Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Irresistible God? A Considerate Search into Calvinism, Part 2 of 7

One of Calvinism’s boldest claims is that God in fact does not desire all men to be saved, but rather foreordains men to Hell by His sovereign pleasure, or due to the mystery or hidden will of God; an idea contrary to certain passages of Scripture (I will cite those in due time). The Calvinist argues that if it was God’s purpose to save all men (that is, if He desired to save them) they would be saved because what God desires to do He will.

This argument stands on the magnification of God’s sovereignty over all else; were God sovereign, then God would do whatever He pleases, even if whatever He pleases is not merciful, loving, etc. Therefore it was never in the plan of God to implement universal salvation by Christ’s atoning death on the cross; that benefit was reserved exclusively for the “elect.” In short: Christ did not die for all men but only for the elect. Scripture states otherwise, Romans 5:18. Paul writes that the free gift came to all men. What is this gift? Some would say faith, according to Ephesians 2:8-9. Neither Ephesians nor Romans are referring to faith, but to the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ; Paul is referring to salvation and how it is available to all men, received by the singular criterion of faith.

The rejection of universal salvation is framed thus: if Christ’s blood was shed for all men, all men would, by reason of that sacrifice, be saved. Since all men clearly are not saved it was never God’s intention for Jesus to die for all men, but only for those predestined by Him before the world began. Likewise, if Christ’s blood was for all men, then we are preaching universalism, which declares that everyone will go to Heaven no matter what because Jesus paid for everyone’s sins. Preaching the gospel and faith in Christ become irrelevant, since Christ’s blood purchased all men.

Placing one’s faith in Christ is not an act of merit, however, but one of condition. If I choose of my own free will to accept one million dollars someone is offering to give me, have I earned it? I would rather boast in the generosity of the giver, and consider myself blessed to be the recipient of such a gift. I would add here that this doctrine, known as Limited Atonement, also makes the gospel irrelevant, since one need not hear the gospel to be saved and one’s “faith” as it were is only a responsive consequence of God’s Irresistible Grace which forces men to love Him. We will return to this later.

To press on: there is no reason why God chose the elect, save because it pleased Him (acting without reason or at random is not an attribute of God, consequently). They are drawn by Irresistible Grace which regenerates them before they are aware of it, granting them the ability to believe the gospel. In short: you are saved before you believe the gospel. Man’s choice and responsibility are rendered moot, primarily because man does not have the moral capacity to respond to God in any way but rebelliously. The rest are held under the doom of reprobation, which asserts that God, of His sovereign pleasure, determined beforehand to sentence men to Hell from the foundation of the world in demonstration of His justice in punishing sin. Such reprobates cannot believe the gospel because God withholds the grace necessary to do so. It must then be deduced that God does not necessarily love all men, as Calvinists such as Arthur Pink clearly testify in their writings.

I respectfully disagree. God will never act contrary to His character. God is just and merciful; but justice must be satisfied before mercy can be granted. That God desires men to be saved is His desire; that men must be saved on a just basis to satisfy divine justice demonstrates His righteousness. The former cannot be given until the latter is satisfied. That God may justly withhold salvation from all is not debated here: we all deserve Hell, and God would be an impartial Judge for sending every one of us there. That He (according to Calvinism) reserves some for salvation and others for damnation simply because it pleases Him reveals a severe lack of love and mercy in His character, as well as a partiality that is condemned in Christians in the New Testament. No attribute of God “outweighs” the rest. God’s justice, according to Scripture, would forbid ANYONE from entering Heaven, but God’s grace and love would establish a just way for EVERYONE to have access to salvation through faith in Christ.

According to Calvin, what is available to some (the elect) is not available to all mankind. I do not agree that the bizarre doctrine that sentencing men to Hell not for their sins but because it pleased God to do it is taught anywhere in the Bible. Allow me to reiterate: the reprobate will be in Hell solely because God did not extend Irresistible Grace to them. They could not believe the gospel, so God sentenced them to Hell before they were born. They are there not because they are sinners, but because God didn’t want them in Heaven. It is doubly offending because Calvin’s God could save everyone on earth with His Irresistible Grace but chooses not to do so, since He does not love everyone, but has sentenced many to condemnation in demonstration of His sovereignty. This is not justice, but a perversion of it. God would be just in sentencing all mankind to Hell; saving some and damning others arbitrarily perverts the very justice this act supposedly demonstrates. He supplies the remedy to a few, when He could have saved all. He withheld this remedy out of the good pleasure of His will, according to Calvin. If you stood by while someone was killed and had power to save them, yet refrained, would you be guiltless if you pleaded that it was the good pleasure of your will to allow them to die? If our conscience convicts us regarding the answer, is God exempt from such conduct? Will the God of the Bible stand by while helpless millions perish without hope of a remedy? John Calvin made it clear that he believed this to be true.

Let us clarify: When strict Calvinists say that God is sovereign, what they mean is that nothing, literally nothing, occurs without God’s foreordained design and intent. Every word, thought and deed, no matter how deplorable, vile, and wicked, is God’s predestinating plan at work in His world, according to Calvinism. Man is still held morally accountable somehow, yet it is God who forbids man in his Total Depravity the choice to do anything but evil. God authors evil, forces men to commit evil to His glory, and then punishes them for the evil they had no choice but to commit; because He does not love them and did not predestinate them for Heaven, but for Hell.

If man has no choice but to do evil (and that by God’s divine command), then man has no choice at all; he is programmed to do what he is told, and will do it. In this scenario man is not a moral being or a being of reason: he is an automaton incapable of escaping the “software” he has been pre-programmed with. If man is to be held accountable for sin on any just basis, then he must possess the capacity to choose good or evil. Judgment and punishment stem from the very idea that man has the capability of choice, and chooses not to obey. This results in punishment. Read Proverbs; how many passages speak about man’s choices? Hear the words of Christ when He would tell us that we must will to do God’s will, or that we are unwilling to heed, listen, etc. Is Jesus reminding us that we have no free will? Or is He telling us that the choices we make come with consequences? One may only inherit the consequence if they have free will to make that choice. If you prefer, you may call “free will” man’s moral responsibility; and conscience reminds us that we all have it. If God has made it for us, then God perpetrates evil, and punishes us for it. John Calvin himself had no answers but to plead the mystery of God’s sovereign will.

1 comment:

  1. While they claim to support the sovereignty of God, this doctrine actually limits it, saying that since God had the power to have limited who can be saved, he cannot do otherwise. A truly sovereign god can choose how he wants to do it, and he said he has chosen to make salvation available to whosoever will.


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