Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Old School Arminianism IV

Article IV

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, elm neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost, -Acts 7[:51], and elsewhere in many places.

Up until the last sentence of this Article, it seemed as though Arminius was a Calvinist. That was a close one.

Much like the idea of "limited" atonement, I disagree quite strongly with the notion of "irresistible" grace. The former deals with the restrictions of God's love and the latter attempts to explain the extent of it when placed in action. In order to truly express my opinion on the matter, I must first elaborate on what my view is not.

I do not believe that men can be saved apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. It is fundamental to the faith that those who believe are born again because of the work of God Himself (Titus 3:5). However, the timing of this regeneration is key and that will be discussed later.

I do not believe men come to Christ on their own so that their journey to faith was all themselves. God is working in the lives of unbelievers as much as He is working in those who believe (Rom 1:19). Unbelievers, undoubtedly, are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit but He moves around them and works on them in ways that leads them to Himself. Along with the inability of men to turn to God without the Holy Spirit, men can also not turn from sin without the Holy Spirit. He is able, when embraced by Man, to take people from sin and into righteousness. He does this concerning faith as well as deed, as the two are clearly separate entities (Rom 4:2-4).

So now it should be understood, because of the amount of information in the last two paragraphs concerning the Holy Spirit, that this Person of the Trinity is dynamic and vital. It would be easy for an extreme Calvinist to point the finger at an Arminian and claim that his theology leaves little to no room for God to work in the life of an unbeliever. By looking at this Article, that simply isn't true.

"...all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ." This idea should be rather appealing to a Reformer's Doctrine of Grace. Original Arminian thought was centered around the grace of God in salvation and beyond-- knowing that Man is hopeless without it.

However, like I said before, this working of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit really comes down to timing and order. It's been taught to me that a man must be born again before he can believe. Logically this doesn't work because if a man need be regenerated in order to believe, his belief is truly not belief at all, it is a coercion of heart. An extreme Calvinist would take this view, that no one is able to believe until God first penetrates his or her heart in order to make them believe in Him. Thus, regeneration would come before faith and no one could resist God's act upon them. Let's take a biblical examination of this idea.

God and His will can be resisted. The Holy Spirit and His promptings can be resisted. Jesus Christ and His love can be resisted. These things are seen from cover to cover in Scripture. 

Deut 30:15-17- God commands that the people obey Him but warns them what will happen if their "hearts turn away"

Joshua 24:20-22- The people are able to forsake the Lord, but instead they have chosen the Lord for themselves

Jeremiah 18:6-10- God clearly lays out His will for the people and tells them what will be the consequences if they freely disobey (and the reward if they freely follow)

Matthew 23:37- The people would not allow their children to be gathered together by Jesus as He was willing for them to do

Luke 7:30- Pharisees and lawyers were told the will of God but "rejected [it] for themselves"

These are just a few passages out of several instances in which God was resisted. This includes every time someone in Scripture commits a sin. However, just because someone can sin and resist God's will, just because a man can turn his head at salvation and spit on Christ, does not mean that God is not in control. God is still sovereign and His will ultimately wins out. C.S. Lewis puts it well:

It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, 'I'm not going to go and make you tidy in the schoolroom every night. You've got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.' Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. 

In salvation, God desires a free turning to Him. If that decision is not freely made, God is not truly receiving worship. And that is why we were created: to bring glory to God by worshiping Him. Just as the prodigal son came to himself (Lk 15:17) and arose (v. 20), so too people today, by the assisting of the Holy Spirit, can come to God and be accepted by Him through Christ just as they are. This is how those who are dead can be alive again (v. 24). 

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