Calvinism And Free Will: An Exegetical Vindication of Matthew 23:37

Arminians have long pointed to Matthew 23:37 to respond to the Calvinist doctrines of determinism, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.

Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect (particular atonement), that he has decreed whatsoever shall come to pass in human history (determinism- no human free will as pertains to true contingencies), and that man has nothing to do with his own salvation (monergism), which necessitates their doctrine of irresistible grace.

Matt. 23:37 poses serious problems for all of these doctrinal positions. It would seem that though Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews, they were not saved. They were not saved because they were unwilling. If this be the case, then Calvinism cannot stand. Why?

Calvinism believes in unconditional election and reprobation. God determined from all eternity who would be saved and who would be damned. This determination was unconditional. This choice was according to God’s good pleasure. It pleased God to unconditionally elect some for eternal life. It also pleased God to irrevocably reprobate others to eternal punishment [this may be an active or passive reprobation]. Arminians feel that any such choice, if truly unconditional, would make God arbitrary. Very few Calvinists want to claim such a word as a description of God. They contend that God’s choice was not arbitrary but was still unconditional. If God’s choice was not arbitrary, then he must have had some reason for choosing one and rejecting the other. The Calvinist avoids this conclusion by appealing to God’s inscrutable counsel. God had a reason, but it had nothing to do with those being chosen or rejected, and it is simply beyond our understanding. This is the approach taken by Peterson and Williams in Why I Am Not An Arminian. They state, “His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” (pg. 66) The Arminian finds this unacceptable given the clear Biblical assertion that one is saved or rejected based on whether or not that person believes the gospel or continues in unbelief (Jn. 3:16-18, 36). The Arminian contends as strongly as the Calvinist for the Biblical doctrine of election, but believes that God’s decision to elect is based on the free response of his creatures to either accept or reject the gift of salvation.

Matt. 23:37 lines up perfectly with the Arminian view. In the Arminian view God genuinely desires that all of his creatures be saved (see also Ezk. 18:31, 32; 33:10, 11; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3). If they are not saved, it is due to their own refusal of God’s gracious gift, and not because God has unconditionally determined from all eternity to damn them (Hosea 11:1-2; Jer. 13:15-17; Rom. 10:21; Heb. 3:7-13). The Calvinist feels that determinism is the only way to reconcile human choices with God’s sovereignty. There is no room for libertarian free will in their theology. Some Calvinists then deal with these passages by dividing God’s will into parts which are plainly contradictory. They maintain that God does not desire the eternal death of the wicked while at the same time unconditionally determining from all eternity that some should remain wicked, never know his saving grace, and perish eternally, according to his good pleasure. Here is pictured a God who stretches his hands out to the perishing while refusing to give them the grace they need to be saved. He can say that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, while secretly desiring and guaranteeing their eternal death. The Arminian points out the inherent façade and is met with responses like, “God’s ways and thoughts are high above ours; his counsel is inscrutable”, or “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?” etc. John Wesley summed up the problem well,

Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite “all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors in his name, “to preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. He himself “preached deliverance to the captives” [Luke 4:18] without any hint of restriction or limitation. But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possibly induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not. And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for him, even while he is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel?” [cf. Ezek. 18:31]. “Why” (might one of them reply), “because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us.” Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour?” (Excerpt from Predestination Calmly Considered; Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2, pg. 97)

Consider the Lord’s words to Judah in Jeremiah 13:15-17,

Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.

With regards to this passage, Walls and Dongell make the following observation,

Knowing that Judah did not turn and listen, the Calvinist concludes that God had already chosen to withhold his transforming grace from them, though he could easily have granted it. So while the text seems to identify Judah’s pride as the root cause of punishment, the Calvinist instead concludes that Judah’s ability to repent depends on God’s eternally fixed plan. Again, although the text seems to identify salvation as God’s deepest desire, the Calvinist must conclude that at a deeper level God never intended to bestow transforming grace on Jeremiah’s hearers. In other words, the true intentions of God cannot be discerned from his words. (Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 57- emphasis in original)

It would seem that some Calvinist are rather uncomfortable with appealing solely to contradictory wills within God, and prefer rather to undertake exegetical wrangling in order to conform these passages to the tenets of Calvinist theology. This is the approach taken by James White in The Potter’s Freedom. His handling of Matthew 23:37 is revealing, and ultimately does more harm than good for his position.

In Chapter 6, Mr. White attempts to explain away what he refers to as Norman Geisler’s “Big Three” verses to which he makes constant appeal in his book, Chosen But Free (Matt. 23:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9). White’s treatment of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matt. 23:37 is not only problematic, but detrimental to his Calvinism. The passage reads, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This passage seems to plainly indicate that Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews (cf. Ezk. 18:30-32; 33:11), but their unwillingness prevented him from saving them.

