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The Staunch Calvinist

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


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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 many 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 many Calvinists. Edwards is obviously not without critique, especially on his speculations about the Fall. But some Reformed people also disagree with him on free will, claiming that his view is too mechanistic and deterministic. His discussion clarifies many things for me and from the people I benefited from, who are mentioned above, I’ve not read their criticism on Edwards beside his speculations on the Fall. I mention this so that you know that not every Calvinist agrees with Edwards, though a majority does. Some resources on this subject are found at Reformed Books Online.

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...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator - Commentary

...ement, yet it indirectly does speak of it as all of salvation is based on the atonement of Christ. This is also a verse that is used against Unconditional Election. It is often brought up against the U and the L in TULIP in order to establish that God really wants everyone saved, but somehow He is frustrated and does not accomplish His desire. Is this how the Bible speaks of God?

The reason that God does not accomplish His purpose, according to non-Calvinists, is because He has a higher desire, that is for people to autonomously (Libertarian Free Will) choose for Him. Arminians believe that people have a Libertarian Free Will and that is one thing that “God will not violate.” In the Arminian scheme, God deems it higher to give man Libertarian Free Will and that man autonomously come to God, rather than have all saved. Some even speak of the impossibility of genuine freedom (by this they mean Libertarian Free Will, not as chapter 9) if there is no opposite choice. The choice between good and evil is necessary for true freedom. In Arminianism, God desires the salvation of every single soul, yet His desire to leave them to their Libertarian Free Will is greater and He will “never violate their free will.”

What do we do when God does not desire to save people? How is this passage then consistent? Paul begins in v. 1 by giving a charge to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18ff), this charge is to pray for all—

1 Tim. 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

As Dr. James White likes to say, is what Timothy being told here is to get the “phonebook” and pray for everyone there? That is hardly the case. Rather, v. 2 specifies and clears up what is meant by “all people”—

1 Tim. 2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

By “all people,” Paul has in mind all kinds of people and not everyone without exception. He specifies what he means by all people for Timothy’s purpose. He was to pray for his government so that they would be free to lead a godly life. So that God would cause their leaders to be born again or not persecute the believers. Therefore, the phrase “all people” is to be understood to be speaking not of all people without exception, but about all kinds (kings, those in high positions, etc...) of people. This is not something strange, in fact, look at how 1 Timothy 6:10 is translated:

1 Tim. 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils

The word “kinds” is not in the text, but it is supplied by the translators otherwise the statement then would be false. The word πάντων (panton) is used in both verses. The love of money was not the root of the Fall. Adam and Eve did not desire money, nor did the Devil. But it is a root of all types and kinds of evil, not a root to ALL evils. There exist other motivations for wickedness than money. See also Matthew 5:11; Acts 10:12; for the insertion of the word “kinds” by the translators. Therefore, the meaning of the word “all” is dependent upon the context. We are not saying that it does not ever mean all without exception, but what we are saying is that the meaning must be proven from the context and not merely assumed. There are a lot of texts which use the word “all” but mean by that not all without exception rather all without distinction or many (Jer. 13:19 with 39:9-10; Matt. 2:3-4; 3:5; 5:11; 10:21-22; Mark 1:5; Lu...

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

...ery molecule moves the way it does because God from all eternity has willed that it be so. From eternity past to eternity future nothing will occur to the mind of God which He didn’t already know and ordain. He possesses all knowledge, actual and possible (chapter 2:2). The Confession doesn’t go into the Hyper-Calvinistic error of disregarding man’s will and responsibility, but rather affirms that the liberty of second cause agents (men) are established because of God’s decree. The liberty here discussed is obviously not the mythical Libertarian Free Will. There is no such thing as Libertarian Free Will. Libertarian Free Will says that one can go against all inclination and nature, which is impossible and ridiculous. Jonathan Edwards, in his The Freedom of the Will, shows the absurdity and impossibility of such a will. Rather, moral agency or free will, biblically defined, would be the freedom to do whatever one desires. The Bible speaks about a limitation upon the desires and inclinations of the natural man; this limitation is our sinful natures from which sinful actions are born. See !--cke_bookmark_600S--!--cke_bookmark_600E--chapter 9 for our discussion of man’s free will, moral inability, moral necessity, and Libertarian Free Will.

God orders every event in such a way that He is sovereign over every step, yet at the same time, the second cause agent is not being coerced to do anything against their desire, but out their own desires and freedom carries whatever God has from all eternity decreed. We may not understand how this is done, but I believe that such is the testimony of Scripture. It is not for me to understand how the two work together, rather, it is for me to believe that it is such if I see both in Holy Writ. On a personal level, there is no truth that I cherish more than knowing the Triune God and knowing Him as the only Sovereign. It is not merely “in the head” doctrine, but it is a doctrine that I praise God for, cherish and find comfort in daily.

Some years ago, I came across the Doctrines of Grace through the Facebook page called Reformed Memes Daily and I remember seeing something from Romans 9:18. I was amazed that the Bible had such things to say and wanted to study this issue. Apparently, I had not read that passage before. It was not easy, but I promised God that I would believe anything that His Word teaches, no matter how painful. Through my study, I tried to collect as many verses as possible in regard to God’s sovereignty as are relevant and that I could find from daily Bible reading and other books. More about my journey can be read here. The document where I put these verses was the reason that this website was made; it is found here.

