The Exegetical Basis for Total Depravity and Total Inability (Murray)

Epistle to the Romans One aspect of the doctrines of grace is the insistence that man, by nature, is unable and unwilling to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Apart from saving grace, a sinner is corrupt in every part of his being and morally incapable of doing good in God’s sight.  Although he isn’t as wicked as he could be, he is dead in sin and his will is in bondage to sin.  Of course, the Reformers taught these things, as did other in history before them.  But is there a biblical basis for these teachings?  Yes.  For one of several examples, consider Romans 8:7-8, which says, “…The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB).

Here are some of John Murray’s helpful comments on these verses:

“Verse 7 gives the reason why the mind of the flesh is death [v.6].  It is ‘enmity against God.’  …It defines the mind of the flesh, the mind characterizing those who are ‘after the flesh’ and ‘in the flesh’, as one that is conditioned and governed by ‘enmity’, enmity of which God is the object.  Enmity towards God is the actuating principle and governing propension of the mind of the flesh.”

“…The last clause, ‘neither indeed can it be’, points to the impossibility that resides in the mind of the flesh and means nothing less than it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are ‘in the flesh’ to have any disposition of obedience with respect to the law of God.”

“…The apostle…expressly states what is to the effect that it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are in the flesh to do anything that elicits the divine approval and good pleasure.  Here we have nothing less than the doctrine of the total inability of the natural man, that is to say, total inability to be well-pleasing to God or to do what is well-pleasing in his sight.”

“…In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability.  It should be recognized, therefore, that resistance to these doctrines must come to terms not simply with the present-day proponents of these doctrines but with the apostle himself.  ‘Enmity against God’ is nothing other than total depravity and ‘cannot please God’ nothing less than total inability.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 286-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

 

 

Cage Phase Calvinists (Newton)

Sometimes Calvinists are arrogant jerks.  They learn about predestination, limited atonement, etc., and this leads them to arrogantly think they know it all.  They don’t show much love, patience, or tenderness when talking about the things of God.   This is what has been called the “cage phase” Calvinist because a person like that belongs in a cage to keep him from doing more harm than good.

In his typical winsome and pastoral way, John Newton talked about this many years ago:

“I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of Divine appointment.”

Newton wrote that in 1775, but could it also be said of the present?

This quote is found in Josiah Bull’s biography of Newton, But Now I See, p. 212.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Jesus Came Not To Aid, But To Save (Warfield)

The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5: Calvin and Calvinism One part of Reformed theology is sometimes referred to as “Calvinsim” or, as I prefer, “the doctrines of grace.”  Here’s how B.B. Warfield nicely described the God-centered aspect of the doctrines of grace:

What lies at the heart of his [the Calvinist’s] soteriology is the absolute exclusion of the creaturely element in the initiation of the saving process, that so the pure grace of God may be magnified. Only so could he express his sense of man’s complete dependence as sinner on the free mercy of a saving God; or extrude [force out] the evil leaven of Synergism by which, as he clearly sees, God is robbed of His glory and man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power, some act of choice, some initiative of his own, his participation in that salvation which is in reality all of grace.

There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism. Above everything else, it is determined that God, in His Son Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent, shall be recognized as our veritable Savior. To it sinful man stands in need not of inducements or assistance to save himself, but of actual saving; and Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or induce, or aid him to save himself, but to save him. This is the root of Calvinistic soteriology; and it is because this deep sense of human helplessness and this profound consciousness of indebtedness for all that enters into salvation to the free grace of God is the root of its soteriology that to it the doctrine of election becomes the ‘cor cordis’ [heart of the heart] of the Gospel.

He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate [ungrateful person] indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God.

Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008), 359–360.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Distinctive Characteristics of Predestination (Brakel)

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible talks about election and predestination.  He has in mercy chosen some sinners to salvation and in justice has passed by others.  God didn’t elect some to salvation because he knew they’d believe, or because they were more worthy than others.  He chose to save some sinners because of his own sovereign will: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy (Rom. 9:15 NASB).  Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) explained unconditional election quite well in book one of The Christian’s Reasonable Service.  Here are part of his notes on predestination:

1) Predestination is eternal, that is, from before the foundation of the world. “…whom He did predestinate (Rom. 8:30).

 2) Predestination is volitional. God was not moved by external or internal causes to predetermine man’s destiny, but was solely moved by His good pleasure. “For so it seemed good in Thy sight” ( Mat. 9:22). The fact that God has ordained to lead one individual unto salvation through Christ and to damn another individual for his sins is solely to be attributed to the free exercise of His sovereignty. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21). This is infinitely more true of God.
3) Predestination is an act of wisdom whereby God ordains suitable means to accomplish His end. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom 11:33). The apostle exclaims this concerning predestination, which he discussed in this chapter.

(4) Predestination is independent, absolute , and unconditional. God accomplishes His decree by the use of means, but the means are not the conditions. The decree is not contingent upon the means.  Thus, the means neither establish nor unsettle this decree. God Himself governs the means to accomplish His certain, immutable, and immovable purpose – a purpose which proceeds from within Himself according to His good pleasure. All means are subordinate to this good pleasure (Brakel quotes Romans 9:11-13 here).

5) Predestination is an immutable decree. Since God’s purpose originates in eternity, it is not contingent upon the condition of goodness or evil within man, but proceeds solely from the good pleasure of God. It is thus impossible for this purpose to change. God Himself is immutable, wise, and omnipotent. Therefore Rom 8:30 states, “Moreover whom He did predestinate… them He also glorified” (cf. Rom 9:21-23).

Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, book 1, pages 216-217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Election: Is It Fair? (Cosby)

Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology Rebels Rescued by Brian Cosby is a concise, clear, and easy to read resource on the doctrines of grace and the solas of the Reformation.  The subtitle is accurate: “A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology.”  I thought the following section on election was helpful.  It starts with an illustration:

“…You find yourself out walking one day and see an elderly homeless man digging through a dumpster.  You have compassion on the man and so you decide to give him a hundred pounds.  He didn’t ask you, but you gave anyway.  Unbeknownst to you, somebody down the street sees you and comes running up to you demanding that you give him one hundred pounds as well.”

“Stop.  Think.  Are you obligated to give this second man the money?  Is he entitled to it?  Absolutely not.  But because of your generosity, there is a false sense of injustice – a false sense of thinking that you’re not being fair to the second man.”

“When we begin considering God’s eternal election of his people, before the foundation of the world, we must step back and ask the question: ‘What is fair?’  Is it fair that everyone goes to heaven?  Is God obligated to send everyone to heaven?  Remember – the wages of sin is death and hell forever (cf. Romans 6.23).  If we are all sinners, which we are, then the payment or the consequence of our sin is death and hell.”

“Therefore, in answer to our question, it would only be fair to send everybody to hell.  The fact that God elects some people for salvation points to his grace and love.  That God doesn’t elect others points to his holiness and justice.  Or to put it another way: by choosing some, he demonstrates his perfect love and grace.  By not choosing others, he demonstrates his perfect holiness and justice.  He is not obligated to save anybody.  But because he wanted to demonstrate the greatness of his mercy, he poured out his grace upon the beloved bride of Christ, the church.”

Brian Cosby, Rebels Rescued, p. 34-5.

Shane Lems

Free Will or Free Grace? (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)In 1773, Augustus Toplady wrote to a friend about his dialogue with an Arminian, Mr. Oliver.  It’s a longer discourse, but here’s a section where Toplady, who himself was an Arminian when young, recounted his own story:

When I was a lad of 15 or 16 years old, I was haranguing, in company, on the doctrine of free-will, as you are now. A good old gentleman rose from his chair, and coming to mine, held me by one of my coat buttons, while he spoke as follows: “My dear sir, you have been talking largely in favor of man’s free agency. Allow me to leave argument, and come to experience. How was it with you, when God first laid hold on you by effectual grace? had you any hand in procuring it? Nay, would you not have resisted and baffled God’s Spirit, if he had left you to your will?” I was more embarrassed with this question, than I was willing to show. Yet I had then too much pride to confess how much I was nonplussed by this calm and single interrogation. However, before I was eighteen, God was graciously pleased to enlighten me into that precious chain of truths which, through his good hand upon me, I still abide by.

Permit me, Mr. Oliver, to put the above question to you. I trust, you have experienced something of a work of God, upon your heart. What say you? Did you choose God, or did God choose you? Did he lay hold on you, or did you lay hold on him?

Oliver: I must own to you, that, before my conversion, I was one of the most abandoned swearers and drunkards in England. I received my serious impressions from Mr. Whitefield. On the day of the evening in which I first heard him preach, I suppose I had not sworn so few as forty profane oaths.

Toplady: Then it is very clear that your conversion, at least, was not conditional.

Oliver: I will not say, that I procured grace of myself. Nor will I say, how far I might have resisted it.

Toplady: I plainly perceive, that you are not disposed to return a direct answer to my first question. But, if you will not answer it to me, let me request you to take an early opportunity of answering it on your knees before God in prayer. Go to your closet, and pour out your heart in his presence: and beg him to show you, whether you was converted by free-will, or by free-grace alone. —— To this he gave little or no reply.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 175–177.

Shane Lems

Christ Calls First (Effectual Calling)

Christopher Love (d. 1651), a Welsh Presbyterian pastor, wrote an excellent book on effectual calling and election.  His main text was 2 Peter 1:10 (Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. NASB).  In one section of this book, he talks about the comforts of effectual calling:

Jesus effectually calls a poor sinner before that sinner looks unto Jesus.  Should God require heaven upon the condition that you who had been first in the transgression should be first in seeking reconciliation, we would never have the enmity between God and us ended.  But behold, here is mercy and here is a ground of comfort, that though we are first in that transgression, Christ is the first in suing out reconciliation.  Jesus effectually calls poor sinners before they either call or look unto him at all (Is. 65:1).

Here you see, that Jesus goes out first to call you before you go out to call him.  And oh, what comfort this is!  Christ does not stay away until you call out to him; but he looks upon you before you look upon him.

We read that Matthew the publican was looking after his money, and, at that time, Jesus was looking after Matthew’s soul.  We read this of the disciples: while they were fixing their nets and looking after their fish, Jesus took the occasion with the hook of the gospel to catch them.  We read that Paul, while he was breathing out persecution against the church and raging with anger against the saints, was called to be a saint.

So this is very comforting.  God first looks after a sinner in his effectual calling before a sinner looks after Christ.  God first looks upon you, enlightens you by a sermon, and seizes your conscience by a command before you look unto him.

Or, in the sweet words of two great hymns:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew;
He moved my soul to seek him seeking me;
It was not I that found O Savior true; no I was found of thee.

and

Tis not that I did choose the, for Lord that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, hadst though not chosen me!

(The above quotes by Christopher Love are – slightly edited – found in Effectual Calling and Election, chapter 4.)

shane lems
hammond, WI