Archive for the ‘Soteriology’ category

Owen on John 3:16 – Part 1b: God’s Love, the Reformed Perspective

February 15, 2010

Now we will consider “what we understand by the “love” of God, even that act of his will which was the cause of sending his Son Jesus Christ, being the most eminent act of love and favour to the creature; for love is velle alicui bonum, “to will good to any” [not necessarily to all]. And never did God will greater good to the creature than in appointing his Son for their redemption.”

Owen observes that God’s purpose in sending Christ, and His love for the elect, both work toward “the same supreme end, [which is] the manifestation of God’s glory by the way of mercy tempered with justice”.

Now, this love we say to be that, greater than which there is none.” We see that his continual argument is that God’s love for His people is and always has been much greater than a universal concept of atonement will allow.

Owen holds that “by love here is not meant an inclination or propensity of his [God’s] nature, but an act of his will (where we conceive his love to be seated), and eternal purpose to do good to man, being the most transcendent and eminent act of God’s love to the creature.”

 “It is the special love of God to his elect, as we affirm, and so, consequently, not any such thing as our adversaries suppose to be intended by it, — namely, a velleity or natural inclination to the good of all.  For:

 1) The love here intimated is absolutely the most eminent and transcendent love that ever God showed or bare towards any miserable creature… “loved,” with such an earnest, intense affection, consisting in an eternal, unchangeable act and purpose of his will, for the bestowing of the chiefest good (the choicest effectual love) … Whereunto, for a close of all, cast your eyes upon his design and purpose in this whole business, and ye shall find that it was that believers, those whom he thus loved, “might not perish,” — that is, undergo the utmost misery and wrath to eternity, which they had deserved, — “but have everlasting life,” eternal glory with himself, which of themselves they could no way attain; and ye will easily grant that “greater love hath no man than this.” Now, if the love here mentioned be the greatest, highest, and chiefest of all, certainly it cannot be that common affection towards all that we discussed before; for the love whereby men are actually and eternally saved is greater than that which may consist with the perishing of men to eternity.

 2) The Scripture positively asserts this very love as the chiefest act of the love of God, and that which he would have us take notice of in the first place: Rom. v. 8, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;” and fully, 1 John iv. 9, 10, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In both which places the eminency of this love is set forth exceeding emphatically to believers, with such expressions as can no way be accommodated to a natural velleity to the good of all. [We should take note that the use of “might” in such verses may itself be a cause of confusion to the modern reader – it does not indicate a conditional nor vague possibility, but the positive assertion of something that will indeed take place.]

 3) That seeing all love in God is but velle alicui bonum, to will good to them that are beloved, they certainly are the object of his love to whom he intends that good which is the issue and effect of that love; but now the issue of this love or good intended, being not perishing, and obtaining eternal life through Christ, happens alone to, and is bestowed on, only elect believers: therefore, they certainly are the object of this love, and they alone; — which was the thing we had to declare.

 4) That love which is the cause of giving Christ is also always the cause of the bestowing of all other good things: Rom. viii. 32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” [i.e. consider forgiveness, sanctification, fellowship, glorification, etc. – are all men recipients?] Therefore, if the love there mentioned be the cause of sending Christ, as it is, it must also cause all other things to be given with him, and so can be towards none but those who have those things bestowed on them; which are only the elect, only believers. Who else have grace here, or glory hereafter?

 5) The word here, which is ἠγάπησε, signifieth, in its native importance, valde dilexit, — to love so as to rest in that love; which how it can stand with hatred, and an eternal purpose of not bestowing effectual grace, which is in the Lord towards some, will not easily be made apparent.

 And now let the Christian reader judge, whether by the love of God, in this place mentioned, be to be understood a natural velleity or inclination in God to the good of all, both elect and reprobate, or the peculiar love of God to his elect, being the fountain of the chiefest good that ever was bestowed on the sons of men. This is the first difference about the interpretation of these words.”

Praise God for His gracious, intimate, eternal, effectual love for His children!

