Feedback: Jeremiah 13:23 Revisited

This week’s feedback is in response to the post Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?, wherein I argued that Jeremiah 13:23 is not universally applicable as proof of mankind’s total depravity, despite it typically being used as a ‘golden bullet’ proof-text by most Calvinists.

This week’s respondent asserts that Jeremiah 13:23 is universally applicable, and that by disagreeing with him, I am denying the Lord.

Question: “You said: “The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.”  How does it make it clear that ONLY israel is in view?What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?  On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.  Yet to combat “calvinism,” you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…  

But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to respond, but I can’t help but think that it is you who has failed to grasp the context and scope of Jeremiah 13.  You said:

“How does it make it clear that ONLY israel [sic] is in view?”

Like this:

“Thus says the LORD to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist.  And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.”  So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.  And after many days the LORD said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.”  Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it.  And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.  “You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’  And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the LORD.  I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” (Jeremiah 13:1-14, ESV; emphasis added)

As I said in the original post, Israel and Judah hadn’t simply “fallen” into sin.  They were reveling in sin, continuing in steadfast rebellion to God, continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words, and continuing in steadfast idolatry.  And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard.  What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God.  Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.  God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

The burden of proof is on you to show where, in the context of the threat in Jeremiah 13, anyone but Israel and Judah are included.

“What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?”

Where in the original post did I say, or even imply, that pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good”?

It does not follow that since Jeremiah 13 has specific reference to Israel and Judah, that pagan nations have more moral ability to do good.  That’s a massive leap of logic.

What you don’t seem to grasp is that I have no argument with the doctrine of ‘Total Depravity’, per se.  In fact, no informed Arminian has a problem with the doctrine.  See for instance, Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity? and A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

The essence of the original post was not about ‘Total Depravity’, per se, but about whether or not Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.  The question of whether pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good” is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

“On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.”

You won’t get any argument from Arminians on this point.  No Arminian denies that salvation is of the Lord, nor that the decisive factor in salvation is the grace of God.

“Yet to combat “calvinism,” [sic] you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…”

And yet to combat an Arminian, you flatly ignore the context of Scripture, you flatly ignore the context of my original post, and now you make a wild assertion without the slightest bit of evidence to back it up. Amazing…

“But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.””

Yes, but how exactly is this relevant to the context of Jeremiah 13?

“These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.””

Again, as an Arminian, I have no issue with the doctrine of Total Depravity, nor do these verses have any relevance to the question of whether Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.

Thanks again for the reply, but nothing you’ve said has caused me to reconsider the conclusion of my original post – Jeremiah 13:23 is specifically referring to Israel and Judah, and should not be used as a proof-text for Total Depravity.  Also, and I mentioned this in the original post, I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages that use universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.

Best regards,

Arminian

Who Makes the Final Choice in Salvation? Brown vs. Bennett

Here is Dr. Michael L. Brown’s debate with Pastor Bruce Bennett on the subject of Who Makes the Final Choice in Salvation – God or Man?

10 Questions for Calvinists

10 Questions for Calvinists

1. Can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He, from eternity, unconditionally determined not to save, and is, in the words of Calvin, “pleased to exclude” and “doom to destruction”?  Or in the case of those who eschew the more passive doctrine of preterition and opt for the more active doctrine of reprobation, I ask: can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He has specifically created for the express purpose of destroying, who are, to quote Calvin, “doomed from the womb to certain death, whereby God is glorified by their destruction”?

2. If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to think that our prayers influence God’s answers to our prayers?  Further, wouldn’t prayer be like someone putting on a sock puppet, and then having the sock puppet ask him to do something?  And to extend the analogy even further, wouldn’t God’s answer/s to prayer be like someone answering a request that he had his own sock puppet ask himself?

3. Regarding the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Satan actively stealing away the Word of God (the ‘seed’) from people to prevent them from believing (Luke 8:12)?  In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to steal the Word from people, when these very people whom he is attempting to prevent believing cannot believe anyway, due to Total Depravity, and indeed, cannot believe until after they are already regenerated?

4. Regarding Luke 22:14-23, is the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement compatible with the fact that Judas Iscariot – who would have been better off had he never been born (Mark 14:21), and whom Jesus called a ‘devil’ (John 6:70) – was among those for whom Jesus Christ said He gave His body and shed His blood?  If so, wouldn’t that mean that Judas Iscariot is among the elect?

