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
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”?
Any One Form of Sin Persisted In is Fatal to the Soul
by Charles Finney
“Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point is guilty of all.” – James 2:10
“He that is unjust in the least, is also unjust in much.” – Luke 16:10
In speaking from these words, I inquire,
I. What is it to persist in sin?
1. To persist in sin is not to abandon it. If a person should only occasionally, under the force of temptation, fall into a sin, any form of sin, and should repent and abandon it for a time, and should only occasionally be overcome by a temptation to commit that form of sin, it would not be proper to say that he persisted in it; for, according to this supposition, he is not wilful, or obstinate, or habitual in the commission of this sin, but it is rather accidental, in the sense that the temptation sometimes overtakes and overcomes him, notwithstanding his habitual abandonment of it and resistance to it. But if the commission be habitual, a thing allowed, a thing indulged in habitually, such a sin is persisted in.
2. A sin is persisted in, although it may not be outwardly repeated, if it be not duly confessed. An individual may be guilty of a great sin, which he may not repeat in the act; nevertheless, while he neglects or refuses to confess it, it is still on his conscience unrepented of and in that sense, is still persisted in. If the sin has been committed to the injury of some person or persons, and be not duly confessed to the parties injured, it is still persisted in.
If any of you had slandered his neighbour to his great injury, it would not do for you to merely abstain from repeating that offence. The sin is not abandoned until it is confessed, and reparation made, so far as confession can make it. If not confessed, the injury is allowed to work; and therefore the sin is virtually repeated, and therefore persisted in.
Again, 3. A sin is persisted in when due reparation has not been made. If you have wronged a person, and it is in your power to make him restitution and satisfaction, then, so long as you persist in neglecting or refusing to do so, you do not forsake the sin, but persist in it. Suppose one who had stolen your property, resolved never to repeat the act, and never to commit the like again; and yet he refuses to make restitution and restore the stolen property as far as is in his power; of course he still persists in that sin, and the wrong is permitted to remain.
I once had a conversation with a young man to this effect. He had been in the habit of stealing. He was connected with a business in which it was possible for him to steal money in small sums, which he had repeatedly done. He afterwards professed to become a Christian, but he made no restitution. He found in the Bible this text, “Let him that stole steal no more.” He resolved not to steal any more, and there let the matter rest. Of course he had no evidence of acceptance with God, for he could not have been accepted. However, he flattered himself that he was a Christian for a long time, until he heard a sermon on confession and restitution, which woke him up. He then came to me for the conversation of which I have spoken.
He was told that, if it was in his power, he must make restitution and give back the stolen money, or he could not be forgiven. But observe his perversion of Scripture. To be sure it is the duty of those who have stolen property to steal no more; but this is not all. He is bound to restore that which he has stolen, as well as to steal no more. This is a plain doctrine of Scripture, as well as of reason and conscience.
II. Any one form of sin persisted in is fatal to the soul.
I now come to the main doctrine of our texts — That is, it is impossible for a person to be saved who continues to commit any form of known sin.
1. It is fatal to the soul because any one form of sin persisted in is a violation of the spirit of the whole law. The text in James settles that: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” The law requires supreme love to God, and equal love to our fellowmen.
Now sin is selfishness; and always assumes the preference of self-interest and self-gratification to obedience to God, or to our duty to our fellowmen.
Whosoever, therefore, habitually prefers himself to God, or is selfish in regard to his fellowmen, cannot be a Christian. If in any one thing he violates the law of love, he breaks the spirit of the whole law, and is living in sin.
2. Persistence in any form of sin cannot consist with supreme love to God or equal love to our fellowmen. If we love God more than ourselves, we cannot disoblige him for the sake of obliging ourselves. We cannot displease him, knowingly and habitually, for the sake of pleasing ourselves.
For we supremely love whom we supremely desire to please. If we supremely desire to please ourselves, we love ourselves supremely. If we love God supremely, we desire supremely to please him; and cannot, consistently with the existence of this love in the soul, consent to displease him.
Under the force of a powerful temptation that diverts and partially distracts the mind, one who loves God may be induced to commit an occasional sin, and occasionally to displease God.
