutes the grand falsehood of Pelagius.
Confining myself within the bounds of necessary defense, I might, after having explained these three heads, conclude this treatise, unless it might seem to some one advisable and useful to confute by equal arguments the contrary opinion, especially as it is explained in these days. This I will attempt in other two chapters, subjoined to the preceding three, which will then be analogous and appear as parallels to the last two.
(4.) Therefore, I will prove that the meaning which some of our modern divines attribute to the apostle in this was not approved by any of the ancient fathers of the church, not even by St. Augustine himself, but that it was repudiated and confuted by him and some others.
5. And, lastly, I will demonstrate, that this opinion, as explained in these days by many persons, is not only injurious to grace, but likewise adverse to good morals.
God grant that I may meditate and write nothing but what is agreeable to his sacred truth. If, however, any thing of a contrary kind should escape from me, which is a fault of easy occurrence to one who “knows but in part, and prophesies in part;” I wish that neither to be [considered as] spoken nor written. I make this previous protestation against any such thing; and will, in reality, declare those things which possess greater truth and certainty, when any one has taught them to me.
1. THE THESIS TO BE PROVED
1. A description of the terms contained in the Thesis.
2. The reason why the description of the apostle is here omitted.
3. What is meant by “being under the law.
4. What it is to be “under grace.”
5. What is meant by “a regenerate man?”
6. Who is “an unregenerate?”
The apostle, in this passage, is treating neither about himself, such as he then was, nor about a man living under grace; but he has transferred to himself the person of a man placed under the law.
Or as some other persons express it — the apostle, in this passage, is not treating about a man who is already regenerate through the Spirit of Christ, but has assumed the person of a man who is not yet regenerate.
1. To the proof of the thesis, must be premised and prefixed definitions or descriptions of the subjects which it comprises. The subjects are — the apostle himself, a man placed under grace, a man placed under the law, a man regenerate by the Spirit of Christ, and a man not yet regenerate.
2. I have set the apostle apart from those who are regenerate and placed under grace, not because I would take him away from the number of regenerate persons, among whom he holds a conspicuous station, but because some people have thought proper to deduce, from the description of the apostolical perfection, arguments by which they prove, that the apostle could not, in this passage, be speaking concerning himself, as he then was; because those things which he here ascribes to himself are at variance with some things that, in other passages, he writes about himself, and because they are a disgrace to his eminent state of grace, and to his progress in faith and newness of life. But since it is certain, that the apostle has not, in this chapter, treated of himself personally, as distinguished from all other men of whatsoever condition or order they may be, but that he, under his own person, described a certain kind and order of men, whether they be those who are under the law and not yet regenerate, or those who are regenerate and placed under grace, omitting the description of the apostle, we will first see what is meant by being under grace and under the law, and what by being regenerate, and not yet regenerate or unregenerate; yet we will do this in such a man — that, in the subsequent establishment of our own opinion, we may produce arguments drawn from the description given by the apostle.
3. The expression, therefore, to be under the law, does not signify merely that the man is liable to perform it, or that he is bound to obey the commands of the law; in which sense all men generally, both those who are said in the ninth verse of this chapter to be “without law,” are reckoned to be under the law by right of creation, and those also who are under grace, are considered to be under the law by the further fight of redemption and sanctification, and yet in such a manner as not to be under its rigor, because they are under the law to Christ, who makes his people free from the rigor of the law. But because the office of the law concerning sinners is two-fold — the one, to conclude sinners under the guilt of that punishment which is denounced by the law against transgressors, and to condemn them by its sentence — the other, first to instruct sinners and to give them assurance about its equity, justice and holiness, and afterwards to accuse them of sin, to urge them to obedience, to convince them of their own weakness, to terrify them by a dread of punishment, to compel them to seek deliverance, and, generally, to lead, govern and actuate sinners according to its efficacy. Therefore, with regard to the first office of the law, all sinners universally are said to be under it, even those who are without law and have sinned without it; “for they shall also perish without law (Romans 2:12) yet they are not to be condemned without a just sentence of the law. In relation to the second office of the law, they are said to be under its dominion, government, lordship and (pedagogy) tutelage, who are ruled and actuated by the efficacy and guidance of the law, in whom it exerts its power, and exercises these its operations, whether some of them or all, whether more or less, in which respect there may be, and really are, different degrees and orders of those persons who are said, in this second view, to be under the law. But in this passage, we define a man under the law to be “one who is under its entire efficacy and all its operations;” the design of the apostle requiring this, as we shall afterwards perceive.
4. This phrase “to be under grace,” answers in opposition to the other of being “under the law,” since the effect of this grace is two-fold. The first is, to absolve a sinful man from the guilt of sin and from condemnation; the second is, to endow man with the Spirit of adoption and of regeneration, and by that Spirit to vivify or quicken, to lead, actuate and govern him. Hence, not only are they said to be “under grace” who are free from guilt and condemnation, but likewise they who are governed and actuated by the guidance of grace and of the Holy Spirit. But since we are in this place discussing, not properly the condemnation of sin, but the tyranny and dominion which it violently exercises over those who are its subjects, by compelling them with its own force to yield it complete obedience, and to which are opposed in vain the efficacy and power of the law; and since we are now treating, not about the remission of sins, but about that grace which inhibits or restrains the force of this tyrant and lord, and which leads men to yield it due obedience; therefore we must restrict the expressions, “to be under the law,” and “to be under grace,” to the latter signification — that he is “under the law” who is governed and actuated by the guidance of the law, and that he is “under grace” who is governed and actuated by the guidance of grace. This will be rendered evident from the fourteenth verse of the sixth chapter, when accurately compared with the preceding and following verses of the same chapter, and from the seventeenth and eighteenth verses of the fifth chapter of the epistle to the Galatians, when they are properly applied to this matter. Yet if any one be desirous of extending these passages to the two-fold signification of each of the expressions, he has my free permission for such extension; for it cannot prove the least hindrance in the inquiry and discovery of the truth of the matter which is the subject of our present discussion.
5. Let us now see about the regenerate and the unregenerate man. That we may define him with strictness, as it is proper to do in oppositions and distinctions, we say that a regenerate man is one who is so called, not from the commenced act or operation of the Holy Spirit, though this is regeneration, but from the same act or operation when it is perfected with respect to its essential parts, though not with respect to its quantity and degree; he is not one
“who was once enlightened, and has tasted of the heavenly gift, and was made partaker of the Holy Ghost, and who has tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come;” (Hebrews 6:4, 5)
because the explanation given by most of our divines to this passage, applies only to unregenerate persons. Neither is he one who
“has escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and who has known the way of righteousness;” (2 Peter 2:20, 21)
or they explain this passage also as applicable solely to the unregenerate. Nor is it a man who
“heareth the law, and has the work of the law written in his heart, whose thoughts mutually accuse or else excuse themselves, who rests in the law, makes his boast of God, knows his will, and approves the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law.” (Romans 2:13–18.)
Neither is he one who
“has prophesied in the name of the Lord, and in his name cast out devils;” (Matthew 7:22)
“has all faith, so that he could remove mountains.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
Nor is he one who acknowledges himself to be a sinner, mourns on account of sin, and is affected with godly sorrow, and who is fatigued and “heavy laden” under the burden of his sins; (Matthew 11:28) for such persons as these Christ came to call, and this call precedes justification and sanctification, that is, regeneration. (Romans 8:30.) Neither is it he who “knows himself to be wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked;” for this is the man whom Christ “counsels to buy” of him the things necessary for himself. (Revelation 3:17, 18.) This interpretation is not invalidated by the fact that the church of Laodicea is said not to know herself; for the “counsel” or advice bestowed will never persuade her to buy those things of Christ, unless she have previously known herself to be such a one as is there described. Nor is he one who knows that a man cannot be justified by the works of the law, and who, from this very circumstance, is compelled to flee to Christ, that in him he may obtain justification. (Galatians 2:16) Nor is he a man, who, acknowledging himself as being unworthy even to lift up his eyes to heaven, and who, smiting on his breast, has exclaimed, God be merciful to me a sinner!
This has been well observed by Beza in his Refutation of the calumnies of Tilman Heshusius, where he makes a beautiful distinction between “the things which precede regeneration” and “regeneration itself” and thus expresses himself: “It is one thing to inquire by what methods God prepares for repentance or newness of life, and it is another to treat on repentance itself. Let, therefore, the acknowledgment of sin and godly sorrow be the beginning of repentance, but so far as God begins in this way to prepare us for newness of life, in which respect it was the practice of Calvin deservedly to call this fear initial. Besides, in the description of penitence we are not so accustomed as some people are, to call these dreadful qualms of conscience the mortification of the flesh or of the old man; though we know that the word of God is compared to a sword, which, in some manner, slays us, that we may offer ourselves for a sacrifice to God; and St. Paul somewhere calls afflictions the death of Christ which we carry about with us in the body. For it is very evident that, by the mortification or death of the flesh and of the old man, or of our members, St. Paul means something far different: He means not that efficacy of the Spirit of Christ which may terrify us, but that which may sanctify us, by destroying in us that corrupt nature which brought forth fruit unto death. Besides, we also differ from some persons on this point, not with respect to the thing itself, but in the method or form of teaching it, that they wish faith to be the second part of penitence, but we say that μετανοια [a change of mind for the better,] by which term we understand, according to Scripture usage, renovation of life or newness of living, is the effect of faith,” etc. (Opuscula, tom. I, fol. 328.) Such are the sentiments of Beza; but how exactly they agree with those things which I have advanced, will be rendered very apparent to any man who will compare the one with the other.
Consonant with these is that which John Calvin says about initial fear, in the following words: “They have probably been deceived by this — that some persons are tamed by the qualms or terrors of conscience, or are prepared by them for obedience, before they have been imbued with the knowledge of grace, nay, before they have tasted it. And this is that initial fear which some persons reckon among the virtues, because they discern that it approaches nearly to a true and just obedience. But this is not the place for discussing the various ways by which Christ draws us to himself, or prepares us for the pursuit of piety,” etc.
But a regenerate man is one who comprises within himself all the particulars which I shall here enumerate:
“has put off the old man with his deeds, and has put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge, which agrees with the image of him who created him.” (Colossians 3:9, 10.)
has received from God
“the Spirit of wisdom and revelation through the knowledge of Him, the eyes of his understanding being illuminated” or opened. (Ephesians 1:18.)
He has put off,
“concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and he is renewed in the spirit of his mind, and has put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22–24)
“with open face, beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, is changed into the same image from glory to glory, even us by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“dead to sin; his old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth he should not serve sin; he is freed from sin, and is alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord?” (Romans 6:2, 6, 7, 11)
“he is crucified with Christ; nevertheless he lives, yet not he; but Christ liveth in him; and the life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:20.)
Being one of Christ’s followers,
“he has crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts, and now lives in the Spirit.” (v. 24, 25)
“By our Lord Jesus Christ, the world is crucified unto him, and he unto the world.” (6:14)
“In Christ Jesus the Lord, he is also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” (Colossians 2:11.)
“In him, God worketh both to will and to do.” (Philippians 2:13.)
“He is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; the Spirit of Christ dwelleth in him; through the Spirit, he mortifies the deeds of the body; he is led by the Spirit of God, and does not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4, 9, 13, 14)
Uniting in a brief manner, all the parts and fruits of generation into one summary — A regenerate man is he who has a mind freed from the darkness and vanity of the world, and illuminated with the true and saving knowledge of Christ, and with faith, who has affections that are mortified, and delivered from the dominion and slavery of sin, that are inflamed with such new desires as agree with the divine nature, and as are prepared and fitted for newness of living, who has a will reduced to order, and conformed to the will of God, who has powers and faculties able, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to contend against sin, the world and Satan, and to gain the victory over them, and to bring forth fruit unto God, such as is meet for repentance — who also actually fights against sin, and, having obtained the victory over it, no longer does those things which are pleasing to the flesh and to unlawful desires, but does those which are grateful to God; that is, he actually desists from evil and does good — not indeed perfectly, but according to the measure of faith and of the gift of Christ, according to the small degree of regeneration, which, begun in the present life, must be gradually improved or increased, till at length it is perfected after this short life is ended — not with respect to essential parts, but with respect to quantity, as we have already declared — not always without interruption, (for he sometimes stumbles, falls, wanders astray, commits sin, grieves the Holy Spirit, ac.,) but generally, and for the most part, he does good.
6. But an unregenerate man is, not only he who is entirely blind, ignorant of the will of God, knowingly and willingly contaminating himself by sins without any remorse of conscience, affected with no sense of the wrath of God, terrified with no compunctions visits of conscience, not oppressed with the burden of sin, and inflamed with no desire of deliverance — but it is also he who knows the will of God but does it not, who is acquainted with the way of righteousness, but departs from it — who has the law of God written in his heart, and has thoughts mutually accusing and excusing each other — who receives the word of the gospel with gladness, and for a season rejoices in its light — who comes to baptism, but either does not receive the word itself in a good heart, or, at least, does not bring forth fruit — who is affected with a painful sense of sin, is oppressed with its burden, and who sorrows after a godly sort — who knows that righteousness cannot be acquired by the law, and who is, therefore, compelled to flee to Christ.
For all these particulars, in what manner soever they be taken, do not belong to the essence and the essential parts of regeneration, penitence, or repentance, which are mortification and vivification and quickening; but they are only things preceding, and may have some place among the beginnings, and, if such be the pleasure of any one, they may be reckoned the causes of penitence and regeneration, as Calvin has learnedly and nervously explained them in his Christian Institutes. (Lib. 3, cap. 3.) Besides, even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken, and consisting of the mortification or death of the old man, and the vivification of the new man, as Calvin has, in the same passage of his Institutes, openly declared, and in a manner which agrees with the Scriptures and the nature of faith. For Christ becomes ours by faith, and we are engrafted into Christ, are made members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones, and, being thus planted with him, we coalesce or are united together, that we may draw from him the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, by which power the old man is mortified and we rise again into a new life. All these things cohere together with each other in a certain order, and must thus also be considered, if any one be desirous of knowing them not confusedly but distinctly, and of explaining them well to others. But we are not, in this place, treating about all the unregenerate in general, but only about those in whom the law has exerted all its efficacy, and who are, on this account, reciprocally said to be under the law.
2. THE CONNECTION OF THE SEVENTH CHAPTER WITH THE SIXTH
1. The design of the Apostle in the sixth chapter.
2. A short disposition of this argument.
3. Four enunciations of it.
4. This distribution is treated in order [in the seventh chapter].
5. The two former enunciations are contained in conjunction.
6. What therefore is proved by them.
7. The third and fourth enunciations are proposed in the fifth and sixth verses.
8. In the third enunciation lies the principal part of the controversy; its deduction consists of the proposition of the enunciation and of its method of being treated.
9. The proposition of the enunciation.
10. The investigation of the proposition, consisting of a larger explanation, and the rendering of the cause.
11. A larger explanation of the seventh chapter, from the seventh verse to the fourteenth.
12. The rendering of the cause, from the 14th verse to the end of the seventh chapter.
13. The fourteenth verse contains the rendering of a two-fold reason.
14. The proof of this is contained in the fifteenth verse.
15. And a more ample explanation of it.
16. From which two consectaries are deduced — the first in the sixteenth verse, and the second in the seventeenth.
17. From this, the apostle returns to the rendering of the cause, in the eighteenth verse, and to the proof of it.
18. Its more ample explanation follows in the nineteenth verse, from which is deduced the second consectary in the twentieth verse.
19. The conclusion of the thing intended, in the twenty-first verse, and the proof of it is given in the twenty-second and twenty-third verses.
20. A votive exclamation for the deliverance of a man who is under the law, occurs in the twenty-fourth verse.
21. An answer or a thanksgiving reference to that exclamation, is given in the former part of the twenty-fifth verse, and the conclusion of the whole investigation, in which the state of a man who is under the law is briefly defined in the latter part of the twenty-fifth verse.
22. A brief recapitulation of the second part.
1. Having, from necessity of the thing and of order, thus premised these things, let us now proceed to treat on the question and the thesis itself. But it will be useful, briefly to place before our eyes the sum of the whole chapter, its disposition and distribution; that, after having considered the design of the apostle, and those things which conduce to that design, and which have been brought forward by the apostle as subservient to his purpose, his mind and intention, may the more plainly be made known to us. That this may the more appropriately be done, the matter must be traced a little further backward.
In the 12th and 13th verses, as well as in the preceding verses of the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, the apostle had exhorted all the believers at Rome to contend strenuously against sin, and not to suffer sin to domineer or rule over them, or to exercise authority in their mortal body; but to devote themselves to God, and to yield their members as the instruments of righteousness unto God; and he demonstrated and confirmed the equity of his exhortation by many arguments, especially by those which are deduced from the communion of believers with Christ. But, in order to animate them the more powerfully to this spiritual contest — the persuasion to enter on which was to be wrought not only by a demonstration of its equity, but also by a promise of its felicitous and successful issue — in the 14th verse of the same chapter, he proposed to them the certain hope of victory, declaring “sin shall not have dominion over you.” For nothing can so strongly incite men to engage manfully and with spirit in this warfare, as that certain confidence of obtaining the victory which the apostle promises in these words. But he grounds his promise, in the 14th verse, on a reason drawn from it, and on the power and ability of that [grace] under the guidance and auspices of which they were about to contend against sin, or from that state in which they were then placed it, and through Christ, when he says, “For ye are not under the law but under grace,” thus extolling the powers of grace at the expense of the contrary weakness of the law, as though he had said, “I employ these continual exhortations to induce you strenuously to engage in the conflict against sin; and I do this, not only because I consider it most equitable that you should enter into that warfare, while I have regard to your communion with Christ, but also because I arrive at an assured hope, while I view your present condition, that you will at length enjoy the victory over sin, through that under whose auspices you fight; and it can by no means come to pass, that sin shall have dominion over you, as it formerly had; for you are under grace, under the government and guidance of the Spirit of Christ, and no longer under the law. if you were still in that state in which you were before faith in Christ, that is, if you were yet under the law, I might indulge in despair about declaring a victory for you, as placed under the dominion of sin. Such a victory over the power of sin contending within you, you would not be able to obtain by the strength or power of the law, which knows how to command, but affords no aid for the performance of the things commanded, how great soever might be the exertions which you made to gain the battle under the auspices of the law.” But this reasoning, in the first place, possessed validity to prove the necessity of the grace which was offered and to be obtained in Christ alone, in opposition to those who were the patrons of the cause of the law against the gospel, and who urged that covenant, the law of works, against the covenant of grace and the law of faith. This reasoning also contributed greatly to the design which the apostle proposed to himself in the principal part of this epistle. His design was to teach that, not the law, but “the gospel is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth,” both because by the law, and by the works of the law, no man can be justified from the sins which he has committed, and because, by the power and aid of the same law no one can oppose himself to the power of sin to shake off its yoke, and, alter having been freed from its yoke, to serve God, since he immediately falls in the conflict. But in Christ Jesus, as he is offered to us through the gospel, and apprehended by faith we can obtain both these blessings — the forgiveness of sins through faith in his blood, and the power of the Spirit of Christ, by which, being delivered from the dominion of sin, we may, through the same Spirit, be able to resist sin, to gain the victory over it, and to serve God “in newness of life.”
These things in the sixth chapter may be perceived at one glance when placed before the eyes in the following order:
THE PROPOSITION OF THE APOSTLE
Dehortatory. — “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.”
Hortatory. — “But yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
“For sin shall not have dominion over you.”
Hence, an enthymeme, whose Antecedent is — “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
Its consequent — “Therefore, neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God,” etc.
THE PROOF OF THE ANTECEDENT OR OF THE REASON
“For ye are under grace; therefore, sin shall not have dominion over you.”
AN ILLUSTRATION CF THE PROOF FROM ITS CONTRARY
For ye are not under the law.”
A BRIEF EXPLICATION OF THE PROOF, AND OF ITS ILLUSTRATION
“If, indeed, you were yet under the law, as you formerly were, sin would have the dominion over you as it once had; and, having followed its commands and impulses, you would not be able to do any other than yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.
“But as you are now no longer under the law, but under grace, sin shall not in any wise have the dominion over you, but by the power of grace you shall easily resist sin, and yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
From the 14th verse, the apostle perseveres in the same exhortation throughout the remainder of the sixth chapter, with a slight intermission of this argument, yet having previously refuted the objection which might be deduced from it; being about to resume the same argument, and to treat it more at large, in the whole of the seventh chapter, and in the former part of the eighth, since, as we have already perceived, the prosecution of this argument contributes very materially to his design.
2. But the apostle treats this subject in the order and method which was demanded by reason itself, and by the necessity of its discussion. For he had said, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
3. In these words, are contained the four following enunciations:
(1.) Christians are not under the law.
(2.) Christians are under grace.
(3.) Sin shall have dominion over those who are under the law.
(4.) Sin shall not have dominion over those who are under grace.
Of these four enunciations, the second and the fourth are necessary and sufficient to persuade in favor of this exhortation; but the first and the third are adduced, both for the sake of illustration, and because they were required by the principal design of the entire epistle. The former of these [pairs of conjoint enunciations] is well known to all who understand the nature of a separated axiom and the mutual relation which exists between its parts; but the latter of them will he rendered very apparent by the deduction of the epistle itself, and on a diligent inspection of its conformation.
4. The apostle, therefore, thought that these four axioms ought to be treated by him in order, and indeed always with the mention of the conclusion which he was desirous to infer from them as from premises; and in which the sum of the exhortation consisted.
5. But the apostle treats those two former enunciations conjointly, such a course being required by their nature. For he gives one thing to those from which he takes another away, and this very properly; because there exists one and the same cause why the one should be attributed and the other taken away, why they are under grace and not under the law. This cause is expressed in the fourth verse of the seventh chapter, in the following words:
“Ye, also, are become dead to the law in the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another.”
6. But in the first four verses, the apostle proves that Christians or believers are not under the law, but under grace; which proof may be comprised in this syllogism:
They who are dead to the law, and this in the body of Christ, that they may be married to another, even to Christ, are no longer under the law, but are now under grace;
But Christians are dead to the law, that they should he married to another, even to Christ;
Therefore, Christians are no longer under the law, but under grace.
The first part of the proposition — “They who are dead to the law, are no longer under the law,” is expressed in the first verse of the seventh chapter in these words: “The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth.” The latter part of it, “They who are made Christ’s are under grace, — is included in the fourth verse, from which it may be deduced. But a confirmation of the first part of the proposition is added, in the first verse, from the testimony of the consciences of those who are expert in the knowledge of the law; and the same part of the proposition is illustrated, in the second and third verses, by a simile, that of marriage, in which the woman is no longer liable to the law of her husband than “so long as he liveth;” but when he is dead, she is free from the law of her husband, so that she may be allowed to transfer herself to another man without committing the crime of adultery. The application of this comparison is evident, the difference only being observed, that the apostle has declared, by a change in the mode of speaking, that Christians are become dead to the law, and not that the law is become dead to them. This change of speech is attributed by some persons to the prudence of the apostle, who wished to avoid the use of a phrase which he previously knew would be offensive to the Jews. By others it is transferred to the nature of the thing, in which they say that sin, and not the law, sustained the part or person of the husband, because in the sixth verse sin is said to be dead; but this makes nothing to our present purpose.
The assumption, in the fourth verse, is in these words: “we also are become dead to the law in the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Christ.” This assumption is illustrated, First, by the efficient cause of that mortification or death, which is the crucifixion and the resurrection of the body of Christ, and the communion of believers with Christ in that crucifixion and in the rising again of His body. Secondly. This assumption is illustrated by the final cause of deliverance, which contains the scope or design of the apostolical exhortation, that is, “to bring forth fruit unto God.” But he perseveres in the same end in the two subsequent verses, the sixth and seventh, by treating it through a comparison of things similar, as he had also done in the nineteenth verse of the sixth chapter. The parallel is, that we serve God, and since we are not now in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of Spirit, and are delivered from the law, that thing being dead in which we were held, it is equitable that we bring forth fruit unto God; because when we were in the flesh, the motion of sins, existing through the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
The conclusion is not openly inferred, but is understood, which is a mode of frequent occurrence, because the proposition, or question to be treated, does not differ from the conclusion in the matter, but only in the mode of position.
7. But though these two verses, the fifth and sixth, have such a relation to those things which preceded as has been already explained, yet they are likewise to be referred to those which follow. For the third and fourth enunciations are proposed in these two verses — the third in the fifth verse, and the fourth in the sixth. For, this expression, “The motions of sins, which are by the law, are vigorous, or operate in the members of men who are yet in the flesh,” (verse fifth,) is tantamount in meaning to these words: “Sin has the dominion over those who are under the law.” These words likewise, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, ωσε so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” (verse sixth,) agree well with the following: “Sin shall not have the dominion over those who are under grace.” This will be rendered evident if any one translates the particle ωσε as an ancient interpreter has done, by the words “so that,” and understands it not of the end or intention, but of the issue or event, as the almost perpetual use of that particle requires. For the sense is this: “When we were yet in the oldness of the letter and under the law, then we were held under sin; and when we are now delivered from the law and placed in newness of spirit, we are able to serve God in righteousness and true holiness,” agreeably to this state of our newness of living.
8. But let us now more closely inspect how this third enunciation is treated, since in it is laid the principal part of the controversy. The exposition of the whole matter consists of the proposing of the enunciation, and of its investigation, the latter of which is partly an explanation, and partly an application of the cause. Both of these are briefly joined to the proposition, as it is laid down in the fifth verse of this chapter; wherefore they are more copious, and better accommodated to the more prolix investigation, than as they are proposed from the fourteenth verse of the sixth chapter.
9. For that proposition is, “sin,” or, as it is more energetically expressed, “The motions of sins have the dominion over those who are under the law.” This attribute is likewise more nervously expressed by this method of speech, by which the motions of sins are said to have existence by the law itself.
Two effects of this dominion, therefore, are added to the proposition for the sake of explication. One is, its vigor, and its working in the members; the other is, its bringing forth fruits unto death. The cause why, in men under the law, “the motions of sins work in their members to bring forth fruit unto death,” is rendered in these words, “when we were in the flesh.” For the reference to the time preceding is taken from the carnal state, which state comprises the cause why, in times past, “the motions of sins did work in our members.” As if the apostle had said, “It is not wonderful that the motions of sins have had the dominion over us, and have worked in our members to bring forth fruit unto death; for we are in the flesh; and the law itself is so far from being able to hinder this dominion and to restrain the vigorous growth of sin, that these motions are by the law far more fervid and vehement, not through the fault of the law, but through the wickedness and obstinacy of sin that holds the dominion and abuses its power.”
10. This proposition, therefore, is more largely explained, from the seventh verse to the fourteenth; and its cause is fully treated from the fourteenth verse inclusive, to the end of the chapter. The explanation is occupied about this two-fold effect — the working of sin, and its fructification by which it brings forth fruit unto death. The rendering of the cause is continually intent upon what is said in the fifth verse, “When we were in the flesh.” But on both these points, we must carefully guard against bringing the law under the suspicion of blame, as though it were of itself the cause of depraved desires in us, and of death; when it is only the occasion, upon which sin violently seizes, and uses it to produce these effects in men who live under the law. In the explanation, both these effects are removed from the law, and they are attributed to sin as to their proper cause; yet this is done in such a way, that it is at the same time added, that sin abuses the law to produce these effects.
11. The former of these effects is removed from the law, in the seventh verse, by these words: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid.” That is, as if he had said, “Can it, therefore, be attributed to the law that it is itself, or the cause of depraved desires in us, because it is called in the fifth verse, the motions of sin which are by the law?” The apostle replies, that it is very wrong to entertain even the bare thought of such a thing concerning the law. He subjoins a proof of this removal of the first effect, from the contrary effect which the law has; for the law is the index of sin, or that which points it out; therefore, it is neither sin nor the cause of sin. He then illustrates this proof by a special example: “For I should not have known concupiscence, unless the law had said, Thou shaft not desire or covet.”
