The unbelieving spouse and the arbitrary god

Scripturethoughts published the following except from Charles Spurgeon on the Unbelieving spouse”:

We have heard of a wife, a godly woman, who for 20 years had been persecuted by a brutal husband—a husband so excessively bad that her faith at last failed her, and she ceased to be able to believe that he would ever be converted. But all this while she was more kind to him than ever. One night, at midnight, in a drunken state, he told his friends he had such a wife as no other man had; and if they would go home with him, he would get her up, to try her temper, and she would get a supper for them all! They came and the supper was very soon ready, consisting of such things as she had prepared as well and as rapidly as the occasion would allow; and she waited at the table with as much cheerfulness as if the feast had been held at the proper time! She did not utter a word of complaint. At last, one of the company, more sober than the rest, asked how it was she could always be so kind to such a husband. Seeing that her conduct had made some little impression, she ventured to say to him, “I have done all I can to bring my husband to God, and I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”

I read the above to an Arminian. Here is a definition of an Arminian: When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. An Arminian believes that faith is a person’s gift to God, not God’s gift to man.

Here is a record of my dialogue with the Arminian. I add my comments in italics:

Arminian – That’s ironic.

Me – What do you mean?

Arminian – Your god (“your” here indicates, of course, “god”not “God”) only allows for two ways for a person to be saved: a believer’s merit or God’s arbitrary choice.

Me- Why is that?

Arminian – Because you say that God just chooses someone to be saved without giving any reason for doing so.

Me- If God does not give a reason to you or me, or anyone, why should this mean that God’s choice is arbitrary? God has a reason for all he does, but we only can know the reasons he wants to reveal to us. It says in the Bible, “the secret….” (Arminian interrupts: Here is the verse I wanted to quote: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Arminian (interrupts) – Your God only allows for two choices: an arbitrary God or the merit of the believer. (In salvation, the Arminian rejects both arbitrariness in God and the merit of the believer. But so does the Calvinist reject both. My Arminian is trying to show that the Calvinist only rejects the merit of the believer in salvation.

Me – Why did God choose Israel? (The Bible says that God singled out Israel out for his peculiar – no not “weird” but “particular” – love not because of any merit in them but because he wanted to do so. More we do not know, and don’t need to know, if we bow to his glory. The same with any choices God makes or actions he does).

Arminian – I’m not talking about that?

Me – How does God choose anything?

Arminian – I’m not talking about anything else but salvation. All you have to do is say yes or no to God’s invitation to save you.

Me – Is there any merit in someone who says yes.

Arminian – No, he just says yes.

Me – Is there any demerit in the person who says no, and consequently is sent to hell?

Arminian – None.

As the conversation was generating more heat than light, I pulled the switch, suppressing the sinful desire to pull out the swish. I don’t see why this Arminian used Spurgeon’s “Unbelieving wife” to rip into the “arbitrariness” of Calvinism. The Calvinist god says “I’m a fisher of men. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo, catch a fishy by the toe.”

Here is the biblical view of God:

Al Martin (in his “What is Calvinism) says: “the question is not the sincerity of my resolve, not what I have done but “has God done something in me? Not have I accepted Christ but has Christ accepted me; not “have I found the lord?” but has he found me?

Free-will brings with it so many absurdities that it cannot be received.
First, It makes man the cause of his own salvation.
Second, It puts grace into man’s power, not man’s will under the power of grace.
Third, It robs God of the honour of making one to differ from another, and ascribes it to man” (Christopher Ness).

With regard to the third, to those who believe their wills are neutral and therefore can, if they so desire, choose God or reject God (that is what is meant here by “free will”), they must logically admit that what ultimately saved them was not something in God but something in them, and thus they deserved to be saved. I’ve only met one “free-willer” (free-wheeler?) who conceded that he deserved to be saved.

So can Christ bring sinners to himself against their will? Man, in the natural, does what he wants, which is to reject Christ, so unless Christ breaks the chains of his self-will he will not and cannot accept Christ and will therefore remain fiddling – his naturals. (See If you improve your naturals, is God bound to give spirituals: Fiddling with free will).

