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Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sovereign Rule of God

We’ve all heard the concept. Calvinism renders God the author of sin and evil. This is simply a necessary consequence of the Calvinistic belief system. If God’s decrees, as taught by Calvinism, are true, then man has no ‘free will’.

Well…quite.

Of course, no true Christian can make a coherent claim for an absolute, unfettered free will. “Free agency” as advocated by Calvinists is ignored, and the charge of “determinism” is laid at our door. But what is actually meant by this is that, on Calvinism, we are reduced to nothing more than machines, controlled from above by the grand puppeteer. The biggest charge of all emanating from the incoherent mess that is Arminianism is the charge that Calvinism makes God the “author of sin”. Murmurs about “logic” can be heard, but they are rarely (if ever) substantiated. We will address this later.

God did not create the world on a whim, and He did not create man in order to then leave him to his own devices. God has His own reasons and purposes for creating, and He governs the world accordingly:

Isaiah 46:9-10

for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD
that will stand.


God didn’t create the world in order for human beings to dictate His plans. The counsel of God is immutable. And His counsel stands forever:

Isaiah 14:24,27

The LORD of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I
have purposed, so shall it stand,


27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is
stretched out, and who will turn it back?


Psalm 33:10-11

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the
plans of the peoples.


11 The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

God’s purpose in creating the world is for His own glory and good pleasure:

Proverbs 16:4

The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of
trouble.


Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for
you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”


God does not stand idle in the Church age:

Ephesians 1:11

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to
the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his
will


Philippians 2:13

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good
pleasure.


And all temporal blessings depend upon the providence of God: 

Matthew 6:26

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into
barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than
they?


James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the
Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to
change.



So where does this leave the agent‘s ‘free will’? Unfortunately, any notion of a libertarian free will was left behind at the fall. “Libertarian free will” must be considered a fad. And it is entirely unbiblical.
 
John 8:34-36

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is
a slave to sin.


35 The slave does not remain in the house for ever; the son remains for ever.

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Freedom, as defined by the bible, is a freedom from the bondage of sin, the freedom to do what is pleasing to God. As Hendryx notes, “When Jesus says He will set people free, He does not say they are now free to choose good or evil but He will set them free from the bondage of sin. And where there is bondage, by definition there is no freedom.”

Of course, we affirm free agency, and man is certainly free to act and choose according to his greatest inclinations and desires. But the desires of man are in bondage to corruption.

Romans 6:16-18

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,
you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or
of obedience, which leads to righteousness?


17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become
obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,


18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of
righteousness.


2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
freedom.


18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being
transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this
comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.


Only God can grant us freedom from the bondage of sin, and until He does, men are enslaved to a different master:

Ephesians 2:1-3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the
prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of
disobedience-


3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the
desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the
rest of mankind.


The proponent of libertarian free will would have us believe than man can act contrary to his desires and free from the determination of his own nature. This immediately leads one to ask: On this view, can man act contrary to his sinful nature and come to Christ without the prior work of the Holy spirit?

1 Corinthians 2:14

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.


2 Timothy 2:25-26

correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may
perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,


26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil,
after being captured by him to do his will.


It is God who allows man to come to a saving faith:

John 6:44

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will
raise him up on the last day.


John 6:63

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.

John 8:42-47
Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love
me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent
me.


43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I
say.


44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your
father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth,
for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for
he is a liar and the father of lies.


45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!

46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why
don't you believe me?


47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is
that you do not belong to God.


So much for libertarian free will.

But does this reduce human beings to mere robots in the great scheme of God’s decrees? I think it would be appropriate to turn to the specific (though unsubstantiated) claims that Calvinism promotes fatalism and that, accordingly, mankind must be absolved from moral accountability. Fatalism holds that everything we do we do necessarily. The argument goes something like this:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.

This is fallacious because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The fallacy is carrying the necessity from the premise over to the conclusion. The correct argument is as follows:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. God foreknows x.
3 Therefore, x will happen.

We can show the unnecessary transfer of the necessity over to the conclusion by way of a similar argument:

1. Necessarily, if John is a bachelor, John is unmarried.
2. John is a bachelor.
3. Therefore, John is necessarily unmarried.

Obviously John is by no means necessarily unmarried. It is not the case that John must be unmarried. John is unmarried yet perfectly free to be married. Again, the valid form of the argument is as follows:

1. Necessarily, if John is a bachelor, John is unmarried
2. John is a bachelor.
3. Therefore, John is unmarried.

So the valid form of this argument demonstrates that John is free to remain a bachelor or to be married. Just because God foreknows x, it does not follow that x must happen, only that it will happen.

Agents are free to either act or refrain according to their greatest inclinations and desires; whichever the agent chooses, God will have foreknown that choice. That choice is certain for God. But the choice is not necessary for the agent; the agent has freely made the choice. The agent could have made a different choice. And God would have infallibly foreknown that choice in eternity.