5. God specifically states that there were sins that He “did not command or decree” (Jer. 19:5).  Indeed, these sins did not even “come into my [God’s] mind” (Jer. 19:5; cf. Jer. 7:30-31; 32:35).  If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed sins that He did not command or decree, indeed, sins that did not even come into His mind to command or decree?  Further, does the fact that these sins occurred without God first decreeing them mean that the sins were not under God’s sovereign rule?

6. In 1 Samuel 23, David learned that Saul was plotting harm against him (vv. 7-9), and so inquired of God as to 1) whether the people of Keilah would surrender him into Saul’s hand, and 2) whether Saul would indeed come to Keilah.  Regarding both inquiries, God answered in the affirmative: Saul would come to Keilah, and the people of Keilah would surrender David into Saul’s hand (vv. 10-12).  David and his men swiftly fled from Keilah (v. 13), and even though Saul sought David every day, God would not surrender David into his hand (v. 14).  According to this passage, it would appear that God had foreknowledge of events that, in fact, never came to pass.  Doesn’t this passage contradict the Calvinistic tenet that God can foreknow the future only if He has already causally determined said future?  On the Calvinist view, if the above-stated events never came to pass, then surely God did not foreordain (or even permit) them to come to pass, so how then could God have foreknowledge of events that never came to pass?

7. The Apostle Paul states that “those who are perishing… refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thes. 2:10; emphasis added).  Even the Hyper-Calvinist John Gill said of this passage, “the reason therefore of these men’s perishing is not the decree of God, nor even want of the means of grace, the revelation of the Gospel, but their rejection and contempt of it” (emphasis added).  Isn’t the obvious implication that those who are perishing, in spite of the fact that they do ultimately perish, had a legitimate chance of being saved?

8. In the Bible, Christians are described as having “died to sin”(Rom. 6:2; cf. Rom. 6:7, 8, 11; 7:4-6; Gal 2:19; Col. 2:20; 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:11).  Before conversion, the unregenerate are obviously described as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. Col. 2:13). Calvinists (eg., Boice and Ryken) describe the spiritually dead as having “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse” in that “like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God”.  If being dead in sin entails not being able to make a single move toward God or even respond to God, does being dead to sin entail not being able to make a single move toward sin or even respond to sin?

9. Regarding the Apostle Paul’s warning to be sober-minded, watchful, and to resist the devil (1 Pet. 5:8-9), is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (which entails ‘inevitable perseverance’, ‘once saved, always saved’, and if anyone apostatizes, they were ‘never saved to begin with’) compatible with Satan actively prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8-9)?  In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to seek to devour people whose salvation cannot possibly be put in jeopardy?  And even if he actually does successfully ‘devour’ someone, wouldn’t that be sure proof that the person was never saved to begin with, and thus render the act of ‘devouring’ futile?

10. John Calvin taught what is known as ‘evanescent grace’ (Institutes, 3.2.11).  Calvin thus taught that God bestows grace on the reprobate (or non-elect) and implants faith in them that is “so similar to the elect” that sometimes, there is virtually “no difference” between the elect and the non-elect.  Calvin further taught that, “In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end”.  In other words, true saving faith only proves to be truly saving if it perseveres to the very end. In light of this, is it possible for a Calvinist to have true assurance of salvation?  Doesn’t this doctrine actually undermine the Biblical markers for assurance?  How can someone know that his present faith is genuine, if genuine faith only proves to be genuine if it perseveres to the very end?  How can a person be sure that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not an “inferior operation of the Spirit” which “afterwards proves evanescent,” the “better to convict them, and leave them without excuse”? Can a person even have assurance by producing fruit, considering that Calvin taught that the reprobate, through evanescent grace, “may for several years… produce fruit”?

