The pith of ”It’s not he who willeth.” Romans 9 and free will

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Lately, I’ve been writing much on that “hellish” doctrine of the bondage of man’s will. Today I was listening again to gentle James White’s exposition of Romans 9 and reading again (which is always a gain) one of my previous posts, The Jew’s role in salvation and the future of ethnic Israel: Give John Piper his due.

Here are a few more comments on the bondage of the human will in salvation with reference to Romans 9, which encapsulate (but hopefully do not insulate) what I said in “The Jew’s role in salvation…”(URL above).

Jewish believers in Jesus are generally Arminians (a very few might be Armenians as well). Arminianism states that human dignity requires an unimpaired freedom of the will to choose salvation, which implies that the one who ultimately decides salvation is the believer. In contrast, the Reformed (Calvinist) position states that salvation is totally of the Lord. Christians are Arminians on their feet and Calvinists on their knees.

On feet – Jesus thank you for giving me, and my brothers and sisters I’m praying day and night for, this precious freedom to allow you to change my, and their, heart.

On knees – Jesus please please change their hearts.

Arminians are unable (until enabled) to see that the main focus of Romans is not about the pre eminence or eminence of ethnic Israel. Romans 9 is about individual salvation where Paul uses the example of two Jewish boys (Jacob and Esau, both rotters) to show that not all Jews are automatically part of God’s family. That’s the plain sense of Romans 9:13-16, that is, if you accept that you cannot accept the Gospel unless God makes you willing to do so.

To our Romans 9:

13 ”As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.

What about verse 16?

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.

Him” in v. 16 is an individual. It’s clear as day. So, to repeat, it’s not the person that wills, or runs (a parallel for “wills”) who ultimately saves himself (makes the final decision) but it is God’s mercy that saves. Arminians retort that there are many other parts of the Bible that command you to choose. That’s true, but those commands are the means God uses to call those on whom he will have mercy. No human being knows whom God has called – from eternity (irrespective of what he sees they’re going to do once on earth), so all an evangelist can do is make a general call. If you understand that, you’ve got the kernel of how one comes to Christ. No medals, though.

But hang on, consider what I said above about Jacob and Esau:

“Romans 9 is about individual salvation where Paul uses the example of two Jewish boys (Jacob and Esau, who both turned out to be rotters in their own way) to show that not all Jews are automatically part of God’s family.”

Now, it says the following in verses 11 and 12, which I had not included above: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

So, if God’s purpose of election does not depend on Jacob, or Esau (or you or me) doing anything good or bad, what has not  doing anything good or bad  to do with the twins turning into rotters later on in their life? Surely, a rotter is a doer.

Paul provides the answer in Chapter 5 of the same Epistle. It’s called the doctrine of ”Original Sin”:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

(Romans 5:12-19)

In Ephesians 2:1-3, we read:

”And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

The first sentence “dead through trespasses and sins,”could very well be talking about personal sins we commit throughout our lives, and, therefore, is not dealing with the concept of being born in sin (as spelled out in Romans 5 above). Later in the passage, however, we do read that we (Christians) were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (all other human beings).”

There are swathes of Arminians who hate the doctrine of ”original sin” ( clearly explained in Romans 5 above) so much that they will insist that ” by nature children of wrath” definitely does not mean ”born with a sin nature.” Here, for example,  is Wayne Jackson’s conclusion to his Are Infants “by Nature” Children of Wrath?

”The Bible does not teach the doctrine of inherited depravity. The dogma is strictly of human origin. ”And it is a serious tragedy that those who profess to be friends of the Scriptures will teach this error, thereby subjecting the Christian system to unjustified criticism. Ephesians 2:3 does not teach inherited depravity.”

Barnes’ notes on the Bible takes a neutral position, which, implies that he is not out to promote the doctrine of ”total depravity.” ”Radical corruption” is a more accurate term, because ”total depravity” suggests ”utter depravity,” which would suggest that no one can be good enough to love his dog, or Beethoven. Barnes is a Methodist, therefore, an Arminian. He couldn’t be anything else, for it is only an Arminian who hates the doctrine of ”Original sin” and her daughter ”total depravity.” Here is Barnes (my italics):

”And were by nature – Φύσει Fusei. By birth, or before we were converted By conversion and adoption they became the children of God; before that, they were all the children of wrath. This is, I think, the fair meaning of this important declaration. It does not affirm “when” they began to be such, or that they were such as soon as they were born, or that they were such before they became moral agents, or that they became such in virtue of their connection with Adam – whatever may be the truth on these points; but it affirms that before they were renewed, they were the children of wrath. So far as this text is concerned, this might have been true at their very birth; but it does not directly and certainly prove that. It proves that at no time before their conversion were they the children of God, but that their whole condition before that was one of exposure to wrath.”

Let us grant that Barnes’ neutral position is true. What, however, about ”just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given…” (Romans 5 above).

When it comes to biblical exegesis, Calvinists are accused of being more ”philosophical” than biblical. Too much noggin is the complaint. Too much pride, pomposity, assumptions, presumptions, presuppositions, interpretations, categorisations, ratiocinations – in short too much philosophy.

The upshot: whereas Barnes is painfully neutral, Calvinists are painstakingly neural. I think the root of the differences between the Arminian and Calvinist goes deeper than the core text or the cortex, into what the psychologists call ”conation.”

”Conation”  is a term that stems from the Latin conatus, meaning any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort. It is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive. In short, the cognitive part of the brain measures intelligence, the affective deals with emotions and the conative drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings” (Wikipedia).

The Bible calls these three areas, the mind, the will and the heart. With regard to ”radical corruption,” the Calvinist exegesis is that when Adam ”fell,” all three, mind, will, and heart, became radically corrupted. The Bible is adamant that the whole human race fell in Adam. How this happened, the Bible doesn’t tell us. In my book, and in my Bible, that is the only hard doctrine hard to swallow whole. Why should I suffer because of what my father (umpteen generations ago did)?

The Arminian, in contrast, is obsessed with ”conation,” with the coronation of his ”free” will,  free to love God.  And so, in his endeavour to hold tight on to his ”free will,” he plays footloose with the doctrine of ”Original sin,”  distorting  it into a aboriginal monstrosity. The boot is on the other foot.

When the Calvinist reads the Bible, he sees man freely following his heart. The man thinks, he desires, and his mind directs that desire to its object. The will is not a noun, it is a verb, a present continuous, always willing, moving, in its natural state, away from God (of the Bible). Man is dead, totally dead, totally deprived of the love for God; in other words, totally depraved. And that includes his willing. And that is the original Bible doctrine of ”original” sin; willy-nilly.

2 thoughts on “The pith of ”It’s not he who willeth.” Romans 9 and free will

  1. you should say:
    Alminians On their feet: Evangelizing (which is extremely scriptural)
    Calvinists On their knees: Lord please change their hearts (aha! a trap is set!) –

    or perhaps it should be … Alminians On their Knees: David on his knees in “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” .. read Psalm 51:1-19!

    This is what I think of Alminianism/Calvinism and all that categorizing hogwash based on philosophy…. Isaiah 29:13: …Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.[a]

    I think it is safe enough not to base judgements on Human rules but on scripture. Dont you? Difficult as it may be – try break away from the mould & ree yourself up to the truth 🙂

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