The traditional term is “limited” atonement, that is, atonement/salvation/redemption/justification is limited to those on whom God exercises his mercy. In Calvinist understanding, everybody is under condemnation and deserves damnation. God’s mercy is dependent on nothing but God’s freedom to save some sinners and pass others by. It is true Arminianism generally also believes in a particular sort of redemption but only in the sense that not everybody is saved for the reason that they – being deadish, not really dead, in sin – did not exercise their free wills to give God the gift of faith in exchange for His gift of grace. The freedom to choose Christ before he has brought you to life (before you were born again) contradicts the following scriptures:

John 1

11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Romans 9

11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Here is a part of Charles Spurgeon’s ironic “Arminian’s prayer.”

There are many that wilI go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as l am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.”

Now, no Arminian believes that it is good to boast of being better than the person who rejects Christ, and so would not really pray in this fashion. In fact he’ll protest that all is grace, that they are no better than anyone else; which, of course, is true.

I heard this prayer recently: “We pray that you will remove his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. We pray that he will surrender his life to you.” So, if you surrender your life, God will remove your stony heart that makes it impossible for you to surrender, that is, to come to Christ (to believe, have faith, trust). Which is it then; does God first have to regenerate you to enable you to surrender (have faith), or do you first surrender then get regenerated (born again)? The difficulty with the latter is, if you surrender your life to Christ, this can only be done if you’ve already been regenerated (enabled to do so by God’s grace), which renders regeneration obsolete. “Regenerate” means “quicken” means raised from the dead. Imagine in wartime asking your dead enemy to surrender.

A few days ago I was discussing this issue with an Anglican priest friend in my home over tea. He remarked: “Chicken and egg.” In other words, who knows what came first, regeneration or faith, and does it really matter?  Of course it does. (See Inviting your dead enemy to surrender: The chicken and the egg of regeneration and faith.

Salvation – your faith, the Holy Spirit living in you, eternal life didn’t come from you, from any part of you, but from heaven, all from heaven. He came for sinners. Not for anything good he (fore)saw in them. Certainly not because of their good will. If you are a Christian, you once were a slave to sin, to your heart, to your will, to your self-esteem, and all the time you thought your will was truly free. Free to do what? To follow your heart? Of course you were free to do that. God doesn’t make robots. You were determined to follow your heart. Determined by God? Of course not. By yourself. If a person is determined, that is, determines himself, to be stubborn, to reject Christ, either of two things will happen: God will leave you in the cesspool of spiritual death – his judgement, or raise you to eternal life – his mercy. His mercy is free; that’s why it’s called grace – saving grace. Not possible saving grace (“prevenient” grace) but certain, efficient, sufficient grace, which is the only kind of grace there is. (See The miserable Christian).

Spurgeon described above the “Unbelieving spouse.” What if a Calvinist is yoked – which can only be, unequally – to an Armininian. Owing to the fact that they differ so radically on the sovereignty of God, which impacts greatly not only on the world to come but on this world as well, their relationship must suffer greatly as a result.

Calvinists, Neo-gnostic Calvinists and Seeking Arminians

 

When non-Calvinists bring up (not too graphically, I hope) Calvinism, they are generally referring to the doctrine that “salvation is of the Lord.”—Jonah 2:9, that is, salvation is 100% of the Lord (see Charles Spurgeon).

Arthur Cunstance, in his “Sovereignty of Grace,” summarises the Calvinist position:

Men are not born again by human will, nor because of blood relationships, nor even because out of their own inner being they desire to be saved (John 1:12, 13). It is perfectly true that whosoever will may come, but it is also true that whosoever may, will come. [Cunstance “may” means “are invited to.” Here is a clearer rendition: “Those who desire to come are invited to come, but it is also true that those who are invited will definitely come]. We will to come only because God has graciously worked upon our wills to turn them about. We may come only because He has opened the way for us and in us, making it possible. Whosoever will, may come; and whosoever may, will come. When God makes it possible by converting our wills to seek his face, then we may come, and only then. At the same time, because of his sovereignty, once this turnabout has been wrought in us by his Holy Spirit, then the rest is certain, no matter how long it takes. We shall come.”