A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.” – Prov. 12:17

A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

Calvinist C. Matthew McMahon, of A Puritan’s Mind, writes the following with regards to what he thinks Arminius taught:

“Arminius also taught that his “god” can be frustrated by the will of man because men choose their own destiny and that “god” allows them to do what they want to do without interfering.  Not only is this “god” later to be deemed the “god of deism”, but it demonstrates that Arminius’ “god” plans salvation in a way that may not be effectuated. This “god” has offered salvation, but cannot actually bring about the happiness of the creature since man is autonomous and has, as Arminius taught, “a free will.”  This means that man’s neutrality (denying total depravity) in “willing anything” is based on a choice that is never inclined toward good or evil.  Arminius though is very wrong not only about how salvation works, but the nature of man as well.  This “neutrality” is actually a smokescreen.  Not only is everyone born under the fall of Adam totally depraved and sinful, but their wills are never neutral.  Men only have sinful inclinations (Gen. 6:5).  They are not neutral in any choice they ever make.  Neutrality would mean they have an aversion to good or evil, but the Bible teaches men are inherently evil as a result of Adam’s fall and disobedience.  Romans 5:12 emphatically states, “… just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” Arminius taught that there was an island of righteousness in every man which was unaffected by the fall and thus able to do “good.” … With Pelagius, Arminius said that all men are inherently free, and have a “free will”.  The fall of Adam has not rendered them incapable of doing good things.” 1

What strikes me is that McMahon constantly uses the term “Arminius taught,” or “Arminius said,” but not once does he quote Arminius, or at least cite his writings to substantiate his claims.  Either McMahon hasn’t done his research and doesn’t know what Arminius actually taught, in which case he has no right to presume to teach others about what Arminius taught, or he has done his research and knows what Arminius taught, in which case he is being dishonest about the issue.  

No other option exists, as McMahon is demonstrably dead wrong about the issue.

Letting Arminius speak for himself:

“In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with ‘righteousness and true holiness,’ and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him.  This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Gen 1:26-27) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (Gen 2:17) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Eph 4:24, Col 3:10)

But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him.  Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life.  By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is under the dominion of sin.  For ‘to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,’ (Rom 6:16) and ‘of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,’ and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet 2:19)

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.  For Christ has said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’  St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: ‘Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty.  But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.’  That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.” 2

Arminius further taught:

“This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him.  Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.  But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good.  When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.” 3

McMahon is dead wrong.  End of discussion.

Notes

1 McMahon, C. Matthew, The ‘god’ of Arminianism is Not Worshippable

2 Arminius, J., Complete Works of Arminius, Vol. 1, Public Disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the Free Will of Man and its Powers)

3 Ibid., Declaration of the Sentiments, 5:3

Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?

Leading Calvinist John MacArthur asserts that,

“THE contemporary idea today is that there’s some residual good left in the sinner.  As this progression came from Pelagianism to Semi-Pelagianism, and then came down to some contemporary Arminianism, maybe got defined a little more carefully by Wesley, who was a sort of, ah, um, messed up Calvinist, because Wesley wanted to give all the glory to God, but as you well know, but he wanted to find in man some place where man could initiate salvation on his own will… So that the sinner, un-aided by the Holy Spirit, must make the first move.  That’s essentially Arminian theology: The sinner, un-aided, must make the first move.” 1 (Emphasis mine)

Loraine Boettner writes,

“AS we read the works of various Arminian writers, it seems that their first and perhaps most serious error is that they do not give sufficient importance to the sinful rebellion and spiritual separation of the human race from God that occurred in the fall of Adam. Some neglect it altogether, while for others it seems to be a far away event that has little influence in the lives of people today. But unless we insist on the reality of that spiritual separation from God, and the totally disastrous effect that it had on the entire human race, we shall never be able properly to appreciate our real condition or our desperate need of a Redeemer.” 2

Not only does Boettner explicitly say that Arminians “do not give sufficient importance to the sinful rebellion and spiritual separation of the human race from God,” his last sentence is a slap in the face if ever I’ve seen one: Arminians are not able to properly appreciate the need for a Redeemer.

Calvinist duo Steele and Thomas claim that Arminianism teaches that,

“ALTHOUGH human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.” 3

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) claims,

“TOTAL Depravity is the doctrine that fallen man is completely touched by sin and that he is completely a sinner. He is not as bad as he could be, but in all areas of his being, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc., he is touched by sin. In that sense he is totally depraved. Because man is depraved, nothing good can come out of him (Rom. 3:10-12) and God must account the righteousness of Christ to him. This righteousness is obtainable only through faith in Christ and what He did on the cross.

