The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards

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A Review of RC Sproul's Willing to Believe & Thoughts on Free Will

R.C. Sproul – Willing To Believe

The Controversy Over Free Will

Although read in Dutch[1] I’ve was motivated to get this work by watching RC Sproul’s teaching series on the book called Willing to Believe[2]. It helped understand the issues surround the question of human freedom and sovereignty. I remember that it was not much later than that I was studying Jonathan Edwards’ The Freedom of the Will, which was somewhat difficult.

In this great work this master theologian gives a historical theological study of important theologians throughout the history of the Christian church on the question of human freedom. He goes through some Christian heroes and giants of the faith like Augustine, Edwards, Luther and Calvin. Also some who were non-Christian and anti-Christian in their theology and thinking like Charles Finney and Pelagius. Lastly, theologians who belong more to the in house debate between Arminianism/Semi-Pelagianism and Calvinism, like Jacob Arminius himself.

The Pelagians

Pelagius was a British monk living in the fifth century and he is known to have a huge dispute with Augustine on the nature of man and free will. Pelagius reacted to a seemingly harmless prayer of Augustine which said: Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire. Harmless doesn’t it? Well, that’s not what Pelagius thought. He thought it outrages, because it showed man’s total dependence on God to graciously grant the ability to obey Him. Pelagius believed that commandment presupposes ability. What many nowadays believe. He said that God would never command something that man was not able to do. Therefore, everything that God commands man is able to do. So, away with Romans 8:7-8.

He further taught that Adam was in no sense the federal head of the human race. Adam was created mortal and would have died even if he didn’t sin. All men are born in the state that Adam was in. Adam gave man bad influence, not a sinful nature otherwise known as Original Sin.

He taught that the nature of man was basically good and that sinning didn’t effect that basic goodness of man.

Man has a free will to do good or evil and to obey God in all things.

Jesus’ death was not substitionary, but it was as an example for us.

People can live sinless lives, and in fact some have lived sinless lives.

The grace of God is important, but not essential. What I mean is that it would be awesome if one uses the grace of God for obedience, it will make things much easier, but it is even possible to obey without the grace of God.

This among other things are the things that he believed. I think, for any serious Bible student, they must conclude that this places him outside of Christian orthodoxy. Pelagius and his teachings were condemned in 418 and you would think that it will be the last thing heard of Pelagius, but then arises Charles Finney many centuries later in America.

Charles Finney

Charles Finney taught things very similar to Pelagius. In fact, he was more Pelagian than Pelagius.

He rejected the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is the heart of the Gospel message.

He rejected the penal substitionary atonement of Christ in place of the believers. He posed the Governmental and Moral Influence theories of the atonement. He taught that all that was needed for conversion was good argumentation and persuasion. His influence is seen in the decisional evangelism/regeneration of our day, when people are told to make a “ch...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 3: Of God's Decree - Commentary

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Chapter 3: Of God's Decree

What does it mean that God is sovereign? Does God control all things? Does God ordain and is sovereign even over sin? What about election? Does God choose who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? Did God predestine because He saw what was going to come to pass? Does it matter what we do? Does God ordain the ends as well as the means?


§1 God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity...whatsoever comes to pass

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably1 all things, whatsoever comes to pass2 yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; 3 nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather establishedin which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. 5
    1. Prov. 19:21; Isa 14:24-27; 46:10-11; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Rom. 9:19; Heb. 6:17[1]
    2. Dan. 4:34-35; Rom. 8:28; 11:36; Eph. 1:11
    3. Gen. 18:25; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5
    4. Gen. 50:20; 2 Sam. 24:1; Isa. 10:5-7; Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28
    5. Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5

God hath decreed in Himself means that He decreed by Himself alone without considering others. As the modern translation puts it: “From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside himself.” He was not influenced when He decreed everything. But what does mean that God “decreed”? A decree, in this context, means putting everything in order and planning everything that is to occur in history. This decree of God was from all eternity and therefore is unchangeable. To further stress the “decreed in himself” part, the Confession adds that this decree was made freely. God was not limited by anything outside Himself. Furthermore, this decree was according to the most wise and holy counsel of His own will. It was not arbitrary or random. Rather, it was ordained by the Wisdom Himself Who does nothing without a goal, reason or a purpose (cf. Eph. 1:11). What did God decree? All things, whatsoever comes to pass. There is nothing that occurs that was not already decreed by God from all eternity. But this does not mean that God is the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein. God does not create sin or author it, nor does He have delight in it. Rather, He orders it and ordains it to be for His own holy purposes, according to the most wise and holy counsel of His will. Even evil and sin are ordained according to His holy purposes. Our redemption came about by the greatest sin committed by man, the crucifixion of the Son of God, which was ordained by God (Acts 4:27-28).

When God ordains sin, He does no violence to the will of the creature, nor is their liberty hundred or taken away. Everyone committing sin and evil does so because they will and desire so. In the example about the crucifixion of the Lord, everyone in the act was a willing participant: Judas, the Jewish leaders, the Romans. All really wanted to do these things and they were not forced to will so. Nonetheless, the Scriptures are clear that they came to “do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” According to Reformed theology, God's decree establishes the liberty of creatures, because their liberty is found within God's decree. This high and mysterious doctrine shows the wi...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence - Commentary

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Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence

Are divine sovereignty and human responsibility incompatible? What do we mean by providence? How does the providence of God work? Does God use means? How does the providence of God relate to the wicked and the Church?