But the same effect is, in the eighth verse, attributed to sin, in these words: “But sin wrought in me all manner of concupiscence,” yet so that it abuses the law as an occasion to produce this effect. This is intimated in the words which immediately follow:. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me,” etc. The latter effect [the fructification of sin] is proved in the next verse, in these words: “For, without the law, sin was dead; but, on the approach of the law, sin revived,” which is illustrated by its opposite privatives, “For I was alive when sin was dead; but when sin revived then I died;” but, as this was done by the law, it is evident that sin abused the law to produce this effect. But the apostle here joins the second effect to the first, (because they cohere together by nature, and the former is the cause of the latter,) and thus in the tenth and eleventh verses, ascribes death to sin, which abuses the law, yet so as to excuse the law also from the effect of death, as it is expressed in the tenth verse, “the commandment which was unto life;” the cause of death being transferred to sin, in the expression, “for sin, taking occasion by the commandment,” etc. But he follows up his exculpation of the law, in the twelfth verse, by a description of the nature of the law, that it “is holy, and just, and good,” and, therefore, by no means the cause of death — an insinuation against the law which he indignantly repels in the former part of the thirteenth verse, by saying, “God forbid that that which is good, should be made death unto me.” But in the latter part of this verse, he ascribes the same effect to sin, with the addition of a two-fold end, both of them inclining to the disparagement of sin itself, in these words: “That sin might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin, by the commandment, might become exceedingly sinful.” As though he had said — “Sin, by this abuse of the law to seduce and kill us, has produced the effect, that. in return, its own depravity and perverseness be made manifest by the law. This perverse depravity consists in sin working death by the law which is good, and in being made exceedingly sinful by the commandment which is just and holy, and that it might only become as it were a sinner above measure by its own wickedness, but also might be declared to be such by the indication of the law, which it has so shamefully abused to produce these effects.” But it is apparent from the whole of this explanation, that the apostle has so attempered his style as to draw a conclusion of the necessity of the grace of Christ, from the efficacy of sin, and from the weakness of the law. This will be still more perspicuous, if we briefly comprise this explanation of the apostle in the following form: “Sin has the dominion over those who are under the law, by working in them all manner of concupiscence through the law itself, and also by killing them through it, yet so that the law is free from all blame in both cases, since, it is holy and good, the index of sin, and was given for life. But sin is so powerful in men who are still under the law, that it abuses the law to produce those effects in a man who is under subjection to it; by which abuse of the law, sin, on the other hand, takes away the reward from the law, that its own perverse and noxious disposition and tendency may be manifested by the indication of the law. From these circumstances a man who is under the law is compelled to flee to grace, that he may by its beneficent aid be delivered from the tyranny of such a wicked and injurious master.”
12. The rendering of the cause follows from the fourteenth verse to the end of the chapter; in which, as we have already observed, the utmost care is evinced not to impose any ignominy on the law, or to ascribe any blame to it; and the entire mischief is attributed to the power of sin, and to the weakness of that man who is under the law. But the cause is briefly given in the fourteenth verse, in these words: “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.” But in order that this rendering of the cause may be accurately understood, we must again consider that proposition, the cause of which the apostle determines in this place to explain, and which is this: “Sin has dominion over those who are under the law;” or, “The motions of sins, which are by the law, work in men who are under the law.”
13. That the cause of this may be fully and perfectly rendered, it must be shown why the law cannot weaken the force and tyranny of sin in those who are under the law, and why sin holds those who are under the law bound and obnoxious to itself as by some right of its own. Therefore, this rendering of the cause consists of two parts: The first is contained in these words: “For truly the law is spiritual; but I am carnal.” That the particle “indeed” or “truly” must be added, is proved both by its relative δε, “but,” as well as by the very subject. The second is contained in these words: “For I am sold under sin;” that is, I am under the dominion of sin, as one who is constituted a purchased servant by the right of sale, and like one who becomes the bond-slave of sin. As though the apostle had said, “That the law is incapable of hindering the strength and operation of sin in men who are under the law, arises from this, that men under the law are carnal; in whom therefore the law, though it is spiritual, does not possess so much power as to enable it to restrain the strong inclination of the flesh to things which are evil and contrary to the law. And since sin, by a certain right of its own, exercises dominion over those men who are under the law, therefore it comes to pass that they have been made bond-slaves to sin, and are bound and “fettered like a purchased menial.”
14. The apostle immediately subjoins a proof, in the fifteenth verse, not so much of the fact that a man under the law is carnal, as that he is the slave of sin. But the proof is taken from the peculiar adjunct or effect of a purchased servant, in these words: “For that which I do I allow not.” For a servant does not do that which seems good to himself, but that which his master is pleased to prescribe to him; because thus is the word “I allow” used in this passage, for “I approve.” But if any one thinks that it is here used in its proper signification, the argument will be the same, and equal its validity; “for,” as Christ has told us, “the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth;” (John 15:15; ) neither is his Lord bound, nor is he accustomed, to make known to his servant all his will, except so far as it seems proper to himself to employ the services of his menial through the knowledge of that will.
15. But the first signification of the word is better accommodated to this passage, and seems to be required by those things which follow; for a more ample explanation of this argument is produced in the following words: “For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I;” which is an evident token of a will that is subjugated, and subject to the will of another; that is, to the will of sin. Therefore he is the servant and the slave of sin.
16. The apostle now deduces two consectaries from this, by the first of which he excuses the law, and by the second, he throws on sin all the blame respecting this matter, as he had also done in a previous part of the chapter. The first consectary is, “if, then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.” (16.) That is, “if I unwillingly do that which sin prescribes to me, now, indeed, I consent unto the law that it is good, as being that against which sin is committed. I assent to the law that commands, though, while placed under the dominion of sin, I am unable to perform what it prescribes.” The second consectary is, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (17.) That is, “therefore, because I reluctantly do what I do, not at my own option but at that of another, that Is, of my master, who is sin; it follows from this, that it is not I who do it, but sin which dwells in me, has the dominion over me, and impels me to do it.”
17. Having treated upon these subjects in the manner now stated, the apostle returns to the same rendering of the cause and the proof of it. The eighteenth verse contains the rendering of the cause, in these words: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing:” Wherefore it is not surprising that the law, though it be spiritual, is not able to break the power of sin in a man who is under the law; for that which is good does not dwell, that is, has not the dominion, in a carnal man who is under the law. The proof of this is subjoined in the same verse: “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Or, “I do not find how I can perform any thing good.”
18. The more ample explanation of it is given in the nineteenth verse, “For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do;” which is an evident token that no good thing dwelleth in my flesh. For if any good thing dwelt in my flesh, I should then be actually capable of performing that to which my mind and will are inclined. He then deduces once more the second consectary, in the twentieth verse: “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
19. But from all these arguments, in the twenty-first verse he concludes the thing intended: “I find then a law, [which is imposed in this way,] that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” That is, In reality, therefore, I find from the circumstance of “to will being present with me,” but of not being capable of performing what is good, that evil or sin is present with me, and not only has it a place in me but it likewise prevails. This conclusion does not differ in meaning from the rendering of the cause which is comprised in the fourteenth verse, in this expression: “But I am carnal, sold under sin.” But in the two subsequent verses, the twenty-second and twenty-third, the apostle proves the conclusion which immediately preceded; and, in proving it, he more clearly explains whence and how it happens, that a man who is under the law cannot have dominion over sin, and that, whether willing or unwilling, such a person is compelled to fulfill the lusts of sin; and he says, “for I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
20. At the close, from a consideration of the miserable state of those men who are under the law, a votive exclamation is raised for their deliverance from this tyranny and servitude of sin, in the following terms: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver (or snatch) me from the body of this death?” That is, not from this mortal body, but from the dominion of sin, which he here calls the body of death, as he calls it also in other passages the body of sin.
21. To this exclamation he subjoins a reply — “the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, will deliver thee” — or a thanksgiving, in which the apostle intimates, in his own person, whence deliverance must be sought and expected. In the last place, a conclusion is annexed to the whole investigation, in the latter part of the twenty-fifth verse, in which is briefly defined the entire condition of a man under the law, that had been previously and at great length described; “so then, with the mind, I myself, serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin.” And in this manner is concluded the seventh chapter.
22. But in order that these arguments, after having been reduced to a small compass, may be perceived at a single glance, let us briefly recapitulate this second part likewise, in the following manner:
“We have already declared, that sin has dominion over those men who are under the law: But the cause of this is, that, though the law itself is spiritual, and though the men who are under it consent unto it that it is good, and though they will what is good and delight in the law of God after the inward man; yet these very men who are under the law are carnal, sold under sin, have no good thing dwelling in their flesh, but have sin dwelling in them, and evil is present with them; they have likewise a law in their members which not only wars against the law of their mind, but which also renders them captives to the law of sin which is in their members. Of this matter it is a certain and evident token, that the good which such men would, they do not; but the evil which they hate, that they do; and that when they will to do good, they do not obtain the ability. Hence it is undoubtedly evident, that they are not themselves the masters of their own acts, but sin which dwelleth in them; to which is also chiefly to be ascribed the culpability of the evil which is committed by these men who are like the reluctant perpetrators of it. But on this account, these persons, from the shewing of the law, having become acquainted with their misery, are compelled to cry out, and to implore the grace of Jesus Christ.”
VERSE THE FOURTEENTH
1. A closer investigation of this question and a demonstration taken from the text itself, that the apostle is here treating about a man paced under the law, and not under grace.
2. The manner in which Carnal and spiritual are opposed to each other in the scriptures.
3. An objection taken from 1 Corinthians 3:1, 2; and a reply to it.
4. The meaning of the phrase, sold under sin. The views of Calvin and Beza on this verse.
1. Having, in the preceding manner, considered the disposition and economy of the whole chapter, let us now somewhat more strictly investigate the question proposed by us, which is this: “Are those things which are recorded, from the fourteenth verse to the end of the seventh chapter, to be understood concerning a man who is under the law, or concerning one who is under grace?”
First of all, let some attention be bestowed on the connection of the fourteenth verse with those which preceded it; for the rational particle γαρ “for,” indicates its connection with the preceding. This connection shows, that the same subject is discussed in this verse, as in those before it; and the pronoun εγω I, must be understood as relating to the same man, as had been signified in the previous verses by the same pronoun. But the investigation in the former part of the chapter was respecting a man who is under the law, and the pronoun “I” had previously denoted the man who was under the law: Therefore, in this fourteenth verse also, in which a, cause is given of that which had been before explained, a man under the law is still the subject. If it be otherwise, the whole of it is nothing less than loose reasoning; nor, in this case, have we ever been able to perceive even any probable connection, according to which these consequences that follow can be in coherence with the matters preceding, and which has been adduced by those who suppose that, in the first thirteen verses of this seventh chapter, the discourse refers to a man under the law, but that in the fourteenth verse and those which follow, the subject of the discourse is a man under grace. If any one denies this, let him attempt to make out the connection [between the two portions of the chapter which have just been specified]. Some of those who have entertained that opinion, perceiving the difficulty of such an undertaking, interpret this fourteenth verse as well as those which preceded it, as relating to a man under the law, but the fifteenth and following verses as applicable to a man under grace. This, also, we shall hereafter perceive.
Secondly. In the same fourteenth verse, that man about whom the apostle treats under his own person, is said to be carnal; but a man who is regenerate and placed under grace is not carnal, but spiritual. Therefore, it is a matter of the greatest certainty, that the subject of the apostle in this verse is not a man placed under grace. But a man who is under the law is carnal; therefore, it is plain that the subject of discourse in this verse is a man under the law. I prove that a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, is neither carnal, nor so designated in the Scriptures. In Romans 8:9, it is said “but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” And in the verse preceding, it is said, “so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God:” But a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, pleases God. In Romans 8:5, it is said “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh,” but [as it is expressed in the same verse] a man under grace “minds the things of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:24, it is said, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts;” and they that “have crucified the flesh” are not carnal. But men who are regenerate and placed under grace “are Christ’s and have crucified the flesh.” Therefore, such men as answer this description are not carnal. In Romans 8:14, it is said, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Therefore, they are “led by the Spirit of God;” but such persons are spiritual.
2. But it is here objected, “the same man may, in a different respect, be called carnal and spiritual — ’spiritual,’ so far as he is regenerate through the Spirit — ’carnal’ so far as he is unregenerate; for, as long as man is in this mortal body, he is not fully regenerate. From this arises a two-fold signification of the work ’carnal’: one denotes a man purely carnal, in whom sin has the dominion; the other denotes a man partly carnal and partly spiritual.”
Answer: I grant, according to the Scriptures, that man is not fully and perfectly regenerate so long as he is in the present life. But this admission must be correctly apprehended, that is, that such perfection be understood as relating not to the essence and essential parts of regeneration itself, but to the degree and measure of the quantity. For the business of regeneration is not carried on in such a manner, that a man is regenerate or renewed with regard to some of his faculties, but remains with regard to others of them altogether in the oldness of depraved nature. But this second birth is ordered in the same manner as our first nativity, by which we are born human beings — that is, partaking entirely of human nature, but not in the perfection of adult manhood. Thus also, does the power of regeneration pervade all the faculties of man, none of them excepted; but it does not pervade them perfectly at the first moment; for it is carried on gradually, and by daily advances, until it is expanded or drawn out to a full and mature age in Christ Hence, the whole man is said to be regenerated, according to all his faculties, mind, affections and will; and he is, therefore, with regard to these, his regenerated faculties, a spiritual person.
But as in the Scripture, a spiritual man and a carnal man are opposed to each other in their entire definitions, [for the former of them is one who walks according to the Spirit, and the latter is he that walks after the flesh, and as the one is mentioned for the opposite of the other,) in this respect indeed, the same man cannot be said to be at once both spiritual and carnal. And thus I reject, according to the Scriptures, this distinction of carnal persons, by which some of them are called carnal, in whom sin has dominion on the predominant part, and by which others receive the appellation of carnal men, in whom the flesh contends against the Spirit on the part which is less powerful; for the rejection of this distinction, I have the permission of Scripture, which is not accustomed to reckon the latter of these two classes in the number of carnal persons. This is expressed in a very significant manner by Leo, on the resurrection of our Lord, in the following words: “Though we are saved by hope, and still bear about with us corruption and mortal flesh, yet we are correctly said not to be in the flesh if carnal affections have not dominion over us, and we deservedly lay aside and discard the name of that thing whose will we no longer follow.”’
But were this, their distinction, allowed, still, that is not yet proved which they attempt, unless it be demonstrated that this man is called carnal, not in the first of these respects or senses, but in the second — not because sin has the dominion in him, but because the flesh contends against the Spirit, which is a result that can never be deduced from the text itself: For It is evident that, in the man whom the apostle here calls carnal, sin has the dominion, and the party of the flesh is more powerful in him than that of the Spirit. Because “sin dwelleth in him, he does the evil that he would not, and he does not the good which he would; to perform what is good, finds not; but sin, which dwelleth in him, perpetrates that which is evil; he is brought into captivity to the law of sin, or he is a captive under the law of sin.” All these are certain and manifest tokens of sin, which has the dominion. Nor is it any valid objection, that the man is compelled, though unwilling and reluctant, to obey sin; for the dominion of sin is two fold — either with the consent of him who sins, or against his conscience, and his consent arising from his conscience. For whether a servant obeys his Lord willingly or unwillingly, he is still the servant of him to whom he yields obedience. This is such a certain truth, that no one is able to come from the servitude of sin to liberty, except through this way — the way of this hatred of servitude, and of this desire of obtaining deliverance.
3. But some one will say,
“Even those who are under grace are called carnal in” 1 Corinthians 3:1, 2.
I reply, The question does not relate to the word itself; but to its true meaning and the thing signified by it. We must try, therefore, whether this word has the same signification in this passage as it has in the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans. But they [at Corinth] are called carnal with respect to knowledge, and in reference to feeling or inclination. In this sense, being unskillful and inexperienced in the doctrine of piety, and the knowledge of the gospel, they are called carnal in opposition to those who are spiritual, who know how to “judge all things,” (1 Corinthians 2:15, ) and who are also called “who are perfect,” in (1 Corinthians 2:6, ) and, in this sense, “babes in Christ,” and those who have need to be fed with milk are called carnal. But with respect to feeling or inclination, those men are called carnal in whom human and carnal affections have the dominion and prevail, and who are said, in other passages, to be in the flesh, and to walk according to the flesh, in opposition to those who are spiritual, who, “through the Spirit, have mortified the deeds of the flesh and have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” But the apostle seems here to bestow this appellation on the Corinthians, or on some of them, with this two-fold reference; for he says that, with respect to knowledge, they are “babes in Christ,” that is, unskillful and inexperienced in the doctrine of piety, who had to be “fed with milk, and who were not able to bear solid food.” But with respect to affections, he says that they “are carnal, and walk as men,” on account of the contentions and divisions which prevailed among them, from which it was evident that, in them, the flesh had the predominance over the Spirit. But in whatever sense or manner the word is used in this passage, it brings no advantage to the cause of those who declare that the apostle calls himself a carnal man in Romans 7:14. For if the same word is not used in 1 Corinthians 3:1, in a sense similar to that which it bears in Romans 7:14, then it is adduced in an unlearned and useless manner in elucidation of this question; for equivocation is the fruitful parent of error. If the word is to be received in the same sense in both passages, then I am at liberty firmly to conclude from this, in favor of my opinion, that the apostle cannot be called carnal in Romans 7, for under that appellation he severely reprehends the Corinthians because he “was not able to speak unto them as unto spiritual persons,” since they were such as were still carnal; which he would have done without any just cause, if he were himself also comprehended under that title when understood in the same signification.
4. Thirdly. The same man about whom the apostle is here treating, is also said, in this, the fourteenth verse, to be sold under sin, or, (which is the same thing,) the slave of sin, and become its servant by purchase, which title can, in no sense whatsoever, be adapted to men placed under grace — a misappropriation of epithet, against which the Scriptures openly reclaim in many passages:
“If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36.)
“For he that is dead” is justified, that is, he “is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7.) “But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin; being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness,” or those who are completely subject to it. (Romans 6:17, 18.) But that the two things here specified [the service of sin, and that of righteousness] are so opposed to each other, as not to be able to meet together at once in the same individual, is evident from the twentieth verse of the same chapter: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” But that the same remark applies to a man who is under the law, is apparent from a comparison of 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” with Galatians 5:18, “But if ye be led of Spirit, ye are not under the law;” therefore, they who are of the Spirit are free. But such persons are not under the law; therefore, those who are under the law are not free, but are the servants of sin. For, whether any one unwillingly, and compelled by the force of sin, obeys it, or whether it willingly — whether anyone becomes the slave of sin by the deed of his first parents, or whether, in addition to this, “he has sold himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord,” as it is related concerning Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20. In each of these cases is the man truly and deservedly called the servant of sin.
“For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” (2 Peter 2:19.)
“whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” (John 8:34.)
“Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16.)
For the different mode of servitude does not exempt or discharge [the subject of it] from servitude, but is conclusive that he is under it.
Should any one reply, concerning the man mentioned in Romans 7:14, “that he is not simply called the servant of sin, but that he is so denominated with this restriction — that he is the servant of sin with respect to the flesh, and not with respect to the mind, as is apparent from the last verse of the same chapter, which is an explanation of this verse,” I rejoin that this man is simply called the servant of sin, but of the description of those who unwillingly and with a reluctant conscience serve sin. But with respect to the manner in which the last verse of the chapter is to be understood, we shall perceive what it is when we arrive at that part.
But the greater part of the divines of our profession acknowledge that this fourteenth verse must be understood as relating to an unregenerate man, to one who is not placed under grace. Thus Calvin observes on verse, “The apostle now begins to bring the law and the nature of man a little more closely into hostile contact with each other.” And on the subsequent verse he says, “He now descends to the more particular example of a man already regenerate.” Thus also, Beza, against Castellio, in the refutation of the first argument to the thirteenth and fourteenth calumny, (fol. 413,) says, “St. Paul exclaims that he is not sufficient even to think that which is good; and in another passage, considering himself not within the boundaries of grace, he says, But I am carnal, sold under sin.”
VERSE THE FIFTEENTH
1. He does not approve of that which he does, neither does he do that which he would, but he does that which he hates.
2. The nature of the contest carried on in man.
3. The opinion of St. Augustine and Peter Martyr, respecting the conflict in men who are not born again.
1. The fifteenth verse contains a proof of the affirmation in the preceding verse, which is, that the man about whom the apostle is treating, is “sold under sin” or is the bond-slave of sin.
For the argument is taken from the office and proper effect of a purchased servant, and of one who has no legal control over himself, but who is subjected to the power of another. For it is the property of a servant, not to execute his own will, but that of his lord, whether he does this willingly and with full consent, or he does it with the judgment of his own mind exclaiming against it, and with his will resisting it. This is expressed in no unskillful manner by St. Augustine, in his Retractions (lib. I, cap. 1:) “he who by the flesh that lusteth against the Spirit, does those things which he would not, lusteth indeed unwillingly; and in this he does not that which he would; but if he be overcome [by the flesh lusting against the Spirit] he willingly consents to his lusts — and in this he does nothing but what he has willed, that is, devoid of righteousness and the servant of sin.” This is confirmed by Zanchius, on the works of Redemption: (lib. I, cap. 3: ) “Undoubtedly Peter, therefore, denied Christ because he would, though he did not that with a full will, but reluctantly.” But the proof [which the apostle adduces in the fifteenth verse] is accommodated to the condition of the man about whom he is treating, that is, of a man who is under the law, and who is the servant of sin just so far as to serve it not with full consent, but with a conscience crying out against it. For these are the words of the apostle: “For that which I do, I allow not,” that is, I do not approve of it. This sentiment, he explains and proves more at large in the words which immediately follow in the same verse: “For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do,” from which we frame this syllogism.
He who approves not of that which he does, nor does that which he would, is the slave of another, that is, of sin;
But the man about whom the apostle is treating, approves not of that which he does, nor does what he would, but he does that which he hates;
Therefore, the man who is in this place the subject of discussion, is the slave of another, that is, of sin; and therefore the same man is unregenerate, and not placed under grace.
2. But perhaps you will say, “In this passage is described a contest in the man about whom the apostle is treating, which contest cannot take place in a man who is unregenerate.”
Answer. In this passage, the contest between this man and sin is not described; but the dominion of sin, and the servitude of the man himself under sin, are demonstrated from the proper effect of a servant by purchase, which effect, in reality, is not produced by this man without much reluctance of conscience and great mental struggles, which precede the very production of the act; but this deed is not committed except by a mind which is conquered and overcome by the force of sin. Then I deny the preceding affirmation that, in an unregenerate man, of what description soever he may be, there is discovered no contest of the mind or conscience with the inclinations and desires of the flesh and of sin. Nay, I further assert and affirm, that, in a man who is under the law, there is necessarily a conflict between the mind and conscience on the one part, that prescribe those things which are just and honest, and the inclinations or motions of sin, on the other, which impel the man to things that are unlawful and forbidden. For the Scriptures describe to us a two-fold conflict against sin — the First, that of the flesh, and of the mind or the conscience-the Second, that of the flesh, or sin, and of the Spirit.
The former of these obtains in all those who have a knowledge of what is righteous and iniquitous, of what is just and unjust, “in whose hearts is written the work of the law, and whose thoughts, in the mean while, either accuse or excuse one another,” as it is recorded in Romans 2:15, “who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” (1:18) whose consciences are not yet seared as with a hot iron, who are not yet “past all feeling,” (Ephesians 4:19, ) and who know the will of their Lord, but do it not. (Luke 12:47)
3. This view of the matter is confirmed to us by St. Augustine, in his book “The Exposition of certain propositions in the Epistle to the Romans,”(cap. 3) in which he says, “Before the law, that is, in the state or degree before the law, we do not fight; because we not only lust and sin, but sins have also our approval. Under the law we fight, but are overcome; for we confess that those things which we do, are evil; and, by making such confession, we intimate that we would not do them. But, because we have not yet any grace we are conquered. In this condition it is shown to us, in what situation we be; and while we are desirous of rising up, and still fall down, we are the more grievously afflicted,” etc. This is likewise acknowledged by Peter Martyr, who observes, on Romans 5:8, “We do not deny that there is occasionally some contest of this kind in unregenerate men; not because their minds are not carnal and inclined to vicious pursuits, but because in them are still engraven the laws of nature, and because in them shines some illumination of the Spirit of God, though it be not such as can justify them, or can produce a saving change.”
The latter contest, that between the flesh and the Spirit, obtains in the regenerate alone. For in that heart in which the Spirit of God neither is nor dwells, there can be no contest — though some persons are said to “resist the Holy Spirit,” and, to “sin against the Holy Ghost,” which expressions have another meaning.
The difference between these two contests is very manifest from the diversity of the issue or consequence of each: For, in the first, the flesh overcomes; but, in the latter, the Spirit usually gains the victory and becomes the conqueror. This may be seen by a comparison of this passage with Galatians 5:16, 17 — a comparison which we will afterwards undertake.
But from the proper effects of the law itself, it may be most certainly demonstrated that a contest against sin is carried on within a man who is so under the law as that it has discharged all its office towards him, and has exerted all its powers in him. For it is the effect of the law to convict a man, already convicted of sin, of the righteousness of God, to incite him to obedience, to convince him of his own weakness, to inflame him with a desire to be delivered, and to compel him to seek for deliverance. It is well known, however, that these effects cannot be completed without a contest against indwelling sin. But we have already said that about such a man as this the apostle treats in this passage — one who is in this manner under the law.
If any man will yet obstinately maintain, that all unregenerate persons in general perpetrate that to the commission of which, sin and the flesh persuade, with full consent and without any reluctance, let him not view it as a grievance if I demand proof for his assertion, since it is made against express testimonies of Scripture, and since many examples may be adduced in proof of the contrary, such as that of Balsam, who, against his own conscience, obeyed the king of Moab — that of Saul, who, against his own conscience, persecuted David — that of the Pharisees, who, through obstinate malice, resisted the Holy Spirit, etc. But even that very common distinction, which sins are distinguished into those of ignorance, infirmity and malice, is likewise by this method destroyed, if all unregenerate persons commit sin with full assent and without any struggle or reluctance. I am desirous also, on this occasion, to bring to the recollection of the adverse party, the steps or degrees by which God is accustomed to convert his children to himself from wickedness of life, and which, if they will diligently and without prejudice consider, they will perceive that the contest between the mind and the flesh, which is excited by the law, must of necessity be placed among the beginnings and the precursors of regeneration.
VERSE THE SIXTEENTH
1. He consents to the law that it is good; a consectary deduced.
2. An objection answered.
3. A second objection.
1. From what has preceded, a consectary or consequence is deduced for the excuse of the law, in the following words: “If then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.” In this verse nothing is said, which may not, in the best possible manner and without any controversy, agree with one who is under the law. For unless a man under the law yields his assent to it that it is good, he is not at all under the law: For this is the first effect of the law in those whom it will subject to itself — to convince them of its equity and justice; and when this is done, such consent necessarily arises. It is also apparent from the first and second chapters of the epistle to the Romans, and from the tenth chapter, in which “a zeal of God touching the law” is attributed to the Jews, that this consent is not peculiar to a regenerate man, nor is it the proper effect of the regenerating Spirit.
2. If any one say, “The subject in this passage is that assent by which a man assents to the whole law of God, and which cannot be in those who do not understand the whole law, but none among the unregenerate understands the entire law of God,”
I reply, first, it can never be affirmed with truth, that “none among the unregenerate understands the entire law” while the following passages exclaim against such an assertion:
“That servant who knew his Lord’s will and did not according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)
“Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing;” (1 Corinthians 13:2 )
“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth;” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” (2 Peter 2:21.)
Secondly. Neither can this affirmation be truly made in every case: “No man assents to the entire law unless he understands the whole of it;” for he assents to the whole law who knows it to be from God and to be good, though he may not particularly understand all things which are prescribed and forbidden in the law. And where, among the regenerate, is that man to be found who dares to claim for himself such a knowledge of the whole law?