But if he love God supremely, he will consent to displease him only under the pressure of a present and powerful temptation that diverts attention and partially distracts the mind. So that his sin cannot be habitual; and no form of sin can habitually have dominion over him if he is truly a Christian.
3. The text in James affirms the impossibility of real obedience in one thing, and of persistent disobedience in another, at the same time. It seems to me a great and common error to suppose that persons can really obey God in the spirit of obedience in some things, while at the same time there are certain other things in which they withhold obedience; in other words, that they can obey one commandment and disobey another at the same time — that they can perform one duty acceptably, and at the same time refuse to perform other duties.
Now the text in James is designed flatly to contradict this view of the subject. It asserts as plainly as possible, that disobedience in any one point is wholly inconsistent with true obedience, for the time being, in any other respect; that the neglect of one duty renders it impossible, for the time being, to perform any other duty with acceptance; in other words, no one can obey in one thing and disobey in another at the same time.
But 4. Real obedience to God involves and implies supreme regard for his authority.
Now if any one has a supreme regard for God’s authority in any one thing, he will yield to his authority in everything.
But if he can consent to act against the authority of God in any one thing for the time being, he cannot be accepted in anything; for it must be that, while in one thing he rejects the authority of God, he does not properly accept it in any other. Hence, if obedience to God be real in anything, it extends for the time being, and must extend, to everything known to be the will of God.
Again, 5. One sin persisted in is fatal to the soul, because it is a real rejection of God’s whole authority. If a man violates knowingly any one of God’s commandments as such, he rejects the authority of God; and if in this he rejects the authority of God, he rejects his whole authority, for the time being, on every subject. So that if he appears to obey in other things while in one thing he sets aside and condemns God’s authority, it is only the appearance of obedience, and not real obedience. He acts from a wrong motive in the case in which he appears to obey. He certainly does not act out of supreme respect to God’s authority; and therefore he does not truly obey him. But surely one who rejects the whole authority of God cannot be saved.
I fear it is very common for persons to make a fatal mistake here; and really to suppose that they are accepted in their obedience in general, although in some things or thing they habitually neglect or refuse to do their duty.
They live, and know that they live, in the omission of some duty habitually, or in the violation of their own consciences on some point habitually; and yet they keep up so much of the form of religion, and do so many things that they call duties, that they seem to think that these will compensate for the sin in which they persist. Or rather, so many duties are performed, and so much of religion is kept up, as will show, they think, that upon the whole they are Christians; will afford them ground for hope, and give them reasons to think that they are accepted while they are indulging, and know that they are, in some known sin.
They say, To be sure, I know that I neglect that duty; I know that I violate my conscience in that thing; but I do so many other things that are my duty, that I have good reason to believe that I am a Christian.
Now this is a fatal delusion. Such persons are totally deceived in supposing that they really obey God in anything. “He that is unjust in the least, is really unjust also in much;” and “whosoever will keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.”
Again, 6. Any form of sin persisted in is fatal to the soul, because it is inconsistent with true repentance. Sin, however great, will be forgiven if repented of. But what is repentance? Repentance is not mere sorrow for sin, but it is the heart-renunciation of sin; it is the giving up of sin from the heart, and of all sin as sin; it is the rejection of it because it is that abominable thing which God hates; it is the turning of the heart from self-seeking to supreme love to God and equal love to our fellowmen; it is heart-reformation; it is heart-rejection of sin; it is heart-turning to God. Now, while any one sin is persisted in and not given up, there can be no true repentance; for, after all, this form of sin is preferred to the will of God — the indulgence of self in this particular is preferred to pleasing God. There can, therefore, be no true repentance unless all known sin be for the time utterly abandoned.
7. Persistence in any form of sin is fatal to the soul, because it is utterly inconsistent with saving faith. That faith is saving which actually does save from sin and no other faith is saving or can be — that faith is justifying which is sanctifying. True faith works by love; it purifies the heart; it overcomes the world.
These are expressly affirmed to be the characteristics of saving faith. Let no one suppose that his faith is justifying, when, in fact, it does not save him from the commission of sin; for he cannot be justified while he persists in the commission of any known sin. If his faith does not purify his heart, if it does not overcome the world and overcome his sins, it can never save him.