Total depravity is generally believed by the Calvinist groups and rejected by the Arminian groups.” 4

William MacLean writes,

“ARMINIANS deny the total depravity of man, in that they hold that the will of man is free and has the ability to choose Christ and the salvation that is in Him.” 5

Despite how convinced the above Calvinists are regarding the beliefs of Arminians, their claims are quite baseless.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth; Arminians wholeheartedly affirm the total depravity of man.

Jacob Arminius writes,

“IN the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with ‘righteousness and true holiness,’ and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him.  This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Gen 1:26-27) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (Gen 2:17) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Eph 4:24, Col 3:10)

But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him.  Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life.  By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is under the dominion of sin.  For ‘to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,’ (Rom 6:16) and ‘of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,’ and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet 2:19)

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.  For Christ has said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’  St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: ‘Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty.  But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.’  That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.” 6

Arminius further writes,

“THIS is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him.  Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.  But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good.  When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.” 7

Dr. Brian Abasciano and Martin Glynn, President and Vice-President respectively8 of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, write thus concerning the depravity of man:

“HUMANITY was created in the image of God, good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving humanity sinful, separated from God, and under the sentence of divine condemnation … Total depravity does not mean that human beings are as bad as they could be, but that sin impacts every part of a person’s being and that people now have a sinful nature with a natural inclination toward sin, making every human being fundamentally corrupt at heart … Therefore, human beings are not able to think, will, nor do anything good in and of themselves, including merit favor from God, save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God that we deserve for our sin, or even believe the gospel … If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.” 9

The Opinions of the Remonstrants:

“MAN does not have saving faith of himself, nor out of the powers of his free will, since in the state of sin he is able of himself and by himself neither to think, will, or do any good (which would indeed to be saving good, the most prominent of which is saving faith).  It is necessary therefore that by God in Christ through His Holy Spirit he be regenerated and renewed in intellect, affections, will, and in all his powers, so that he might be able to understand, reflect upon, will and carry out the good things which pertain to salvation.  We hold, however, that the grace of God is not only the beginning but also the progression and the completion of every good, so much so that even the regenerate himself is unable to think, will, or do the good, or to resist any temptations to evil, apart from that preceding or prevenient, awakening, following and cooperating grace.  Hence all good works and actions which anyone by cogitation is able to comprehend are to be ascribed to the grace of God… The will in the fallen state, before calling, does not have the power and the freedom to will any saving good.” 10

Roger Olson, author of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, and Against Calvinism, writes that,

“ARMINIANS together with Calvinists affirm total depravity because of the fall of humanity in Adam and its inherited consequence of a corrupted nature in bondage to sin.  A common myth about Arminianism is that it promotes an optimistic anthropology.” 11

Even Calvinists Peterson and Williams acknowledge that Arminians hold to the doctrine of total depravity:

“ARMINIANS and Calvinists alike believe in total depravity: because of the fall, every aspect of human nature is tainted by sin.” 12

John Wesley, commenting on Genesis 6:5, openly taught that,

“CONCERNING man in his natural state unassisted by the grace of God… every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is still evil, ‘only evil,’ and that ‘continually.'” 13

Arminians thus wholeheartedly affirm the following definition put forth by Calvinist Charles Ryrie:

“BECAUSE of the effects of the fall, that original relationship of fellowship with God was broken and man’s entire nature was polluted.  As a result no one can do anything, even good things, that can gain soteriological merit in God’s sight.  Therefore, we may concisely define total depravity as the unmeritoriousness of man before God because of the corruption of original sin.

The concept of total depravity does not mean (1) that depraved people cannot or do not perform actions that are good in either man’s or God’s sight.  But no such action can gain favor with God for salvation.  Neither does it mean (2) that fallen man has no conscience which judges between good and evil for him.  But that conscience has been affected by the fall so that it cannot be a safe and reliable guide.  Neither does it mean (3) that people indulge in every form of sin or in any sin to the greatest extent possible.