The question is: how much understanding of this doctrine is required to be a true Christian? Greg Fields is outraged by the “neo-gnostic Calvinist” (Fields’ term) assertion that without a comprehensive grasp of the Calvinist/monergist doctrine described by Custance above, no one can be saved. I shall examine Fields’ description of “neo-gnostic Calvinism” and compare it with Charles Spurgeon’s contrast between the “seed of the flesh” and the “seed of the promise.”

In his “The Bane of Neo-Gnostic Calvinism, Greg Fields writes:

Who among us who have been illuminated by the Spirit of God to heartily embrace that exalted system of Pauline Theology commonly called “Calvinism” can forget the sublime joy experienced when these verities became manifest in our believing heart? For many of us grasping these truths or better, being gripped by these truths, was the real “second blessing” in our Christian pilgrimage. For me personally, sovereign grace teaching revivified my entire demeanor as a saint and delivered me from the morbid introspection engendered by Arminian, fundamentalist pietism. I have a passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology and am quite emphatic in my apologia for these truths that so exalt and glorify the grandeur of the Sovereign Triune Lord. Thus, it is with both sadness and reticence that I issue this urgent caveat regarding an extreme chimerical form of Calvinism that is spreading great mischief among the elect of God and dear souls seeking spiritual solace.”

This “extreme chimerical form of Calvinism” is the “heresy” (Fields’ words) of the recent form of Calvinism called “Neo-Gnostic Calvinism.”(Greek neo “young,” gnosis “knowledge”).

The main tenets of this aberration of Calvinism, Fields continues, involve primarily a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved” by these ersatz-Calvinist “teachers”. The subtlety involved in this neo-gnostic Calvinistic soteriology is that they vigorously promote truths that any committed believer would commend. For example, they incessantly exhort all to focus on Christ’s imputation of Righteousness as being indispensable to one’s salvation. Of course this is true and this needs to be emphatically declared in our presentation of the gospel. Particular Redemption is stressed with great vigor. Again, a hearty amen to the vital importance of this great doctrine is in order. They clearly enumerate the “five points” with undiminished zeal. Again, I concur and wish we all would stress these great doctrines with the zeal demonstrated by these men.”

If this was the focus and crux of what these men taught, I would be promoting their writings and encouraging all interested Calvinists to bookmark their websites and to participate in their e-group discussions. But, alas, these glorious doctrines are merely the frosting on the cake of their real agenda. After elucidating these verities they then go on to add to these truths a dogmatic unsubstantiated requirement for salvation that in effect nullifies all the peace and joy that should attend sovereign grace. They assert with bellicose intensity that unequivocally, all Arminians are lost because “Arminianism is a false gospel” and under the anathema of Gal. 1:8-9. They set the stage for this “leap of logic”, by describing the five points of Arminianism and showing how incompatible Arminianism is with the gospel of grace. Again, any thoroughgoing evaluation of Arminianism would demonstrate this to be truebut they then use this evaluation to assert that all who have never yet grasped the doctrines of grace to be by default, Arminians, thereby validating their “lostness”. The insidious nature of their neo-gnosticism becomes manifestly transparent here. The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”

(My underlining).

The first sentence of these two paragraphs is reiterated in the last sentence:

First sentence: “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved,”

Last sentence: The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”

Fields seems to agree that the five points of Arminianism are incompatible with the gospel of grace, and under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. Here is the Galatians passage in its wider context:

[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

The “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” says Fields, then uses this passage to infer by a leap of false logic that not only are all Arminians lost, but also those Calvinists “who have never grasped the doctrines of grace.”