Thirdly. That which is appropriately subservient to this purpose, is, a denial that this passage has any reference to that consent by which a man assents to all the precepts Of the law as being specially understood; for neither do the words themselves indicate any such thing, nor does the analogy of the connection permit it. Because it is concluded from the circumstance of his doing what he would not, that he “consents unto the law that it is good “which conclusion cannot be deduced from this deed if it be said, that this expression relates to the consent which arises from a special acquaintance with and an understanding of all the precepts of the law. For that which this man here says that he does, is a particular deed; it is, therefore, prohibited by some special precept of the law, the knowledge and approval of which is the cause why he who does that deed does it with reluctance. Hence, as from a consequent, it is concluded from this deed thus performed, (that Is committed with a mind crying out and striving against it,) that he who commits the deed in this manner, consents to the law that it is good.
3. But some one will perhaps rejoin and say, “This passage does not relate to the consent of general estimation, which may be possessed, and is so, in reality, by many of the unregenerate. But it has reference to the consent of particular approbation, which is the peculiar act of the regenerating Spirit.” Such an objector ought to know that those things which are confidently uttered without any attempt at proof, may, with equal freedom, be rejected without offering the smallest reason. The thing itself, however, evinces the contrary; for, to consent to the law that it is good, is not to approve in particular a deed which has been prescribed by the law; for this consent of particular approbation cannot consist with the perpetration of a deed which is particularly disapproved. But the commission of such an act agrees well with the consent about which the apostle here treats.
VERSE THE SEVENTEENTH
1. He no longer himself perpetrates this evil, but it is done by sin that dwelleth in him, a second Consectary deduced.
2. From this verse are drawn two arguments for the contrary opinion, both of which are refuted — the first argument, and a reply to it.
3. The second argument and a reply.
4. An argument from this verse in favor of true opinion.
5. On the word dwelling, or inhabiting, according to its signification, and the usage of Scripture, with quotations from Zanchius, Bucer, Peter Martyr, and Musculus.
1. From the preceding verses is deduced another consectary, by which this man transfers to sin all the blame of this matter — not to excuse himself, that be far from him, for the law has been given and written on his heart, that “his thoughts may accuse or else excuse one another, but to point out his servile condition under the dominion of sin. In this consectary, therefore, nothing can be contained which does not agree with a man who is under the law. If it were otherwise, the consectary would contain more than was to be found in the premises, which, it has been demonstrated, agree extremely well with a man who is under the law.
2. But let us see the words of the consectary: “Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” that is, sin that dwelleth in me, does this.” From these words, the opposite party seem capable of eliciting two arguments in support of the opinion which affirms that the apostle is here treating about a regenerate man and one who is placed under grace.
The First of these arguments is of this kind: —
“It cannot be said of unregenerate men when they sin, that they do not commit it themselves, but that it is committed by sin which dwells in them.
But this is most appropriately said about the regenerate:
Therefore, the man about whom the apostle here treats, is “not an unregenerate man, but one who is regenerate.”
Answer. The antecedent must be examined; for, when it is either granted or denied, the consequence is also granted or denied.
(1.) It is evident, that it cannot simply be affirmed concerning any man, whatever his condition may be, that h
James Arminius, vol. 2, The Works of Reverend James Arminius : Volume 2
, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Works of James Arminius (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1999).
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(Article from Volume 1 of the 3 volume collection of Arminius’ writings).
James Arminius was born in Oudewater, a small town near Utrecht in Holland, in the year 1560. His parents were respectable persons of the middle rank in life, his father being an ingenious mechanic, by trade a cutler. His family name was Herman, or, according to some, Harmen. As was usual with learned men of that period, who either latinized their own names, or substituted for them such Latin names as agreed most nearly in sound or in signification with them, he selected the name of the celebrated leader of the Germans in the early part of the first century. While Arminius was yet an infant, his father died, and he, with a brother and sister, was left to the care of his widowed mother. Theodore Aemilius, a clergyman, distinguished for piety and learning, then resided at Utrecht, and, becoming acquainted with the circumstances of the family, he charged himself with the education of the child. With this excellent man Arminius resided till his fifteenth year, when death deprived him of his patron. During this period he exhibited traits of uncommon genius, and was thoroughly taught in the elements of science, and particularly in the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages. He was led to dedicate himself to the service of God, and became, though so young, exemplary for piety.
About this time, Rudolph Snellius, a native of Oudewater, then residing at Marpurg in Hessia, to which place he had retired from the tyranny of the Spaniards, and highly reputed for his learning, especially in mathematics and languages, visited his native land. Becoming acquainted with and interested in his young townsman, he invited him to go to Marpurg under his own patronage. Arminius accordingly accompanied him thither, but had been engaged in his studies at the University only a short time when the mournful intelligence reached him that his native town had been destroyed by the Spanish army. He returned to Holland, and found his worst fears realized in the information that his mother, brother and sister were among the victims of the indiscriminate slaughter, which had ensued on the capture of the town. He retraced his steps sadly to Marpurg, performing the whole journey on foot.
During the same year, 1575, the new Dutch University at Leyden was formed, under the auspices of William I, Prince of Orange. As soon as Arminius learned that the new institution had been opened for the admission of students, he at once prepared to return to Holland, and soon entered as a student at Leyden. He remained there six years, occupying the highest place in the estimation of his instructors, and of his fellow students. At the expiration of that period, in his twenty-second year, he was recommended to the municipal authorities of Amsterdam as a young man of the largest promise for future usefulness, and as especially worthy of their patronage. They at once assumed the expense of the completion of his academic studies, while Arminius, on his part, gave into their hands a written bond, by which he pledged himself to devote the remainder of his life, after his admission to holy orders, to the service of the church in that city, and to engage in no other work and in no other place without the special sanction of the Burgomasters.
He immediately went to Geneva, being attracted thither chiefly by the reputation of the celebrated Beza, who was then lecturing in that University. He remained there, however, but a short time, having given offense to some of the professors by defending Ramus and his system of dialectics in opposition to that of Aristotle. He now repaired to the University of Basle, and resided there a year, during a part of which, as was customary for undergraduates who had made the greatest proficiency, he delivered lectures on theological subjects out of the ordinary college course. By these and other exhibitions of his erudition, he acquired such reputation that, on the eve of his departure from Basle, the faculty of Theology in that University tendered him the title and degree of Doctor. This he modestly declined, alleging, as a reason, his youth. The feeling, which had been excited against him, in the University of Geneva, on account of his adherence to the philosophy of Ramus, having, to a considerable degree, subsided, he now returned to that University, and remained there three years, engaged in the study of divinity.
About the end of this period, several of his young countrymen, who had also been pursuing their studies at Geneva, departed on a tour through Italy, and Arminius determined to make a similar excursion. He was particularly inclined to this by a desire to hear James Zabarella, at that time highly distinguished as Professor of Philosophy in the University of Padua. He remained at Padua a short time, and also visited Rome and some other places in Italy. This tour was of considerable advantage to him, as it afforded him an opportunity to become acquainted, by personal observation, with "the mystery of iniquity" and may account for the zeal and strenuousness with which he afterwards opposed many of the doctrines and assumptions of the papacy. It was, however, temporarily to his disadvantage as he incurred the displeasure of his patrons, the Senate of Amsterdam. This displeasure probably originated in, it was certainly increased by the efforts of certain mischievous persons, who grievously misrepresented his motives and conduct in visiting Italy, and it was readily removed by the statements of Arminius on his return to Holland, which occurred in the autumn of 1587. In the beginning of the following year, after an examination before the Amsterdam Classis, he was licensed to preach, and by the request of the authorities of the church, he began his public ministry in that city. His efforts in the pulpit were received with so much favor, that he was unanimously called to the pastorate of the Dutch church in Amsterdam, and was ordained on the eleventh of August, 1588.
Circumstances occurred during the next year, which, in their result, exerted much influence on the doctrinal views of Arminius, and led, in the end, to his adoption of the system which bears his name. Coornhert, a deeply pious man, and one who had rendered important services to his country and the Reformation at the risk of his life, had in the year 1578, in a discussion with two Calvinistic ministers of Delft, in a masterly and popular manner, assailed the peculiar views of Calvin on Predestination, Justification, and the punishment of heretics by death. He afterwards published his views and advocated a theory substantially the same with that afterwards known as the Arminian theory, though some of his phraseology was not sufficiently guarded. His pamphlet was answered in 1589, by the ministers of Delft, but instead of defending the supralapsarian view of Calvin and Beza, which had been Coornhert’s particular object of attack, they presented and defended the lower or sublapsarian views, and assailed the theory of Calvin and Beza. The pamphlet of the Delft ministers was transmitted by Martin Lydius, professor at Franeker, to Arminius, with the request that he would defend his former preceptor. At the same time, the ecclesiastical senate of Amsterdam requested him to expose and refute the errors of Coornhert. He at once commenced the work, but on accurately weighing the arguments in favor of the supralapsarian and sublapsarian views, he was at first inclined, instead of refuting, to embrace the latter. Continuing his researches, he betook himself to the most diligent study of the Scriptures, and carefully compared with them the writings of the early Fathers, and of later divines. The result of this investigation was his adoption of the particular theory of Predestination which bears his name. At first, for the sake of peace, he was very guarded in his expressions, and avoided special reference to the subject, but soon, becoming satisfied that such a course was inconsistent with his duty as a professed teacher of religion, he began modestly to testify his dissent from the received errors, especially in his occasional discourses on such passages of Scripture as obviously required an interpretation in accordance with his enlarged views of the Divine economy in the salvation of sinners. This became a settled practice with him in 1590.
Having been settled more than two years in the ministry at Amsterdam, he was united in marriage to a young lady of great accomplishments and eminent piety, to whom, for some time previously, he had paid his addresses. Her name was Elizabeth Real. Her father, Laurence Jacobson Real, was a judge and senator of Amsterdam, whose name is immortalized in the Dutch annals of that period, for the decided part which he took in promoting the Reformation in the Low Countries, often, during the Spanish tyranny, at the risk of his property and life. With this lady, to whom he was married on the sixteenth of September, 1590, Arminius enjoyed uninterrupted and enviable domestic felicity. Their children were seven sons and two daughters, all of whom died in the flower of their youth, except Laurence, who became a merchant in Amsterdam, and Daniel, who gained the highest reputation in the profession of medicine.
The next thirteen years of Arminius’ life, were spent in the ministry at Amsterdam, with eminent success and great popularity, especially with the laity. His occasional presentation of views different from those of ministers around him, who were, almost without exception, strongly Calvinistic, sometimes brought him into serious collision with them. In 1591, he expounded the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in 1593, the ninth chapter of the same epistle. In these expositions, he presented the views which are contained in his treatises on those chapters embraced in this edition of his works, and on each of these occasions, considerable excitement was produced against him. His interpretation of the seventh chapter, in particular, which is substantially the same with that adopted by a large proportion of the best modern commentators, including some who claim to be Calvinists, was then, and frequently afterwards, during his life, opposed with great acrimony.
About the end of 1602, the death of Francis Junius, Professor of Divinity at Leyden, occurred. The attention of the Curators of the University was immediately directed to Arminius, as the person most suitable to fill the vacant chair. The invitation, which was accordingly extended to him, met the most strenuous opposition from the authorities of Amsterdam, at whose disposal, as has been stated, Arminius had, in youth, placed his services for life. Their acquiescence in his transfer to Leyden was finally obtained through the special intercession of Uytenbogardt, the celebrated minister at the Hague, of N. Cromhoutius, of the Supreme Court of Holland, and of the Stadtholder himself, Maurice, Prince of Orange. Many of the ultra-calvinistic ministers protested violently against the call, to a position of so much importance, of one, whose sentiments, on what they considered vital points, were so heterodox as they deemed those of Arminius. In this, they were joined by Francis Gomarus, the Professor at Leyden. This man, at that time and subsequently during the life of Arminius, as well as after his death, in the religious contests which ensued between the Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants, manifested a very narrow and bitter spirit.
Having received the degree of Doctor of Divinity for the University of Leyden on the eleventh of July, 1603, he at once began to discharge the functions of Professor of Divinity. He soon discovered that the students in theology were involved in the intricate controversies and knotty questions of the schoolmen, rather than devoted to the study of the Scriptures. He endeavored at once to correct this evil, and to recall them to the Bible, as the fountain of truth. These efforts, and the fact that his views on Predestination were unpalatable to many, furnished opportunity and a motive to accuse him of an attempt to introduce innovations. Injurious reports were spread, and most unwarrantable means were used to injure his reputation with the government and the churches. Arminius endured these attacks with great equanimity, but did not publicly defend himself till 1608, when he vindicated himself in three different ways; first, in a letter to Hippolytus, a Collibus, Ambassador to the United Provinces from the Elector Palatine; secondly, in an "apology against thirty-one articles, etc," which, though written in 1608, was not published till the following year; and lastly, in his noble "Declaration of Sentiments," delivered on the thirtieth of October, 1608, before the States in a full assembly at the Hague.
Early in the following year, a bilious disorder, contracted by unremitting labor and study, and continued sitting, and to which, without doubt, the disquietude and grief produced in his mind by the malevolence of his opponents contributed much, became so violent that he was hardly able to leave his bed; but for some months, at intervals, though with great difficulty, he continued his lectures and attended to other duties of his professorship, until the twenty-fifth of July, when he held a public disputation on "the vocation of men to salvation," (see p. 570,) which was the last of his labors in the University. The excitement caused by some circumstances connected with that disputation, produced a violent paroxysm of his disease, from which he never recovered. He remained in acute physical pain, but with no abatement of his usual cheerfulness, and with entire acquiescence in the will of God, till the nineteenth of October, 1609. On that day, about noon, in the words of Bertius, "with his eyes lifted up to heaven, amidst the earnest prayers of those present, he calmly rendered up his spirit unto God, while each of the spectators exclaimed, ’O my soul, let me die the death of the righteous.’"
Thus lived, and thus, at the age of forty-nine years, died James Arminius, distinguished among men, for the virtue and amiability of his private, domestic and social character; among Christians, for his charity towards those who differed from him in opinion; among preachers, for his zeal, eloquence and success; and among divines, for his acute, yet enlarged and comprehensive views of theology, his skill in argument, and his candor and courtesy in controversy. His motto was "Bona Conscientia Paradisus."
James Arminius, vol. 1, The Works of Reverend James Arminius : Volume 1
, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Works of James Arminius (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1999).
© 2010, LearnTheology.com. All rights reserved. Permission must be obtained from LearnTheology.com to use or copy any part of this post.
(This letter was written by James Arminius in 1593)
ANALYSIS OF THE NINTH CHAPTER OF THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
This Analysis was prepared by Arminius in 1593, and was sent to Gellius Snecanus, a Minister in West Friesland, who entertained views of Christian doctrine similar to those of Arminius. It was published in the Latin editions of the works of Arminius, as an appendix to the foregoing treatise, as illustrative of many points therein discussed.
TO THE DISTINGUISHED MAN OF GOD,
GELLIUS SNECANUS, MY FELLOW MINISTER,
MOST BELOVED IN CHRIST, JAMES ARMINIUS
WISHES HEALTH AND SUCCESS THROUGH CHRIST
I can not easily describe, most excellent sir, with how much delight I was affected by reading and seriously considering your commentary on the 9th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. For when I saw that your idea of the scope of the Apostle, and of the use of his principle arguments, was the same, as I had recently presented to my congregation, in explaining the same chapter, I was greatly confirmed in that opinion, both because I have great confidence in your judgment, and because I found proofs in the arguments, which you advanced. I could not, therefore, do less than to write, in return, to you to present my thanks, and to inform you how I have proceeded in explaining this chapter, and what impelled me to take this course; not to prove our mutual agreement only, but to confirm it as much as is in my power. I candidly confess that this chapter has always seemed to me to be involved in the greatest obscurity, and its explanation has appeared most difficult, until light, introduced in this way, dispelled the shades, and placed the subject, illustrated by its own clearness, before my mind, so as to be plainly understood.
I come to the subject itself. In the first place, the scope of the chapter is the same with that of the whole epistle: That the Gospel, not the law, is the power of God unto salvation, not to him that worketh, but to him that believeth, since, in the Gospel the righteousness of God is manifested in the obtainment of salvation by faith in Christ. This chapter performs its part, and indeed is peculiarly engaged in the support of that proposition. It defends the proposition against the objections of the Jews, who, with all their power endeavor to overturn it as hostile and destructive to their own views, and so defends it as to confirm its truth more and more, and, by refuting those objections, adds strength and stability to the foundation already laid, in that very divine word and purpose, which the Jews were strenuously wresting, in their own favor, to the overthrow of Paul’s doctrine.
That such is the design of the chapter, the connection shows, the relation of which may be sought, partly from this antecedent proposition. Many of the Jews are cast off, which is included, also, in the introduction of this chapter — "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren," partly from the negation contained in the 6th verse — "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect." Both of which, being embraced in one enunciation, may be suitably rendered thus — Though most of the Jews are rejected, yet the word of God does not therefore fail. Hence it appears, most clearly, that the Jews had made an assertion, against Paul, opposed to this negation, that, by the interposition of that antecedent, (which was, immediately, deduced from the doctrine of Paul) they might convict that doctrine, from which a consequence so absurd might be deduced, of falsity, and refute it as absurd, in this manner: — "If most of the Jews are rejected, the word of God must fail; — But it can not be that the word of God should fail; — Therefore, most of the Jews are not rejected." How does this operate against the apostle? He had proposed a doctrine, which necessarily included the rejection of the Jews to a very considerable extent, namely, righteousness and salvation are to be obtained by faith in Christ, not by the works of the law. It was easy for the Jews to deduce from this, — "If righteousness and salvation consist in faith in Christ, whom Paul preaches, it follows that the Jews, for the most part, are rejected from the covenant." The reason of this conclusion is this. "Because most of the Jews do not believe in Christ." But it is false that most of the Jews are rejected by God; for then the word of God would fail. Therefore, the doctrine of the apostle Paul, from which that consequence is deduced, is absurd. The apostle considered that it was necessary for them to refute this objection, which threatened overthrow and destruction to his doctrine, by showing that the undoubted principle, which the Jews used as the prop of their objection, was not only not injurious to his cause, but even very favorable to it.
It is necessary to properly settle the state of the question in controversy between the apostle and the Jews. For this will be of great importance to the whole matter. It is not — "are most of the Jews rejected?" or — "Is the word of God of none effect?" For the apostle confesses that it would be impious even to admit the latter thought. The former he will afterwards prove by the clear testimony of the Scripture. But the question embraces both these; — "Will the word of God fail, even if most of the Jews are rejected?" Even this is not sufficient. The answer of this question does not settle the whole dispute, or exhaust all the difficulties. For, if the apostle, by the force of his arguments, should gain this point, that some, and indeed most of the Jews, are rejected, and yet the word of God remains sure, would not this question remain: "Does not the word of God fail, if those of the Jews are rejected, who, with the greatest zeal, seek the righteousness of the Law?" That question must still remain, as it would be easy for the Jews to make an exception to the solution of that question — "Though the word of God may remain sure, if many of the Jews are rejected, yet we can not be included in the number, else the word of God would fail." This element, therefore, having been added, will complete the entire statement of the question, thus:
"Does not the word God become of none effect, if those of the Jews, who seek righteousness, not of faith, but of the law, are rejected by God."
This question is suited to his design; the solution of this finishes the discussion, and exhausts all the difficulties; of this the apostle treats, as is evident from his arguments, which all bear upon its solution. Nor indeed is that, which gave rise to the question, to be separated from the question, and to refute which that principle having reference to the certainty of the word of God, was adduced by the Jews, and which the apostle also endeavored, as strongly as possible, to assert against them. In this question, therefore, this is to be chiefly attended to, — "would the word of the covenant, entered into with the Jews, be in vain, if the doctrine of the apostle in reference to the attainment of righteousness and salvation by faith alone in Christ, not by the law, or the works of the law, should find a place, and should be regarded as the fundamental principle of salvation?"
How much difference exists between those two conditions of the question, and of how much importance that difference is, you readily see. For the question, proposed in this mode, "would not the word of God be vain, if most of the Jews are rejected?" could be answered in this way. "God indeed, in the word of promise, invited all the Jews and called them to a participation of the covenant, but yet, by His eternal decree and purpose, He determined in fact to make only some of the Jews partakers, passing by the rest, and leaving them in their former state." Some indeed say that this is the sum of the answer of the apostle to the proposed question.
But the question, proposed in this last manner, — "Would not the word of God fail, if those of the Jews, who seek righteousness, not of faith, but of the law, are rejected by God?" — can only be answered in this way. "God, in His word, and in the declaration of His promise, signified that He considered, in the relation of children, only, those of the Jews, who should seek righteousness and salvation by faith, but in the relation of foreigners, those who should seek the same by the law." But the two answers are very different. In the former, the decree of Predestination is defined according to the sentiment of Beza and others; in the latter, according to your sentiment. Far be it from me, however, to make a statement such as to confirm your view or my own concerning the decree of Predestination by the answer, which I see to be alone adapted to the question so stated. The passage itself will, indeed, declare, if examined, that the state of the question is that, which I have presented, if a right judgment can really be formed, concerning the state of the question, from the. arguments adduced in its discussion, and from the conclusion arrived at, which no one will deny, who has ever saluted the threshold of knowledge.
Let us, then, consider these points, in the answer of the apostle. First, he denies that the consequence — "the word of God fails" — can, in any way, be deduced from the antecedent, which the Jews proposed: in these words — "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect." Then he subjoins the reason of the denial, and the Scriptural proof, interwoven with the reason by means of allegories, dictated by God, and explained by the apostle. The reason consists in the distinction of the Jews, and their two-fold classification, in respect to this divine word and purpose, or from the two-fold seed of Abraham, of which only one was comprehended in that word and purpose. "For," he says, "they are not all Israel which are of Israel: Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children:" but there are, among them, some "children of the flesh" and others "children of the promise;" whence it is concluded — If the word of God does not embrace all the Israelites in one character, it does not fail, even if some, from their number, may be rejected; and much less, if they are rejected of whom it is evident, from the word itself, that they never were comprehended in it. This indeed ought altogether to be added, or the question can in no way be satisfied. It was, indeed, added, as is apparent from the apostle. Nor, indeed, does he only say that not all are comprehended under that word, but he describes those, who are considered as children by God, and who are not included in that term. For the children of the flesh are considered, by the apostle, alien from the covenant, and the children of the promise are considered partakers of the covenant. Hence this argument, refuting Jewish objection, may be constructed. If the word of God comprehends only the children of the promise, to the exclusion of the children of the flesh, then it follows that the word of God does not fail, even if the children of the flesh are rejected: it, indeed, would fail if they should be received, who are excluded by the very condition of the covenant; — But the word of God comprehends only the children of the promise, to the exclusion of the children of the flesh; — Therefore, the word of God does not fail, even if the children of the flesh are rejected.
By consequence, also; — The word of God does not fail, even if most of the Jews are rejected, provided they are embraced in the number of the children of the flesh, and that they are so included is evident from the description of the children of the flesh.
The children of the flesh are said, in this place, by the apostle, to be those who, by the works of the law, follow after righteousness and salvation. In this way, also, the consequent is sustained, being deduced from his doctrine concerning justification and salvation by faith in Christ. For it does not follow from this, that some of the Jews are rejected, unless by this distinguishing mark, namely, that they do not believe in Christ, but follow after the righteousness of the law. But the children of the promise are they, who seek righteousness and salvation by faith in Christ. This description of the children of the flesh and of the promise is so plain from the Scriptures, as not to need further argument. But the foundations of the proofs can be sought from the 4th, 9th, and 10th chapters of this epistle, and from the 3d and 4th chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians, as you have observed, and as I presented to my congregation, when I treated this subject.
From this discussion of the question it is evident, that it must be proposed in the second manner, with reference to the character of those rejected. We must now, indeed, consider the proof of that reason, which is assumed in the refutatory syllogism. For the consequence, deduced from it, is, in itself, clear and manifest. The apostle, then, proves that the word of the promise and covenant comprehends only the children of the promise, to the exclusion of the children of the flesh, and this by a two-fold type, one, taken from the family of Abraham, and the other from the family of Isaac. But two things are to be presupposed to the argument in both cases, both supported by the authority of the apostle, which ought to be held sacred by us. One, that Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, are to be considered, not in themselves, but as types in those passages, which he presents. The other, that they are types of the children of the flesh and of the promise. The apostle proves neither, but assumes both and correctly. For it is most certain, from an inspection of the passages themselves, that this is so, for the apostle says, in Galatians 4:24, "which things are an allegory," and that the first sense, which God wished to give in those passages, is not literal, but allegorical. These things being presupposed, the force of the apostle’s argument consists in the agreement between the types and antitypes, which is as great as is the immutability and constancy of Him, who willed that these should be the types, corresponding to those antitypes. But it is to be observed that this agreement consists, not in their exact resemblance, but in their mutual connection and relation, the proper difference of type and antitype being preserved. I give this admonition that no one may think it necessary that he, who represents the children of the flesh, should himself be a child of the flesh, by the mode of the same definition.
Now, to the particular cases. The proof from the first type depends on these two passages of Scripture (verses 7 and 9). "In Isaac shall thy seed be called," and "at this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son." From which this argument is deduced, that agreement being presupposed; — In the seed, reference is made to Isaac; — But Isaac is the type of all the children of the promise; — Therefore, all the children of the promise are regarded in the seed. The Major is embraced in these words — "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." The Minor, partly in these words — "For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son;" partly in that agreement, of which mention was made.
But not only may we infer that all the children of the promise are reckoned in the seed, but that they alone are so reckoned. For those things, which are spoken of Isaac, are effectual to the exclusion of Ishmael, as the apostle signifies by the adversative particle "but" (7th verse), joined to the member of the sentence, opposed to the former negations, "but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called;" from which this conclusion is deduced; — Ishmael is not reckoned in the seed; — But Ishmael is the type of all the children of the flesh; — Therefore, none of the children of the flesh are reckoned in the seed. I know that in that figure, the conclusion is deduced only in a particular case, but the strength of the conclusion depends on the agreement, which subsists between the type, and that which is adumbrated by the type, in accordance with the immutable will of God. We know, also, that a conclusion may be drawn from the necessity of the subject, which can not be drawn from the particular form of the syllogism.
Here we might say many things concerning the consequent mode of the mutual relation of Ishmael and the children of the flesh, and of Isaac, and the children of the promise; and how this was aptly signified by the birth of each, as the apostle declares was prefigured by that type. But I think that it is unnecessary to repeat those things, because they serve only to explain that sentiment, not to confirm it, as it is sufficiently proved to us by the authority of the apostle, namely, that the children of the flesh are signified by Ishmael, but the children of the promise, by Isaac.
Now another type is introduced, taken from the family of Isaac, in which the apostle affirms that the same thing is declared, as in the former, when he says (10th verse) "and not only this, but when Rebecca, also, etc." That passage, therefore, adduced for the same purpose, is to be explained in accordance with the same design. But three things are to be considered here, in order. First — some circumstances, peculiar to this type, which add much weight to the proof of the apostle, and by which the apostle anticipates whatever he foresees can be brought forward by the Jews against the former type in opposition to his cause. Secondly — the word of God, which was addressed to Rebecca, which the typical argument embraces, is illustrated from another passage, taken from one of the prophets. Thirdly — the explanation which Paul, the divinely inspired, gives of the object and scope of that divine declaration.
As to the first, the Jews could object against the former type, that it is not wonderful that Ishmael, being rejected, Isaac should be adopted as a son by God, both because Ishmael was the child of a bond woman, and Isaac of the free woman, and because, before God announced the word of promise to Sarah, Ishmael was born and could have perpetrated those things which made him unworthy of that honor and felicity. The apostle meets these objections, and replies to the first, that, in the case of Esau and Jacob, the circumstances were entirely different, as they had both the same father and the same mother, and were born at the same birth. In reply to the second objection, he refers to the words, addressed to Rebecca, when she was yet carrying the twins in her womb, and therefore, the children were not yet born, and could not have done any good or evil, by which one deserved to be rejected and the other adopted. By these circumstances, the Jews were deprived of any objection, which they could make against the previous type, namely, that they, being born of the free woman, and seeking their salvation from the law, could, in no way whatever, be reckoned among those who were rejected. Those words, addressed to Rebecca, are to be considered, which were briefly these: "The elder shall serve the younger." They are explained by a passage from Malachi 1:2, 3. "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," and this is said, that it may be evident that the servitude of the elder is united with the divine hatred, and the dominion of the younger with the divine love.