Positively, total depravity means that the corruption has extended to all aspects of man’s nature, to his entire being; and total depravity means that because of that corruption there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God.” 14


Notes

1 Sermon: The Sinner Neither Able Nor Willing – The Doctrine of Absolute Inability, preached at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference, 2008.  Relevant Time: 31:54 – 33:15

2 Boettner, L., ‘Man’s Totally Helpless Condition,’ in The Reformed Faith

3 Steele, D., Thomas, C., and Quinn, S., The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented (2004: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2nd Ed.), pp. 5-6

4 ‘Total Depravity,’ in the Dictionary of Theology: <http://carm.org/dictionary-total-depravity&gt;

5 MacLean, W., ‘Arminian Errors,’ in the tract Another Gospel

6 Arminius, J., Complete Works of Arminius, Volume 1, Public Disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the Free Will of Man and its Powers)

7 Ibid. Declaration of the Sentiments, 5:3

8 According to announcement made on 20 July 2011: <http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/1179&gt;

9 Abasciano, B., and Glynn, M., An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. the TULIP of Calvinism: <http://evangelicalarminians.org/Outline.FACTS-of-Arminianism-vs-the-TULIP-of-Calvinism&gt;

10 The Opinions of the Remonstrants, 1618: The Opinion of the Remonstrants regarding the third and fourth articles, concerning the grace of God and the conversion of man, sections 1, 2, and 4

11 Olson, R., Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (2006: InterVarsity Press), pp.55-6

12 Peterson, R., and Williams, M., Why I Am Not An Arminian (2004: InterVarsity Press), p.163

13 Wesley, J., Sermon XLIV: Original Sin, in The Essential Works of John Wesley (2011: Barbour Publishing Inc.), p.128

14 Ryrie, C., Entry for ‘Depravity, Total,’ in Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2001: Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2nd Edition), p. 337

On Spiritual Death

Calvinists are fond of drawing a parallel between spiritual death and physical death, and upon this comparison comes the theory that ‘regeneration precedes faith’.  For example, one Calvinist writes:

“Could the Word of God show more plainly than it does that the depravity is total? and that our inability to desire or procure salvation is also total? The picture is one of death — spiritual death. We are like Lazarus in his tomb; we are bound hand and foot; corruption has taken hold upon us. Just as there was no glimmer of life in the dead body of Lazarus, so there is no “inner receptive spark” in our hearts. But the Lord performs the miracle — both with the physically dead, and the spiritually dead; for “you hath he quickened — made alive — who were dead in trespasses and sins.” [Eph 2.1]. Salvation, by its very nature, must be “of the Lord.”” 1

Calvinist duo Boice and Ryken write:

“Abraham Kuyper observed that, prior to regeneration, a sinner ‘has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse … [Therefore] every effort to claim for the sinner the minutest co-operation in this first grace destroys the gospel, severs the artery of the Christian confession and is anti-scriptural in the highest degree.’  Like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God – unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life.” 2

Edwin H. Palmer defines the issue graphically:

“[T]he Calvinist holds to the plain teaching of Scripture and says: ‘No; he is dead.  He cannot even open his mouth.  Nor does he have any desire to call a doctor to help him.  He is dead’ … The Calvinist … would compare man to one who jumps off the top of the Empire State Building and is spattered over the sidewalk.  Even if there were anything left of him when he landed, he could not know that he needed help, let alone cry out for it.  That man is dead – lifeless – and cannot even desire to be made whole … And that is the picture of the sinner.  He is dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1, 5).  He does not want to be made whole, let alone even know that he should be made whole.  He is dead.  When Christ called to Lazarus to come out of the grave, Lazarus had no life in him so that he could hear, sit up, and emerge.  There was not a flicker of life in him.  If he was to be able to hear Jesus calling him and to go to Him, then Jesus would have to make him alive.  Jesus did resurrect him and then Lazarus could respond.” 3

It is undeniable that the unregenerate are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13).  In other words, Calvinists and Arminians both agree that unregenerate men are dead; that’s not the issue.  The issue is: what does it mean to be spiritually dead? 

As shown above, the Calvinist equates spiritual death with physical death, but the Arminian is not convinced about said comparison.  While the Calvinist defines spiritual death in terms of physical death, the Arminian defines death in general and spiritual death in particular, in terms of a separation, or a departure, namely, the separation/departure of the spirit from the body (physical death), the separation/departure of the spirit from God (spiritual death), or the eternal separation of the spirit and God (the second death). 