This chapter is in many ways connected with chapter 3 about God's Decree. Therefore, the interested reader is directed there for more about God's divine sovereignty.


§1 God the good Creator of all things

  1. God the good Creator of all things, 1 in his infinite power and wisdom 2 doth upholddirectdispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will;  7 to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. 8
    1. Gen. 1:31; 2:18; Ps. 119:68[1]
    2. Ps. 145:11; Prov. 3:19; Ps. 66:7
    3. Heb. 1:3; Isa. 46:10-11; Dan. 4:34-35; Ps. 135:6; Acts 17:25-28; Job 38-41
    4. Matt. 10:29-31
    5. Prov. 15:3; Ps. 104:24; 145:17
    6. Col. 1:16-17; Acts 17:24-28
    7. Ps. 33:10-11; Eph. 1:11
    8. Isa. 63:14; Eph. 3:10; Rom. 9:17; Gen. 45:7; Ps. 145:7

God the good Creator is the One Who is sovereign over all things and the One who upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures and things (Heb. 1:3; Eph. 1:11; Isa. 46:10-11; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Rev. 4:11). His sovereignty extends from the greatest even to the least (Matt. 10:29-31). God is as much concerned about little things as He is about big things because they all work out for His glory and according to His most wise plan. By His most wise and holy providence, He has assigned an end and purpose for everything that was created (e.g. Prov. 16:4). This was done according to God's infallible foreknowledge of that which He has ordained and according to the free and immutable counsel of His own will. The purpose for disposing and directing all things as He does is to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy which is seen in His providence.  


Providence may be defined as:

Divine providence is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Psalm 4:8).[2]

It is the God, the good Creator, Who governs and directs every step in the universe. He is the standard of goodness. He means and intends everything for good (defined by Himself), while man means it for evil (Gen. 50:20). Everything He does is most holy and wise, free and immutable, and for His glory (Isa. 46:8-11). He upholds the universe by the power of His word and He directs history to its predetermined end (Heb. 1:3; Eph. 1:11). He disposes of good and evil and governs every molecule and atom the way He pleases (Dan. 4:34-35; Isa. 45:7; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Eph. 1:11). Why? To the glorification of His attributes! See chapter 4 for the purpose of creation. This is closely connected with God's decree in chapter 3 (see the commentary there). God's sovereign decree could be seen as the blueprint of history, while God's Pr...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will - Commentary

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Chapter 9: Of Free Will

I would like to take a look at the freedom of will endued to us by God. Is it a libertarian free will, which most of the non-Reformed find essential for love? Is it another kind of freedom? Does our freedom mean that God is not sovereign? Does God ordain our free actions? These are some questions that we’ll have to wrestle with. For this study and my position on it, I am greatly indebted to the following authors:

  • Jonathan Edwards – The Freedom of the Will
  • R.C. Sproul – Willing to Believe (see review)
  • Thaddeus J. Williams – Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will?
  • Scott Christensen - What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God's Sovereignty

Calvinists have always been leveled the charge that our understanding of God’s absolute micro-managing sovereignty makes men as puppets and robots. One wonders what the reason was for the Westminster, Savoy and 1689 to offer a chapter on free will if they thought that people were merely puppets and robots as many critics like to mock Calvinism.

In section 1, we will have our longest discussion of the will. There, I hope, with Edwards’ Freedom of the Will, to lay the understanding of the human will as believed by Calvinists, which I believe happens to be biblical and logical. I have chosen to do this for two purposes: 1) I want to understand Edwards' position better first hand from him. Edwards is difficult to read and understand and sometimes you have to read sentences and paragraphs over and over or look somewhere for an explanation to understand what he's getting at. 2) And I would like you to understand Edwards’ position on the will which is the commonly held view by Calvinists. In the following sections, we will try to lay some things concerning man's will in the four states, from innocence until glory.


§1 God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice

  1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forcednor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. 1
    1. Matt.  17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19[1]

The will of man, by definition and nature, is endued...with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice. This is also one of those things which set us apart from the lower creation. Paragraph 1 does not speak about Adam's will before the Fall; paragraph 2 will do that. Rather, in paragraph 1, the will of man is spoken of generally without reference to it being enslaved to righteousness or sin. It is by nature free. What does this freedom consist of? That is is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. Man is not a robot as many non-Calvinists like to caricature Calvinism. No one has done something because they were forced by God in their wills to do so. Rather, they acted with that natural liberty of will which we are endued with. The second thing that the Confession mentions in connection to this natural liberty is that the will is not determined by nature. By nature, the Confession is referring to the natural world or what we call the laws of nature. There are no physical or natural laws forcing man to do good or evil. But as we will soon discover, another kind of nature is important for the will, that is, the nature of man.


God Ordains Human Actions

It is clear from chapter 3 that God is sovereign and ordains even human actions...