Friday, August 26, 2011

Dordt and Common Grace

The expression "common grace" has an historical connection to the Remonstrants. That has led some Calvinists to reject entirely the term "common grace," and to make this a shibboleth of "true Calvinism" or "classical Calvinism." Such a shibboleth is foolish and mistaken, both because folks like Matthew Henry, Thomas Manton, and Jonathan Edwards used the term approvingly, but also because the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession use the term approvingly.

The term gets mentioned in the Canons of Dordt. The mention is in the context of the rejection of a Remonstrant error. The specific mention is this (at 3/4:V):

Who teach that corrupt and natural man can make such good use of common grace (by which they mean the light of nature) or of the gifts remaining after the fall that he is able thereby gradually to obtain a greater grace-- evangelical or saving grace--as well as salvation itself; and that in this way God, for his part, shows himself ready to reveal Christ to all people, since he provides to all, to a sufficient extent and in an effective manner, the means necessary for the revealing of Christ, for faith, and for repentance.

For Scripture, not to mention the experience of all ages, testifies that this is false: He makes known his words to Jacob, his statutes and his laws to Israel; he has done this for no other nation, and they do not know his laws (Ps. 147:19-20); In the past God let all nations go their own way (Acts 14:16); They (Paul and his companions) were kept by the Holy Spirit from speaking God's word in Asia; and When they had come to Mysia, they tried to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit would not allow them to (Acts 16:6-7).

(bold is the error being rejected)

Notice that the Canon does not say "Those who say 'common grace' are anathema." Instead, it is a particular view of the sufficiency of common grace that is at stake. This is significant, because it means that it is not the phrase itself that is rejected.

Note that "common grace" is defined to mean "the light of nature." The same synod, however, positively expressed the view of the synod on "common grace" or "the light of nature" in this way:

Article 4: The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature

    There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Notice that the synod positively affirms that man has the light of nature, it just rejects the sufficiency of that light of nature for salvation.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that the synod says of this common grace, that "man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society." That is a serious blow to those who today are departing radically from the teachings of the Reformers and asserting the sufficiency of the light of nature for matters of society.

There is not a symmetry between Scripture and the light of nature, such that the light of nature is sufficient for nature and society whereas the Bible is sufficient for faith. Instead, the light of nature is utterly insufficient. So taught the Reformers, so teach the Scriptures, and so ought we to believe.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ponter and Paul on Sincerity (revisited)

David Ponter is a Unicornucopia of error in his attempt to challenge the "sincere offer." My friend Paul has already provided a general response pointing out that a flaw of Ponter's analogy is denial of omnipotence. Let's take it a step further.

Ponter's idea is expressed through this analogy:

David says to his friend Paddy,

Paddy, if God were to say to me, “David, I want to offer you a green polka dotted unicorn for your next birthday, all you have to do, David, is to believe and embrace my offer, you will get a green-spotted unicorn for your birthday,” God would be thoroughly sincere in this offer.

Paddy, the Irish Leprechaun, says to David,

But that would be impossible David, because everyone knows that green spotted unicorns don’t exist in this world. God could not sincerely offer to give you something that does not exist.

Ponter has tried to bias the example by picking something very fanciful. Let's pick something less fanciful. Suppose that God simply promises 1 ounce more gold than currently exists. Well, in that case, I think we would all recognize that God would not be challenged to fulfill that offer simply because of the present non-existence of the last ounce of gold, since God can easily make more gold. It doesn't even require omnipotence to make a finite amount of gold. So, the intuition that God cannot offer what he doesn't presently have is mistaken.

Moreover, Ponter's analogy seems flawed for another reason. The gospel (in its primary sense) doesn't promise to give you a thing or object. It promises salvation from your sins. God is saying that if you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, you will be forgiven, adopted, justified, and so on.

Maybe you will say, "but what about our heavenly mansions?" Maybe you have something there! Will heaven be a ghost town of empty mansions of folks who were offered the gospel but didn't accept? Or does God actually only prepare mansions for those who trust in Christ? Intuitively, one would not expect heaven to be full of unoccupied mansions. But is that what Ponter thinks is necessary to make God's offer sincere?


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sincere Offer, Election, and Limited Atonement

My friend Paul has posted a response to David Ponter's response to James Anderson's comments on Limited Atonement and the Free Offer. It's a very detailed and worth reading. Allow me to post some shorter thoughts on the topic, namely the objection:
Is the “free offer” of the gospel really “sincere” if Jesus only died for some men and not all? If there is no atonement available for them, the offer seems insincere.
This is a frequent objection, particularly from Amyraldians and Arminians. If you think that the gospel is "Jesus died for you," then this objection makes a lot of sense. If we're supposed to tell people indiscriminately that Christ died for them, but he didn't, that doesn't seem very sincere.

Scriptures, however, don't present the gospel that way. In Scripture, the gospel is expressed in terms of repenting of your sins and believing on (i.e. trusting in) Jesus Christ for salvation. If you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, God will have mercy on you.