Ben Henshaw defines the terms thus: “To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential. The sinner is presently ‘dead’ because, in the absence of faith, he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.  The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).”4

Even ‘moderate Calvinist’ Norman Geisler rejects the standard Calvinist definition of spiritual death, and offers a much more Biblical one:

“[S]piritual death in the Bible means fallen people are totally separated from God, not completely obliterated by Him.  They lack spiritual life, but they’re still humans with all their God-given faculties.  Isaiah put it this way: ‘Your iniquities have separated you from your God’ (59:2).  In brief, it does not mean a total destruction of all ability to hear and respond to God but a complete separation of the whole person from God.” 5

As shown, the standard Calvinist definition of spiritual death is in terms of physical death, i.e., “… prior to regeneration, a sinner ‘has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse …’”6  The problem, however, is that such a comparison between spiritual death and physical death is unfounded. 

The Calvinist will object to that statement, and refer us to Ephesians chapter 2 and Colossians chapter 2.  The error of the Calvinist in doing this is assuming that the Calvinist definition of spiritual death is the same as the spiritual death spoken of in Ephesians and Colossians.  To put it another way, the Calvinist first assumes that his definition of spiritual death is the correct definition, and then proceeds to simply latch on to the word ‘dead’ in Ephesians and Colossians, and claim that his position is thus Scriptural.  The problem with this approach is evident: the Calvinist is making the Bible conform to his theology, when it should be our theology that conforms to Scripture. 

By simply reading the Bible (i.e., starting with the Bible rather than theology), the Calvinist definition of spiritual death is seen to be unfounded.  The passage in Colossians doesn’t add a great deal, though by what Paul says, it can be reasonably inferred that even though the Colossians were dead in trespasses and sins (2:13), they could still exercise faith in God (2:12).  In other words, their spiritual ‘deadness’ did not mean that they could not respond to the Gospel. 

The passage in Ephesians, however, is more enlightening.  Paul, after saying that the Ephesians were dead in trespasses and sins, describes what this meant.  While they were dead, they also walked (in trespasses and sins), they followed the course of this world, they followed the prince of the power of the air, they lived in the passions of the flesh, and they carried out the desires of the body and mind (Eph. 2:2-3).  Hardly a fitting description if the dead in sin do indeed have “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse”. 

That’s not all Paul has to say either.  He goes on to describe the state of spiritual death as being “separated from Christ,” “strangers to the covenants of promise,” “without God in the world,” “far off,” “strangers and aliens” (Eph. 2:12, 13, 19), and “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18).

So we see that although the Calvinist is not wrong to point to Ephesians (and Colossians) in order to show that the unregenerate are spiritually dead, they are wrong to assume that the passages support the standard Calvinistic definition of spiritual death.  The fact of the matter is: according to the passages in Ephesians, spiritual death is 1) a separation (Eph. 2:12, 13, 19; 4:18), and 2) spiritual death is not to have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse (Eph. 2:2-3). 

The fallacy of the Calvinist apologists is latching on to the single word ‘dead’ while ignoring the surrounding text, and then proceeding to draw un-Biblical analogies, from a man jumping off the Empire State Building to a man at the bottom of the ocean, whose heart has been eaten by sharks7.  Palmer even dares to call this “the Biblical picture,”8 yet for some strange reason, he can’t show from Scripture such an analogy.  

Funnily enough, it is typically those from the Reformed crowd that shout ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone) the loudest, yet had they followed their own advice on this issue, they wouldn’t be able to escape the conclusion that there is nowhere in the pages of Scripture where mankind’s spiritual death is described in such terms as a man splattered on a sidewalk, or a man at the bottom of the ocean with his heart eaten out.  ‘Sola Scriptura’ indeed.

There is also more Scriptural proof that spiritual death cannot be equated with physical death.  For example, even though the unsaved are spiritually dead, they can still perceive the truth of God.  Irrespective of their spiritual state, they are still made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9), which, as Geisler says, “was effaced but not erased by the Fall.”9

And fallen men still retain that which was gained from the Fall, namely, a conscience.  This means that, irrespective of their spiritual state, they can (and do) know, and thus discern between, the good and the evil.  When Paul was writing about unrighteous men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, he wrote that what can be known about God is plain to them, and that His invisible attributes have been clearly perceived, so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).