The next set of posts will discuss the second matter, the object of this love, called here “the world”.

Owen on John 3:16 – Part 1a: God’s Love, the Arminian Perspective

January 20, 2010

As discussed in the previous post, the first point of consideration and contention in the interpretation of John 3:16 can be posed, and is stated by John Owen, as such:

“What is that love which was the cause of the sending or giving of Christ; which they [the Arminians, who embrace universal atonement] make to be a natural propensity to the good of all.

In this post, we are simply offering Owen’s primary issues with this popular interpretation; not yet showing his proofs for the Reformed viewpoint he embraced.  Again, he summarizes the differences as follows:

“By ‘love’ in this place, all our adversaries [the universalists] agree that a natural affection and propensity in God to the good of the creature, lost under sin, in general, which moved him to take some way whereby it might possibly be remedied, is intended.  We, on the contrary, say that by ‘love’ here is not meant an inclination or propensity of his nature, but an act of his will (where we conceive his love to be seated), and eternal purpose to do good to man, being the most transcendent and eminent act of God’s love to the creature.”

Owen also identifies the love of God as understood by the Arminians to be a velleity, which is defined as the lowest level of volition [will], or a mere wish unaccompanied by action or effort to obtain it.  Considering this and the above quote, Owen and many others (myself included) contend that the Arminians embrace a much more severely limited atonement than do we - that is, they limit what Christ’s work accomplishes for anyone.

According to Owen, it should be evident that no natural affection is to be found in God, whereby He should by necessity be carried to anything outside of Himself.  His reasons are as follows:

1)  “ Nothing that includes any imperfection is to be assigned to Almighty God: he is God all-sufficient; he is our rock, and his work is perfect.  But a natural affection in God to the good and salvation of all, being never completed nor perfected, carrieth along with it a great deal of imperfection and weakness; and not only so, but it must also needs be exceedingly prejudicial to the absolute blessedness and happiness of Almighty God.  [Owen notes that the degree to which any being lacks the fulfilling of the desires to which end it strives, is also the degree  to which it lacks of blessedness and happiness.]  So that, without impairing of the infinite blessedness of the ever-blessed God, no natural affection unto any thing never to be accomplished can be ascribed unto him, such as this general love to all is supposed to be.

2)  “If the Lord hath such a natural affection to all, as to love them so far as to send his Son to die for them, whence is it that this affection of his doth not receive accomplishment?  Whence is it that it is hindered, and doth not produce its effects?  Why doth not the Lord engage his power for the fulfilling of his desire?  “It doth not seem good to his infinite wisdom,” say they, “so to do.”  Then is there an affection in God to that which, in his wisdom, he cannot prosecute.  This [sort of love], among the sons of men, the worms of the earth, would be called a brutish affection.

3)  “No affection or natural propensity to good is to be ascribed to God which the Scripture nowhere assigns to him, and is contrary to what the Scripture doth assign unto him.  Now, the Scripture doth nowhere assign unto God any natural affection whereby he should be naturally inclined to the good of the creature; the place to prove it clearly is yet to be produced.  And that it is contrary to what the Scripture assigns him is apparent; for it describes him to be free in showing mercy, every act of it being by him performed freely, even as he pleaseth, for “he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.”  Now, if every act of mercy showed unto any do proceed from the free distinguishing will of God (as is apparent), certainly there can be in him no such natural affection.  And the truth is, if the Lord should not show mercy, and be carried out towards the creature, merely upon his own distinguishing will, but should naturally be moved to show mercy to the miserable, he should, first, be no more merciful to men than to devils, nor, secondly, to those that are saved than to those that are damned: for that which is natural must be equal in all its operations; and that which is natural to God must be eternal.  Many more effectual reasons are produced by our divines for the denial of this natural affection in God, in the resolution of the Arminian distinction (I call it so, as now by them abused) of God’s antecedent and consequent will, to whom the learned reader may repair for satisfaction.  So that the love mentioned in this place is not that natural affection to all in general, which is not.”