Mr. White wastes no time in helping us understand that we have it all wrong, and this should be very plain to us if we would just focus very hard on the context. The passage in question comes after a lengthy rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes for being blind guides, hypocrites, etc. Therefore, Mr. White concludes that when Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, he is not speaking of the Jews in general, or Jerusalem personified, but the leaders of Jerusalem (the hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes), and saying that he wanted to gather their children (in some sense, then, the Jews are the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s children?), but these corrupt leaders were not willing (to let Jesus gather “their”, i.e. the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s) children to himself, and therefore it was not the children themselves that were not willing. Mr. White concludes, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’…This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism.” (pg. 138 )

This “exegesis” is problematic for several reasons. First, it is hard to fit the further comments made by Jesus of these people (in verses 38, and 39) with the idea that Christ is only addressing these corrupt leaders. It is to the same people that Christ says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (vs.39) If Mr. White’s interpretation is accurate, then this statement must also be directed to the wicked Scribes and Pharisees. Were they the same who would call him “Blessed” when they saw him again? Such an interpretation does not seem to fit the historical context, for the Scribes and Pharisees certainly saw Christ again after this event and continued to be hostile towards his ministry to the point of securing his death. If Christ is speaking of the final restoration of Israel, as many scholars believe, then surely all of the people of Jerusalem are in view and not just the Scribes and Pharisees. Again, if Christ was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees that he had just rebuked, it is quite clear that none of them survived to see Israel’s final restoration. Even If we apply these passages to the triumphal entry (as very few scholars seem willing to do), it was the common people who called him “blessed”, and the Pharisees who called on Christ to rebuke them. Mr. White does not even address these verses in his book.

Second, this same lament is recorded in Luke 13:34-35 in a completely different context; one which will not so easily lead to Mr. White’s conclusions (in Luke, the Pharisees are trying to protect Jesus from Herod). Mr. White does not even mention the Luke account.

Third, there is no exegetical warrant for making such a strong distinction between “Jerusalem” and the “children” of Jerusalem. Such was a common use of Biblical language to use two terms to describe the same object. In the Old Testament we find God both calling his people “Israel” and the “children of Israel”. Consider the word usage in Jeremiah Chapter 4,

At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them…O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved…Tell this to the nations, proclaim it in Jerusalem…Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment…My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. (11, 14, 16, 18, 22, NIV-emphasis mine)

It is clear that, in these passages, the Lord speaks to the city, the people, and the children as the same entity. When Jeremiah speaks of Jerusalem it is an obvious personification of those who live within the city, for he says of Jerusalem, “wash the evil from your heart”. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, the city is about to be destroyed due to the sin of its people. These are the very people whom the Lord desired to save. Their destruction is deserved due to their continual rebellion. They were “unwilling” to submit to their Lord, but instead killed those sent to them who were calling them to repentance. They will compound these sins by rejecting and killing the very Son of God. The city will therefore suffer destruction, and the rebellious “children”, unless they repent, will suffer the loss of their eternal souls,

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation. (NAS- Luke 19:41-44-emphasis mine).

Notice that in this parallel lament Christ says that the city’s enemies will level “you” and “your children within you”. If we assume again that “Jerusalem” is shorthand for the leaders of Jerusalem, then we need to explain how “your children” can be within these corrupt leaders [Jerusalem]. Obviously, as in Matt. 23:37, Jerusalem is personified, and is not a reference to leaders as contrasted with the common people of the city.

The fourth and most glaring problem comes from the fact that if we accept Mr. White’s “exegesis”, it creates an even bigger problem for his Reformed doctrines. Remember, according to Calvinism, God is sovereign over his creatures to such an extent that they have nothing to do with their own salvation (monergism). When God desires to save his elect, nothing can stop him, not even the unwillingness of the rebellious sinner (God will simply “make” him “willing”). Man can do nothing to thwart God’s saving purposes, they are irresistible. This is the very doctrine that Mr. White is trying to preserve with his “exegesis” of Matt. 23:37. But does he succeed?

Listen again to Mr. White’s explanation, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’.” (pg. 138 ) He reinforces this by connecting it to a previous verse [13], “But woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from the people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (pg. 138 ) Mr. White, then, trades one problem in for another, for the text plainly states that the Pharisees and Scribes were not allowing those who were entering to go in!! Now we have really opened a can of worms! If those who are saved are the ones that God has unconditionally elected from all eternity, how could anyone, including the Scribes and Pharisees, prevent them from entering in? How could they possibly “shut off the kingdom of heaven” from them? How could anyone “not allow [Jesus] to gather” them to himself? If they are the elect, then nobody can effectively “shut off the kingdom” from them; and if they are reprobates, it is God who has “shut off the kingdom” from them (by refusing them his saving grace), and not the Pharisees! And if they are reprobates without hope (for God has eternally and unconditionally decreed to reject them), then in what sense could Christ possibly have “longed” to gather them unto himself? Perhaps Mr. White did not think through the ramifications of his conclusions, or perhaps he just hoped that we would not. Whether we accept the traditional Arminian interpretation, or Mr. White’s proposed exegesis, it would seem that Calvinism still suffers a fatal blow.