Here we must repeat what was said before, as a general remark, that Esau and Jacob are to be considered, not in themselves, but as types, and so that which is attributed to them, is to be accommodated to the antitypes, or rather to the things signified. Hence, also, the antitypes are to be considered, before a conclusion, similar to the former, can be deduced from them, to the refutation of the sentiment of the Jews and to the confirmation of that of the apostle. But what those antitypes are, may be gathered from the end or design which the apostle has added, in these words: "that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth." That is, God, in those words, "the elder shall serve the younger," addressed to Rebecca, "the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil," designed to indicate nothing else than that He had formed, in His own mind, from eternity, a purpose to communicate righteousness and salvation, not one which should embrace all the posterity of Abraham universally, but which should be according to election, by which He would distinguish between these and those, not considered simply in their own nature, as pure or corrupt, but in respect to the condition, by which righteousness and salvation were to be applied, as the apostle shows in the following words — that this purpose, according to election, might stand not of works, but of him who calleth, in which words is contained a description of the antitypes, which had before been given in the phrases "children of the flesh" and "children of the promise." Here it is more clear, for the children of the flesh and those of the promise are, such, by their own peculiarity, defined by the apostle, in this passage, since the former are "of works," the latter of faith, by which obedience is rendered unto God, who "calleth." Therefore, the apostle says that the purpose of God, which is according to election, has reference to those who have faith in God who calleth, and who trust in Christ, not to those who seek salvation by the works of the law. The conclusion can be drawn from these things against the objection of the Jews in favor of the doctrine of the apostle concerning justification by faith, in this way: "If the word of God and His purpose is according to election, by which the former is rejected, and the latter accepted, then it follows, even if some of the Jews are rejected, yet that word and purpose is not in vain; rather indeed, if that purpose, which is according to election, should be said to embrace all without any election, it would be in vain; — But this word and purpose is according to election; Therefore, even if some of the Jews should be rejected, yet that word and purpose does not, on that account, fail; it is, indeed, rather confirmed from that fact, because it is its nature to exclude some, as it is according to election, by which one is rejected and another accepted."
An indefinite proof of this kind, however, is not sufficient for this subject: for it remains to be proved that those same persons are excluded by the purpose according to election, who are properly considered to be excluded and rejected, according to the doctrine of the apostle concerning justification by faith, namely, those who sought to obtain righteousness and salvation, not from faith in Christ, but from the works of the law. This, therefore, the apostle adds. Hence to exhaust the whole objection, the conclusion is drawn thus: If the purpose, according to election, stands, not of works, but of Him that calleth, then it follows that they, who seek after righteousness and salvation from the works of the law, and by the law, are not included in that purpose, but they, only, who by faith obey God, who promiseth and calleth; — But the purpose, according to election, stands, not of works, but of Him that calleth; — Therefore, in that purpose, they are not embraced, who are of the law, but only they who are of the faith of Jesus Christ. The Major is, in itself, plain from its phraseology, if rightly understood, which signifies that the firmness of the purpose, which is according to election, depends, not on works, but on Him that calleth. Therefore, to them who are of the works of the law, this purpose can not be firm and sure, but to those who are of faith.
From this idea, I seem to myself to perceive the reason that God placed the condition of the covenant of grace, not in a perfect obedience to the law, as previously, but in faith in Christ. The minor depends on the declaration "the elder shall serve the younger," and on the agreement of the type and antitype, which consists in this — that what is presignified by the type should correspond to the antitype. But, by the type of Esau and Jacob, is presignified, first, that the purpose of God is according to election; then, that this purpose stands, not of works, but of Him that calleth. The former, indeed, because one was loved and the other hated; one was preferred to and placed over the other, which is a sign of "the purpose according to election;" the latter, because Esau, the elder, was hated and made subject, and Jacob, the younger, was loved, and placed over him, which is a sign that this purpose stands, "not of works, but of Him that calleth;" that is, that God loves them, who seek righteousness, and salvation by faith in Christ, but hates them who seek the same by the works of the law. It follows that they are not embraced in that purpose, who are of the works of the law, but only they who are of the faith of Jesus Christ, and consequently that those of the Jews are rejected, who followed the righteousness of the law, and they are elected and loved, who sought participation in righteousness by faith in Christ. Therefore, so far from the truth is it that this doctrine of justification by faith is overthrown by the word of the covenant and the divine purpose, that, by this, alone, it is established.
At this point, I have also explained to many, how the Jews were signified by Esau, the elder, who were seeking, in their zeal for the law, justification and life by the law, and that, by Jacob, the younger, they were signified, who sought the same things by faith in Christ. It is not necessary to repeat these things here; the authority of the apostle is sufficient, who thus explains those types, and who, briefly, from the agreement of the type and antitype, or that which is signified by the type, deduces this argument. Esau, the elder, was condemned to be the servant of his brother, by God, and was hated by him; — But Esau, the elder, is the type of all those who seek justification and salvation by the works of the law; — Therefore, all they who seek salvation by the works of the law, are condemned to servitude, and are hated by God. Again; — Jacob, the younger, obtained dominion over his brother, and was loved by God; — Jacob, the younger, is the type of all those who, according to the grace of vocation, by faith seek justification. Therefore, they who, according to the grace of vocation, by faith seek justification, obtain dominion, and are loved by God. Both Majors are included in the declarations "The elder shall serve the younger" and "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" The Minors are contained in these words, "that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth," and depend on the authority of the apostle, who thus explains those types.
Hence it is apparent that the question referred not only to the rejection of some and the acceptance of others, but to the rejection or acceptance of those of certain characters, that is, those distinguished by certain qualities. Therefore the apostle, here, treats not of the decree or the divine purpose, by which some are elected and others are reprobated, considered absolutely in their own nature, whether pure or corrupt; but of a purpose such as includes that description of elect and reprobate, which is here clearly observed in that purpose by the apostle: in which consists, in fact, the controversy between Beza with his followers, who strenuously defend the former and yourself, who urge a purpose of salvation such as to embrace the characters of those, who are to be saved and those who are to be damned.
But they will say that it is indeed true that Ishmael and Esau, Isaac and Jacob are to be considered typically, that is, the former, in each case, representing the character of the children of the flesh, and of those who ale of the works of the law, and the latter, the children of the promise, and those who are of faith, but that they also, for themselves, belong, in the same manner, to those classes, which they typify, and this of the eternal purpose of God, by which He determined to make Isaac and Jacob children of the promise, and to bestow on them faith in Christ, but to leave Ishmael and Esau in the carnal nature, in which they were born.
They affirm that we must go further back and inquire why one is the child of the flesh, another of the promise, why one should believe in Christ, and another should not believe, but seek salvation of the works of the law. I answer — It can not be proved from this passage that they, who are types, pertain to the antitypes: and if it may, perhaps, be true that Ishmael and Esau belong to the children of the flesh, as thus described, yet that they are such, of any divine purpose, is not taught in this place. In this purpose, as we have explained it, something is determined concerning the children of the flesh and of the promise, but with the explanation which they prefer, something is determined concerning individuals, that these should be children of the flesh, those of the promise. They can not, therefore, be the same purposes, the subject of one being changed into the attribute of the other. Concerning the adequate subject, there is not, as yet, harmony even among the Coryphaei of that view. And since the question — "why do some believe and others not?" has the same change of subject and attribute, I affirm that it is not here discussed by the apostle, nor has it even the least connection with his design. They must therefore, consult other passages of Scripture and see whether they can, from them, obtain proof for that decree. It is sufficient for us that, here, the purpose is described, by which our justification and salvation through grace, may be self consistent, and by which we can be made more certain, in ourselves, concerning the same things. But this purpose is that which God determined, after the former condition added to the legal covenant had not been performed, and man had by the fall been made unable to perform it, to enter into a covenant of grace with us through Christ; and of grace to change the condition of the former covenant into faith in Christ, by which we, believing in Christ, might obtain the same thing as we should have previously obtained by plenary obedience to the law, rendered by ourselves. On this purpose, as it appears, depends the certainty of our salvation, and at the same time the assurance of it in ourselves. For we inter that assurance from this Enthymene, "I am a believer," or "I believe in Christ; — therefore I shall be saved," or "I am elect." The strength of which depends on this proposition: "God has immutably determined from eternity to save those, who believe Christ;" in which words is contained the sum of that purpose.
If any one should inquire, "Why did God wish that Ishmael and Esau should be the types of the children of the flesh, but Isaac and Jacob the types of the children of the promise?" I answer — Because it was suitable for the sake of significancy, and of agreement between the type and the antitype; in relation to the former type that he who was born of the bond woman and of the flesh should be the type of the children of the flesh, but that he, who was born of the free woman, and of the promise, when the flesh had now become unfruitful, should be the type of the children of the promise; but in relation to the latter type, that he, who was born first, should prefigure the children of the flesh, and he, who was born last, the children of the promise. The reason will be manifest to those who consider the agreement of types and antitypes.
It may be asked further, "Why did God will that Ishmael should be born of the bond woman and of the flesh, and that Esau should be born first; but that Isaac should be born of the free woman, and of the promise, and Jacob last?" I reply that the same question would be asked, if Isaac and Jacob had been substituted for Ishmael and Esau. In this matter, the Divine freedom is complete, circumscribed by no necessity of the Divine attributes, or of His revealed will. This will be seen of the attributes of the divine nature and His own revealed will are subject to God, in the determination of that purpose, for which your opponents contend.
Let us, now, come to another objection, which is of this character: "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God." The nature of this question, and of this objection is manifest, but it is not equally clear, what the antecedent is from which that objection is deduced. Some state it thus: — "If God, without any respect of works, regards Ishmael and Esau with hatred and excludes them from the number of His children, but loves Isaac and Jacob, and considers them as His children, is He not unjust? It seems to be a kind of injustice not to bestow the same things on those of the same character." It is true that, if the apostle was considering them in themselves, and not as types of certain characters — as has been remarked — there would be an occasion for such an objection. For it is certain that from those antecedents arises an occasion for the objection. Such, however, was not the antecedent of the apostle, but this: "God in the word of the covenant, and in the purpose, which is according to election, embraced only those, who might be the children of the promise, who should believe in Christ, to the exclusion of the children of the flesh and of those who sought the righteousness of the law." Whence it followed "that those of the Jews were rejected who, in their zeal for the righteousness of the law, did not believe in Christ, and, moreover, those of the Gentiles, who sought a participation in justification and salvation by faith in Christ, were received into the covenant." There is besides another antecedent of that objection, namely, this: "If God hates the children of the flesh, and excludes them from the covenant, but loves the children of the promise, and reckons them in the seed, embraced in the covenant, and this, indeed, of His mere purpose, without respect to works, then it follows that He is unjust;" or this: "If God rejects the Jews, and accepts the Gentiles in their place, then He is unjust." But these two amount to almost the same thing. I think that the reasoning of the former is the more conclusive. The reasoning of this objection seems sufficient to prove injustice in the Deity, because He made this decree of the mere good pleasure of His will, without any reference to merit.
Let us, however, examine the answer of the apostle. He first denies the inference. Then he gives the reason for his denial. He denies the inference, when He says, "God forbid," that is, we ought by no means to admit the thought that there is injustice in God, who is just in Himself, and, indeed, is essential justice, and does nothing, and can do nothing, unless it most perfectly agrees with His nature.
The reason of this denial of the inference is two-fold; first, from the liberty of the divine mercy; secondly, from the due illustration of the divine power and glory. That, which is inferred from the liberty of the divine mercy, is comprehended in these words, "For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (15th verse). In these words is expressed, according to the Hebrew idiom, this idea: "In the choice and liberty of my will is placed the power of having mercy on whom I will:" as is also indicated by the deduction, "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy" (verse 18th). But in what way this answer is effectual to the overthrow of that inference, the word Mercy declares, which word embraces in itself the whole weight of the refutation. For the only sufficient reason for charging injustice on God on account of that purpose was this: that God could not, without injustice, make of none effect "His purpose of creation, by which He made justification and life dependent on obedience to the law, but condemnation and death in the transgression of the same law; especially so far as to exclude, from justification and life, those, who should endeavor, by the law, to attain to justification and life, but to make others, who should not indeed do this, but should believe in Christ, partakers of justification and life." This charge of injustice can be removed from the Deity, only by the word mercy, here used, which, as it presupposes misery and sin, by this very fact indicates that a change of the purpose is not made with any blame on God, but because the condition of that purpose had been violated by a transgression of the law, and, thus, an inability to keep the law had been brought upon man. Hence we see that, by the fault of man, the covenant, entered into at the creation, was made void, and therefore God, free from its obligation, could have either punished man according to his demerit, or instituted another purpose in His own mind. That this might be for the good of man, it was necessary that mercy should intervene, which should remit sin, and arrange a condition, which He might, by the aid of mercy itself, be able to perform. The apostle affirms that God formed within Himself a purpose of this character, and this indeed of His mere mercy, which was free (yet under the guidance of justice) to determine on whom He might will to have mercy, and on whom He might will not to have mercy; whom He might will to make partakers of justification and life, and whom to exclude from the same blessing. Whence it follows that God, on account of a decree of this kind, and a purpose according to election, by which He determined to receive the children of the promise into the covenant, and exclude from it the children of the flesh, and which He purposed should stand "not of works, but of Him that calleth," can not be charged with injustice; because, moved by mercy alone, He made this decree in His own mind. God would, therefore, be unjust, if He should deprive any one of justification and life, or should require a condition contrary to the covenant entered into at the creation: but when, on account of the violation of the condition, and of inability to perform it, it was either for mercy to make a covenant of grace with man, or for severity to punish man without hope of pardon; it is apparent that God was not less free, that indeed He was much more free, to arrange whatever conditions might seem good to Him, in that covenant, than in the covenant of creation. Consequently He could not be charged with injustice in one case more than in the other.
This whole matter may be treated syllogistically: — If the purpose of God according to election to reject the children of the flesh, but to consider as seed, the children of the promise has for its cause the mercy and compassion of God alone; then it follows that God can, by no means, on this account be charged with injustice; — But the cause of that purpose is the mercy of God alone; — Therefore God can not, on account of it, be charged with injustice. That this is the meaning of the answer of the apostle is evident from the subjoined inferential answer — "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God, that showeth mercy," (verse 16) supply here "the purpose according to election," which is effectual so far as he had before said — "that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth," and "the children of the promise are counted for seed," the children of the flesh being excluded. For, when the will and the course of men are opposed to the mercy of God, it is certain that the reference is to the effort and the course of a man, by which he hopes that he will obtain justification and salvation apart from the mercy of God. Such, however, is the effort and the course of those, who seek justification and salvation by the works of the law. When, also, mercy is, on the other hand, placed in opposition to the will and course of men, it is evident that the condition of justification and life, which is most nearly related to mercy, namely, faith in Christ, the Mediator, is ordained, the other being opposed to mercy.
The other reason of the denial of the inference consists in the just illustration of the divine power and glory, in those, on whom He wills not to have mercy: which, also, is set forth, in the particular example of Pharaoh. It is comprehended in these words: "For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared in all the earth" (verse 17.) From which passage, the apostle answers that part of the objection, in which God was charged with injustice because He rejected and regarded with hatred the children of the flesh, of His purpose according to election, in an argument, susceptible of the following form: — If God is free, for the just declaration of His own power and the illustration of His own name, to raise up, harden and punish Pharaoh, then injustice can not be attributed to God, because, in His purpose according to election, He decrees to illustrate His own power and glory in the just hardening and punishment of the children of the flesh; — But God was free to do the former, as is apparent from this passage; — Therefore also He is free to do the latter, and hence He can not, on this account, be accused of injustice. The argument of the Major is valid. For, either God will be free, in no case, to illustrate the power and glory of His name in the just punishment of any person, or He will be, also, free to decree to do this, according to any purpose, in the condemnation of those, by whose just condemnation He may will to declare His own power and the glory of His name.
It is, also, true that to take away the right and power from God of making a decree, which is according to election, is nothing else than to be unwilling that He should exhibit His own power, and the glory of His own name, in the just hardening and punishment of some men. For these things are conjoined, to punish any man and to decree that the same man is obnoxious to punishment. Punishment can be, with justice, inflicted on no one, unless the same thing was destined for him by a just purpose or decree. How God was free to raise up and harden Pharaoh, etc., will be shown hereafter, in the refutation of a subsequent objection. That this is the whole meaning of the answer of the apostle appears from the conclusion, subjoined to the whole answer —
"Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth" (verse 18).
For, by that conclusion, the whole objection of the Jews is most fully refuted in this way: — If God can have mercy on whom He will, and harden whom He will, then He is also free to form a purpose according to election, by which He may determine to have mercy on the children of the promise, but to harden and punish the children of the flesh; — But God can have mercy on whom He will, and harden whom He will; — Therefore He is free to make a decree, according to election, by which He may determine to have mercy on the children of the promise, but to harden and punish the children of the flesh. By consequence, also, if He should do this which He is free to do, He can not be, at all deservedly, accused of injustice. Thus the justice of God, in that purpose according to election, is sustained and proved by the apostle by the strongest testimonies from the Mosaic Scriptures.
Another objection of the Jews is next presented (19th verse), arising from the latter part of the conclusion immediately preceding; in the refutation of which, they who contend for that absolute decree of God to save certain particular individuals and to damn others, think that they have strong support for their cause. On which account, also, we must diligently examine both the objection and its refutation, that we may not, by negligence, pass over it, as though it were unseen: for it is, to them, the club of Hercules, for conquering all the monsters of objection, or rather the sword of Alexander, to cut any knot which can not be untied. The objection is this: "Why doeth he yet find fault?" The reason of this objection is added: "for who hath resisted his will?" Which things, proposed in the form of an interrogation, may be stated thus: "Therefore, He can not justly find fault, since no one can resist His will." The objection will be filled up, by the addition of the antecedent, from which this consequent is deduced: "God hardeneth whom He will." Therefore, He can not justly find fault with those, who are hardened. The connective reason between these two is this: "Since no one has resisted His will." Hence, exists a continual proposition of this kind — If no one can resist the will of God, then He can not justly find fault with those, whom He hardeneth according to that will.
Let this conditional proposition be converted into a simple or categorical statement, "God can not justly find fault with those who are hardened by His own omnipotent will." Such is the objection. Let us now consider what force it has; that from the examination, it may be evident how it can be refuted, and the way for its suitable refutation, may be prepared. These two things, then, are to be considered. First, "God can not justly find fault with the hardened." Second, "Because He has hardened them by His omnipotent will, which can not be resisted." The examination of the former consists in the discussion of this question. "Who are they with whom God can justly find fault?" The examination of the second consists in the discussion of this: "Whether and in what manner, they, who are hardened by the omnipotent will of God, may be exempted from the number of those with whom God can justly find fault?" The former question will be solved, if it may be explained, what that is, on account of which God can justly find fault, that is, what is the proper cause of the divine anger. The proper cause of the divine anger, and that, on account of which God can justly find fault with any one, is sin. But sin is the transgression of a law, that is, of one which is just, for, if a law be not just, it is not a law, and therefore, its transgression is not a sin. That a law may be just, it necessarily requires these two conditions, that it be enacted by him who has authority to command, and that it be enacted for him who has the power or rather ability to obey, not only δυναμει but ἐνεργειἁ̂ that is, has ability of such a character as is hindered by no intervening decree, from doing that which he can do. Whence it is apparent that "sin is a voluntary transgression of the law," which the sinner, since he could avoid it (I speak now of the act), commits, of his own fault. On account of sin of this kind, and with a sinner of this kind, God can justly find fault. This condition being removed, God can not justly find fault with a man on account of sin, and, indeed, the man can not commit sin. I say this, for the sake of those, who think, though erroneously, that God can justly be angry with transgressors of the law, even if they can not, on account of an intervening decree, really obey it. An act, which is inevitable on account of the determination of any decree, does not deserve the name of sin. I doubt not that this is most certain; it shall be proved, when it is necessary. From this, therefore, it is clear who they are "with whom God can justly find fault." Now let us consider whether and how they, who are hardened by the omnipotent will of God, may be exempted from that number; that is, whether the omnipotent will of God, hardening a person, may remove the cause of just accusation, complaint and wrath. But let us premise what that means, "For who hath resisted his will?" Here omnipotence is attributed to the will of God, universally able to subject all things to itself, and actually subjecting them, when the will accompanies it, and it accompanies the will. But omnipotence does not accompany the will, considered in every respect, for God wills that His law should be obeyed by all, which is not always done. Nor yet are there, in God, two wills mutually contrary, one of which wills that His law should be obeyed by all, the other, that it should not be obeyed; for in that case, it would not be wonderful that the law should not be obeyed by many, when the latter will, armed by omnipotence, prevents obedience to it. But some, when they endeavor to explain how it may be possible that those wills should not be contrary, say that the will of God is to be considered, in a two-fold relation, as secret and revealed. The revealed will has reference to those things which are pleasing or displeasing to God, the secret to those things which he simply and absolutely wills should be done, or not done; and that it is entirely consistent that, in His revealed will, He should will that one and the same action should be done, and, in His secret will, that it should not be done, since He wills, in a different mode, in the two cases. But there may be dispute whether a secret will can be supposed in God, by which He might will, absolutely, that a thing should be done or not done, which, by His revealed will, He might will should be done or not done. Others say that this will of God is that of good-pleasure, or that of sign, which amounts to the same thing. But is not the will of God, in relation to His good-pleasure, signified in the word? It is also said that the divine will is, in one respect, efficacious, in another, not efficacious. But this is the same thing as to say — one is resisted, the other can not be resisted. It is wonderful in what labyrinths they involve themselves, being blinded either by unskillfulness or prejudice, or by both. To those who rightly consider the subject, the will of God will appear to be one and the same thing in itself — distinct in its objects.
What then? "Is not the will a faculty, free according to reason, or at least the appearance of reason, extended to the act of doing or having?" So, also, in God. We may be permitted, in our obscure phraseology, to delineate those things, which exist in that clearest light. He wills to do, and He wills to have. The former wills something from Himself, the latter wills something from us; by the former He wills that something should be done by Himself, and invokes omnipotence, which always accompanies it. By the latter, He wills that something should be done by us agreeably to justice, the pattern of which He presents us, in His own law. But it is necessary that He should reveal unto us, and indeed command that, which He wills from us, that he may obtain from us that which He wills. He does not, however, always disclose to us that which He wills to be done by Himself, or that which He wills to do, but only sometimes as He judges may tend to His own glory, and to our salvation.
You ask whether the subject of discussion is any secret will of God, and you, indeed, add your opinion that such is not the subject. You, already know my sentiments in reference to the secret will of God. I think, with you, that the subject of discussion, here, is not that secret will, in whatever way it may be taken. Let them say what that secret will is. Is it that God can not be resisted, so that He should not harden those whom He wills to harden? The truth of this is manifest, from the declaration itself. Is it secret who they are whom God wills to harden? By no means. Nothing is more plain in the Scripture, than that sinners, persevering in their sins against the long suffering of God, who invites them to repentance, are those whom God wills to harden. It is, however, not evident, but hidden, who those sinners are. This is true; but what relation has it to the will, that it should, therefore, be called hidden. The knowledge of God in this place, will rather be called hidden from us. Of many such sinners, God wills to harden this one and not that one, and it is hidden from us which He wills to harden rather than others. I do not, now, discuss that point; but I affirm that this is not discussed in this passage. Therefore, since it will not be discussed in this place what that object of the will is, which is considered hidden by us, neither is the secret will of God in any way treated of in this place. But to return; that omnipotent will removes the cause of just anger, if, by it, a man may be moved to the commission of sin, and by that power which ye can not resist, and so the hardened will be, by that will, excluded from the number of those with whom God can be justly angry, if they did that, on account of which they are hardened, being moved by that omnipotent will, which no one can resist. I do not speak, here, concerning compulsion. For "God can not compel, nor can the will be compelled," but it is sufficient to excuse the man, and to exempt him from the just wrath of God, if there exist any force of divine impulse, which is followed by the inevitable necessity of doing that to which he is moved. If, indeed, the man commits that which deserves hardening of free-will, he is subjected to blame, and is worthy of wrath, even if he may be hardened by that will, which can not be resisted. For resisting and that freely, the divine will, revealed in the word, which can be resisted, he is brought into that necessity of the divine decree, also revealed in the word, which can not be resisted, and so the will of God is done in reference to him, by whom the will of God is not done. From these things, I think that a solution to that question can easily be formed.
But let us examine the answer of the apostle, and with that diligence, which the gravity and difficulty of the subject deserves, yet according to our measure. At the outset, however, it is not to be supposed that the apostle sought evasions, when he could not refute the objection itself, nor did he involve the subject in difficulties, that he might coerce and restrain the objector, terrified by the difficulty of the subject, but he most aptly and effectually refuted the whole objection. I would dare to affirm that no objection in the whole Scripture is more sufficiently refuted.
Let this objection be placed before the eyes, with all its fundamental principles contracted into a small space, that it may be inspected, as it were, in a single moment, in the following form — "Can God be justly angry with those, who are hardened by his irresistible will?" We may be permitted to use that form of expression for the sake of compendious significance. The answer of the apostle is two-fold. In one part, reproving the objector on account of his own unworthiness, and that of the objection; in the other, refuting the objection. That which has the nature of reproof has three parts, the reproof, its reason, and the proof of its reason.
The reproof is proposed in the form of an interrogation in these words: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" That is, Consider, O man, who thou art and who God is, and thou wilt understand that thou art unworthy to answer God in that manner. To slander so excellent a doctrine in a manner such as to charge unjust wrath upon God, and to wholly exculpate man, was resistance of God to His very face, and the most direct opposition to Him. Hence it is not wonderful that the apostle, excited by the indignity of the thing, should have determined sternly to reprehend the man, who should make an objection.
The reason consists in a comparison of man and God, in the like unworthy answer, adapted to that comparison. For as there are three things contained in that proposition, The man replying, God to whom the reply is made, and the reply itself. The reason of that proposition refers to those three things, in these words, "Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Here man is compared to "the thing formed," God to "Him that formed it," and the reply to this, "why hast thou made me thus?" In this comparison the apostle gives the reason why it is not suitable for man, as "the thing formed," to reply thus to God, as "to Him that formed it," as if he should say, "as it is not permitted to the thing formed to say to Him that formed it, ’Why hast thou made me thus?’ so also, it is not permitted to thee, O man, to reply to God in this way. For thou art nothing else than clay and a worm of the earth, a thing made by God, but God is He who made and formed thee."
We considered next what is the answer to this reply, which is reproved in the thing formed, though we must, first, examine the third part of the reproof; that is, the proof of the reason. That is deduced from the right and power, or from a comparison of the right and power, which the potter has over the clay, to the right and power, which God has over that which He has formed, or rather over that from which He formed it. The right and power of the potter goes to prove the unworthiness of that objection and therefore to its refutation.