This topic will be discussed in more detail in the next post, “God’s Love, the Calvinist [or, perhaps for greater clarity, the Reformed] Perspective”.

Owen on John 3:16 – Introduction

November 30, 2009

Possibly the most well-known and oft-quoted verse in all of scripture, John 3:16 has even been referred to as “the gospel in a nutshell”. Regarding that label, it would be improper to limit ourselves to the contents of one nutshell when we should feast on the entirely of God’s revealed word. Nevertheless, for the truth contained therein, as with all of scripture, this verse is certainly precious, particularly when taken in context with all of John chapter 3, and indeed with the Bible as a whole.

 The third division of The Works of John Owen, delineated the “Controversial” division, begins with Volume 10. Here, following the excellent “A Display of Arminianism”, is found one of his most famous works, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”, a thorough analysis of the intent and accomplishment of Christ’s atonement. The latter part of Book 4, Chapter 2 of “The Death of Death” deals specifically with John 3:16.

 Owen brings out this verse as the first of several which those asserting universal redemption [Christ dying for each and every person] put forth. As he states,

 “This place, I say, the Universalists exceedingly boast in; for which we are persuaded they have so little cause, that we doubt not but, with the Lord’s assistance, to demonstrate that it is destructive to their whole defense.”

 Since this verse is mishandled today as in Owen’s day, and even served as the title of last year’s anti-Calvinist “John 3:16 Conference”, it is appropriate to give a synopsis of this theologian’s analysis of the verse, which for many may prove to be rather different from that which they are used to hearing. Not that Owen teaches here some new and strange thing, but in fact that which is faithful to the text and consistent with the whole of scripture. The reader may come to appreciate that some of what is often professed about John 3:16 in Baptist and other circles is indeed rather that which might be called strange. Of course, this tidbit of Owen’s defense is a minimal representation of the many detailed and solid arguments against universal redemption which he sets out in his works.

 Regarding that conference which shamefully associated itself with this scripture, Timmy Brister had an excellent short post about a year ago HERE , which gives some context within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and also provides helpful background to this blog, SBF. I highly recommend Timmy’s post to any readers who have not yet seen it.

This introduction will conclude with Owen’s overall comparison of the universalist’s interpretation of John 3:16 with his own, via paraphrase. Following posts will specifically address the three key areas from where the difference stems, and that is, the understanding of:

     (1) the love of God, which is the cause of sending Christ,

     (2) the object of this love, called here the world, and

     (3) the intention of God in sending his Son, said here to be that believers might be saved.

 “I will give you, in brief, a double paraphrase of the words, the first containing their sense, the latter ours. Thus, then, our adversaries explain these words:

 “ ‘God so loved,’ – had such a natural inclination, velleity [wish], and propensity [tendency] to the good of

 ‘the world,’ – Adam, with all and every one of his posterity, of all ages, times, and conditions (whereof some were in heaven, some in hell long before),

 ‘that he gave his only-begotten Son,’ – causing him to be incarnate in the fullness of time, to die, not with a purpose and resolution to save any, but

 ‘that whosoever,’ – whatever persons of those which he had propensity unto,

 ‘believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ – should have this fruit and issue, that he should escape death and hell, and live eternally.”

 Owen a little later gives the interpretation which he embraces:

 “Now, look a little, in the second place, at what we conceive to be the mind of God in those words; whose aim we take to be the advancement and setting forth of the free love of God to lost sinners, in sending Christ to procure for them eternal redemption, as may appear in this following paraphrase:

 “ ‘God’ the Father ‘so loved,’ – had such a peculiar, transcendent love, being an unchangeable purpose and act of his will concerning their salvation, towards

 ‘the world,’ – miserable, sinful, lost men of all sorts, not only Jews but Gentiles also, which he peculiarly loved,

 ‘that,’ intending their salvation, as in the last words, for the praise of his glorious grace, ‘he gave,’ he prepared a way to prevent their everlasting destruction, by appointing and sending ‘his only-begotten Son’ to be an all-sufficient Saviour to all that look up unto him,

 ‘that whosoever believeth in him,’ – all believers whatsoever, and only they,

 ‘should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ – and so effectually be brought to the obtaining of those glorious things through him which the Lord in his free love had designed for them.”