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21 Responses

  1. Ben,

    Thanks for the post. I have just one question about your last paragraph where it is said that the leaders kept the people from entering and I do see the problem that that poses for the Calvinist, but how does it affect the Arminian view? It seems that it says that we have one group that is keeping another group from entering. Would this not affect the will of those that were entering but were not allowed in.

    Thanks again for any help that you can provide.

    magnus

  2. Magnus,

    I do not believe that “free will” means that we can do whatever we want whenever we want. Our will is limited by circumstance among other things. To clarify, it is my will to be paid twice as much at my job, but my employer will not grant that request. It may be my will to have a picnic outside but rain will prevent me from doing so.

    The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to preach the gospel and will hold us accountable if we do not. He will also hold us accountable for being a stumbling block to others, and the Bible plainly states that we can cause spiritual destruction to another if we allow ourselves to become stumbling blocks (2 Pet. 2:18-22; Rom. 14:15, 20; 1 Cor. 8:11; Mark 9:42).

    This is why the Lord’s rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes was so severe. They were to lead the people into truth but they were, instead, leading the people into the same hypocrisy as they practiced. They had a spiritual responsibility to the people but were leading them astray by their teaching and actions.

    It is a frightening yet Scriptural reality that our actions can affect the eternal destiny of others.

  3. Ben,

    That does not answer the question, what is the Arminian answer to the last paragraph? By saying that you may will to have a picnic outside, but the weather is bad does not answer the question.

    It seems that you argue that if Calvinism was right then there would be no need for Jesus to tell the Pharisees that they were keeping people from entering the Kingdom because God would draw them irrisistibly. The Arminian would say that Prevenient Grace would help the person to come to a sovereign decision, but the way I read your last paragraph it seems that people, the Pharisees and Scribes in this example, can stop that from happening.

    If we hold to prevenient grace being available at some point to everyone then how could a person or group of people keep one from it?

    magnus

  4. Magnus,

    Your question, “If we hold to prevenient grace being available at some point to everyone, then how could a person or group of people keep one from it?” seems to indicate that prevenient grace is irresistible, but it is not.

    Prevenient grace can be resisted by willful neglect or rejection, and the point is that someone else’s actions or words can also have an effect on someone’s response to prevenient grace.

    Seriously, until you get the notion of Irresistible Grace and other Calvinistic ideas out of your head, you will never be able to accurately understand the Arminian position, because Calvinism and Arminianism are irreconcilable. I think your main confusion on most of these matters is that you are trying to reconcile what we say against what Calvinists believe — and that will simply never happen. It is no wonder this subject frustrates you so.

    Billy

  5. Billy,

    If I gave the impression that I thought that prevenient grace was irresitible then I am sorry. That is not my question at all. I understand perfectly well that all it does is enable the person to make a decision to resist or not. My question is can someone keep me from experiencing it? It seems that is how the last paragraph reads to me at least.

    I see how it opens a can of worms for the Calvinist, but I see a can of worms for the Arminian side as well and wonder how to answer it. It seems that the article did a good job of exposing the Calvinist flaw, but now I need to know how the Arminian would answer the last paragraph.

    Also, I think you have the wrong impression of me when it comes to my leanings. I do not personally know a Calvinist. I have a dangerous amount of knowledge about it because of the cute little TULIP. I am still a devout Wesley fan and read him the most.

    magnus

  6. Magnus,

    I made the comments regarding the rain because I thought you were trying to say that if our will is thwarted in some way then it is not free. You comment, Would this not affect the will of those that were entering but were not allowed in. seemed to indicate this. I did not realize that you were thinking in terms of prevenient grace.

    The Arminian view is that God draws us by His Word and Spirit. While the Jewish people may have been drawn by God in this context, the Pharisees and Scribes were derailing their movement towards God through their actions and teachings. As I said in my last comment, we can prevent God from accomplishing His will in someone else by our teachings or actions. If that were not the case then Paul could not have said,

    “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with food him for whom Christ died…Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” [Rom. 14:14, 20].