Again, 8. Persistence in any one form of sin is fatal to the soul, because it withstands the power of the gospel. The gospel does not save whom it does not sanctify. If sin in any form withstands the saving power of the gospel; if sin does not yield under the influence of the gospel; if it be persisted in, in spite of all the power of the gospel on the soul; of course the gospel does not, cannot, save that soul. Such sin is fatal.
But again, 9. Persistence in any one form of sin is fatal to the soul, because the grace of the gospel cannot pardon what it cannot eradicate.
As I have already said, a sin cannot be pardoned while it is persisted in. Some persons seem to suppose that, although they persist in many forms of sin, yet the grace of God will pardon sins that it has not power to eradicate and subdue. But this is a great mistake. The Bible everywhere expressly teaches this — that if the gospel fails to eradicate sin, it can never save the soul from the consequences of that sin.
But again, 10. If the gospel should pardon sin which it did not eradicate, this would not save the soul.
Suppose God should not punish sin; still, if the soul be left to the self-condemnation of sin, its salvation is naturally impossible. It were of no use to the sinner to be pardoned, if left under this self-condemnation. This is plain. Let no one, therefore, think that, if his sins are not subdued by the grace of the gospel, he can be saved.
But again, 11, and lastly. Sin is a unit in its spirit and root. It consists in preferring self to God.
Hence, if any form of preferring self to God be persisted in, no sin has been truly abandoned; God is not supremely loved; and the soul cannot, by any possibility, in such a case, be saved.
1. What a delusion the self-righteous are under.
Every man is aware that he has sinned at some time, and that he is a sinner. But there are many who think that, upon the whole, they perform so many good deeds, that they are safe. They are aware that they are habitually neglecting God and neglecting duty, that they neither love God supremely nor their neighbour as themselves; yet they are constantly prone to give themselves credit for a great deal of goodness. Now let them understand that there is no particle of righteousness in them, nor of true goodness, while they live in neglect of any known duty to man — while they are constantly prone to give themselves credit for a great deal of goodness. But they seem to think that they have a balance of good deeds.
2. How many persons indulge in little sins, as they call them; but they are too honest, they think, to indulge in great crimes. Now both these texts contradict this view. “He that is unjust in that which is least, is unjust also in much.” If a man yields to a slight temptation to commit what he calls a small sin, it cannot be a regard for God that keeps him from committing great sins. He may abstain from committing great sins through fear of disgrace or of punishment, but not because he loves God. If he does not love God well enough to keep from yielding to slight temptations to commit small sins, surely he does not love him well enough to keep from yielding to great temptations to commit great sins.
Again, 3. We see the delusion of those who are guilty of habitual dishonesties, tricks of trade for example, and yet profess to be Christians.
How many are there who are continually allowing themselves to practise little dishonesties, little deceptions, and to tell little lies in trade; and yet think themselves Christians! Now this delusion is awful; it is fatal. Let all such be on their guard, and understand it.
But again, 4. We see the delusion of those professors of religion who allow themselves habitually to neglect some known duty, and yet think themselves Christians. They shun some cross; there is something that they know they ought to do which they do not, and this is habitual with them. Perhaps all their Christian lives they have shunned some cross, or neglected the performance of some duty, and yet they think themselves Christians. Now let them know assuredly that they are self-deceived.
5. Many, I am sorry to say, preach a gospel that is a dishonour to Christ. They really maintain, at least they make this impression, though they may not teach it in words and form, that Christ really justifies men while they are living in the habitual indulgence of known sin.
Many preachers seem not to be aware of the impression which they really leave upon their people. Probably, if they were asked whether they hold and preach that any sin is forgiven which is not repented of; whether men are really justified while they persist in known sin, they would say, No. But, after all, in their preaching, they leave a very different impression. For example, how common it is to find ministers who are in this position: You ask them how many members they have in their church. Perhaps they will tell you, Five hundred. How many, do you think, are living up to the best light which they have? How many of them are living from day to day with a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man, and are not indulging in any known sin either of omission or commission? who are living and aiming to discharge punctually and fully every duty of heart to God and to all their fellowmen? Push the inquiry, and ask, How many of your church can you honestly say, before God, you think are endeavouring to live without sin? who do not indulge themselves in any form of transgression or omission?