The Sole Cause of Salvation

September 30, 2009

 I trust it’s alright to use excerpts from a recent post on another blog below, with just a few comments of mine interjected. I felt that these thoughts from Steve Camp’s blog are interesting and relevant.

Steve posted a quote from an unknown author which speaks of the biblical concept of God’s “grace alone” as the cause of our salvation. This also means that Christ is Lord of everything, even the conversion of sinners. I’ve tried to use quotation marks properly to show which words are not mine. I believe the concepts expressed are important, not too difficult, and well worth the time to read and consider thoughtfully.

“Lordship Salvation emphasizes that a love for Christ springs from our new nature (granted freely by God) which desires to believe the gospel as well as submit to Jesus Christ as Lord over one’s life. Both faith and obedience are the result of God’s invincible and indelible grace, not the cause of it.”

The author speaks of those who “mistakenly ascribe belief in Christ as something within the ability of the old nature… This is where they fall off the horse away from historic Christianity by rejecting the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone. By not giving glory to God for their faith they add conditions for their salvation.”

The writer sees that this approach is problematic mostly due to the “misapprehension of the work of the Holy Spirit in giving rise to our faith and affection for Christ. For how can an unregenerate man see Christ’s beauty, excellence or anything to desire in Him at all? One must have a new heart and the mind of Christ in order to understand and love spiritual things.”

Issue is taken with this synergistic viewpoint (God + man accomplishing regeneration) also because of the problem of “making faith itself a contribution to the price of their redemption. i.e. grace + faith.”

This is an excellent point, in that there is a danger in viewing “grace + faith” as separate components of salvation, whereas the Scriptures teach that it is “by grace through faith”. Perhaps a seemingly subtle, but truly a very important difference. All flows from God’s grace; faith is the means through which He bestows the grace of regeneration (new life) upon us. All good things come from above.

“[We] believe faith and obedience are the result, not the cause of the new birth. Unless the Holy Spirit changes the disposition of our hearts from hostility to affection for Christ, no one would exercise saving faith. Any ‘faith’ which exists apart from the work of the Spirit is spurious and of the flesh (Luke 8:4-15) [the parable of the sower]. God alone does the work of regeneration which infallibly gives rise to a spiritual faith that desires to obey and commit itself to Christ. In this case God gets all the glory.”

However, the alternate, “no-Lordship” position “would have us believe that one could produce faith from our unregenerated human nature. The question is, why do some believe and others resist? Are some more wise or humble? Isn’t it grace itself which makes us wise and humble? The Scripture says, ‘What do we have that we did not receive?’. So, in fact, the ‘no-Lordship’ position is admirably attempting to protect the doctrine of ‘faith alone’, but in the process it has cast aside the biblical doctrine of ‘grace alone’. ‘No-Lordship’ may believe in a salvation by grace, but not salvation by grace alone (sola gratia).”

“[To say] that man must somehow cooperate with God to be born again, as they hold, is to say that some men innately have the natural capacity to believe, independent of God’s action of grace, while others do not. How is this different than salvation by merit? So in reality the burden of proof to explain belief apart from grace alone is on those who hold to ‘no-Lordship’. Different understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration is the key to the debate.”

Indeed, a study of the Spirit’s role in man’s conversion is surely one that appears worthwhile.

Your Election Ballot

January 26, 2009

No, this is not regarding the presidential election, but our own election to eternal life.

ballot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This image from a Bible Institute Colportage Association (now Moody Bible Institute) tract, from about a century ago, pretty well displays the view of salvation popular during that revivalist era, but more importantly is still representative of the misconceptions of the precious doctrine of election today. (more…)

The Gift of Faith

January 8, 2009

A question at the crux of one’s view of God’s work in salvation is, “Where does faith come from?” In this post, which in a sense follows a prior post HERE, I would like to address this issue specifically. I expect that some readers will find this piece terribly elementary, though others may think it completely ridiculous. Yet may our gracious God use something presented for His purposes.