When the Calvinist speaks of God's decree, he is not necessarily always speaking of God’s active involvement. In many cases, God's "decretive will" may be expressed in His opting not to interfere with this or that choice, act or event, of which He had definite foreknowledge. And of course, without God’s foreordination no act or event could come to pass.

In the case of sin, while God knew that Adam and Eve would sin, He didn't cause them to do so in an active sense. He merely opted not to prevent it and in doing so allowed sin to enter the world in order to bring about His purpose; God not only allowed the fall, He knew that in creating man in the first place He was rendering it a certainty. He did so in order to achieve His greater purpose.

It is a gross misrepresentation to say Calvinism holds that God specifically acted to bring about sin or evil, rather than consciously willing not to prevent it. Those who present the caricature are either being wilfully dishonest or they’re failing to grasp the doctrines.

Once we see that, on Calvinism, God’s sovereign decrees are in complete harmony with man’s free agency and his moral accountability, the Arminian is backed into a corner. Not only has he failed to substantiate the charge laid at Calvinism (and more to the point God!), but the Calvinist has refuted the charge. But by the Arminian’s own standards, he must by necessity be wide-open to the exact same charge.

On the Arminian view, God creates a world in which many people will go to hell. No matter what He does to try and save them, they are going there, since God's knowledge of their destiny is infallible. There are no two ways about it; they are certain to spend eternity in hell. And yet He proceeds to create anyway. Why? Why create those people He knew for certain would spend eternity in hell? Why didn’t God just create those He knew would choose Christ? By creating them, God has effectively damned them for eternity. There’s no escaping it.

On the Arminian interpretation of foreknowledge and predestination, before the foundation of the world, God knew that John Bloggs would make a free decision to come to Christ. God knew of John’s free decision long before he was born. His decision to come to Christ was inevitable. Why was it inevitable? Was it down to John’s free will, even though he had not yet been born? The Arminian must be forced to concede that John’s destiny is predetermined. It is fixed. John can do nothing but be saved.

Here the Arminian is in all sorts of trouble. He has nowhere left to turn, since he has in no uncertain terms charged the sovereign God of scripture with being unjust, unfair, a monster, the author of sin, or whatever. The stick which he has chosen to throw at Calvinism has turned out to be a theological boomerang, a boomerang with dynamite attached to it, coming back at him and aiming straight between the eyes.

The Arminian is left squirming in his own mess.

8 comments:

Puritan Lad said...

Good Stuff.

I tend to shy away from the term "free will", because those who use it rarely define what it is. What exactly is our will free from? What is it not free from? One thing is for sure, the human will is not free from it's deformed nature. We are, as Scripture tells us, "slaves to sin". Man's will is not free until the Son makes it free.

DannyM said...

Thanks Puritan Lad.

Agreed. The term "free will" is fraught with ambiguity, and as you note, it is rarely defined. It is
ingrained in the culture, something people just say without giving it much thought.

August said...

The will can be as free as it wants, if we cannot act on what we will then it is of no consequence. I can "will" to jump to the moon, but I seriously doubt that I can do it. In the same way, we can will not to sin, or will to have a relationship with God, but if we are unable to act in that way, because of our very nature, then the will does not matter.

Libertarian free will is illogical and unBiblical, and once one concedes that the will is influenced by anything, then the free will argument fails, and it becomes, as PL said, a question of defining that to which the will is relative to.

starz102 said...

Good post, good post. I have a question. When I read the term "slave" I'm tempted to think it means African slaves picking cotton in the southern US. However, when Paul we're slaves to righteousness he must have meant slaves like slavery in the Roman Empire. Do you have any links or can you recommend resources that talk about slavery in ancient Rome and what it meant to be a slave back then? I'm sure it was similar but different to slavery in the US centuries later.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Starz102,

The issue of slavery is obviously a racially charged one today. Biblical slavery is comparable to what we would call indentured servitude. It is a shock to many to realize that the Bible does not treat "slavery" as immoral. But it does outlaw kidnapping and partial judgments. That may well be the subject of another, quite involved, post.

Anonymous said...

The way that I have been taught to look at the issue of human free will is that there are 3 basic views: 1. Hard determinism = there is no free will. Everything is determined for us. We are prisoners to our circumstances. 2. Soft Determinism = Even though all is determined for us (even our desires), we are free because we choose what we desire. We are therefore responsible for what we choose. & 3. Liberterianism = God allows man to be free and designs reality around human freedom to ensure that his will comes to pass.

johnadavid said...

Delighted to you see you writing brother Danny. I hope all has been well with you.

Neo (hope your remember me ;) )

DannyM said...

Neo,

Sorry for seeing this late, brother; I've been offline for a while. I'm well, thank you(and of course I remember you!). I hope you're keeping well yourself; I will drop you an email soon.

God bless