They will tell you, perhaps, that they do not know a member of their church, or at least they know but very few, of whom they can say this. Now ask them further, How many of your church do you suppose to be in a state of justification? and you will find that they have the impression that the great mass of their church are in a state of justification with God; in a state of acceptance with him; in a state in which they are prepared to die; and if they should die just in this state by any sudden stroke of Providence, and they should be called upon to preach their funeral sermon, they would assume that they had gone to heaven.
While they will tell you that they know of but very few of their church of whom they can conscientiously say, I do not believe he indulges himself in any known sin; yet, let one of that great majority, of whom he cannot say this, suddenly die, and this pastor be called to attend his funeral, would he not comfort the mourners by holding out the conviction that he was a Christian, and had gone to heaven? Now this shows that the pastor himself, whatever be his theoretical views of being justified while indulging in any known sin, is yet, after all, practically an antinomian; and practically holds, believes, and teaches that Christ justifies people while they are living in the neglect of known duty, while they are knowingly shunning some cross, while they persist in known sin. Ministers, indeed, often leave this impression upon their churches (and I fear Calvinistic ministers quite generally), that if they are converted, or ever were, they are justified, although they may be living habitually and always in the indulgence of more or less known sin, living in the habitual neglect of known duty, indulging various forms of selfishness. And yet they are regarded as justified Christians: and get the impression, even from the preaching of their ministers, that all is well with them; that they really believe the gospel and are saved by Christ.
Now this is really antinomianism. It is a faith without law; it is a Saviour that saves in and not from sin. It is presenting Christ as really setting aside the moral law and introducing another rule of life; as forgiving sin while it is persisted in, instead of saving from sin.
6. Many profess to be Christians, and are indulging the hope of eternal life, who know that they never have forsaken all forms of sin; that in some things they have always fallen short of complying with the demands of their own consciences. They have indulged in what they call little sins; they have allowed themselves in practices, and in forms of self-indulgence, that they cannot justify; they have never reformed all their bad habits, and have never lived up to what they have regarded as their whole duty. They have never really intended to do this; have never resolutely set themselves in the strength of Christ, to give up every form of sin, both of omission and commission; but, on the contrary, they know that they have always indulged themselves in what they condemn. And yet they call themselves Christian! But this is as contrary to the teaching of the Bible as possible. The Bible teaches, not only that men are condemned by God if they indulge themselves in what they condemn; but, also, that God condemns them if they indulge in that the lawfulness of which they so much as doubt. If they indulge in any one thing the lawfulness of which is in their own estimation doubtful, God condemns them. This is the express teaching of the Bible. But how different is this from the common ideas that many professors of religion have!
7. Especially is this true of those who habitually indulge in the neglect of known duties, and who habitually shun the cross of Christ. Many persons neglect family prayer, and yet admit that they ought to perform it. How many females will even stay away from the female prayer-meeting to avoid performing the duty of taking a part in those meetings! How many indulge the hope that they are saved, while they know that they are neglecting, and always have neglected, some things, and even many things, that they admit to be their duty. They continue to live on in those omissions; but they think they are Christians because they do not engage in anything that is openly disgraceful, or, as they suppose, very bad.
Now there are many that entirely overlook the real nature of sin. The law of God is positive. It commands us to consecrate all our powers to his service and glory; to love him with all our heart and our neighbour as ourself. Now to neglect to do this is sin; it is positive transgression; it is an omission which always involves a refusal to do what God requires us to do. In other words, sin is the refusal to do what God requires us to do. It is the neglect to fulfil our obligations. If one neglects to pay you what he owes you, do you not call that sin, especially if the neglect involves necessarily the refusal to pay when he has the means of payment?
Sin really consists in withholding from God and man that love and service which we owe them — a withholding from God and man their due.
Now, where any one withholds from God and man what is their due, is this honest? is this Christian? And while this withholding is persisted in, can an individual be in a justified state? No, indeed!
The Bible teaches that sin is forgiven when it is repented of, but never while it is persisted in. The Bible teaches that the grace of God can save us from sin — from the commission of sin, or can pardon when we repent and put away sin; but it never teaches that sin can be forgiven while it is persisted in.