The comparison, also, has the effect of demonstrating that God has the same right over His own creature, which the potter has over that, which he makes. In the first place, the conclusion is like this — "If the potter hath power, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor, it is not for thee, the thing formed, to say to Him that formed thee, ’Why hast thou made me thus?’ — But the potter hath that power; — Therefore, etc." In the second place: "If the potter hath that power over the clay, then also God hath the same over men, or rather over that from which He was about to form or make men; — But the former is true; — Therefore, the latter, also, is true." Therefore, also, "it is not for man to reply against God, ’Why hast thou made me thus?’" or to make this objection, on account of which the apostle reproves and rebukes the objector. Thus much in reference to the arrangement and the sum of the objurgatory answer, in which, also, it is shown how that can tend to the refutation of the objection itself, if, indeed, an addition, suitable to the comparison, had been made. We must now treat, in a right and legitimate manner, of the application of the things compared. This will consist, wholly, in an explanation of the right and power of God over the man, either already created or to be created. First, in reference to the comparison used in the reason, "shall the thing formed say to Him, that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" The explanation of this will be, according to the comparison, — "so it is not lawful for a man to answer God, as you do in that objection." In any case, it is necessary that the objection of the man should have congruity with this of "the thing formed." But the former was this: "if thou hardened a man by thy irresistible will, there is no reason that thou shouldst find fault with him:" This objection, harmonized with that of "the thing formed" will be like this, "Why hast thou made me, to be hardened by thy irresistible will?" What Beza says, here, of the mutability of human condition, seems to me to have little adaptation to the purpose.
If, likewise, we should consider the argument from the power of the potter, it will be apparent that some such application of that comparison was to be made. For what resemblance has the power of making to honor or to dishonor to the power of making something changeable. But it has much resemblance to the power of making a person, to be hardened or to receive mercy. Let us now see what is the explanation of the comparison which is used in that argument. "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another to dishonor?" The explanation, strictly set forth, will be thus, "thus God hath power from the same lump to make some men to honor, others to dishonor; or some to wrath, others to mercy," in a manner adapted to the subject of discussion, as appears from the following verses: from which the conclusion is deduced. "If God hath power, from the same mass of the human race, to make one vessel to wrath, and another to mercy, then man can not, justly, reply against Him, Why hast thou by thy irresistible will, made me to be hardened, that is, a vessel to wrath?" He adds, however, in reference to the vessels to honor and mercy, though the question was only in reference to the hardened, since the subject of discussion is the power of God which has reference to both. You will observe that I have presented these things, most rigidly, according to the sense of my opponents, because I wish to concede to them whatever can, in any way, be accommodated to the scope of the apostle.
We must now see how those things are to be understood which we attribute to God in those applications; namely, that "He hath power, from the mass of the human race, to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor, one man to obtain mercy, and another to be hardened by His irresistible will." The word "power" used here signifies not ability but right and authority. It is ἐξουσια not δυναμί The subject, therefore, in this passage, is not that absolute power by which He is able to do any thing, but the right by which it is lawful that He should do any thing. In the word "lump," Beza understands the reference to be to "the human race, as not yet created, and not yet corrupt." We know that Augustine was of a different opinion, and that he considered the "lump" as referring to the fallen human race; if any one wishes to deny the latter view, the argument, which Beza presents, will not be sufficient, namely, that "the apostle must, then, have said that God left some vessels in dishonor, and transferred others from that state to honor." But I am willing to concede this to him, that unformed matter is signified by the word "lump." For it does not seem to me to be sufficiently safe, to say that God hath not power from one lump to make one vessel to wrath, and another vessel to mercy, — to make one man to be hardened by his irresistible will, and another to obtain mercy. When we see daily that God makes vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath, and that He hardens some men, and has mercy on others, it is indeed apparent that He hath the right to do that which He really does. But I add that He hath the right to do this, in the same mode, in which He does it, and to determine to do it for the same reasons, in view of which He really does it. The subject, indeed, would be plain in itself, if it had not been involved in difficulties, by a preposterous mode of explanation. This I will not here disprove, lest I may be too prolix: for I have not designed to do this now, but only to show that this chapter, by which, as by a firm foundation, they say that their theory is supported, is not in their favor.
I will, however, endeavor to throw some light on this subject. When God is said to make vessels of wrath or vessels of mercy, to harden a man or to have mercy on him, then necessarily three things are to be considered, two explicitly, one implicitly, being interposed between the other two as a medium or means. First it is necessary that a man should exist, and be a vessel. Secondly, it is necessary that before he can be a vessel of wrath or of mercy, he should be a vessel of sin, that is, a sinner. Thirdly, that he should be a vessel of wrath or of mercy.
Let us now consider what is the work of God in this matter. First, then, it is the work of God by which He makes man, that he may exist, not only that he may exist, but that he may exist to a certain end, which is signified in the term "vessel," which is equivalent to "instrument." But an instrument is made to some end. The Scripture declares that this end is the glory of God. Therefore, God made man for His own glory, that is, not that He should receive glory from man, but that He might illustrate His own glory in a much more distinguished manner, by man than by His other creatures. But the glory of God is illustrated, by a manifestation of His own natural attributes, especially of those which are considered as being of secondary importance, such as goodness, justice, wisdom and power. There are others which belong more intimately to His essence, as simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability, etc.
It is now to be considered what the attributes are, in the manifestation of which the glory of God was, first of all, to be displayed. I affirm, that they were His goodness, justice, wisdom and power. It belonged to goodness that He should communicate Himself; to justice, to prescribe the rule of that communication; to wisdom, to know how it might suitably and possibly be done; to power, that He should be able, in fact to communicate Himself. Goodness, therefore, impelled God, to make not only other things, but man also, that is, to so communicate Himself to Nothing, by His own image, that out of Nothing and that communication there should exist that being, which is man. Justice prescribed the mode, in which it was suitable that this communication should be made: for it is the arbitrator of goodness, or as Tertullian says, the arbitrator of the works of God. Wisdom knew how it might be proper that God should communicate Himself to that which was to be made man, and how God could do this. Power, the instrument of the others, was at hand to perform. God could communicate His own image to Nothing. But man was made, only, that he might be a vessel of that goodness, justice, wisdom and power, and thus He was a vessel to illustrate the divine glory. It must, however, be also considered in what manner he should be a vessel to illustrate the glory of God.
This is indeed true. — God did not make man, that he might only be that which he was made, but that he might tend to greater perfection. Nor did God think that His own goodness was satisfied, when He had once communicated Himself to man, as his creator, but his own glorified, but He wished to communicate Himself further to man, as also "the glorifier of man;" and that this might be possible He endowed him, not only with natural, but also with supernatural gifts. But justice prescribed the rule and measure of this communication, namely, that it ought to be made only on the condition that man should live, in accordance with the divine image, in obedience to the commands of God, and, since he could be exalted, he could also be cast down, — and nothing was more just than that he should be cast down, if he should abuse the gifts, by the right use of which he could be exalted to the highest dignity. Man was, therefore, in that respect, a vessel to illustrate the just goodness and wrath of God, by which God might declare His own great goodness in blessing him, if he should live righteously, and His severe wrath in punishing him, if he should transgress the command. Thus God made man originally, and in him the rest of mankind, vessels to illustrate His just goodness and wrath, that is, instruments fit for this. But He did not, in fact, do this, without the intervention of that, which is here considered in the second place. — Man, originally placed in this condition, by the Deity, by transgressing the command, made himself an evil vessel, that is, a sinner: with the concurrence of no co-operation of the Deity to this result, except such as was suitable to His goodness, justice, wisdom, and indeed to His constancy, by which nothing was taken away from the freedom of man or the actual mode of freewill would be restrained or would be impelled in this or that direction.
Man, existing in this state, with all his posterity, whom God had determined to produce, of his blood, by the ordinary means, was worthy to receive, in view of his demerits, punishment and wrath, that is, to be made, in fact, a vessel of wrath. That same goodness (which I may be allowed here to call the source mercy), did not however permit this, and this is true even of the justice of God, the arbitrator of goodness and mercy. The wisdom of God indeed knew that punishment was due to that cause — sin, and justice wished that what was due to that cause should be rendered to it; but the former also knew that still more was due to goodness, and the latter according to its nature, that what was due to goodness should also be rendered to it, namely, that highest demonstration of itself, and its advancement to the place of mercy, which is the inclination of goodness towards the wretched, and the ill-deserving. It was suitable that the goodness of God should communicate itself, not only to the non-existing, and those existing without any merit, and to the well-deserving (if they had obeyed the commandment), but also to the ill-deserving, and to the transgressors of the law, that He might give to him who had not, give again and with addition to him that had, and spare him that abused his gifts; thus being victorious over sin by its own remission, as triumphant over Nothing, by the act of creation. Therefore, wisdom discovered a mode by which what was due to the cause might be rendered to it, and what was due to goodness might be rendered to it, namely, Jesus Christ the Mediator, on whom the cause of the human race might be laid, to be borne and carried through before the tribunal of justice by whom man might become a vessel to illustrate the divine justice and goodness, in the highest and most excellent way.
Here also justice interposed itself, mindful of its duty, and showed that such a communication of goodness, by means of mercy, could not be made without a condition in this case more suitably than in the former; but it was just that a condition should be fixed upon, in accordance with which that good should be communicated, of mercy, or not communicated at all, and, instead of it, the contrary evil should be inflicted. Hence, also, it was determined to make some men vessels of wrath and others vessels of mercy, that is, fitted to wrath or to mercy; of mercy, those who should perform the condition; of wrath, those who should violate it and not cease to violate it; and this irrevocably and of necessity, so that those who should have violated the condition, persisting in that violation, should be made, by that act, vessels of wrath, and they, who should perform the same, should be made, by that act, vessels of mercy: which same mercy, nevertheless, bestowed the power of obedience in that mode in which it is suitable that mercy, mingled with justice, should bestow it. Briefly, God makes man a vessel; Man makes himself an evil vessel, or a sinner; God determines to make man, according to conditions, satisfactory to himself, a vessel of wrath or of mercy, and this He in fact does, when the condition is either fulfilled, or perseveringly neglected.
From this it is apparent what is the true sense of those things, which are here proposed by the apostle, namely, that God has the power to make men from unformed matter, and to establish a decree concerning them, of the pure choice and pleasure of His will, sanctioned by certain conditions, according to which He makes some vessels to dishonor, other vessels to honor; and therefore man has no just reason for replying against God because He has, by His irresistible will, made him to be hardened, since obstinacy in sin intervenes between that determination of the will and the actual hardening; on account of which obstinacy God wills according to the same pleasure of His will, to harden the man by His irresistible will. If any one shall say that God has power absolutely or unconditionally to make a man a vessel to dishonor and wrath, he will do the greatest injustice to the Deity, and will contradict the plain declaration of Scripture. Therefore, Beza himself does not dare absolutely to affirm this, but he affirms that the decree is to be so understood, that its execution does not take place until after man, having become sinful, has made himself worthy of wrath. But he so subjoins the execution of the decree as to make the proximate cause of its execution depend on the decree itself, which is equivalent to the absolute statement, that God determined to make some men vessels to honor, others to dishonor; some vessels of wrath, others vessels of mercy; and that he might be able to do this, to make all, in the first place, sinners, that afterwards He might make, of His justice, some, vessels of wrath and to dishonor, and, of His mercy, others, vessels of mercy and to honor. Whatever absurdity can be deduced from that comparison of the apostle, by introducing a wrong interpretation, it may be detected only by the distinction, which exists between men and the vessels of the potter, when that distinction is rightly understood.
I have thus treated these matters; not as if there could be no other explanation of that comparison, but that, conceding their own explanation to our opponents, I might show that even it, when rightly understood according to the analogy of faith, does not favor any purpose, such as they wished to conclude from it, but indeed agrees, most fully, with the other view, which you describe. But what if I should say, and I surely have this right, that the true explanation is not that, which they give, but what the apostle presents in the next two verses — "What if God, willing to, etc." — and that he uses the reference to the power of the potter over the clay both to confirm the reason of the reproof, and to refute the objection. These very things are also of a kindred nature. For to demonstrate the unworthiness of an objection is, in some measure, to refute it, as we also see in the former cases. I do not see, in what respect, this explanation may not be fitly accommodated to that proposition: "For, as the potter hath power over the clay of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor, so God has power, and indeed with much greater justice, to endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and to prepare the vessels of mercy into glory." This justice is illustrated by the ends, which God has proposed to Himself in both cases.
It will be said "there is want of agreement between the expressions, ’to make vessels to dishonor,’ and ’to endure with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’ that is ’to dishonor;’ but that, with the former, this expression is more in agreement ’to fit the vessels of wrath to destruction;’ as, ’to prepare the vessels of mercy unto glory’ is in agreement with ’to make vessels to honor."’ But who shall prescribe to the apostle the mode of applying his own comparison? Is it not allowable for him to show the purity of the divine power in that, which God really does in reference to the vessels of wrath and of mercy, although it may be less than what the potter does concerning the vessels unto honor and dishonor, that in this way the force of the argument may be stronger, from the less to the greater, than from an equal to an equal? There is, however, something wanting to that application of the apostle, and it is clear that it is of this character. "Shall He not then have power to do this?" or "shall He not therefore be able to find fault justly with the hardened?"
Let us, now, consider, finally, how fully the objection is refuted by those words, in whatever sense they may be taken, whether as an explanation of the comparison, or absolutely and in their simple meaning. I said, and still say, that no objection, in the whole Scripture, seems to me more thoroughly refuted, and that no answer more sufficiently exhausts all the difficulties of any objection. The objection had three parts, The antecedent "God hardeneth when he will;" The consequent, which contains the chief force of the objection, "Therefore he can not justly find fault with the hardened;" The proof of this conclusion from an adjunct of the divine will, "because the will of God can not be resisted. The antecedent, and the argument of the conclusion or consequence, may be connected thus — "God hardens, when he wills, by His irresistible will." The consequent is added thus, "With them God can not justly find fault." Four simple ideas are contained in that objection. The divine wrath, the persons hardened, irresistible will, deservedly or unreservedly, which fourth I would prefer to call "the mode of composition by affirmation or of division by negation." The relation between these is proposed by the objector thus, — "The wrath of God is an attribute, by which God deals with the hardened, who therefore constitute the object of wrath, and, in this case, also its cause; as frequently objects have the relation of cause to certain attributes, not in the essential nature of the attributes themselves, but so far as they are exercised with those objects, that is not in the primary, but in a secondary act. The hardened, and the irresistible will of God are placed as cause and effect. The hardening is the effect of the irresistible will of God. Now it is inquired whether, that relation being supposed to exist between the hardening and the irresistible will, there is the same relation between the divine wrath and the hardened, that is, whether God can be angry with those thus hardened, which is signified by the expression deservedly and undeservedly. To these things, thus explained, the answer of the apostle may be applied.
First, the apostle declares that such a relation does not subsist between the wrath of God and the hardened, but rather the opposite relation. For the hardened are the object of the divine wrath, nor is their hardening the cause of that wrath, but the divine wrath is rather the cause of their hardening. God also, in the act of hardening is occupied with those, with whom He is already angry, that is with those, who are already, in fact, vessels of wrath. This the apostle signifies when he declares that God hardeneth "the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction." There is then in those arguments not only the fallacy of causa non causa, subjecto non subjecto, but also that of the inversion of cause and effect, of subject and adjunct, hence their refutation is most complete. So far from the truth is it that God can not find fault with those, whom He has hardened, that, on the contrary, He may not harden them, unless they have already, by their own fault, been made vessels of the most just wrath of God. The whole Scripture teaches that hardening is the effect and the sign of the divine wrath. Hence the question "Can God be angry with the hardened?" is a foolish one. It should be inquired "Can God harden those with whom He is angry?"
In the second place, the apostle replies to the relation between "hardening and irresistible will," in these words "endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath;" in which He signifies that the mode of hardening is "patience and mildness" not the omnipotent action of the will which can not be resisted. Therefore, there is here also the fallacy of causa non causa. It will, however, be asked, "Does not the decree, by which God determined to harden the vessels of wrath, pertain to the will, which can not be resisted?" This is indeed true. But it is one thing for God to use the omnipotent act of His own will to effect hardening, and another thing for Him to determine by that will that He will harden the vessels of wrath. For in that case, the exercise of the will is attributed to the decree of hardening not to the act; between which the difference is so great that it is possible that God should, by His irresistible will, make a decree in reference to hardening the vessels of wrath by His patience and long suffering. If it shall be said that "this hardening will nevertheless, more surely follow by means of that patience, on account of the decree by which He not only determined to use patience, but also to use it for the purpose of hardening, and that this is equivalent to that omnipotent act of the will which can not be resisted," I shall deny that it is equivalent. But to the proof of this denial many things pertain, which it would be tedious to present here; I will, on that account, omit any reply, because this objection does not militate against my design. For should we concede that the vessels of wrath are hardened by the force of the omnipotent will, would this take away even the least particle from the justice of the divine wrath, when they have themselves merited hardening, while it is for God to decide to inflict the punishment, in whatever way may seem good to Him?
The third part of the reply refers to the equity of that divine act, which the apostle now explains, deduced from its design. What then; is it not just that God should in some way, demonstrate His wrath and power? Most just. But against whom, if not against "the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction" which God "endured with much long suffering?" Either it is just that God should declare His power and wrath against persons of this character, or He will, in no case, be free to do it, and thus it will be in vain that God is armed with power and wrath, since He can never exercise them, in whatever way He may be provoked. From this, it is manifest, that this is here set forth by the apostle, more clearly than the refutation of that objection demanded. For whatever could be presented, not only as apology, but also as defense, and even as declaration of the divine wrath against the hardened, is here presented; and thus they are described in whom God would show His wrath and power that they all might together embrace, in themselves the just causes of the divine wrath. For He is not angry with them, unless they have already become vessels of wrath; nor does He, when, by their own merit, they have been fitted for destruction, immediately, in accordance with His own right, carry out His wrath in their destruction, but He endures them, with much long-suffering and patience, inviting them to penitence and waiting for their repentance; but when, with a heart, hardened and knowing not how to repent, they contemn the long suffering and patience of God, it is not wonderful that even the most merciful goodness of God should not be able to restrain Him from the exercise of His wrath, lest, when that anger is demanding that justice should render to it its own highest right, He should seem to give it no place.
We shall, however, set forth the answer with greater conciseness, if we adapt it to the several parts of the syllogism in the objection. The syllogism was as follows — "He, who hardens by His own irresistible will, can not justly ’find fault’ with those, who are hardened; — But God hardens by His own irresistible will; — Therefore, He can not justly find fault with those hardened." The apostle replies to the Major by denial; both because it is absolutely false, since they, whom God hardens, have merited that hardening, and God is free to inflict upon them, according to their merits, in whatever way it may seem good to Him; and because a false cause of anger is alleged, namely, hardening, while they, even before they are hardened, were vessels of wrath, and, therefore, the cause of the hardening. The Major, then, should be corrected thus: "He, who, by His own irresistible will, hardens those who, because they are vessels of wrath, have deserved hardening, can moreover ’find fault’ with those justly hardened." To the Minor, the apostle replies, by proposing another mode of hardening, by which is removed that mode, which is assumed in the Minor; for He "endured, with much long suffering, the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Why should any imputation be made against God, if they have been hardened on account of their own wickedness. The Minor, then, should also be corrected; "But God, using patience and long suffering towards the vessels of wrath, hardens them." The Major also must then be further amended, by introducing this mode of hardening, which will greatly favor its truth and equity. From this it follows that the conclusion is false; its contrary follows of necessity from the correction made in its antecedents, and it is most fully true, not only on account of the antecedent truth, but also on account of the just design of the divine hardening, which is the illustration and exhibition of the wrath and power of God. What pertains to that phrase, "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction," can be easily understood from the preceding remarks. As to what is said in addition in reference to "the vessels of mercy," it has been explained for what purpose the apostle did this. As there is no dispute on this point, I will omit further explanation.
In this discussion, I seem to myself to have demonstrated that this passage, from the Apostle, does not serve to confirm that doctrine, which may think to be built on this chapter as a foundation. I have not, however, thought proper to treat the subjects themselves, embraced in this chapter, more extendly, because this will be done more fitly at another time, when we consider them, abstractly, and not as depending on the authority of this or that passage.
If any one will show me that these things are not in accordance with the sentiment of Paul, I will be ready to yield the point; and, if any one will prove that they are inconsistent with the analogy of faith, I will be prompt to acknowledge the fault and forsake the error.
James Arminius, vol. 3, The Works of Reverend James Arminius : Volume 3, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Works of James Arminius (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1999).
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Article by Brian J. Abasciano*
It has been a little over a dozen years since Thomas Schreiner argued in this journal that Romans 9 teaches individual election unto salvation.1 He correctly points out that Romans 9 is a standard proof text for Calvinists, who hold that God unconditionally elects individuals to be saved. He also correctly observes that scholars increasingly reject the Calvinist exegesis of the chapter as a misreading of the text.2 His article seeks to refute two common objections to the Calvinist interpretation, namely, that Romans 9 (1) addresses historical, national destiny rather than salvation; and/or (2) relates to the salvation of groups rather than individuals. I have no disagreement with the main thrust of Schreiner’s first major point. Paul’s argument in Romans 9 surely concerns the salvation of Israel.3 But I find his attempt to counter the
* Brian Abasciano pastors at Faith Community Church, 122 High St., Hampton, NH 03842.
primacy of corporate election in Romans 9 unpersuasive. This article will examine his case and seek to articulate the nature of election as it is represented in Romans 9.
II. Clarifying The Debate And Undercutting The Argument: Determining The Primary Orientation Of Election
Schreiner argues that the election described in Romans 9 “is both corporate and individual and that a reference to the former does not rule out the latter.”4 Indeed, he maintains that corporate and individual election are inseparable, and that the former entails the latter.5 In one sense this must be true, but not in the individualistic way Schreiner means it. He appears to argue against a conception of corporate election that denies any place to the individual. This may be due to the position of the scholars he interacts with and/or some misunderstanding on his part of what corporate election entails.6 But in any case, I want to make it clear that when I speak of Romans 9 as containing corporate rather than individual election, I am speaking of the primary orientation of election, which of necessity must include individuals in its purview to some extent.7 But this in no way implies a traditional concept of individual election and actually undercuts much of Schreiner’s argumentation. A proper view of corporate election, which takes full account of the place of individuals, avoids much of Schreiner’s criticism.
Schreiner appears to contend for an election that is equally corporate and individual in orientation. But this is an untenable position, ironically due to the inextricable connection between the individual and the group to which Schreiner repeatedly calls attention. For there is a definite logical connection between the group and the individual, but this connection must be viewed primarily from either the corporate or the individual perspective. Interestingly, it can be viewed legitimately from either perspective, but not both equally at the same time. Either corporate or individual election must be primary (see below). The important question that Schreiner fails to address is: How do the corporate and individual aspects of election relate to each other? Which is primary?
If corporate election is primary, then it is the group that is the focus of election, and individuals are elect only in connection with the group. If individual election is primary, then individuals are separately the focus of election, and the group is elect only as a collection of elect individuals. Thus, either the corporate focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the individual based on participation in the group, or the individual focus of
election determines the identity and benefits of the group based on the individuals who have been grouped together according to their similar individual characteristics/status. The fact that Schreiner repeatedly argues that corporate election entails Calvinistic individual election, amounting to an election of individuals as autonomous entities before God, only shows that he is assuming individual election to be primary. For if election is primarily individual, then corporate election must equally imply individual election since the identity of the group is entirely determined by the identity of the individuals who make it up. The fact that Schreiner presupposes this stance suggests a failure to look beyond a modern, western, individualistic viewpoint.
III. The Primacy Of Corporate Election
Schreiner notes that many scholars have been persuaded by the corporate view of election.8 This is for good reason. The case for the primacy of corporate election in Paul’s thought in general and Romans 9 in particular is strong. Besides the evidence provided by exegesis of Romans 9–11 and other specific NT texts,9 there are three general factors that support it.
1. The OT concept of election is clearly corporate.10 God chose the people of Israel in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6–8). That is, by choosing Jacob/Israel, the corporate/covenant representative, God also chose his descendants as his covenant people. It is a matter of OT covenant theology. The covenant representative on the one hand and the people/nation of Israel on the other hand are the focus of the divine covenantal election, and individuals are elect only as members of the elect people. Moreover, in principle, foreign individuals who were not originally members of the elect people could join the chosen people and become part of the elect,11 demonstrating again that the locus of election was the covenant community and that individuals found their election through membership in the elect people. The corporate nature of the election of God’s people in the OT is so well recognized that Moo, an advocate of individual election in Paul’s thought and Romans 9, concedes that Paul would have found only corporate election in the Scriptures and his Jewish tradition.12 And John Piper, one of the most forceful and outspoken
modern advocates of individual election, is forced to acknowledge that “the eternal salvation of the individual as Paul teaches it is almost never the subject of discussion in the OT.”13
Indeed, the OT passages Paul interprets and applies in Romans 9 have a corporate view of election. This weighs heavily in favor of taking Paul to speak of corporate election in Romans 9 as well. He surely expected his audience to be familiar with the passages he refers to and should be taken as pointing to the broad original contexts of his scriptural quotations and allusions.14 Even passages that might seem to modern individualistic eyes to refer to individual election turn out to be corporate in orientation in light of the OT background.
For example, Paul’s references to the divine choices of Isaac over Ishmael (Rom 9:7–9) and Jacob over Esau (Rom 9:10–13) invoke instances of primarily corporate election. The point of Isaac’s election in the passage Paul quotes is that the seed of Abraham, the elect covenant people, would be named/identified by connection to Isaac (Rom 9:7; Gen 21:12). Individuals would be regarded as part of the covenant people based on their relationship to Isaac. Paul interprets this to mean that only “the children of the promise are regarded as seed,”15 that is, as the chosen people of God (Rom 9:8). Similarly, both of Paul’s quotations concerning Jacob speak of his election primarily as the election of a people. The fuller context of Paul’s first Jacob quotation makes this perfectly clear: “The Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be divided from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger’”(Gen 25:23; cf. Rom 9:12). Likewise, as Cranfield comments concerning the second Jacob quotation (Rom 9:13), “There is no doubt that the concern of Mai 1.2-5 is with the nations of Israel and Edom, and it is natural to suppose that by
‘Jacob’ and ‘Esau’ Paul also understands not only the twin sons of Isaac but also the peoples descended from them.”16
The examples of Isaac and Jacob embody the OT concept of corporate solidarity or representation in which the individual represents the community and is identified with it and vice versa.17 The concept is especially evident in the case of kings and patriarchs, who are seen to represent their people and sum them up in themselves, especially in the context of covenant. The observation is important because it provides the model for the corporate representative role of Christ in the NT as the seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16), the true Israel and embodiment of the covenant people of God. As Galatians 3–4, a passage in which Paul uses similar language and treats similar subjects,18 bears out, Christians are only considered the seed of Abraham because they are in Christ by faith, and therefore share in his identity as their (covenant) representative. Strikingly, Paul also uses the same “in x” language as Gen 21:12/Rom 9:7 do to describe covenant participation through the covenant representative when he speaks explicitly of salvific election in Eph 1:4, declaring that the Church has been chosen in Christ.19
But we have begun to move beyond the point at hand. What needs to be highlighted at this juncture is that a corporate election which on the one hand allowed a full and vigorous role to the individual in the context of community
and on the other hand subordinated the individual to the collective by granting elect status to individuals based on their membership in the covenant community was the view of the OT and the scriptural texts Paul uses in Romans 9. The burden of proof should lie on those who would claim that Paul departed from this standard biblical and Jewish conception of election.
The explicit language of election unto salvation is always corporate in Paul (and the rest of the NT). While one might argue that the concept of election can be present and applied directly to individuals even when the explicit language is not, it still favors a corporate understanding of election that one will look in vain for an overt use of the language of election unto salvation in reference to an individual. Paul speaks, for example, of “the elect ones of God” (ἐκλεκτῶν θεοῦ. Rom 8:33), the Church as being chosen in Christ (ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ, Eph 1:4) and of τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν (“your [plural] election”; 1 Thess 1:4), but never with individual language.20 I would dispute that the concept of direct election of individuals as individuals is present anywhere in Paul or the NT, but that is a matter of exegesis of a number of specific texts that is far beyond the scope of the present discussion. Here, I only wish to point out that the corporate language surrounding election unto salvation in Paul and the NT surely weighs in favor of a corporate conception of election. If one were to object that corporate language is only to be expected because Paul and the other NT writers were addressing churches and often discussing matters of import for all Christians, then I would agree, and add that this only underscores the corporate orientation of the texts that we are dealing with.