I’m not sure whether Fields means that a person can only be saved if he believes that salvation is 100% of the Lord (Calvinism/monergism), and where Fields and “neo-gnostic Calvinism” differ is that the latter asserts that such a person can only be saved if he has a “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist orseeking Arminian is truly considered ‘saved.’” (Fields above).

If the “neo-gnostic Calvinist requires the “seeking Arminian” to have a strong commitment to monergism, that would indeed be a bizarre requirement, seeing that Arminianism, by definition, is synergism. That is not to say, of course, that Arminians have a poor comprehension of monergism, for many do. Commitment is not the same as comprehension: “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7 ESV). Even the demons shudder.

Charles Spurgeon (in his “God Promises you,” 1995, Whitaker House) says that if one believes that one cooperates with God in salvation, then one has started “in the flesh,” and as one starts, one ends – in the flesh. He compares Ishmael, “son of the flesh,” with Isaac the son of promise. The promise is the believer’s inheritance ,which is also the believer’s “test and touchstone” (p. 13). Spurgeon describes the Calvinist/monergistic position on how we come to faith, which is identical to Arthur Custance’s description above:

Let us use the test at once by seeing whether we have been formed by the power which fulfils the promise…How were you converted?…You profess to have been born again. Here did that new birth come from? Did it come from god in consequence of his eternal purpose and promise, or did it come out of yourself? Was it your old nature trying to do better, and working it up to the best form? If so, you are Ishmael. Or was it that you, being spiritually dead and having no strength whatever to rise out of your lost estate, were visited by the Spirit of God. Did God put forth his divine energy and cause life from heaven to enter into you? Then you are Isaac. All will depend on the commencement of your spiritual life and the source from which that life at first proceeded. If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die.”

But an Arminian/synergist, would say we certainly need grace, lots of it; but man must make the final decision, because “forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist!” (Norman Geisler in “Chosen but free”). According to the “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” Norman Geisler is damned – twice over: first, because he rejects the monergist doctrine that man plays no part in his salvation; second, because on such a view of salvation, there’s no possibility of having even an infinitesimal grasp that salvation is 100% of the Lord. Recall that Greg Fields’ complaint is that “neo-gnostic Calvinists” believe that to be saved, both the Calvinist and the “seeking Arminian” must have a comprehensive knowledge (gnosis) of the ordo salutis “order of salvation.”

I agree with Fields that “neo-gnostic Calvinism” must be rejected. What worries me though is Charles Spurgeon’s “If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die”(two paragraphs above). In other words, the “Ishmaels” (born of the flesh) are not saved, while the “Isaacs” (born of the promise) are. The logic of this position is that Arminians are lost, while Calvinists are saved. I am almost in awe – like so many – of Spurgeon’s magnificent legacy, but this point, however, namely, that Arminians “end in the flesh,” leaves me disturbed. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 we read:

[14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (Paul is quoting Isaiah 40:13) But we have the mind of Christ.”

Spurgeon seems to be saying that the “we” (the saved) in verse 16 applies only to those who do not “start in the flesh.” If this were true, it would follow that the Wesleys, Alan Redpath, Paris Reidhead, CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers and many others “ended in the flesh.” I am sure that all these great names I have mentioned believed the following passage from Philippians 3 with all their hearts:

[8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV).

Yet earlier in the same chapter of Philippians we read (verse 3): “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— ” (My italics). Now, if one believes that salvation is ultimately the decision of the flesh, of the human will, and not as John 1:13 proclaims – “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” – then has such a person began in the flesh, in the sense that he believes that although God’s grace is necessary for salvation, it is not sufficient. He believes that Christ teaches that grace is not sufficient for salvation, because he believes that God has sovereignly decreed that the his free will to choose Him is sacrosanct. This means that a person is saved because of something in himself, and not because of everything in God: I (ultimately) did it my way). And that’s what Spurgeon means by “what begins in the flesh, ends in the flesh.”

I hardly comprehend because I find it hard – morally, more than intellectually, hard. Where does that leave me, my “neo-gnostic Calvinist” friends?