Sometime this past year, I came across the following on a Southern Baptist church’s website, in their beliefs under the heading of Salvation:

“Due to our sinful nature, mankind can do nothing to earn God’s favor or salvation, other than accept Jesus as Savior.”

According to this statement, accepting Jesus is the one thing we can do to earn God’s favor and salvation.

My desire is not to pick at this wording, and it is quite possible that it comes across in a way that was not intended by the writer(s). However, I think it serves as a good picture of a very real perspective prominent in the SBC today.

We know that faith is essential for us in order to be partakers in the redemption and salvation procured by Jesus Christ. The basic question here is whether faith itself is something given to us or something we ourselves generate and offer of our own natural ability.
(more…)

Man’s Condition

December 1, 2008

 

This was just intended to be a response to Andrew’s previous post, but as it grew a bit lengthy, I thought to generate a follow-up post regarding Dr. Patterson’s comments about total depravity at the “John 3:16 Conference”. I hope that SBF readers may find something useful for contemplation here as well as in the fine observations Andrew is providing. I know that we both encourage further discussion and civil debate among readers.

 

Man’s depravity according to Dr. Patterson is not total, and so he should not refer to it as such. If we can hear and appreciate the preaching of the gospel (the “helicopter blades” in the analogy), our intellect is not fallen, and if we desire to be saved from our condition (the sea), then our will is not fallen. So then the fall and thus our depravity are not total. It is of concern to see leaders in the SBC desiring to hold on to some language which appeases Baptists’ sense of man’s misery in sin and the need for God’s grace, but then muddying the issue with an unbiblical elevation of fallen man’s abilities. As Calvin said of early church fathers who erred regarding free will:

To avoid delivering any principle deemed absurd in the common opinion of mankind, they made it their study, therefore, to compromise between the doctrine of the Scripture and the dogmas of the philosophers.

 

One huge problem with the sailor analogy is that it’s quite obvious to the sailor that he’s in danger and needs saving. However, in the spiritual realm, the natural man has no sense of this. He “loves the darkness”, and spiritual things are “foolishness to him”. It was said that he can just barely hear, and so he can respond. That concept does not appear to be biblical. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” seems more appropriate. When God opens ears, the message is loud and clear, and is embraced by the hearer; when He doesn’t, he remains completely deaf.

 

It is awful to use the scripture about Abraham’s age and feebleness, which was in regard to fathering children, as a case for the ability to believe despite spiritual deadness. I appeal to any who use this reference as such to please stop such an embarrassing misuse of scripture. Further discussion could be provided, but really should not be necessary in this case. It’s an absurd argument.

 

Dr. Patterson apparently claimed that we are not guilty except through our own transgression. What then does it mean that we are “by nature children of wrath”? Why did David say “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”?

 

Our guilt was imputed to us before we did anything. One of the best ways to see this truth is to examine the “as” and “just as” comparisons in Romans 5. Of course, merely a reading of 5:18 shows us “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Does condemnation not imply guilt?

 

But beyond that, back to the direct comparison the scripture is drawing: In Christ, the second Adam, are we righteous by our actual deeds? No. Was the righteousness passed down to us via our lineage? No. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us – we are declared righteous – even though still sinners, as Luther observed. So likewise, Adam’s guilt is not ours only when we actually transgress, nor was it merely passed down through our ancestors, but it was imputed to us as a direct consequence of Adam’s sin. Simply stated, all men in their natural state are declared guilty by God due to the guilt of Adam, and all of God’s elect are declared righteous due to the righteousness of Christ. This is quite surely the biblical perspective, and very different from that presented at this regrettable conference.

 

Darrin


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.