The Mediterranean Hellenistic culture of the first century was collectiuist rather than individualistic in outlook, and first-century Judaism was even more so.21 This means, inter alia, that the dominant perspective of Paul and his contemporaries was that the group was primary and the individual secondary.22 The individual, while important, was not thought of as standing on
his own, but as embedded in the group of which he was a member. Personal identity was derived from the group rather than the group drawing its identity from the individuals contained in it.
Recognition of the collectivist character of Paul’s first-century culture commands a firm consensus of scholarly support.23 Indeed, in an important recent monograph dealing with the salvation of the individual in Paul’s thought, Gary Burnett seeks to redress what he perceives to be an overemphasis in recent NT scholarship on the collective character of Paul’s thought that virtually excludes an appreciation of its individual concerns.24 Yet, though he argues vigorously for Paul’s concern for the salvation of the individual, even Burnett acknowledges that Paul’s culture was collective rather than individualistic in orientation and that there was little individualism in the first century.25 Moreover, he recognizes that in the OT, Paul’s Jewish tradition, and Paul’s own perspective, both the community and the individual were important, but that the community was primary and the individual important within the context of the community.26 He describes the scripturally-shaped Jewish view well:
Kaminsky. .. suggests that it is always the case [in the Hebrew Bible] that the “individual’s very self-understanding was derived from his or her relationship to the community.” It is the individual as a member of the community where the emphasis lies, not the individual as an “autonomous entity before God.”27 . .. [SJalvation was both a matter for the individual and the community of the people of God. One would participate in the salvation which God had prepared for his people by living as part of the covenant people.. .. Only by deliberately sinning and refusing to repent could one become apostate and put oneself outside the covenant and therefore outside of salvation. The personal piety, we have noted, then, must be seen in the context of individuals seeking to live within the covenant, and in such a context, salvation was typically seen as concerning the nation (or the sectarian group within the nation), something in which an individual would participate, assuming he kept within covenantal boundaries. We see, then, within Judaism the importance of individual responsibility and active participation in the covenant relationship with God;
this indicates clearly for us the interdependence of both the individual and the community. The individual was not subsumed within the larger group, but neither was he an autonomous agent. There was a much more balanced sense of both individual and community.28
Thus, the OT’s and Judaism’s corporate view of election, Paul’s exclusive employment of corporate language in connection with election unto salvation, and the corporate orientation of Paul’s socio-historical context all combine to provide a very strong case that Paul’s view of election was corporate, and that he carried this view of election, which emanates from the Scriptures he interprets, into Romans 9. It will not do to argue that the individual entrance of Jews and Gentiles into the Church demands a concept of individual election,29 for as we have seen, the concept of corporate election embraces individual separation from and entrance into the elect community without shifting the locus of election to the individual. Moreover, as Howard Clark Kee has well said, “Although an act of decision could align the individual with one or another of. .. [the] competing factions within Judaism in this period, the outcome of the decision was a mode of community identity.”30 As mentioned earlier, the biblical view of corporate election, which recognizes the place of the individual, strips much of Schreiner’s argument of its force. This will become clear as we analyze the four lines of argument he presents to support his thesis.
IV. Examining The Case Against The Primacy Of Corporate Election In Romans 9
1. Singular language. Schreiner argues that the repeated use of singular language in Romans 9 supports the traditional concept of individual election and opposes the suggestion that Paul refers only to corporate groups.31 But immediately we encounter a major flaw that runs through each of Schreiner’s four main points, viz. that corporate election involves only the group with no thought of the individual. This is, as we have seen, a faulty understanding of corporate election. Rather, to speak of election as corporate rather than individual means that the primary focus of election is the community and that the individual is elect only secondarily as a member of the community. Therefore, it is not at all inconsistent with the concept of corporate election
for Paul to refer to individuals. The important question is where the primary emphasis lies and whether individuals are viewed as elected as members of a group or as isolated individuals who are then, as it were, collected into a group. The data we have looked at would suggest that the corporate perspective predominates. There is no reason why the presence of individual language would call for a redefinition of what was at that time the standard perception of the orientation of election since the standard view included individuals in its scope. Moreover, it is necessary to determine whether the individual language Paul does use actually pertains directly to election.
Be that as it may, some of the singular language that Paul uses in Romans 9 actually supports the primacy of corporate election in the chapter much as do the individual references to the election of Isaac and Jacob discussed earlier. Schreiner points to Paul’s quotation of Exod 33:19 in Rom 9:15:“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” He argues that the singular ὃν (“whom”) indicates that Paul has specific individuals who receive God’s mercy in view. But in its original context, the singular language of Exod 33:19 actually refers to corporate Israel and her restoration to covenantal election.32 In the lxx translation, which Paul quotes, it is a case of referring to a corporate entity with singular terminology insofar as it represents the thought of the original Hebrew, a sort of collective singular.33 In harmony with the OT corporate view of election, the highly covenantal context, and the specific concerns of its narrative context, the ὃν of Exod 33:19 has to do with whom God will acknowledge as his covenant people. Indeed, Paul uses ὃν of God’s corporate people in Rom 11:2. As far as election is concerned, individuals come into view by virtue of their membership in the group.
When Paul uses the singular to make an inference from Exod 33:19 in Rom 9:16, he does not speak directly of the individual objects of election, but simply makes the point that the decision concerning who God grants his mercy to rests with him (and the stipulations he chooses to lay down) rather than with the will or effort of man, the very point made by Rom 9:18, where the singular appears again (ὃν/whom), except that it adds the fact that God also has the right to judge/harden those whom he decides to as well. But significantly, the form of Rom 9:18 is surely based on Exod 33:19 and its ad sensum collective singular relative pronoun, suggesting what one might have surmised already from the context of Romans 9 alone, that the singulars of Rom 9:18 refer to groups or classes of people. The final instances of singulars noted by Schreiner appear in Rom 9:19, 21, where Paul moves into the
diatribe, defending verse 18, especially its advocacy of God’s sovereign right to harden whom he wills. Given the collective thrust of the context, these singulars are best seen within a corporate perspective. Even so, it is important to observe that these singulars do not refer to election directly. The singular τίς (“who”) of Rom 9:19 is used to present the point that no one resists God’s will as part of an objection to Paul’s argument that is subsequently dealt with. The singular σκεῦος (“vessel”) of Rom 9:21 is part of an illustration Paul uses in his refutation of the objection in Rom 9:19. It begs the question to assume that the singular vessel must refer to an individual person. It could just as well refer to a group of people like Israel or the Church. Indeed, when Paul specifically applies the illustration, he does so in corporate language (9:22ff.). Furthermore, the most important OT background behind Paul’s imagery applies the metaphor to Israel as a people or to a group within Israel, texts rooted in a corporate view of election that deals with the individual within its scope (Isa 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18).
2. The selection of a remnant. Schreiner argues that the selection of a remnant out of Israel referred to in Rom 9:6–9 and 11:1–6 necessarily involves the selection of certain individuals from a larger group.34 But the very concept of a remnant is corporate in nature. Schreiner acknowledges this point, but does little more than to insist that this does not exclude individuals, pointing to Paul’s use of himself as an example of an individual who is part of the remnant. However, this line of argument again founders on the false assumption that corporate election excludes individuals from its view. To show that individuals were part of the groups to which they belonged or were impacted by what their groups were impacted by contributes nothing to determining where the focus of election lies.
On the other hand, it would appear that even Paul’s perspective of those making up the remnant was corporate, focusing on Jews and Gentiles (Rom 9:24–33).35 Moreover, we have already seen how one of the passages mentioned by Schreiner (Rom 9:6–9) fits squarely into a corporate conception of election (see III.l above).36 Romans 11:1–6 is no different. It clearly focuses primarily on God’s people: “I say, therefore, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not! For I myself am also an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Rom ll: l-2a; emphasis mine). Paul uses himself, an individual ethnic Jew, as evidence that God has not rejected ethnic Israel outright. But
notice that the language of election is specifically attached to the corporate people. That is where the focus of election rests in this passage, as most commentators (including Calvinists) hold.37 The fact that Paul is part of the corporate remnant, the true Israel, shows that God has not written off the Jewish people or simply shifted election to the Gentiles. Paul’s own election is best seen as deriving from his membership in the corporate remnant.
3. The validity of distinguishing between individuals and groups in Rom 9:30–10:21. Schreiner argues that Paul undeniably refers to individuals as well as corporate Israel in Rom 9:30–10:21 and that it is inappropriate to distinguish between individuals and the groups of which they are part because what is true of the collective is necessarily true of its individual members.38 But once again, he argues against the view that Paul speaks “only of corporate groups in Romans 9–11 and is not referring to individuals.”39 Hence, he appears to believe that he merely needs to show that individuals are part of the issues Paul discusses in order to refute the idea of corporate election. However, we have seen that this sort of argument does not apply to the concept of corporate election that is inherent in the biblical tradition, which nonetheless militates against the traditional Calvinist concept of individual election.
It is important to recognize that Paul is not speaking directly about election in Rom 9:30–10:21. Nevertheless, it is true that his discussion does bear in some measure on the ground of the corporate election (Rom 9:30–10:4) and the means by which individuals become part of the elect group (Rom 10:5–13)— faith. Even so, pointing out that Paul talks about individuals exercising faith in no way contradicts the idea of corporate election. As we have seen, the concept always included individuals within its scope without concentrating election on the individual. Indeed, I would argue that Rom 9:1–9 in the context of Romans contends that faith was always the means for the individual to truly possess the blessings of the corporate divine election. Moreover, such a role for faith is to be expected in a doctrine of election articulated on this side of the cross, which finds the corporate election of Israel to have come to its fulfillment in Christ, the true seed of Abraham and the covenant representative of God’s people.
Schreiner’s own attempt to relate Paul’s corporate language to its unavoidable implications for individuals shows that the corporate facet of the issues Paul addresses takes precedence over—but does not exclude—the individual facet. He observes that Paul speaks of Israel as a corporate entity failing to attain the righteousness of God but that this does not apply to every individual Israelite. Yet this appears to contradict his own points that Paul speaks equally of the group and the individual and that whatever is true of the group must also be true of the individual in the same way. He seems to
be saying that Paul speaks generally, but that what Paul says must apply at the individual level. I agree. But to say that Paul speaks generally (in such a way that does not apply to every individual) is to concede that Paul does not speak equally of the group and individuals, but that his focus is on the group even though what he says surely applies to individuals. This is actually a different aspect of corporate thinking and terminology than we find in the case of election, in which one’s membership in the group determines one’s situation. But both of these aspects of corporate thought emanate from the priority of the group in the synchronic perspective of the writer.40
While Rom 9:30–10:21 does not call the concept of corporate election into question as Schreiner maintains, the broad internal context of Romans 9–11 does furnish support for the notion in any number of ways, some of which we have already looked at. Here, we will mention only one: Paul’s olive tree metaphor (Rom 11:17–24). It demonstrates the idea of corporate election quite well. The olive tree undoubtedly represents the elect people of God (though it must be admitted that election is not Paul’s main concern here). But individuals get grafted into the elect people and participate in election and its blessings by faith or get cut off from God’s chosen people and their blessings because of unbelief.41 The focus of election is clearly the corporate people of God with individuals participating in election by means of their participation (through faith) in the elect group, which spans salvation history.
4. The selection of one group rather than another and the very validity of the concept of corporate election. In his final section, Schreiner argues that corporate election is no less arbitrary than Calvinistic individual election and that the typical view of corporate election is specious in that it does not hold to the election of people at all, but constitutes an abstract entity or a concept.42
a. The arbitrariness of election and Rom 9:11–12, 16. Concerning the arbitrariness of election, Schreiner essentially argues that even if corporate election is true, Rom 9:11–12, 16 would then imply that God predestines the faith of the elect group and that faith is thus the consequence of election. But this construction is suspect. Romans 9:11–12 does not actually seek to make a point about election per se, but uses the example of God’s election of Jacob (with all its corporate significance) to make a statement about God’s purpose in election,43 that it remains based on God’s sovereign will and call rather than human works. The fulfillment of God’s purpose and promises to bless the world (cf. Rom 9:4, 6–9) depends on his sovereign freedom to designate whom he chooses as his covenant people on whatever conditions he decides to establish.44 This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that Rom 9:10–13 supports the insistence of Rom 9:8 that “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as seed.” The phrase “the children of the promise” is a rich designation that surely includes faith as a defining characteristic of those it refers to, as Romans 4, 8, Galatians 3–4, and the OT background surrounding Isaac demonstrate.45
Romans 9:16 then makes much the same point as Rom 9:11–12:God’s bestowal of mercy is at his discretion rather than man’s (see also III.l above). The verse does not address God’s reasons for dispensing mercy, still less does it assert that he has no reasons that are related to people,46 but it actually argues that he has the right to do as he pleases. In the context of both Romans generally and Romans 9–11, this means that he has the right to regard those who have faith as his covenant people. The bestowal of God’s mercy is “not of the one who wills nor of the one who runs, but of God who has mercy” (Rom 9:16).
But these are matters of exegesis that have long been debated and require much more attention than I can give here. For now, I would like to register my skepticism concerning the claim that Rom 9:11–12, 16 imply that faith
is a predestined result of election. But even if one agrees with Schreiner’s conclusion that these verses at least imply that God’s people are corporately elected unconditionally, his faulty view of corporate election produces a fatal objection to the larger point he is trying to make out of these verses, viz. that even if corporate election is granted in Romans 9, the (alleged) unconditional election of the group must also mean the direct unconditional election of individuals (as individuals). For the proper view of corporate election maintains that what is true of the elect people as a whole is not necessarily true of the individuals in the group autonomously. Moreover, what is true of the elect people as a whole does not apply equally and directly to individuals on their own, but when applicable at all, it applies secondarily (yet truly) to individuals as members of the group. This leads us straight into Schreiner’s challenge to the validity of the concept of corporate election.
b. The validity of the concept of corporate election. Schreiner charges that advocates of corporate election “do not actually hold to corporate election of a group or of people” but to God’s choice of an abstract entity or a concept.47 But this is simply not true. As we have seen, individuals participate in the elect status of the elect body. They are truly elect, but only secondarily as members of the group. Here is the scandal of corporate election to modern individualistic sensibilities, which find it hard to grasp corporate ways of thinking: the group is primary and the individual secondary. It would seem that because the individual is not primary in the corporate view, Schreiner cannot see that people are involved at all, and therefore, the concept does not make sense to him. This suggests an inability to understand the corporate perspective, which was so prominent among the ancients, due to individualistic assumptions.
Indeed, Schreiner’s argument in effect denies the widely recognized OT concept of election. Would he contend that Israel’s election in Abraham/Isaac/ Jacob was the election of a concept rather than a people? Perhaps he would assert that, in light of his arguments, the OT concept of election must be equally individual and that the OT contains a full-blown concept of individual election. But this would be hard to defend. There is little evidence for it in the OT as Piper’s comment quoted above (see III.l above) and the great weight of scholarly opinion would suggest. Clearly, the OT concept of corporate election is both coherent and the election of people even though individuals are not the focus. If this is correct, then Schreiner’s argument about the invalidity of corporate election falls to the ground.
It is the primacy of the group above the individual that helps to explain why Schreiner’s insistence that, if a group is chosen, then individuals must also be chosen directly as individuals, is mistaken. We have already seen both that Schreiner admits that corporate language does not necessarily apply to every individual in a group and that this demonstrates that the focus of such language is on the collective (see III.3 above). We may now add that it is often
true that, in a corporate perspective, group identity transcends individual identity or the mere collection of individual identities. As the old saying goes, “the whole is more than the sum of the parts.” Yet this does not mean that in the case of a group of people the whole is only an abstract entity or a concept, though it is true that a group is inherently more general and abstract than specific individuals. Rather, it means that the corporate identity and reality transcend that of the individual on his own and that some things that are true of the group might not be true of the individual. It also means that the individual’s experience of corporate realities depends on his participation in the group.
The analogy of a baseball team that Schreiner offers actually provides a good illustration of such corporate modes of thought and tells against his own argument. To be sure, the analogy does show that “to choose a team requires that you choose one team among others along with the individuals who make it up.”48 But Schreiner fails to observe that the purchase of a baseball team is more corporately oriented than individually oriented. One buys/ “elects” the team, and the individual players who are part of the team are chosen as a consequence of their membership on the team.
Anyone familiar with the workings of professional baseball knows that when a new owner buys a team, he does not individually select each player he wants to be on the team, but acquires the individual players on the team as a consequence of his corporate purchase.49 The actual individual membership of the team is rather fluid and can be different from one day to another before or after a sale. But as long as the owner owns the team, he “owns” whoever belongs to the team. There is a distinction between the purchase of the team/the team’s status as owned or elected on the one hand and the addition of individual players to the team on the other hand. The team remains primary, and the addition or exclusion of individual players is oriented toward the team, participation in which ties the individual player to the benefits, responsibilities, and destiny of the team. Thus, while formally correct as stated, Schreiner’s assertion that corporate election entails individual election is not correct as he intends it.
The identity of a professional baseball team transcends the simple collection of its individual members as well as the identity of any of its individual members. It is a corporate entity that in many cases spans generations, tying all who participate in it together by their identification with its corporate identity. To take the analogy further, we could imagine that every year the American League randomly selected one of its teams by lot for a special award that would grant the team special notoriety as its “team of the year” and a special $20,000 bonus for each team member. This is equivalent to an unconditional election. But no player could claim that he was individually chosen as “the player of the year” or even to receive the bonus. The unconditional
election of the team would not translate into the unconditional election of the individual players as individuals. While the team would indeed be unconditionally elected, the individual players would only be elected as a consequence of their membership in the team. At the same time, one could say that the individual players were unconditionally elected as members of the team. Moreover, players who joined the team in mid-season would come to share in the team’s unconditional election.
It has not been my intention to make professional baseball determinative for our view of election, but to take Schreiner’s own analogy and demonstrate that it does not really support his larger argument for Calvinistic individual election, but actually supports the concept of corporate election we have articulated. It is not that Schreiner fails to show that corporate election must in some way involve the individual members of the group. This is not at all the issue between corporate and individual election. On this the two views agree. But Calvinistic individual election claims much more. It claims that individuals are (unconditionally) elected to become part of the elect people. This the concept of corporate election does not support, nor does Schreiner’s analogy. It would seem that corporate election does avoid the arbitrariness of the Calvinist view after all.
c. Election in Christ and Eph 1:4. But how is it that individuals share in the election of God’s people? Schreiner correctly notes that advocates of corporate election stress that election is in Christ (Eph 1:4).50 But he incorrectly states that this idea means that God elected the Church “to be in Christ.”51 That is exactly what his quotation of Forster and Marston as advocates of the view denies.52 The idea is rather that Jesus is the Elect One (Schreiner gets this point right) and the Church was chosen as a consequence of its being in Christ. Christ is the sphere of election. All who are in him share in his election just as all who were in Jacob/Israel were also elect.
But Schreiner takes issue with this interpretation of Eph 1:4. He objects that the text does not speak of Christ’s election, but of the election of people. But the election of Christ is surely part of the background and meaning of the verse. Schreiner is correct to say that the verse emphasizes the election of people rather than the election of Christ (though even this point may be called into question by the striking emphasis on the phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent throughout Eph 1:3–14). But the corporate interpretation of Eph 1:4 does not shift the stress of the verse to Christ’s election, but simply uncovers the background of the language and helps us to understand what it means for God to have chosen the Church in Christ. The verse clearly assumes the election of Christ just as similar OT affirmations of election/blessing “in Abraham,” “in Isaac,” and “in Jacob/Israel” assume the election/blessing of
the covenant representatives of God’s people. To take an example from Rom 9:7/Gen 21:12, it cannot be denied that the election of Isaac forms part of the background and meaning of the statement to Abraham that “in Isaac seed will be called to you.” The point is that the Church has been chosen as a consequence of its covenantal union with Christ, who represents the Church and sums his people up in himself.
This actually helps clarify how it is that the Church was chosen before the foundation of the world. The election of Christ, the pre-existent corporate head of the Church, before the foundation of the world entails the election of the Church because he is the corporate head and representative of the Church, and what is true of him as their representative is also true of them, his body. This is similar to the fact that Israel was chosen in Abraham/Isaac/Jacob before the nation ever existed (cf. the way Levi paid tithes in Abraham according to Heb 7:9–10). It is not that the people of Israel were somehow literally existent in Abraham, but the choice of the corporate representative necessarily includes the choice of the corporate entity he represents.
Now when we inquire as to how someone comes to be in Christ, Paul’s answer is obviously, through faith (see, e.g., Romans 3–4, 8; Galatians 3–4). Thus, Schreiner’s objection to faith as the basis of election is unfounded. It is true that Eph 1:4 does not mention faith, but neither does it specifically state that election is unconditional. What it does say is that election is in Christ, which we know in Pauline theology to be partly a way of indicating a sphere of identity entered into through faith. But the idea is not that God’s choice was based on our foreseen faith per se. It is that the Church’s election is intrinsic to the election of Christ, and membership in the Church is based on faith, an idea suggested by the implication of Eph 1:13 that Christians are sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit as a result of hearing and believing the gospel.
Schreiner’s own interpretation of Eph l: 4’s assertion of election in Christ is that it indicates that Christ is the agent through whom election is accomplished. But this interpretation does not actually preclude the incorporative sense of the phrase advanced above. Both senses are probably present. Indeed, the incorporative sense necessarily includes the instrumental, though the opposite is not necessarily true. The incorporative sense is strongly supported by the obviously incorporative significance of the same language elsewhere in Ephesians, such as the identification of Christ as the head of the Church/his body (Eph 1:20–23), the raising up/new creation of the Church in Christ (Eph 2:6–10; cf. the similarity of Eph 2:6 and Eph 1:3 with their language of “the heavenlies”!), and the incorporation of Jews and Gentiles into Christ as one new man/body/temple (Eph 2:11–22), to name just a few examples. Schreiner’s attempt to restrict Paul’s “in Christ” language in Eph 1:4 to an instrumental sense simply does not do justice to the evidence of Ephesians.53 Despite his assertion, a corporate election that individuals
participate in through faith can hardly be considered insignificant. To those who are in Christ, it would be everything, as Eph 1:3–14 testifies.
d. The role of logic. From all that has been said, it should go without saying that Schreiner’s appeal to logic as requiring Calvinistic individual election is without warrant.54 His assertion that corporate election must involve individuals is a simplistic truism that misses the nuanced nature of the relationship between the collective and the individual and of the question of the focus of election. The result is that his assault on the concept of corporate election via repeated attempts to show that individuals must be in view when groups are spoken of because groups are made up of individuals amounts to knocking down a straw man if a proper view of corporate election is under consideration.55
But Schreiner is quite right to insist that the law of non-contradiction cannot be abandoned. For without it, all communication is rendered meaningless. That is why there can be no true human freedom if the Calvinistic doctrine of the absolute divine determination of all things is true. That is also why the Calvinist interpretation that takes Romans 9 to teach that God absolutely determines who will exercise faith and Romans 10 to teach “that those who do not exercise faith are responsible and should have done so”56 foists an illogical position on Paul. Schreiner would like to relegate the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility to the status of mystery. But I would argue that the theological/philosophical (as opposed to biblical) concept of mystery that Schreiner invokes should be reserved for realities in which we do not know how something works, but in which there is no logical contradiction.
The example of the Trinity that he gives is a good one. It is not contradictory because it claims that there are three persons in one God rather than that God is three persons yet one person. But it is mysterious because we do not know how three persons can exist in one being. However, to claim both that God absolutely predetermines human actions and that human beings are free is nonsensical.57 So is the idea that someone whose lack of faith was absolutely predetermined should have believed. But these issues have been debated for millennia, and I am unlikely to persuade anyone committed to compatibilism with such brief comments on the role of logic in the discussion.
Ultimately, it must be biblical exegesis rather than philosophical commitment that determines our theological conclusions about election. This bodes even better for the thesis that Romans 9 manifests a corporate concept of election rather than a Calvinistic individual one. For Paul’s emphasis there is clearly corporate and fits comfortably into the OT concept of corporate election in which the texts he invokes are steeped. Romans 9 teaches neither individual election in the traditional sense nor that God determines who will believe. This harmonizes nicely with Rom 9:30–10:21, which Schreiner admits, “teaches us that those who do not exercise faith are responsible and should have done so.”58 When paired with his own postulate of unconditional individual election in Romans 9, Schreiner is compelled to ask, “How can both of these be logically true?”59 and he is forced to resort to the concept of mystery. While not fatal to his view, this does not readily commend it. Logic, which he tries to claim as supporting his position over against corporate election, certainly favors an interpretation that does not demand such inconsistency in Paul’s argument.
Thomas Schreiner’s defense of a Calvinist reading of Romans 9 based on the supposition that corporate and individual election are inseparable is unpersuasive. Practically, his argument knocks down a straw man version of corporate election.60 One of the main points throughout his argument in support of the thesis that election must be both corporate and individual is to show that what is spoken of the group must involve individuals in some way. But the biblical view of corporate election always contained individuals
within its scope based on their participation in the group/identification with the corporate representative without extending the concept of election to entrance into the elect people or shifting the focus of election to the individual. Individuals were elect, but only as members of the elect people. Therefore, a crucial part of the main foundation of Schreiner’s thesis does not actually oppose a proper view of corporate election, which recognizes that corporate realities must apply to individuals and lends no support to the Calvinist view.
An accurate view of corporate election undercuts much of Schreiner’s argumentation. Its inclusion of individuals within its scope accounts for reference to individuals in the language and thought of Romans 9–11 and contradicts Schreiner’s claim that it implies only the election of an abstract concept rather than a group of people. On the other hand, a careful examination of Romans 9–11 reveals that its individual language and thought are actually corporately oriented, whether one thinks of singular language in chapter 9, the selection of a remnant in chapters 9 and 11, or the faith or failure of individuals in chapter 10.
What Schreiner fails to address adequately is the relationship between the group and the individual. His assertion that corporate election must involve individuals turns out to be a simplistic truism that neglects the complexities of corporate thought. He appears to assume facilely that there is a one-to-one correlation between the group and the individual so that what is true of the group is true of the individual in the exact same way. Therefore, for Schreiner, if the group has been selected, then this implies that each individual member of the group was selected on his own to become a member of the group. But this does not necessarily follow, and as we have seen, does not fit the contours of corporate thought, which regards the group as primary and the individual as secondary. Such an outlook finds (1) the corporate identity and reality to transcend that of the individual on his own; (2) that some things that are true of the group might not be true of the individual; and (3) that the individual’s experience of corporate realities depends on his participation in the group.
The important question about election that must be answered concerns its primary orientation. Is it corporate or individual? Schreiner, whether consciously or not, presupposes that it is individual. Indeed, he does not seem able to grasp the corporate perspective due to modern individualistic assumptions. This is probably why he states that it demands an extended explanation.61 Hopefully, the present article will meet this demand.
Schreiner’s critique of corporate election does not succeed at upholding the Calvinist view of individual election in Romans 9. The OT and Judaism’s view of election was corporate, Paul himself only spoke explicitly of election unto salvation in corporate terms, and Paul’s socio-historical context was solidly collectivism Moreover, Paul, who deals with Scripture extensively in Romans 9–11 and attempts to show that his views are in accord with it, refers
to a number of passages that evince a corporate view of election. Furthermore, the OT concept of corporate election embraces individual separation and entrance into the elect community without shifting the locus of election to the individual. The burden of proof must lie on those who would claim that Paul departed from this standard biblical and Jewish conception of election. If it be claimed that the shift of the locus of election from Abraham or Jacob/ Israel to Christ demands such a departure, I would point out that election in Christ is only the fulfillment of Israel’s election and that this election fits perfectly into the OT pattern. Again, if it be objected that this sets up an impossible standard because Paul nowhere directly argues for individual election in such a way that does not fit into a corporate perspective, I would respond that that is exactly the point. We would have to assume the corporate view unless there was some good reason to the contrary. Neither Paul nor the rest of the NT gives us any reason to make this leap.62 Quite the opposite, they, not least Romans 9, support the corporate view through corporate language, socio-historical context, and recourse to the OT. In response to Schreiner’s question, “Does Romans 9 teach individual election unto salvation?” we must answer, no, it does not. It contains a corporate view of election unto salvation that grants elect status to all who are in Christ.63
Thomas R. Schreiner, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election unto Salvation? Some Exe- getical and Theological Reflections,” JETS
36 (1993) 25-40. The article has been reprinted with only minor changes as “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election unto Salvation?” in The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will
(ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995) 1.89–106, and again in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Fore knowledge, and Grace
(ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000) 89- 106. References in this article will refer to the latter-mentioned reprinted version. Cf. Schreiner’s treatment of Romans 9–11, and especially chapter 9, in his commentary on Romans (Romans
[BECNT 6; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998] 469-638, esp. pp. 472–530).