There is a world of difference between those two messages. One message makes an unconditional assertion regarding what Christ has done. The other message makes a conditional assertion about what God will do.

Yet, even among those who will grant to us that the gospel is not, "Jesus died for you," some people still don't like the idea of salvation being offered to those for whom God has not made any provision. Indeed, our Amyraldian and Arminian friends sometimes urge on us the idea that such a conditional offer is not "sincere" unless God has made preparations for those people.

The mere absence of enough provision for everyone to be saved, however, doesn't explain this objection. Suppose a company offers to "anyone who is willing to come down here and listen to us explain the benefits of our new tractor," an incentive of "$5, just for coming down and listening to the talk." No one would consider it "insincere" if the company doesn't actually have $5 times the number of people who will hear the offer, so long as they have $5 times the number of people that they think will accept the offer.

So, as long as the provision is sufficient for those who will "accept" the offer, we don't view the offer as insincere. Since, under the Calvinist framework, God has made provision for all who will come to Christ, the offer of the gospel should also be considered to be sincere by this standard.

The intuition behind the objection that remains, however, is that an "offer" doesn't seem sincere, if you have no intention of giving the offered thing to the person to whom you are offering it. For example, when a child offers to share an ice cream cone, it sometimes happens that this is simply an imitation of a parent's offer to share the parent's cone. If the parent were to try to accept the child's offer, the child might greedily refuse to allow the parent to have a bite. So, the child has only offered to share the cone because the child thought the offer would be refused. Such an offer is insincere.

Of course, by this time we are now dealing with the kind of objection that an Amyraldian, or someone like Ponter, cannot consistently make. After all, the problem with the child's offer is not that he doesn't have a cone to share, but that he does not intend to give up the cone. The Amyraldian admits that God does not intend to save the non-elect. Therefore, whether or not a provision is made seems utterly moot.

Nevertheless, for those who insist that God must intend to save, we may still legitimately question the weight of this objection. Isn't it enough that God intends to save everyone who "accepts" the "offer"? The idea that God must intend to save all those whom he knows will refuse seems absurd when expressed that way. Thus, we may conclude that while such an objection may have some limited intuitive appeal, it does not hold up to intellectual scrutiny.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Roots of the Samaritan Religion

A further evidence for the fact that Jeroboamic worship of the golden calves was an attempt to worship the Lord by images can be seen from the unusual post-exilic religion in the region of Israel, from which the Samaritan religion appears to have been derived.

The account of that religion's origin can be seen in the following account (2 Kings 17:22-41)
For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.
The "sins of Jeroboam" refers to a collection of sins of which the principle examples were the golden calves and the unauthorized priesthood. From the time of Jeroboam, until the destruction of Israel with the permanent exile of the ten tribes, the Israelites (as a nation) never gave up this ungodly worship of the Lord.
And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.
The Assyrians were, in some ways, smart. By reshuffling and intermixing the people, they avoided the ancient loyalties and helped to reinforce an Assyrian empire identity. The result, however, was that there were essentially no "native" Israelites in Israel.
And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.

Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, "The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land."

Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, "Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land."
The people of the land recognized that they were receiving divine judgment in the form of these lions. Being from other places that each had its own "god," they assumed that there must be some local deity in Israel that they needed to appease. However, no one knew how to appease the local deity. So, they begged for the king of Assyria's help.

The king of Assyria had a solution. Send one priest back to teach them how to worship this local deity.
Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
So, from this unauthorized Israelite priesthood, a single priest returned to teach them how to worship the Lord - not how to worship Baal, but the Lord. This suggests that the worship of the Jeroboamic religion was a faulty worship of the Lord.

And unsurprisingly, this one priest taught them how to worship the Lord, but did not teach them to worship the Lord alone. While God seems to have accepted this fundamentally unacceptable co-worship in terms of stopping the lion attacks, the text makes clear that this joint worship of God and other gods was not acceptable:
Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. And the men of Babylon made Succothbenoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.

So they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.

They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the LORD, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; with whom the LORD had made a covenant, and charged them, saying,
Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them: but the LORD, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice. And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods. And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods. But the LORD your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.
Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner. So these nations feared the LORD, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.
Did God save these pagans who worshiped the Lord? God does not tell us that explicitly. It seems that the people did not continue to cry out to the king of Assyria for something more, nevertheless it is clear from the text that we should not view what they did as good enough.

I should also point out that there is a slight apparent contradiction you may have noticed "they feared the Lord" and "they fear not the Lord." The resolution of this apparent contradiction is seen in the fact that while they do outwardly give worship to the Lord, nevertheless they do not do so according to the way that the Lord commanded. This single priest of Israel was not one of God's appointed priests. He did not properly instruct the people of the land, nor - if he did - did they properly follow his instruction.

I suppose we ourselves can take a warning from this. The warning would be to be mindful that we are not content simply to have some general worship for God, but also to follow his commandments. After all, it is one thing to be afraid of God's lions, but it is another thing to love the law of God.

- TurretinFan