What I will seek to provide below is a case for God’s absolute control of everything, thus justifying paragraph 1 of this chapter. Here we will touch on issues that are relevant to chapter 5 (Of God’s Providence), but we will direct the interested reader from chapter 5 back to paragraph 1 of chapter 3. Under the section General Sovereignty, I will deal with texts which speak of God’s sovereignty over history and His counsel. Under Particular Sovereignty, I will try to deal with God’s sovereignty over specific things such as evil and human actions. By no means is this an extensive case or discussion of God’s absolute sovereignty, but I believe that it is nonetheless a decent biblical case for it.

General Sovereignty

First, let’s start with verses about God’s Lordshi...

A Review of Perspectives on the Doctrine of God

... free will with dramatic intervention that virtually forces a person to decide or act in some way” (p. 151). Calvinists usually take the compatibilist route to human freedom and divine determinism, while Arminians are non-compatibilists (pp. 151-152).

Dr. Olson includes a section on misconceptions about free will theism (or Arminianism). This is helpful to battle some common unfair caricatures, but in it he also makes some revealing statements which are likewise troubling for the Reformed. In what sense is free will theism (read classical Arminianism) God-centered? Because it concerns itself with the character of God and desires to do justice to His loving-kindness (p. 154). Libertarian Free Will is needed to protect God and not to make Him the determiner of evil (or as Olson often uses in his response to the Calvinist side, “the author of sin and evil”). But what if humans did not possess Libertarian Free Will? Then “God would be virtually indistinguishable from the devil” (p. 154). Thus, the only way that God can remain good and show His loving-kindness is to give humans Libertarian Free Will. This is problematic in my opinion to subject God to our standards and to judge Him as if He is a creature. Here, I worry, as does Dr. Ware, “deeply for Olson and others who think the way that they do when it well may be the case that the view of God they find indistinguishable from Satan turns out to be the true and living God of the Bible” (p. 195).

Throughout the chapter, Dr. Olson also uses the fact that God created people Whom He could save but does not and who will spend an eternity in hell as if it is only an argument against Calvinism (e.g., pp. 154, 160-161; on p. 161, he even compares hell to a concentration camp!). This is an object against any self-respecting Christian theist position which does not deny God’s comprehensive foreknowledge. If God doesn’t want them to go to hell, then He could have struck down their parents or not bring them into being better than allowing them to be born, trying to save them and ultimately being eternally disappointed. I’m sure anyone in hell would have preferred to not exist rather than having their free will “violated.” The Calvinist is satisfied in his conviction that nothing happens outside or without God’s will and those who are in hell, God wanted them to be there because of their sin and He will be glorified in their damnation. This is indeed a horrible decree, but it is nonetheless for the glory of the triune God. Either God had a purpose in their destruction and brought them into being or He did not. Dr. Olson’s answer is “People determine themselves for hell by their free choices and especially by their rejection of God’s offer of salvation (whether through the explicit preaching of the gospel or through the light of God present in every culture and in conscience)” (p. 161). There is no offer of salvation in natural revelation, but his theology has ventured off so far based on his conception of goodness and love that he would perhaps be an inclusivist? The gospel comes to us by special divine revelation (e.g., Rom. 10:14-17).

Another point which Dr. Olson mentions is that “God limits his power in relation to creation and especially in relation to human persons” (p. 155). One should not wander that Calvinists have often accused of Arminians of not being as God-centered as Calvinists when such statements are made. God is adjusting Himself just to make room for His creatures. God ...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence - Commentary


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 P...

Welcome To The Staunch Calvinist

...entary/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Of God’s Covenant (1689 Federalism)
  • Of Christ the Mediator (including a case for the Substitutionary Atonement, Active and Passive Obedience of Christ, Definite Atonement and answers to passages used against the doctrine)
  • Of Free Will (with the help of Jonathan Edwards, the consistency of moral agency being found in carrying one’s desires, the inconsistencies of Libertarian Free Will, explanation of necessity and inability)
  • Of Effectual Calling (with a case for infant salvation)
  • Of Justification (faith is a gift and regeneration precedes faith)
  • Of Adoption
  • Of Sanctification
  • Of Saving Faith
  • Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation
  • Of Good Works
  • Of The Perseverance Of The Saints (A positive case for the Reformed doctrine and responses to passages such as Hebrews 6 and the like)
  • Of The Assurance Of Grace And Salvation
  • Of The Law Of God (Threefold Division of the Law, the Decalogue before Moses, a brief exposition of the Decalogue, ceremonial and civil laws, the abiding moral law under the New Covenant in the OT prophecy and the NT, Threefold Uses of the Law, The Law and the Gospel)
  • Of The Gospel, And Of The Extent Of The Grace Thereof
  • Of Christian Liberty And Liberty of Conscience
  • Of Religious Worship And the Sabbath Day (A case for the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Christian Sabbath)
  • Of Lawful Oaths And Vows
  • Of The Civil Magistrate
  • Of Marriage
  • Of The Church
  • Of the Communion of Saints
  • Of Baptism And The Lord’s Supper
  • Of Baptism
  • Of The Lord’s Supper
  • Of The State Of Man After Death And Of The Resurrection Of The Dead (Intermediate State Hades, Sheol, Heaven; A Case for Amillennial Eschatology; critique of Premillennialism)
  • Of The Last Judgment (Endless punishment in Hell contra Annihilationism)
  • ...