Let me ask you who are here present, Do you think you are Christians? Do you think, if you should die in your present state, that you are prepared to go to heaven? that you are already justified in Christ?
Well now, let me further ask, Are you so much as seriously and solemnly intending to perform to Christ, from day to day, your whole duty, and to omit nothing that you regard as your duty either to God or man? Are you not habitually shunning some cross? omitting something because it is a trial to perform that duty? Are you not avoiding the performance of disagreeable duties, and things that are trying to flesh and blood? Are you not neglecting the souls of those around you? Are you not failing to love your neighbour as yourself? Are you not neglecting something that you yourself confess to be your duty? and is not this habitual with you?
And now, do you suppose that you are really to be saved while guilty of these neglects habitually and persistently? I beg of you, be not deceived.
8. The impression of many seems to be, that grace will pardon what it cannot prevent; in other words, that if the grace of the gospel fails to save people from the commission of sin in this life, it will nevertheless pardon them and save them in sin, if it cannot save from sin.
Now, really, I understand the gospel as teaching that men are saved from sin first, and, as a consequence, from hell; and not that they are saved from hell while they are not saved from sin. Christ sanctifies when he saves. And this is the very first element or idea of salvation, saving from sin. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” said the angel, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” “Having raised up his Son Jesus,” said the apostle, “he hath sent him to bless you in turning every one of you from his iniquities.”
Let no one expect to be saved from hell, unless the grace of the gospel saves him first from sin.
Again, 9. There are many who think that they truly obey God in most things, while they know that they habitually disobey Him in some things. They seem to suppose that they render acceptable obedience to most of the commandments of God, while they are aware that some of the commandments they habitually disregard. Now the texts upon which I am speaking expressly deny this position, and plainly teach that if in any one thing obedience is refused, if any one commandment is disobeyed, no other commandment is acceptably obeyed, or can be for the time being.
Do let me ask you who are here present, Is not this impression in your minds that, upon the whole, you have evidence that you are Christians?
You perform so many duties and avoid so many outbreaking sins; you think that there is so great a balance in your favour, that you obey so many more commands than you disobey, that you call yourselves Christians, although you are aware that some of the commandments you never seriously intended to comply with, and that in some things you have always allowed yourself to fall short of known duty. Now, if this impression is in your minds, remember that it is not authorised at all by the texts upon which I am speaking, nor by any part of the Bible. You are really disobeying the spirit of the whole law. You do not truly embrace the gospel; your faith does not purify your heart and overcome the world; it does not work by love, and therefore it is a spurious faith, and you are yet in your sins. Will you consider this? Will you take home this truth to your inmost soul?
10. There are many who are deceiving themselves by indulging the belief that they are forgiven, while they have not made that confession and restitution which is demanded by the gospel. In other words, they have not truly repented; they have not given up their sin. They do not outwardly repeat it; neither do they in heart forsake it.
They have not made restitution; and therefore they hold on to their sin, supposing all is right if they do not repeat it; that Christ will forgive them while they make no satisfaction, even while satisfaction is in their power. This is a great delusion, and is greatly dishonouring to Christ. As if Christ would disgrace himself by forgiving you while you persist in doing your neighbour wrong!
This he cannot do; this he will not, must not do. He loves your neighbour as really as he loves you. He is infinitely willing to forgive provided you repent and make the restitution in your power; but until then, he cannot, will not.
I must remark again, 11. That from the teachings of these texts it is evident that no one truly obeys in any one thing, while he allows himself to disobey in any other thing. To obey God truly in anything, we must settle the question of universal obedience; else all our pretended obedience is vain. If we do not yield the whole to God; if we do not go the whole length of seriously giving up all, and renouncing in heart every form of sin, and make up our minds to obey him in everything, we do not truly obey him in anything.
Again, 12. From this subject we can see why there are so many professors of religion that get no peace, and have no evidence of their acceptance. They are full of doubts and fears. They have no religious enjoyment, but are groping on in darkness and doubt; are perhaps praying for evidence and trying to get peace of mind, but fall utterly short of doing so.
Now, in such cases you will often find that some known sin is indulged; some known duty continually neglected; some known cross shunned; something avoided which they know to be their duty, because it is trying to them to fulfil their obligation. It is amazing to see to what an extent this is true.
