An Objection to Total Inability: Matthew 11:28-30

A popular objection to the view advanced in last several posts, in which the Calvinistic doctrine of man’s inability was asserted, is that man possesses free-will that is not bound in sin and is free, indeed capable of choosing God on his own.  Much of the objection seems wrapped up in confusion over the meaning of the term “free will”.

A general misconception from this objection is that the doctrine of total inability means that man has no ability to make any kind of moral choices and that man is a puppet, God the puppet master.  That is simply a misrepresentation of the doctrine and is more akin to hyper-Calvinism.  We can observe men making moral choices, though they be not believers.  Man’s will IS free, but unfortunately due to the corruption of sin, that freedom will never choose God and the motivation for moral good never finds its source in a love for the glory of God.  Ultimately, this free will collapses on itself to either legalism, a moral righteousness based on a subjective standard of goodness or to licentiousness, a complete disregard for any objective standard of morality.

That said, I’d like to look at several of the more popular objections to total depravity that is asserted by those who hold to man’s free will, i.e. that man ultimately holds his eternal destiny in his own hands, beginning with Matthew 11:28-30”

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This familiar and comforting passage from our Lord has been used by the Arminian view to support man’s ability to freely choose Christ, unencumbered by the snare of sin and unaffected by a deadness in their sins.  The Arminian argument follows that this is a universal salvific call by Christ and that God would not place that requirement on man, if he were unable to obey.  They would be quick to point out that Jesus refers to Himself here as “gentle and lowly in heart” opposed to a God that would sovereignly elects whomever He so chooses.  However, upon closer examination of this passage in its context we find the following verse just prior to the ones quoted above:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The first thing to notice is that the context is a prayer from the Son of God to the Father.  Jesus begins this prayer by declaring the supremacy of the Father and also His eternal wisdom in hiding “these things from the wise and understanding” and revealing “them to little children.”  Whatever “these things” may be referring to, whether the immediate antecedent of judgment or generally the works of Christ, it is clear that the Father has chosen for some to understand and some to not understand.  Does that sound like a universal ability of man?  No, in fact Jesus declares the revelation of the things of God to “little children” as part of the “gracious will” of the Father.  Conclusion: No one deserves for any of the things of God to be revealed to them; but those to whom God has made the revelation of Himself known, are recipients of His grace and it is dispensed upon those whom God pleases to do so.

Notice next verse 27 which expounds on the statements just made, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  Here we have a declaration of the Sonship of Christ and His own supremacy which has been granted to Him by the Father.  In the next phrase by our Lord, He declares the inability of man to know the Son and the inability of man to know the Father.  There is in this little statement a declaration of the Trinitarian unity of the Father and Son and the link of the knowledge of One to the Other.  Knowledge of the Father comes only through the Son (John 14:6) and here Christ reserves the right to reveal the Father to whom He (the Son) chooses.  Is this a universal declaration of man’s ability to know the Father, even the Son?  Certainly not, in fact within this passage that is used as a defense for the Arminian theology of free-will, we actually find at least two explicit statements of the sovereignty of God.

So then, when we arrive at Jesus’ statements of “Come to me”, “Take my yoke”, “Learn from me” we must surely pray like Augustine did, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.”  It is only through the sovereign grace of God that man can come, though Christ bids Him come.  We see then the human responsibility resting at the feet of man to come, come to Christ for rest.  Come to Him sinners and find rest.  Come to Him all who are weary.  This is the external call of the Gospel and it is universal (Matt. 22:14).  Take His yoke and learn from Him.  And when you do come and learn, know that your coming to Christ was through no merit or ability of your own, but simply a work of the sovereign irresistible grace of God.  In the end, not all will come, only those in whom the Son has chosen to reveal the Father.

In case the question arises, and perhaps it should, “Who then can be saved?”  The Biblical response is: “”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 Nevertheless the command stands sure: Repent and Believe the Gospel.

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