As soon as Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually.  Yet this did not mean that they were incapable of hearing God, or even responding to God.  From the Scriptures, it is as clear as day that Adam and Eve both heard God, and responded to Him (Gen. 3:10-13).  Clearly, the burden of proof rests squarely on the Calvinist to show how the spiritually dead are incapable of hearing and responding to God.

Yet another Biblical example of death that contradicts Calvinism is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  After the prodigal son is restored, his father describes him thus: “… for this your brother (the prodigal son) was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”  (Luke 15:32)  Anyone remotely familiar with the parable will readily acknowledge the fact that even while the prodigal son was in the state of ‘deadness,’ he still made choices.  In other words, even while dead, he did not have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse, as the Calvinist would have us believe.  And what’s more, the prodigal son also recognized his sin and resolved to return to his father penitent, all while he was still ‘dead’ – hardly the picture we would expect to see, if indeed the standard Calvinistic doctrine is to be believed.

It would seem obvious that the Calvinist is in error with regards to what the Biblical picture of spiritual death is.  That is, the Calvinist defines spiritual death in terms of physical death, whether it simply be in terms of a corpse, or sometimes more graphic, as in the case of Palmer, who describes spiritual death in terms of a man jumping off the Empire State Building and being splattered, and also in terms of a man at the bottom of the ocean, whose heart has been eaten out by sharks, whereas the Bible paints a very different picture, namely, in terms of a separation, where the spiritually dead can still hear and respond to God, as in the case of Adam and Eve, or even the unrighteous men spoken of in the first chapter of Romans. 

That being said, there is yet another area where the Calvinist errs.  This time, it is not so much to do with how one defines death, but what the results of mankind’s depravity are.  The Calvinist will typically make a remark along the lines of: ‘man is not simply sick, he is dead.’  For example:

“Man is dead in sins and trespasses, not just sick or injured but nevertheless alive.  No, the unsaved, the unregenerate, is spiritually dead (Eph. 2).  He is unable to ask for help unless God changes his heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and makes him alive spiritually (Eph. 2:5).  Then, once he is born again, he can for the first time turn to Jesus, expressing sorrow for his sins and asking Jesus to save him.” 10

The issue that comments like these raise is not over what spiritual death means, but rather, whether man is indeed spiritually dead.  Of course, Palmer, the author of the above quote, is setting up a straw man, for no Bible-believing Christian, regardless of where he stands on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue, denies that man is spiritually dead. 

But that’s not all, for statements like the one above reveal that Palmer in particular, and Calvinists in general, employ what has sometimes been called ‘cafeteria hermeneutics.’  That is, the practice of picking what you like, and leaving what you don’t like.  In other words, the error of the Calvinists is latching on to particular ‘golden bullet’ passages, while ignoring other portions of Scripture, viz., the Calvinist errs by failing to take into account all the Biblical data. 

The simple truth is: in the Bible, the unsaved (i.e., the unregenerate or spiritually dead) are described as being sick, in spite of the Calvinist’s claims to the contrary.  None other than Jesus Christ Himself said, when questioned on why he stayed in the company of sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mat. 9:12). 

So, taking into account all the Biblical data, the unsaved are described as: Sick (Mat. 9:12); Dead (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); Perishing (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; an interesting point, considering it shows that the death has not yet reached its completion); Separated from God (Isa. 59:2); Separated from Christ (Eph. 2:12); Strangers (Eph. 2:12); Without God (Eph. 2:12); Far off (Eph. 2:13, 17); Strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19); Alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18).

And further taking into account all the Biblical data, the unsaved (i.e., the spiritually dead) have the ability to: Walk in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:2-3); Follow the course of this world (Eph. 2:2-3); Follow the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2-3); Live in the passions of the flesh (Eph. 2:2-3); Carry out the desires of the body and mind (Eph. 2:2-3); Act in accordance with their conscience (e.g. Gen. 3:7); Hear God (Gen. 3:10-13); Respond to God (Gen. 3:10-13); Know the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-20); Clearly perceive God’s invisible attributes (Rom. 1:18-20); Repent of sins (Luke 15:18-19); Seek God (John 3); Fear God (Acts 10:2); Pray to God (Acts 10:2).

