Tag Archives: God’s Sovereignty

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.

The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Arminianism

 

We come now to the third chapter and third major assertion set forth by Sam Waldron in A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, a defense of the New Covenant Constitution of the Church.  In the previous two chapters we looked at the contrasts between Reformed Baptists and 1.) Dispensationalism and 2.) Antinomianism.  Here we turn our attention towards Arminianism.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Arminianism is, generally, the belief that man has free-will to determine his own destiny, i.e. salvation.  It is most often contrasted with God’s sovereignty in salvation, or what is commonly called Calvinism.  For more on this, search either term on this site or head over to monergism.com for more comprehensive articles on the subject and a history of the controversy.  I hope to have a more informative post on the development of Calvinism soon.

Our purposes here will be to examine the arguments set forth by Dr. Waldron in his aforementioned book.  The point of this particular chapter, as set for by Waldron, is that “the origination, building, or source of the Church…through the instrument of the New Covenant” is God “the sole sovereign builder, originator, and author of the Church as a whole, and of its individual members.” Waldron then takes up three major theses to defend this assertion, again turning his attention to Jeremiah 31.

1.     The Sovereign Determination behind the New Covenant

To this point, Waldron examines the contrast between the Old and New Covenant.  Turning to Exodus 19:4-6 we see the stated terms of the Old Covenant:

“4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

What may be obvious in this passage is the simple “if-then” statement used by God in the extension of this covenant to Israel.  “If you obey…then you shall be My own possession.”  In striking contrast the New Covenant, as quoted in Jeremiah 31 contains no if-then statements but rather the dogmatic assurity of the Lord saying, “I will” numerously.  This is what Waldron indicates is the Sovereign determination behind the New Covenant.

2.    The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant.

In this particular section, we see the emphasis of the breakable nature of the Old Covenant, particularly in Deut. 29:25-28; Ps. 78:10,11; Jer. 11:9,10; 22:6-9; 34:13; Ezek. 44:6-8.  Continuing to focus on the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, Waldron cites the following passage to note the contrast between the breakable character of the Old Covenant and the unbreakable character of the New Covenant:

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 31:31,32

The Old Covenant was written on breakable stone, and was broken as we have seen from the passages referenced above.  However, the promise of the New Covenant is that it is inscribed upon the hearts.  Lest one walk away thinking that the Old Covenant was somehow deficient or imperfect, Waldron points out that the real problem with the Old Covenant was with the people with whom it was made.  Citing Hebrews 8:8 he writes, “The Old Covenant did not secure the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made.  That was its fault.  Its fault was simply that it did not enable those with whom it was made to comply with its conditions.”  Conversely, the New Covenant supplies all that it demands through the regeneration of the heart, upon which the Covenant (law) is written and the presence of the Holy Spirit causes believers to walk according to the statutes and commands of God (See Ezek. 36).  Concluding this section, Waldron provides segue by asking, “How can God simply sweep aside the demands of His own justice and make a New Covenant like this with the house of Israel after their sins have brought upon them the fierce overflowing wrath of God?”

3.    The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant

This section begins with the promise that “God will forget the sins of His people and forgive their iniquities” given in Jeremiah 31:34, Waldron rightly points out this passage does not tell us how God will accomplish this, until Jeremiah 33:14-16, “14 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”  Further, the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 7:22) provides divine commentary and explanation of how God planned to bring about this forgiveness, namely through the work of Jesus Christ particularly His office as “both priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant” which “insures and secures the establishment of the New Covenant and the impartation of its blessings to God’s Israel.”[1]  As Waldron concludes, “Jesus’ priestly sacrifice of Himself, once-for-all, finally, and efficaciously fulfills the demands of God’s law and assures the forgiveness of sins for all who are part of the New Covenant people of God.”[2]

Concluding Lessons

In order to bring to conclusion this chapter, against the incompatibility of Arminianism and the New Covenant, Dr. Waldron briefly summarizes the points of Arminianism, i.e. the “system which teaches that man’s free will is sovereign in salvation.”

  1. God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ and persevere in obedience to Him to the end.
  2. Christ died for each and every man, but only those who believe benefit from His death.
  3. In order for men to believe in Christ, God must work by His grace in their heart.
  4. Though this grace is the source of all good in men, yet they may resist this grace and not be saved by it.
  5. Though God will provide everything that men need to persevere to the end, it is not certain that once a man believes in Christ unto salvation, he will persevere to the end and finally be saved.

He then goes on to contrast each of these points with the doctrines of grace, or what some have termed “Calvinism”.  Some of Waldron’s comments are briefly quoted below.

  1. Total Depravity – “We see the truth of total depravity in the contrast with the Old Covenant mentioned in our passage.  What the Old Covenant demanded was simply faith and obedience.”  However, “Every faculty of man’s soul is polluted with sin.  All men are unable to do anything of any spiritual good.  Even repentance and faith are impossible due to this total depravity and total inability.”
  2. Unconditional Election – “God’s covenant is not made with a nation that has proved itself worthy of His choice.  Rather, God, with sovereign, unchangeable purpose has chosen through the New Covenant to make them worthy of His choice.”
  3. Limited Atonement – “We have seen from the Scriptures that the cross of Jesus Christ is saving because of its connection with this covenant.  Jesus’ whole work was covenant work; His blood covenant blood, His priesthood covenant priesthood, His office as Mediator a covenant office.  The question about the scope, extent, or design of the death of Christ ought not to be answered, therefore, without reference to this covenant.”
  4. Irresistible Grace – “God actually writes His law upon the hearts of His people.”
  5. Perseverance of the Saints – “God remembers their [those in the New Covenant] sins no more” He therefore is faithful to the promises of His covenant.
Dr. Waldron concludes this chapter with several helpful thoughts about what we learn from the doctrines of grace in a practical, straightforward manner.  I hope to take a few posts to explain further the 5 points of Calvinism that Dr. Waldron introduces here.  Again, if you would like to purchase this brief, helpful work on the Reformed Baptist approach to the New Covenant see RPAP.  Also, I also recommend Dr. Waldron’s exposition on the 1689 London Baptist Confession, available on Amazon.


[1] Pg. 55

[2] Pg. 57

Sermon of the Week: 11/30/11 – Who do you think you are

The Doctrine of Election is an oft-misunderstood and always controversial subject.  In this sermon, Dr. Voddie Baucham expounds on election from Romans 9.  He challenges us to keep ourselves in proper perspective, as the clay, with the Almighty Creator, as the Potter.  It is a powerful message that goes to the heart of the Apostle Paul’s argument for God’s Sovereignty in Salvation in Romans 9:20. Whether you agree or disagree with election, the perspective of God as holy Creator and man as sinful creature is essential. 

2011.04.17.A Who Do You Think You Are – Voddie Baucham – 4181169361