Cf. the similar observation of Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans
(NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 571. Indeed, several recent treatments of Romans 9 have found that Paul is not speaking of the eternal fate of individuals specifically: e.g. N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology
(Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1992) 238-39; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary
(AB 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993) 563; Brendan Byrne, Romans
(Sacra Pagina 6; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996) 299; Luke T. Johnson, Reading Romans
(New York: Crossroad, 1997) 140; Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Com mentary
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 246-59. In addition to Schreiner, two other outspoken modern scholars who argue for individual election unto salvation in Romans 9 are especially note worthy: Moo (in his Romans commentary mentioned above); idem, “The Theology of Romans 9–11: A Response to E. Elizabeth Johnson,” in Pauline Theology III: Romans
(ed. David M. Hay and Elizabeth E. Johnson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 254-58; and John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23
(2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).
See also esp. Piper, Justification of God, passim,
esp. chs. 1 and 2; and my own doctoral dissertation: “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9:An Intertextual and Theological Exe gesis” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2004) 78-81, 195–259, 312–13, 317. A revised form of this dissertation is scheduled to appear in the JSNTSup series under the same title.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 99.
The representative of corporate election that Schreiner interacts with most is William W. Klein, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990). But even though he may not give much attention to the place of individuals in the elect people, Klein certainly affords a place to individuals in his scheme; see e.g. pp. 264–65.
On the concept of corporate election, see also Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 310–17 (cf. pp. 108–12) and the literature cited there.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 99.
For a survey of the NT in relation to the issue of corporate/individual election, see Klein, Chosen People.
Interestingly, in an essay arguing for a Calvinistic view of individual election, Donald J. Westblade accepts Klein’s argument that Paul has corporate election in mind throughout Romans 9–11, though he does not believe that this excludes individual election (“Divine Election in the Pauline Literature” in Schreiner and Ware, eds., Still Sovereign
63–87, esp. p. 83 n. 35). But this latter judgment seems to be based on the same sort of faulty reasoning regarding the relationship between the collective and the individual identified above in Schreiner’s article (“Individual Election”).
For a demonstration of this point, see Klein, Chosen People
See D. I. Block, “Sojourner; Alien; Stranger,” ISBE
4.561-63. Rahab and Ruth are prominent examples from the OT.
Moo, “Theology of Romans 9–11” 254–58; cf. Moo, Romans
586, esp. n. 73. Nevertheless, he argues that the rejection of the gospel by the Jewish people and the flood of Gentiles entering individually into the Church led Paul to individualize election (but see below). It is interesting that Moo approvingly directs attention to Schreiner’s article for the problems with finding corporate election in the NT while recognizing that this was the view of the OT and Judaism (Romans
586 n. 73), for one of the major thrusts of Schreiner’s article is that the concept of a primarily corporate election is itself invalid.
Piper, Justification of God
As Piper comments: “Most commentators agree that the OT quotations in Rom 9:6–13 assume an acquaintance with the whole story of which they are a part and that without this knowledge the isolated quotations would be virtually unintelligible as part of the argument” (Justification of God
60 n. 27). On Paul’s scriptural allusions in Romans 9 as pointers to their original contexts, see Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9”; cf. Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul
(New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1989) 63-68; Douglas A. Oss, “Paul’s Use of Isaiah and Its Place in His Theology, with Special Reference to Romans 9–11” (Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 1992); J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul “in Concert” in the Letter to the Romans
(NovTSup 101; Leiden: Brill, 2002) ch. 2; and more generally, C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Substructure of New Testament Theology
(London: Nisbet, 1952); G. K. Beale, “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New
(ed. G. K. Beale; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 387-404, and a number of scholars he cites throughout, esp. on pp. 390–91, n. 10.
All translations of Scripture are the author’s.
C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
(2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975–79) 480.
On this concept, see Klein, Chosen People
36–42; Beale, “Jesus and His Followers” 392; idem, “The Old Testament Background of Reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5–7 and Its Bearing on the Literary Problem of 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, ” in Beale, ed., The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?
217–47, esp. 230–31; E. Earle Ellis, “Biblical Interpretation in the New Testament Church,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity
(ed. J. Mulder; CRINT 2.1; Assen: Van Gorcum/Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 716-20; idem, “How the New Testament Uses the Old,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods
(ed. I. H. Marshall; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 212-13; Klyne Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” in Beale, ed., The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?
29–51, esp. p. 37. The concept of corporate solidarity/representation in modern scholarship especially goes back to H. W. Robinson’s distinct notion of corporate personality (The Christian Doctrine of Man
[Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1911]; idem, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel
[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964]). Despite the inadequacy of Robinson’s construct, which has been forcefully criticized, the corporate perspective of the OT is undeniable and supported by recent research (in addition to the above, see e.g. Joel S. Kaminsky, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible
[Sheffield: JSOT, 1995] esp. 16–22; Gary W. Burnett, Paul and the Salvation of the Individual
[Biblical Interpretation Series 57; Leiden/Boston/Koln: Brill, 2001] esp. 73–80).
Note that Paul treats the same OT context in Rom 9:7 and Gal 4:21–31.
Of course, the Pauline authorship of Ephesians is disputed, but I believe that Schreiner and I agree that Paul is the author of the epistle. Even if one is inclined to reject Pauline authorship, Ephesians may still be regarded as faithful to Paul’s teaching. Harold Hoehner is now notable for providing what may be the most extensive defense of Pauline authorship of Ephesians (Ephesians
[Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002] 2-61); see also Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians
(PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 4-47. Against Pauline authorship, see Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians
(WBC 42; Dallas: Word, 1990) lix-lxxiii. On the covenantal-incorporative significance of Paul’s “in Christ” language, see very briefly, Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 205–6. Cf. the works listed in n. 17 above; Wright, Climax of the Covenant
18–55; Michael Cranford, “Elec tion and Ethnicity: Paul’s View of Israel in Romans 9.1-13, ” JSNT
50 (1993) 27-41, esp. p. 30. On Eph 1:4, see IV.4.C below.
The only case of Paul using the language of election in relation to an individual is Rom 16:13, where he refers to Rufus as “the chosen one in the Lord” (τὸν ἐκλεκτὸν ἐν κυρίῳ). However, this probably does not refer to Rufus’ election unto salvation, but to his being a choice/outstanding Christian, which Cranfield calls a very widespread interpretation (Romans
794). But even if it were referring to salvation, it would still not support a traditional notion of individual election because it is qualified as an election in the Lord, which fits better with the concept of corporate election as argued above. Outside of the Pauline corpus, individual language is used in connection with salvific election in 1 Pet 5:13; 1 John 5:1, 13. But these instances turn out to be cases of collective singulars that refer to the election of corporate entities, which only strengthens the case for cor porate election as the view of the NT.
On this point in relation to Romans 9–11, see Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 108–12.
For a fuller yet conveniently brief description of the character of collectivist vs. individual istic cultures, see Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
47–49; cf. Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 108–12. For an extensive though in some ways problematic description, see Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World
(Atlanta: John Knox, 1981) 51-70; Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality
(Louisville: West minster John Knox, 1996) 153-201, 225–31. For a critique of Malina, see Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
1–2, 26, 91–114.
Burnett, Salvation of the Individual.
For a recent survey of the present state of scholarship on the relationship between the group and the individual in biblical studies, see Shannon Burkes, God, Self, and Death: The Shape of Religious Transformation in the Second Temple Period
(JSJSup 79; Leiden: Brill, 2003) 17-29.
See, e.g., Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
Ibid. 76, 80, 84-85, 109-14, 229. One of the drawbacks of Burnett’s study is that he does not state clearly enough the relationship between the group and the individual in Paul’s thought (cf. the criticism of Jeffrey S. Lamp, review of Gary W. Burnett, Paul and the Salvation of the Individual,
in Review of Biblical Literature
[http: //www.bookreviews.org] 2003). At times he gives the impression that the individual was primary for Paul, but this appears to be a result of the purpose of the study to argue for the importance of the individual in Paul’s thought. As mentioned above, he does indicate that the importance of the individual for Paul was within a corporate perspective. In any case, he does clearly express that he regards Romans 9-12 as solidly collectivist and finds it necessary to argue that Paul’s concern for collective matters in these chapters “does not make up the sum total of Paul’s thinking in Romans” (p. 18).
Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
76. The quotations of Kaminsky are from Corporate Re sponsibility
Burnett, Salvation of the Individual
See note 12 above and cf. Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 316, n. 135.
Howard Clark Kee, Knowing the Truth: A Sociological Approach to New Testament Interpre tation
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989) 5. It is worth noting that the thesis of Kee’s book is that an individualistic “perception of Christianity in its origins is directly contradicted by the study of the New Testament—the New Covenant—which sets out the ways that Jesus and the movement to which his words and works gave rise sought to define participation in the community of God’s people” (p. 1).
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 99. It is surprising that Schreiner shows no awareness in this section of the fact that many scholars view Paul’s singular language as applying primarily on the corporate level and offer significant reasons for doing so. On the other hand, Piper takes the arguments of such scholars seriously while arguing vigorously against them (Justification of God)
See Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 159–71, 359; cf. R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary
(TOTC; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973) 225-26.
The lxx’s ov translates the Hebrew אֲשֶּׁר, which is a numberless relative particle that can refer to either a singular or plural referent. We have no way of knowing whether the lxx translator of Exod 33:19 used ov in a collective or singular sense, that is, how he interpreted the passage. The lxx uses the singular Greek relative pronoun to translate אֲשֶּׁר in relation to a group in e.g. Num 13:32; Isa 19:25; 41:8. Cf. the use of singular language applied to the nation at various points else where in Exodus 32–34 such as Exod 33:3, and throughout the OT.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 99. Schreiner could have pointed elsewhere in Romans 9–11 as well, such as Rom 9:24–29.
Cf. Paul’s corporate approach to the Gentiles throughout Romans, such as his singular offering of the Gentiles to God in Rom 15:16 (see also, e.g., Rom 11:11–13, 25; 15:9, 16, 27; 16:4, 26), and elsewhere in his writings such as his vision of the making of the two groups of Jews and Gentiles respectively into one new man in Christ in Eph 2:11–22; the corporate view of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s people expressed by James at the Jerusalem council, where Paul figured prominently, speaking of God taking from the Gentiles a people
for his name (Acts 15:14).
See Moo, Romans
674–75, a Calvinist who takes this view and asserts that most commentators agree. Nevertheless, we would differ in significant ways in our approaches to Rom 11:1–6.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 99–100.
Ibid. 99; emphasis removed.
This is not to say that general corporate language necessarily indicates the broader view of a given author or that it indicates objective reality. But it does present the perspective of the author as he chooses to portray it in a specific instance, similar to his choice of verb tense/aspect. More over, in the case of general corporate language the corporate situation can be determined by the state of the individuals who make up the group (unlike the concept of corporate election)—though even here it does not have to do with individuals in and of themselves, but with individuals as members of the collective in accordance with the corporate orientation of first century Mediterranean culture—but the author’s choice of language indicates where the primary emphasis of his discourse lies and means that there is not a one-to-one correlation between what can be said to be true of the individual and what can be said to be true of the group. Strikingly, corporate thought can also characterize a group in a way that is at odds with what is actually true of the majority of its members (e.g. Josh 10:29–43; passim)
Cf. the corporate election contained in Exod 32:31–33, which was focused on the people and from which individuals could be cut off. This passage serves as the background for Rom 9:1–5 and belongs to the same general context as Exod 33:19, which Paul quotes and interprets in Rom 9:15–18. In response to Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel, the Lord tells him that he will blot out of his book any individual who sinned (with the golden calf), a punishment that entails being cut off from the elect people and exposed to the fatal covenant curse and wrath of God. This figure stands partly behind Paul’s designation of Israel as anathema in Rom 9:3 and sets up the challenge to God’s word posed by ethnic Israel having been cut off from the elect people. On Paul’s use of Exodus 32–34 in Rom 9:1–5, see Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 138–263.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 101–5.
The meaning of the phrase ἡ κατ᾿ ἐκλογὴν πρόθεσις (“the purpose of God according to election”) is, of course, debated, with many possible semantic options (cf. BDAG, s.v. Kcrrd, B, esp. B7), most of which are compatible with the interpretation offered above. Moo is probably correct to take the phrase to indicate that election is the means by which God carries out his purpose (Romans
581 n. 53). See further Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 357.
That the purpose of election referred to in Rom 9:11 is none other than God’s purpose to bless the world is suggested by the broader context of Romans as well as by the OT background of Rom 9:6–9, particularly the broader context of Gen 18:10, 14, namely Gen 18:17–19. See Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 271–72, 343, 357.
For a thorough discussion of the phrase, see Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 325–27.
Piper argues that Rom 9:16 teaches unconditional election based largely on Exod 33:19, but in this respect he has mishandled this verse with its idem per idem
formula (Justification of God
81–83, 88–89, 157). This is a serious error that undermines the main thesis of his study if G. K. Beale is correct that Piper’s chapter on Exod 33:19 is “the theological cornerstone for the entire mono graph” and that its validity would sustain the book’s essential thesis: “Review of J. Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23, ” WTJ
46 (1984) 191- 92; quotation from p. 191. On both Exod 33:19 and Piper’s mishandling of it, see Abasciano, “Old Testament in Romans 9:1–9” 166–71.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 101.
If we were to consider the formation of a completely new team, it is interesting to note that it was a corporate approach that enabled the Colorado Rockies baseball team to exist before it had any players; I owe this observation to an unpublished paper by William W. Klein.
“We are chosen in Christ. This does not mean that we were chosen to be put into Christ.. ..
It means that as we repented and were born again into the body of Christ, we partake of his chosen- ness” (Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History
[Wheaton: Tyndale, 1973] 97).
Hence, commentators commonly affirm both the instrumental and incorporative sense of Paul’s language in Eph 1:3–14. See, e.g., William W. Klein’s forthcoming contribution on Ephesians in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary and the works he cites there; Lincoln, Ephesians
21–23; O’Brien, Ephesians
97–100. Though he recognizes the incorporative sense of Paul’s language, O’Brien objects to the suggestion that election in Christ is primarily corporate rather than individual (p. 99). But his position seems to be based on the same type of misunderstanding displayed in Schreiner’s objection to the validity of a primarily corporate election. The concept of corporate election advanced in this article strips O’Brien’s comments of their force, since it includes the notion that election and all its blessings come to individual believers personally. As O’Brien himself states, the “in Christ” phrase “signifies that God’s gracious gifts come not only through the agency of Christ but also because the recipients are incorporated in him who is himself in the heavenly realm” (p. 97).
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 103–5.
But it is probably true that many advocates of a corporate orientation for Paul’s thought have overstated their case so that they inappropriately present Paul and his contemporaries as having almost no concern for individuals or the implications that corporate realities have for individuals. On the other hand, Schreiner’s criticism of Klein on this point is probably misguided, arising from his assumption that logic requires a one-to-one correlation between the individuals in a group and the group itself (cf. Schreiner, “Individual Election” 103–4, and Klein, Chosen People
264). Klein seems to be using the term “logic” in the sense of “one coherent way of thinking.” Schreiner’s in dividualistic scheme is a
logical way of thinking about the relationship between the individual and the group, but it is not a logically necessary way, as I have tried to show. Indeed, Schreiner’s approach is unfit for contexts in which the group is deemed primary. At the same time, the corporate perspective is equally logical.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 105.
This is true despite John Calvin’s and Jonathan Edwards’s valiant attempt to rescue the assertion from absurdity. Against their view, see Bruce R. Reichenbach, “Freedom, Justice, and Moral Responsibility,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man
(ed. Clark H. Pinnock; Minne apolis, MN: Bethany House, 1989) 281-87.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 105.
This is not to deny that there may be some scholars who hold the type of view that Schreiner convincingly refutes and others whose view of corporate election may be vague as Schreiner charges. His article may successfully counter the inadequate view of some scholars, but it does not successfully defend a Calvinistic view of individual election in Romans 9. Moreover, the representative of corporate election whom Schreiner mentions the most, William Klein, does not hold the sort of view against which Schreiner’s argument succeeds.
Schreiner, “Individual Election” 101.
Schreiner, in ibid. 105, claims that individual election is taught in too many texts to be dis missed, citing without comment John 6:37, 44-45, 64-65; 10:26; Acts 13:48; 16:14. But I would counter that these texts neither teach nor imply individual election in the Calvinist sense. Un fortunately, discussion of them is beyond the scope of this article.
I would like to thank Paul Ellingworth and Bill Klein for reading this article and offering helpful comments. I am also thankful to Bill for sending me his unpublished paper on the same topic and a portion of his forthcoming commentary on Ephesians.
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Voluem 49
(Lynchburg, VA: The Evangelical Theological Society, 2006), vnp.49.2.349-49.2.371.
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Article by Roger E. Olson
Below is a rather lengthy essay I have written. I welcome you to pass it around. It is not copyrighted, but please keep my name and blog address attached to it when you send or post it
Arminianism is God-Centered Theology
One of the most common criticisms aimed at Arminianism by its opponents is that it is “man-centered theology.” (I will occasionally use the gender-exclusive phrase because it is used so often by Arminianism’s critics. It means, of course, “humanity-centered.”) One Reformed critic of Arminianism who frequently levels this charge is Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Escondido campus) and editor of Modern Reformation magazine. I have engaged Horton in protracted conversations about classical Arminianism and his and other Reformed critics’ stereotypes of it, but to date he still says it is “man-centered.” Almost every article in the infamous May/June, 1992 special issue of Modern Reformation on Arminianism repeats this caricature of it. Horton’s is no exception. In his article “Evangelical Arminians,” where he says “an evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic” (p. 18), the Westminster theologian and magazine editor also calls Arminianism “a human-centered message of human potential and relative divine impotence.” (p. 16)
Horton is hardly the only critic who has made this accusation against Arminianism. Several authors of articles in the “Arminianism” issue of Modern Reformation do the same thing. For example, Kim Riddlebarger, following B. B. Warfield, claims that human freedom is the central premise of Arminianism, its “first principle” that governs everything else. (p. 23) That is simply another way of saying it is “man-centered.” Lutheran theologian Rick Ritchie lays the same charge against Arminianism in the same issue of Modern Reformation. (p. 12) In the same issue theologian Alan Maben quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying that “Arminianism [is] a natural, God-rejecting, self-exalting religion and heresy,” and man is the principle figure in its landscape. (p. 21)
Another evangelical theologian who accuses Arminianism of being man-centered is the late James Montgomery Boice, one of my own seminary professors. In his book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Crossway, 2001), the late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia wrote that, under the influence of Arminianism, contemporary evangelical Christianity is “focused on ourselves and . . . in love with their own supposed spiritual abilities.” (p. 168) According to him, Arminians cannot give glory to God alone and must reserve some glory for themselves because they believe the human will plays a role in salvation. He concludes, “A person who thinks along these lines does not understand the utterly pervasive and thoroughly enslaving nature of human sin.” (p. 167)
Reformed theologian Sung Wook Chung of Korea, trained in theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, writes that Arminianism “exalts the autonomous power and sovereign will of human beings by denying God’s absolute sovereignty and his free will. Arminianism also regards man as the center of the universe and the purpose of all things.” ("The Arminian Captivity of the Modern Evangelical Church," Life Under the Big Top, Jan/Feb 1995, pp. 2-3) Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler writes in The Coming Evangelical Crisis about the “human-centered focus of the Arminian tradition.” (p. 34) In the same volume Gary Johnson calls Arminianism a “man-centered faith” and says that, “When theology becomes anthropology, it becomes simply a form of worldliness.” (p. 63)
Perhaps the most sophisticated way of saying the same thing is provided by scholar of Protestant orthodoxy Richard Muller in his volume on Arminius entitled God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Baker, 1991). Muller writes that “Arminius’ thought evinces . . . a greater trust in nature and in the natural powers of man . . . than the theology of his Reformed contemporaries.” (p. 233) He goes on to accuse Arminius of confusing nature and grace and of placing creation at the center of theology to the neglect of redemption. He writes that Arminius tended “to understand creation as manifesting the ultimate purpose of God.” (p. 233) A close reading of Muller’s interpretation of Arminius’ theology will reveal that he is charging it with being anthropocentric or man-centered rather than God-centered and focused on grace. A close reading of Arminius, on the other hand, will reveal how wrong this assessment is.
What do these and other critics mean when they accuse Arminianism of being “man-centered” or “human-centered?” And what would it mean for a theology to be God-centered, as they claim theirs is? Especially in today’s Calvinist resurgence of “young, restless, Reformed” Christians it’s important to clarify these terms as one often hears it said (as a mantra), that non-Calvinist theologies are man-centered, whereas Reformed theology is God-centered. Their main guru John Piper frequently talks about the “God-centeredness of God” and refers everything in creation and redemption to God’s glory as the chief end. His implication, occasionally stated, is that Arminianism falls short of this high view of God. Too often without any consideration of what these appellations mean, today’s new Calvinists toss them around as clichés and shibboleths.
It seems that when critics of Arminianism accuse it of being man-centered they mean primarily three things. First, it focuses too much on human goodness and ability especially in the realm of redemption. That is, it does not take seriously enough the depravity of humanity and it prizes the human contribution to salvation too much. Another way of putting this is that Arminian theology does not give God all the glory for salvation. Second, they mean that Arminianism limits God by suggesting that God’s will can be thwarted by human decisions and actions. In other words, God’s sovereignty and power are not taken sufficiently seriously. Third, they mean that Arminianism places too much emphasis on human fulfillment and happiness to the neglect of God’s purpose, which is to glorify himself in all things. Another way of expressing this is that Arminianism allegedly has a sentimental notion of God and humanity in which God’s chief end is to make people happy and fulfilled.
Certainly there is some truth in these criticisms, but their target is wrong when aimed at classical Arminian theology. Unfortunately, all too seldom do the critics name any Arminian theologians or quote from Arminius himself to support these accusations. When they say “Arminianism,” they seem to mean popular folk religion, which is, admittedly, by-and-large semi-Pelagian. Some, most notably Horton, name 19th century revivalist Charles Finney as the culprit in dragging American Christianity down into human-centered spirituality. Whether Finney is a good example of an Arminian is highly debatable. I agree with Horton and others that too much popular Christianity in America, including much that goes under the label “evangelical,” is human-centered. I disagree with them, however, about classical Arminianism–about which I suspect most of them know very little.
What would count as truly God-centered theology to these Reformed critics of Arminianism? First, human depravity must be emphasized as much as possible so that humans are not capable, even with supernatural, divine assistance, of cooperating with God’s grace in salvation. In other words, grace must be irresistible. Another way of saying this is that God must overwhelm elect sinners and compel them to accept his mercy without any cooperation, even non-resistance, on their parts. This is part and parcel of high Calvinism, otherwise known as five-point Calvinism. According to Boice and others, theology is only God-centered if human decision plays no role whatsoever in salvation. The downside of this, of course, is that God’s selection of some to salvation must be purely arbitrary and God must be depicted as actually willing the damnation of some significant portion of humanity that he could save because salvation in this scheme is absolutely unconditional. In other words, Calvinism may be God-centered, but the God at the center is morally ambiguous and unworthy of worship.
Second, apparently, for the Reformed critics of Arminianism, God-centered theology must view God as the all-determining reality, including the one who ordains, designs, governs and controls sin and evil, which are then imported into God’s plan, purpose and will. God’s perfect will is always being done, even when it paradoxically grieves him to see it (as John Piper likes to affirm). The only view of God’s sovereignty that will satisfy these Reformed critics of Arminianism is meticulous providence, in which God plans everything and renders it all certain down to the minutest decisions of creatures, but most notably including the fall of humanity and all its consequences, including the eternal suffering of sinners in hell. The downside of this, of course, is that the God at the center is, once again, morally ambiguous at best and a monster at worst. Theologian David Bentley Hart expresses it thus: One should consider the price of this God-centeredness:
It requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of—but entirely by way of—every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek [God-centered theology] . . . at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome. (The Doors of the Sea [Eerdmans, 2005], p. 99)
Third, to satisfy Arminianism’s Reformed critics, God-centeredness requires that human beings are mere pawns in God’s great scheme to glorify himself; their happiness and fulfillment cannot be mentioned as having any value for God. But this means, then, that one can hardly mention God’s love for all people. One must first say, with John Piper and others, that God loves people because he loves himself and that Christ died for God more than for sinners. The down side of this is that the Bible talks much about God’s love for people—John 3:16 and numerous similar verses—and explicitly says that Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:8). While not canonical, early church father Irenaeus’s saying that, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” ought to be considered to have some validity. Surely it is possible to have a God-centered theology without implying that people created in the image and likeness of God and loved by God so much that he sent his Son to die for them are of no value to God. In fact, some Reformed theologians such as John Piper ironically do violate the third principle of God-centeredness, as it is required by some critics of Arminianism. His so-called “Christian hedonism” says that human happiness and fulfillment are important to theology even if not to God. His mantra is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” In spite of this saying and his Christian hedonism, overall and in general Piper follows the typical Calvinist line of thinking that human happiness and fulfillment should be of little or no value compared with God’s glory. Another down side of this, besides the Bible’s emphasis on God’s love and care for people, is the picture of God it delivers. In this theology, the God at the center is the ultimate narcissist, the greatest egoist who finds glory in displaying his naked power even to the point of consigning millions to hell just to manifest his attribute of justice.
The point of all this is simply this: It accomplishes very little to construct a God-centered theology if the God at its center is sheer, naked power of ambiguous moral character. “Glory” is an ambiguous term. When divorced from virtue it is unworthy of devotion. Many of the monarchs of history have been “glorious” while at the same time being blood-thirsty and cruel. True glory, the best glory, the right glory worthy of worship and honor and devotion necessarily includes goodness. Power without goodness is not truly glorious even if it is called that. What makes someone or something worthy of veneration is not sheer might but goodness. Who is more worthy of imitation and even veneration, Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler? The latter conquered most of Europe. The former had little power outside of her example. And yet, most people would say that Mother Teresa was more “glorious” than Adolf Hitler. God is glorious because he is both great and good and his goodness, like his greatness, must have some resonance with our best and highest notions of goodness or else it is meaningless.
All that is to say that Arminianism’s critics are the proverbial people casting stones while living in glass houses. They talk endlessly about God’s glory and about God-centeredness while sucking the goodness out of God and thus divesting him of real glory. Their theology may be God-centered but the God at its center is unworthy of being the center. Better a man-centered theology than one that revolves around a being hardly distinguishable from the devil.
In spite of objections to the contrary, I will argue that classical Arminian theology is just as God-centered as Calvinism if not more so. The God at its center, whose glory, to the contrary of critics’ claims, is the chief end or purpose of everything, is not morally ambiguous, which is the main point of Arminianism. Somehow Arminian theology has been stuck with the bad reputation of believing most strongly in human freedom. That has never been true. Real Arminianism has always believed in human freedom for one main reason—to protect the goodness of God and thus God’s reputation in a world filled with evil. There is only one reason classical Arminian theology emphasizes free will, but it has two sides. First, to protect and defend God’s goodness; second to make clear human responsibility for sin and evil. It has nothing whatever to do with any humanistic desire for creaturely autonomy or credit for salvation. It has never been about boasting except in the goodness of the God who creates, rules and saves.