Some time since, an aged gentleman visited me, who came from a distance as an inquirer. He had been a preacher, and indeed was then a minister of the gospel; but he had given up preaching because of the many doubts that he had of his acceptance with Christ. He was in great darkness and trouble of mind; had been seeking religion, as he said, a great part of his life; and had done everything, as he supposed, in his power, to obtain evidence of his acceptance.
When I came to converse with him, I found that there were sins on his conscience that had been there for many years; plain cases of known transgression, of known neglect of duty indulged all this while. Here he was, striving to get peace, striving to get evidence, and even abandoning preaching because he could not get evidence; while all the time these sins lay upon his conscience. Amazing! amazing!
Again, 13. I remark, That total abstinence from all known sin is the only practicable rule of life. To sin in one thing and obey in another at the same time is utterly impossible. We must give up, in heart and purpose, all sin, or we in reality give up none. It is utterly impossible for a man to be truly religious at all, unless in the purpose of his heart he is wholly so and universally so. He cannot be a Christian at home and a sinner abroad; or a sinner at home and a Christian abroad.
He cannot be a Christian on the Sabbath, and a selfish man in his business or during the week. A man must be one or the other; he must yield everything to God, or in fact he yields nothing to God.
He cannot serve God and mammon. Many are trying to do so, but it is impossible. They cannot love both God and the world; they cannot serve two masters; they cannot please God and the world. It is the greatest, and yet the most common, I fear, of all mistakes, that men can be truly but knowingly only partially religious; that in some things, they can truly yield to God, while in other things they refuse to obey him. How common is this mistake! If it is not, what shall we make of the state of the churches?
How are we to understand the great mass of professors? How are we to understand the great body of religious teachers, if they do not leave the impression, after all, on the churches, that they can be accepted of God while their habitual obedience is only very partial; while, in fact, they pick and choose among the commandments of God, professing to obey some, while they allow themselves in known disobedience of others. Now, if in this respect the church has not a false standard; if the mass of religious instruction is not making a false impression on the churches and on the world in this respect, I am mistaken. I am sorry to be obliged to entertain this opinion, and to express it; but what else can I think? How else can the state of the churches be accounted for? How else is it that ministers hope that the great mass of their churches are in a safe state? How else is it that the great mass of professors of religion can have any hope of eternal life in them, if this is not the principle practically adopted by them, that they are justified while only rendering habitually but a very partial obedience to God; that they are really forgiven and justified while they only pick and choose among the commandments, obeying those which it costs them little to obey, and are not disagreeable and not unpopular; while they do not hesitate habitually to disobey where obedience would subject them to any inconvenience, require self-denial, or expose them to any persecution?
Again, 14. From what has been said, it will be seen that partial reformation is no evidence of real conversion. Many are deceiving themselves on this point. Now we should never allow ourselves to believe that a person is converted if we perceive that his reformation extends to certain things only, while in certain other things he is not reformed; especially when, in the case of those things in which he is not reformed, he admits that he ought to perform those duties, or to relinquish those practices. If we find him still persisting in what he himself admits to be wrong, we are bound to assume and take it for granted that his conversion is not real.
Again, 15. Inquirers can see what they must do.
They must abandon all sin; they must give up all for Christ: they must turn with their whole heart and soul to him; and must make up their minds to yield a full and hearty obedience as long as they live. They must settle this in their minds; and must cast themselves upon Christ for forgiveness for all the past, and grace to help in every time of need for the future. Only let it be settled in your mind fully that you will submit yourself to the whole will of God; and then you may expect, and are bound to expect, him to forgive all the past, however great your sins may have been.
You can see, Inquirer, why you have not already obtained peace. You have prayed for pardon; you have prayed for peace; you have endeavoured to get peace, while, in fact, you have not given up all; you have kept something back. It is a perfectly common thing to find that the inquirer has not given up all. And if you do not find peace, it is because you have not given up all.
Some idol is still retained; some sin persisted in — perhaps some neglect — perhaps some confession is not made that ought to have been made, or some act of restitution. You have not renounced the world, and do not, in fact, renounce it, and renounce everything, and flee to Christ.
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
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>
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>
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>
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
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).
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.
9 Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 63.
10 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 19.