After taking the Biblical picture into account, it is clear that the spiritually dead do NOT have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse, nor are they viewed as corpses.  They also have the ability to hear and respond to God.  Clearly, Calvinism is weighed and found wanting. 

At this point, it should be re-stated that man does not naturally possess the ability to respond to God.  Indeed, it would be erroneous for anyone to believe that man possesses that natural ability apart from God’s grace, for it is only in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  It would therefore be terribly inconsistent to say on the one hand that man cannot even take a breath without God’s continued grace, and then on the other hand say that man can make the first move in the salvation process without Divine aid. 

The truth is: just as man needs God’s continued grace to even draw a breath, so he needs God’s continued grace to be convicted of sin, and to respond positively to the Gospel.  This grace: Draws men (John 6:44; 12:32); Is universal (John 1:9; 12:32; 16:7-11; Titus 2:11); Convicts men (John 16:7-11; Acts 16:14; 16:29-30; 24:25); Is designed to make us seek God (Acts 17:26-27); Is designed to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4); Encompasses the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11).


Notes

1 Seaton, W. J., The Five Points of Calvinism, available online at Monergism.com (<http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/fivepointsseaton.html>).  Retrieved 19 Sept. 2012

2 James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, (Crossway,Wheaton,IL, 2009), p. 74.

3 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, pp. 17-18.

4 Ben Henshaw, What Can The Dead in Sin Do?  (<http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/178>) URL correct at 4th June, 2011.

5 Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, (Bethany House Publishers, Third Edition, 2010), p. 63.

6 Boice and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, p. 74.

7 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 18.

8 Ibid.

9 Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 63.

10 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 19.

Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?

Often cited as a proof text for the doctrine of Total Inability is Jeremiah 13:23, which reads,

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?  Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer. 13:23; ESV)

The purpose of this post is to explain my reasons for rejecting Jeremiah 13:23 as a good proof-text for the doctrine of Total Inability.

I believe in the depravity of man, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t believe that Jeremiah 13:23 is the best proof-text for such a fundamental truth as this. When considered in context, I believe that this verse is not teaching that it is literally impossible for unsaved man to do any good. Needless to say, I don’t believe this verse is teaching mankind’s ‘Total Inability.’

Consider:

» The context is that of God threatening Judah and Jerusalem (v.9), aka, the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah (v.11) with exile, in response to their continual rebellion – their refusal to hear God’s words, their stubbornly following their own heart, and their going after other gods to serve and worship them (v.10). This fact leaves the application of this verse to all mankind without foundation. The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.**

» The question of whether the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots reminds me of the statement made by Jesus that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25) We wouldn’t take Jesus’ words to mean that it is literally possible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, nor should we take His words to mean that under no circumstances can a rich man enter the kingdom of God, simply because he is rich. Jesus isn’t stating that a rich man, because he is rich, cannot, under any circumstances, enter the kingdom of God. Money, in and of itself, is not evil, nor is the mere possession of money, in and of itself, evil. What is evil, and indeed, a root of all kinds of evil, is a wilful heart condition, namely the love of money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus’ statement comes immediately after the rich young ruler refused to forsake all his riches to follow Christ. What Jesus is doing is illustrating what riches do to a man’s heart. Jesus knew that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil; He knew how money would corrupt a man’s heart so as to make him proud, self-sufficient, and unwilling to forsake all to follow Christ, hence Jesus’ statement in verse 25. The case in point: the rich young ruler, who went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, the passage says. Given what riches do to a man’s heart, it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it would be to get a rich man to forsake his riches and follow Christ. The ‘inability’ of the rich is a wilful condition, not a necessary one.

And so it is with Jeremiah 13:23. We shouldn’t take the words to mean that it is literally impossible for an unsaved man to do anything good. But rather, we should consider the context: Israel and Judah hadn’t simply fallen into sin; they were reveling in sin; they were continuing in steadfast rebellion to God; continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words; continuing in steadfast idolatry. And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard. What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God. Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.

As Jesus was illustrating what riches do to a man’s heart, so God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

In both cases, the ‘inability’ is a wilful condition of the heart, not a necessary one. The question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard illustrated what happened to men’s hearts as a result of their continued unwillingness to turn to God.


** I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages using universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.