Why did Arminius reject and why do classical Arminians reject Calvinism? Certainly not because it is God-centered. As I will demonstrate, Arminius’ own theology was fully God-centered in every sense. Arminius and his followers rejected Calvinism because, as Arminius himself put it, it is “repugnant to the nature of God.” (“Declaration of Sentiments,” Works I, p. 623) How so? According to Arminius (and all classical Arminians agree), Calvinism implies: “God really sins. Because, (according to this doctrine,) he moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to his own purpose and primary intention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit in man.” Also, “From the same position we might also infer, that God is the only sinner. For man, who is impelled by an irresistible force to commit sin, (that is, to perpetrate some deed that has been prohibited,) cannot be said to sin himself.” Finally, “As a legitimate consequence it also follows, that sin is not sin, since whatever that be which God does, it neither can be sin, nor ought any of his acts to receive that appellation.” (“Sentiments,” p. 630)
Anyone who has read John Wesley’s sermons “On Free Grace” and “Predestination Calmly Considered” knows very well that he rejects Calvinism for the same reason given by Arminius before him. In the former sermon he described double predestination (which he rightly argued is necessarily implied by classical Calvinist unconditional election) as, “Such a blasphemy . . . as one would think might make the ears of a Christian tingle.” (The Works of John Wesley, 3:III, p. 555) According to him, that doctrine “destroys all [God’s] attributes at once” and “represents the most Holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.” (Ibid., p. 555) In “Predestination Calmly Considered,” Wesley rejected Calvinism for one reason only: not because it denied the free will of man but because it “overthrows the justice of God.” He preached as if to a listening Calvinist: “you suppose him [viz., God] to send them [viz., the reprobate] into eternal fire, for not escaping from sin! That is, in plain terms, for not having that grace which God had decreed they should never have! O strange justice! What a picture do you draw of the Judge of all the earth!” (The Works of John Wesley, Vol. X: Letters, Essays, Dialogs and Addresses [Zondervan, n.d.], p. 221) Anyone who has read later classical Arminians knows that their main reason for rejecting Calvinism is the same: it impugns the goodness of God and sullies God’s reputation. It has nothing at all to do with valuing human free will in and for itself, and I challenge critics to demonstrate otherwise.
To explain and defend Arminianism’s God-centeredness, let’s begin with the first issue mentioned above as a reason critics give for claiming that Arminian theology is man-centered: the human condition and participation in salvation. Classical Arminian theology, defined by Arminius’s own thought, and by the thoughts of his faithful followers, has always emphasized human depravity just as strongly as Calvinism and it has always given all the credit for salvation to God alone. Anyone who has read Arminius for himself or herself cannot dispute this. The editor of The Works of James Arminius (Baker, 1996 [originally published in England 1828]) says rightly that, “Were any modern Arminian to avow the sentiments which Arminius himself has here maintained , he would be instantly called a Calvinist!” (Editor’s notes to “Twenty-five Public Disputations,” Works II, p. 189) In that context Arminius wrote about the human condition “under the dominion of sin”: “In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and . . . weakened; but it is also . . . imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.” (Ibid., p. 192) Lest anyone misunderstand, he drives home his point, saying of man that, in the state of nature, due to the fall, he is “altogether dead in sin.” (Ibid., p. 194) This is not the only place in his voluminous writings where Arminius describes the human condition apart from supernatural grace in this way. In virtually every essay, oration and declaration he says the same, and abundantly! There can be no doubt that Arminius believed in total depravity every bit as much as do Calvinists.
What about free will? What about the human contribution to salvation? Did not Arminius attribute some good to the human person that causes God to save him or her? I’ll allow Arminius to speak for himself on this matter also. Immediately after describing the divine cure for human depravity, which is what is commonly known as “prevenient grace,” which awakens the person dead in sin to awareness of God’s mercy, Arminius says that even “the very first commencement of every good thing, so likewise the progress, continuance and confirmation, nay even the perseverance in good, are not from ourselves, but from God through the Holy Spirit.” (Ibid., p. 195) This is not an isolated quote taken out of context. Everywhere Arminius constantly refers all good in man to God as its source and attributes every impulse and capacity for good to grace. I cannot resist offering one more example. In his “A Letter Addressed to Hippolytus A Collibus,” Arminius speaks of grace and free will:
I confess that the mind of . . . a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his . . . affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this, That teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to Divine Grace; provided he so pleads the cause of Grace as not to inflict an injury on the Justice of God, and not to take away the free will to do that which is evil. (Works II, pp. 700-701)
The context of this statement makes clear that Arminius’ concern for free will is to avoid doing injury to God’s goodness by making him the author of sin and evil. For him, human free will is always the cause of sin and evil and God is never their cause even indirectly. (Although, it should be noted that in his doctrine of providence Arminius affirms that a creature cannot do anything without God’s permission and even concurrence.) This is the only reason he affirms free will.
What about later Arminians such as the Remonstrants? Sometimes critics of Arminianism allege that the true meaning of Arminianism is to be found in the theology of the Remonstrants, who were Arminius’ followers after his death. Of course, that is like saying the true meaning of Calvinism is to be found in the theology of the Reformed scholastics after Calvin. The truth is that both “Arminianism” and “Calvinism” must be defined by both their namesakes and their most faithful followers. I argue that true, classical Arminian theology was always faithful to and consistent with Arminius’ thought and vice versa. I have demonstrated that in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (InterVarsity Press, 1996).
The normative expression of Remonstrant theology may be found in The Arminian Confession of 1621, written by Simon Episcopius, founder of the Remonstrant Seminary in Holland. In complete harmony with Arminius, the Confession affirms that the fallen human person is completely incapable of saving faith and that he or she is totally dependent on grace for any and every good. In the article on the creation of the world, angels and men, it says: “whatever good [man] has, he owes all solidly to God and . . . he is obligated . . . to render and consecrate the same wholly to him.” (Confession 5.6 as translated by Mark A. Ellis in The Arminian Confession of 1621 [Wipf & Stock, 2005], p. 56) As for the human condition, the Confession says of grace that, “without it we could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves.” (Ibid., pp. 68-69) There is nothing “man-centered” about this Confession. Later Remonstrants such as Philip Limborch, who fits Alan Sell’s category of “Arminian of the head” as opposed to “Arminian of the heart,” veered off toward a man-centered semi-Pelagianism. But most Arminians followed the path of Arminius, Episcopius and Wesley, and the 19th century Methodist theologians such as Richard Watson, who averred that even repentance is a gift of God. (Theological Institutes [Lane & Scott, 1851], p. 99)
Anyone who reads these classical Arminians with a hermeneutic of charity rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion and hostility cannot help but see their God-centeredness in emphasizing the absolute dependence of human persons on God’s grace for everything good. All of them repeat this maxim frequently and attribute all of salvation from its beginning to end to God’s supernatural grace. Of course, most Reformed critics will not be satisfied with this. They will still say, as does Boice, that if the sinner, however enabled by prevenient grace, makes a free choice to accept God’s mercy unto salvation that is man-centered rather than God-centered. All I can say to that is that it is ludicrous. The point Boice and other critics continually make is that in the Arminian system the saved person can boast because he or she did not resist God’s grace and others did. All Arminian theologians from Arminius to Wesley to Wiley have pointed out that a person who receives a life-saving gift cannot boast if all he or she did was accept it. All the glory for such a gift goes to the giver and none to the receiver.
The second issue raised by critics of Arminianism has to do with God’s alleged limitations and lack of sovereignty and power. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler writes in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, that, “The Arminian God ultimately lacks omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendent sovereignty.” (p. 34) I argue that this objection carries no weight at all. Anyone who reads Arminius or his faithful followers, classical Arminians, cannot come away with this impression. All emphasize the sovereignty of God over his creation, including specific providence, and all underscore God’s power limited only by his goodness. What throws off Reformed (and perhaps other) critics is the underlying Arminian assumption of God’s voluntary self-limitation in relation to humanity. However, that God limits himself by no means implies that he is essentially limited. According to Arminian theology, God is sovereign over his sovereignty and his goodness conditions his power. Otherwise, he would be sheer, naked power without character. As I argued earlier, that would make him unworthy of worship.
I will begin as before with Arminius himself. What did he believe about God’s sovereignty and power? First, he rightly pointed out that, although he did affirm God’s absolute dominion over creation, “The declaration of dominion has no glory by itself, unless it has been justly used.” (“Examination of the Theses of Dr. Franciscus Gomarus Respecting Predestination,” Works III, p. 632) In his “Private Disputations” and “Public Disputations,” Arminius went to great lengths to affirm and endorse what is called classical Christian theism, with all the traditional attributes attached to it, including omnipotence and sovereignty. A stronger statement of God’s incommunicable attributes could not be found anywhere. As for sovereignty, Arminius confessed that “Satan and wicked men not only cannot accomplish, but, indeed, cannot even commence anything except by God’s permission.” (“Examination of Dr. Perkins’s Pamphlet on Predestination,” Works III, p. 369)
Even some Arminians might find some of Arminius’s statements about God’s sovereignty perplexing, if not troubling. He attributed every power to God and denied that any creature has the ability to accomplish anything, including evil, independently of God. To critics who accused him of limiting God and exalting human autonomy Arminians wrote:
I openly allow that God is the cause of all actions which are perpetrated by the creatures. But I merely require this, that that efficiency of God be so explained as that nothing whatever be derogated from the liberty of the creature, and that the guilt of sin itself be not transferred to God: that is, that it may be shown that God is indeed the effector of the act, but only the permitter of the sin itself; nay, that God is at the same time the effecter and permitter of one and the same act. (Ibid., p. 415)
This is an expression of Arminius’s doctrine of divine concurrence, in which the creature cannot act without God’s permission and aid. God wills creaturely free will and therefore must reluctantly concur with creatures in their sinful acts, because they cannot act independently of him. He does not, however, plan or propose or render certain any sin or evil.
To drive the point home further: In his “A Letter Addressed to Hippolytus A Collibus,” Arminius went to great lengths to affirm divine sovereignty, power and providential control over creation. He speculates that he was accused of holding “corrupt opinions respecting the Providence of God” because he denied that, “with respect to the decree of God, Adam necessarily sinned.” (Works II, p. 698) In other words, he rejected the typical Calvinist view that God foreordained and rendered certain Adam’s sin. However, he averred that, in spite of his rejection of the necessity of Adam’s fall, he did teach a strong and high view of God’s providence:
I most solicitously avoid two causes of offence, — that God be not proposed as the author of sin, — and that its liberty be not taken away from the human will: These are two points which if anyone knows how to avoid, he will think upon no act which I will not in that case most gladly allow to be ascribed to the Providence of God, provided a just regard be had to the divine pre-eminence. (Ibid., pp. 697-698)
What is absolutely clear from the context is that his insistence that liberty be not taken away from the human will has only one motive—that God not be proposed as the author of sin. He had no vested interest in human autonomy or free will for its own sake. His God-centeredness revolved around two foci: God’s untarnished goodness, and absolute creaturely dependence on God for everything good. These cannot be missed as they appear on almost every page of his writings.
What about the Arminian Confession of 1621, the normative statement of Remonstrant belief after Arminius? Did it fall into human-centeredness as critics claim? In its chapter “On the providence of God, or his preservation and government of things,” the Confession avers that “nothing happens anywhere in the entire world rashly or by chance, that is, God either not knowing, or ignoring, or idly observing it, much less looking on, still less altogether reluctantly even unwillingly and not even willing to permit it.” (p. 63) The practical conclusion of the doctrine of providence, the Confession affirms, is that the true believer “will always give thanks to God in prosperity, and in addition, in the future . . . freely and continuously place their greatest hope in God, their most faithful Father.” (Ibid.)
As for God’s omnipotence, the Confession says that God “is omnipotent, or of invincible and insuperable power, because he can do whatever he wills, even though all creatures be unwilling. Indeed he can always do more than he really wills, and therefore he can simply do whatever does not involve contradiction, that is, which are not necessarily and of themselves repugnant to the truth of certain things, nor to his own divine nature.” (Ibid., p. 48) What more can anyone ask of a doctrine of omnipotence? Oh, yes . . . certain Reformed critics can and so seem to ask for divine omnicausality. The problem with that, of course, is that it entangles God in evil. Again, the God at the center of that system is not worthy of being central to a belief system that values virtue and goodness. The fact is, that Arminius’s and the Remonstrants’ doctrines of God’s sovereignty and power are as high and strong as possible, short of making God the author of sin and evil.
What about later Arminians? Did they remain true to this high doctrine of God’s supremacy in and over all things? While affirming everything Arminius and the early Remonstrants taught about this doctrine, including God’s control over all things in creation, Richard Watson rightly cautioned that “the sovereignty of God is a Scriptural doctrine no one can deny; but it does not follow that the notions which men please to form of it should be received as scriptural.” (Watson, p. 442) For example, he avers that God could have prevented the fall of Adam and all its evil consequences but regarded it as better to allow it. (p. 435) That God merely allowed it and did not foreordain or cause it is where Watson’s doctrine of providence parts ways with the typical Reformed view. However, he rejects any notion that God is in any way the author of sin as incompatible with God’s goodness. (p. 429) The very fact that he affirms that God could have prevented the fall points to his strong view of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty. Again, in Watson, we see a subtle but definite assumption of God’s voluntary self-limitation in order to keep the God who stands at the center of theology good and worthy of worship.
The upshot of all this so far is that classical Arminian theology does not have a man-centered emphasis. Arminius’s main concern was not to elevate humanity alongside or over God; no one can read him fairly and get that impression. His main concern was to elevate God’s goodness alongside or even over God’s power without in any way diminishing God’s power. The way he accomplished that was by means of the idea of voluntary divine self-limitation—something he everywhere assumes and hints at without explicitly expounding. Reformed theologian Richard Muller has rightly discovered and brought this element of Arminius’s thought to light. He acknowledges the two equally important impulses in Arminius’s thought: God’s absolute right to exercise power and control and God’s free limitation of his power for the sake of the integrity of creation:
Both in the act of creation and in the establishment of covenant, God freely commits himself to the creature. God is not, in the first instance, in any way constrained to create, but does so only because of his own free inclination to communicate his goodness; nor is God in the second instance, constrained to offer man anything in return for obedience inasmuch as the act of creation implies a right and a power over the creature. Nonetheless, in both cases, the unconstrained performance of the act results in the establishment of limits to the exercise of divine power: granting the act of creation, God cannot reprobate absolutely and without a cause in the creature; granting the initiation of covenant, God cannot remove or obviate his promises. (Muller, p. 243)
The point is that any and all limitations of God’s power and sovereign control to dispose of his creatures as he wills is self-imposed either by his nature or by his covenant promises. This hardly amounts to a man-centered theology! In fact, one could rightly argue that certain Reformed doctrines of the necessity of creation, including redemption and damnation, for the full manifestation of God’s attributes and the full display of God’s glory amount to a creation-centered theology that robs God of his freedom and makes the world necessary for God.
The third charge laid against Arminianism that allegedly demonstrates its man-centeredness is its focus on human happiness and fulfillment to the detriment of God’s glory. Some Reformed theologians claim that Arminianism’s God is a weak, sentimental God who exists to serve human needs and wants, and that in Arminian theology man is made glorious at the expense of God’s glory. This is nothing more than vicious calumny that needs to be exposed as such. It may be true of a great deal of American folk religion, but it has nothing whatever to do with classical Arminian theology in which the chief end of all things is God’s glory.
As always I will begin with Arminius himself. Anyone who reads his “Private Disputations,” his “Public Disputations,” or his “Orations” cannot deny that he makes God’s glory the ultimate purpose of everything, including creation, providence, salvation, the church and the consummation. In his “Private Disputations,” Arminius stated clearly that God is the cause of all blessedness and that the “end” of this blessedness is twofold: "(1.) a demonstration of the glorious wisdom, goodness, justice, power, and likewise the universal perfection of God; and (2.) his glorification by the beatified.” (Works II, p. 321) Lest anyone think that he makes God dependent on creation or creation necessary to God, Arminius declares, in his “Apology or Defence,” that everything God does ad extra is absolutely free—even his self-glorification through creation and redemption: “God freely decreed to form the world, and did freely form it: And, in this sense, all things are done contingently in respect to the Divine decree; because no necessity exists why the decree of God should be appointed, since it proceeds from his own pure and free . . . Will.” (Works I, p. 758) In other words, only Arminius’ belief in libertarian freedom both in God and creatures, protects the absolute contingency and therefore gratuitousness of creation. Which is more glorious? A God who creates to glorify himself absolutely freely or one who, like Jonathan Edwards’ God, cannot do otherwise than he does?
It’s difficult to know from which context to quote Arminius’ numerous affirmations of the glory of God as the chief end of all his works. Here, however, is a typical example from his “Private Disputations,” where he covers all the loci of theology and almost always concludes that everything in heaven and earth is for the glory of God. This one has to do with sanctification, although his words are nearly identical with regard to justification and everything else God does. Sanctification, Arminius declares, “is a gracious act of God . . . [that] man may live the life of God, to the praise of the righteousness and of the glorious grace of God. . . .” (Works II, p. 408) Then, also, “The End [purpose] is, that a believing man, being consecrated to God as a Priest and King, should serve Him in newness of life, to the glory of his divine name. . . .” (Ibid., p. 409) Similarly, the “end” of the church is “the glory of God” (Ibid., p. 412), and the “end” of the sacraments is “the glory of God” (Ibid., p. 436), and “The principle End [of worship] is, the glory of God and Christ. . . .” (Ibid., p. 447) In his “Public Disputations,” Arminius repeats the pattern of describing everything blessed and good as God’s work, and its end or purpose as the glory of God.
Earlier I said that Arminius almost always concludes that everything in heaven and earth is for the glory of God. There is one and only one exception. In his discussion of sin he concludes, specifically here with respect to the first sin, that “There was no End for this sin.” (Ibid., p. 373) Man who sinned and the devil both proposed an end or purpose for it, but ultimately it could not have a purpose which would be to import it into God’s will, which would make it not sin. Rather, the first sin, like all sin, was absurd, something inexplicable—except by appeal to man’s misuse of free will. However, God had an end in allowing it: “acts glorious to God, which might arise from it.” (Ibid.,) In other words, while sin does not glorify God, God’s redemption of sinners does.
Time and space prohibit a lengthier and more detailed account of Arminius’ emphasis on the glory of God as the chief end or purpose of every good in creation. All I can do is urge skeptics to read his “Orations” in Works I, where he constantly repeats the refrain for “the glory of God and the salvation of men.” Lest anyone think he puts these two ends on the same level of importance, he says in Oration II that all salvation has the single purpose, that “we might sing God’s praises to him forever.” (Works I, p. 372)
One finds no hint anywhere in Arminius of any concern for human autonomy for its own sake. Arminius’s only reason for affirming libertarian free will is to disconnect sin from God and make the sinner solely responsible for it. His one overriding concern is for God’s glory in all things. There can be no doubt that he would agree wholeheartedly with the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Time prohibits me from rehearsing a litany of Arminian affirmations of the glory of God after Arminius. Suffice it to say that all classical Arminians have always agreed with Arminius about this matter. I challenge critics of Armininism to display one example of a classical Arminian theologian who has elevated humanity to an end in itself or in any way made God’s chief end the glory of man. It doesn’t exist.
I conclude with this observation. The difference between Arminian and Calvinist theologies does not lie in man-centeredness versus God-centeredness. True Arminianism is as thoroughly God-centered as Calvinism. A fair reading of classical Arminian theologians from Arminius to Thomas Oden cannot avoid finding in them a ringing endorsement of the God-centeredness of all creation and redemption. The difference, rather, lies in the nature and character of the God who stands at the centers of these two systems. The God who stands at the center of classical, high Calvinism of the TULIP variety is a morally ambiguous being of power and control who is hardly distinguishable from the devil. The devil wants all people to go to hell, whereas the God of Calvinism wants some, perhaps most, people to go to hell. The devil is God’s instrument in wreaking havoc and horror in the world—for God’s glory. The God who stands at the center of classical Arminianism is the God of Jesus Christ, full of love and compassion, as well as justice and wrath, who voluntarily limits his power to allow creaturely rebellion, but is nevertheless the source of all good for whose glory and honor everything, except sin, exists.
Roger E. Olson
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To See the full article please click here.
Recently I contacted an old friend on Facebook (I only reluctantly created a Facebook account and only visit it once a month or so).
Many years ago (a little longer than a decade ago) I was a staunch 5 Point Calvinist. I attended a conservative PCA Reformed Church. At the time I was excited about Reformed theology and shared Calvinism with my friend. My friend is still a strong Calvinist, though I began having doubts about Calvinism and moved away from it after a few years.
There are still several aspects of Calvinism that I enjoy and appreciate: such as God’s Sovereignty (though I believe this attribute of God is carried to extreme by Calvinists). I enjoy debating theology though I have to admit I did not enjoy this debate much. Up till this point in my Christian life (of more than 23 years) I had never been called a heretic.
I was disheartened to see how my friend had been impacted by Calvinism. While he did not respond much, neither did he contradict or interject when his friends called me and other Christians who are not Calvinists heretics.
I am sending this post and the following link to the actual article to my friend. I pray that he knows I truly love him and do not desire to hurt our relationship.
I feel responsible for his being a Calvinist since I am the one who shared it with him. It brought home to me once again how our beliefs and actions can have both good and bad affects on others.
While he is grateful I shared Calvinism with him, I am sorrowful.
Here is the link to the main (full) article. The names of those involved (except for mine) have been changed so that no one will be offended.
If you have any questions please feel free to post comments below.
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[This article is from John MacArthur’s book "The God Who Loves." John MacArthur is a moderate Calvinist, and while I disagree with some of what he teaches here, he does point out the problems those have that deny God loves those He does not save]
Article by John MacArthur
Can God Really Love Whom He Does Not Save?
I realize, of course, that most readers have no objection whatsoever to the idea that God’s love is universal. Most of us were weaned on this notion, being taught as children to sing songs like, “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.” Many may never even have encountered anyone who denies that God’s love is universal.
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[This article is take from John MacArthurs book "The God Who Loves." Calvinists differ amongst themselves as to the extent of God’s Love. John MacArthur is a Calvinist, but he does not take the extreme view of some Calvinists who teach that God hates those He has not chosen for salvation. I may disagree with MacArthur on his interpretation of ‘degrees of love’, but he does a good job of showing how John 3:16 should be interpreted… and not misinterpreted by those Calvinists that twist Scripture to make it agree with their theology – Matthew]
by John MacArthur
"On the other hand, some well-meaning Christians concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy are so cautious about overemphasizing God’s love that they fear to speak of it at all. Our culture, after all, is “in love” with sin and self-love, and utterly dull to the wrath of God against sin. Isn’t it counterproductive to preach the love of God in the midst of such an ungodly society? Some who reason thus tend to see every bad thing that happens as if it were a direct judgment from the hand of a severe Deity."
John MacArthur, F., Jr, The God Who Loves. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, c1996), xiv.
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Originally Written by Bossmanham
Verses All Arminians Should Know
This list was compiled about a year ago by many members of The Society of Evangelical Arminians. I was asked to put it into blog form, and have finally sat down and gotten it done.
I hope for this to be a useful resource for any Arminian needing good scriptural texts that display his or her view. It should be cautioned that proof texting is far too easy for anyone to do, and with any of these verses the context should be considered. Far too often, context is ignored and erroneous interpretations are formed. So, use these verses, but corroborate their contexts.
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The Death Struggle with Sin
The form that sanctification takes is conflict with the indwelling sin that constantly assaults us. The conflict, which is lifelong, involves both resistance to sin’s assaults and the counterattack of mortification, whereby we seek to drain the life out of this troublesome enemy.
J. I. Packer
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The Faith That Doesn’t Work
Sanctification … is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian. “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” ( John 15:5 ). The branch which bears no fruit is no living branch of the vine. The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God. The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils. It is a “dead faith, because it is alone.” It is not the gift of God. It is not the faith of God’s elect. In short, where there is no sanctification of life, there is no real faith in Christ. True faith worketh by love. It constrains a man to live unto the Lord from a deep sense of gratitude for redemption. It makes him feel that he can never do too much for Him that died for him. Being much forgiven, he loves much. He whom the blood cleanses walks in the light. He who has real lively hope in Christ purifieth himself even as He is pure ( James 2:17–20 ; Titus 1:1 ; Gal. 5:6 ; 1 John 1:7 ; 3:3 ).
J. C. Ryle
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Unconditional Security (Reformed) vs. Conditional Security (Arminian:
The following Bible verses are often used to support the Arminian view that salvation is conditional (that keeping salvtion is conditioned upon continuing in faith. A rejection of faith results in the rejection of salvation).
Luke 8:11‑15 Luke 11: 24-28 John 15:1‑8
Matt 18: 21‑35 Luke 12: 42-46 Heb. 2:1
Heb. 6:1‑6,10-20 John 6:66-71 Heb. 3: 6-19
Heb. 10:19‑31 John 8:31-32 Matt. 24:13
Rom. 2:7‑8 John 8:51 Rom. 11:21-22
Ezek. 18: 24,26 John 13:8 Heb. 10:38
Heb. 6:12 Acts 11: 21-23 2 Tim. 2:18
1 Tim. 6:10,21 Acts. 14:21-22 1 Tim. 4:1
1 Tim. 1:19 Rom. 6: 11-23 Rev. 3:5
Matt. 25: 1-13 Rom. 8: 12-14, 17 Heb. 3:6
Rom. 11:20-22 Rom. 14: 15-23 1 Cor. 9:23-27
1 Cor. 10: 1-21 1 Cor. 11: 29-32 1 Cor. 15: 1-2
2 Cor. 1: 24 2 Cor. 11: 2-4 2 Cor. 12:21-13:5
Gal. 5: 1-4 Gal. 6: 7-9 Eph. 3: 17
Phil. 2: 12-16 Phil. 3:4-4:1 Col. 1: 21-23
Col. 2: 4-8 Col. 2: 18-19 1 Thes. 3: 1-8
1 Tim. 1: 3-7, 18-20 1 Tim. 2: 11-15 1 Tim. 4: 1-16
1 Tim. 5:8 1 Tim. 5: 11-15 1 Tim. 6: 9-12
1 Tim. 6: 17-19 1 Tim. 6: 20-21 2 Tim. 2: 11-18
2 Tim. 2: 22-26 2 Tim. 3: 13-15 Heb. 2: 1-3
Heb. 4: 1-16 Heb. 5: 8-9 Heb. 10: 32-39
Heb. 11: 13-16 Heb. 12: 1-17 Heb. 12: 25-29
Heb. 13: 9-14 Heb. 13: 7, 17 Jas. 1: 12-16
Jas. 1: 21-22 Jas. 2: 14-26 Jas. 4: 4-10
Jas. 5: 19-20 1 Pet. 1: 5-9, 13 2 Pet. 1: 5-11
2 Pet. 2: 1-22 2 Pet. 3: 16-17 1 Jhn 1:5-2:11
1 John 2: 15-28 1 John 2: 29-3: 10 1 John 5: 4-5
1John 5: 16 2 John 6-9 Jude 5-12
Jude 20-21 Rev. 2: 7, 10-11, 17-26 Rev. 3: 4-5, 8-12
Rev. 3: 14-22 Rev. 12: 11 Rev. 17: 14
Rev. 21: 7-8 Rev. 18-19 MT. 24:4-5,23-26
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The follow statements are James Arminius own writing on Predestination:
The first and most important article in religion on which I have to offer my views, and which for many years past has engaged my attention, is the Predestination of God, that is, the Election of men to salvation, and the Reprobation of them to destruction. Commencing with this article, I will first explain what is taught concerning it, both in discourses and writings, by certain persons in our Churches, and in the University of Leyden. I will afterwards declare my own views and thoughts on the same subject, while I shew my opinion on what they advance.
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IRRESISTIBLE GRACE VS. RESISTIBLE GRACE:
NLT Hebrews 12:25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!
NLT Acts 7:51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!
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