    This poses serious problems for Calvinism in two different areas. First, if God’s grace is irresistible then we could never “tear down the work of God”. Second, if it is possible for one to perish for whom Christ died, then it is also true that Christ died even for those who eventually perish, which contradicts limited atonement.

    You said,

    If we hold to prevenient grace being available at some point to everyone then how could a person or group of people keep one from it?

    I am not sure that I agree with your definition of prevenient grace here. I do not necessarily believe everyone gets an equal opportunity to respond to the gospel, nor do I necessarily believe that one can get saved without hearing the gospel message. I only assert that when men or women are presented with the gospel they are genuinely able to respond to that message in saving faith.

  7. Magnus,

    Gotcha. And yes, I did have that impression because of what you said. Sorry.

    BTW, “I have a dangerous amount of knowledge about it” — that was funny. Sometimes it seemed that you were more convinced that Calvinism was true than that you were a struggling Wesleyan. Sorry for the misinterpretation.

    God bless!

    Billy

  8. “Arminians feel that any such choice, if truly unconditional, would make God arbitrary.”

    It does not appear arbitrary. It is geographic and geneological. Many Americans, Brits, and not many Iranians or Imdians, etc.

    Many children of Christian parents, not as many children of non christian parents. See, not arbitrary at all!

  9. Relating to our actions affecting the salvation of others…Jesus spoke about this related to children:

    Mark 9:42 And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. (There are parallel passages in Matthew and Luke)

  10. I’m curious, do you believe that a person becomes part of the elect when he or she believes or did God chose some for salvation before the foundation of the world. Also what do you do with Acts 13:48. Paul states in Romans 9 that “it doesn’t depend on the man who runs or wills, but on God who has mercy”, then later he states “who can resist His will” Can you please give me your perspective on these verses.

    Thanks,
    Matt

  11. anonymous,

    I admit that I have gone back and forth on this point for a while. Arminius taught that God decreed to save believers and predestined believers [who continue in their faith] to be conformed to the image of Christ. Election is based on God’s foreknowledge of believers [those who receive God's saving grace upon being enabled to believe by God's prevenient grace]. I think this view makes sense of the Biblical record and avoids the difficulties of Calvinist determinism.

    I am now leaning more toward Robert Shank’s view of election as I continue to study this topic. His view is that election is primarily corporate [unconditional], and secondarily individual [contingent/ conditional]. In other words, the “elect” refers to the elect body of Christ and this elect body is unconditionally predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Individuals become a part of this elect body conditionally [through faith]. Rom. 11:17-24 would seem to present a vivid picture of this election. The olive tree represents the election of God’s people, but one comes to share in that election through faith, and one can be broken off through unbelief.

    I believe Acts 13:48 is describing a transition between one dispensation of grace [the Old covenant] and the new dispensation of grace [the new covenant]. These gentiles who were “appointed” to eternal life were God fearers like Cornelius [Acts 13:16], who had already positively responded to God’s prevenient grace under the old dispensation and were prepared and receptive to the gospel message.

    Rom. 9 would take a while to explain. I see this passage as closely connected to Paul’s discussion of Isaac and Jacob as the elect patriarchs through whom God’s favor would be expressed.

    The Jews believed that they were unconditionally destined for an eternal inheritance through the promise given to Abraham concerning his decsendants [Gen. 12:7; 17:3-8]. They believed that God’s promise was failing since the greater part of Israel had been rejected. They were also puzzled by the way that God was now favoring the Gentiles while His “chosen people” seemed to be forgotten. Paul wants these Jews to know that God has not forgotten them, and that He has the divine right to both reject the rebellious Jews and accept the receptive Gentiles on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.

    I believe Rom. 9:16 is directly related to the Jews believing they are entitled to God’s favor due to being descendants of Abraham. Paul brought up two examples of descendants of Abraham who were rejected [Ishmael and Esau]. Isaac and Jacob were chosen to be patriarchs while Ishmael and Esau were rejected though they too descended from Abraham.

    Both Abraham and Isaac tried to force God’s hand to favor Ishmael and Esau instead, despite God’s promise to do otherwise. Abraham’s “desire” was for God to fulfill his promises through Ishmael (Gen. 17:18), and Isaac desired God’s promise to be fulfilled through Esau, whom he favored over Jacob, and made the “effort” to do so despite God’s decree to favor Jacob (Gen. 27:2, 4).

    This is what the Jews of Paul’s day were also doing. They were trying to say that God was unjust in rejecting His people. But it was according to God’s sovereign purpose to demonstrate his mercy, and fulfill his promises, through Isaac and Jacob. And while present day Israel may “desire” God to fulfill His promises unconditionally, it is God’s purpose, and sovereign right, to reserve his mercy for those who meet the condition of faith in His Son. The Jews can lay no claim to God’s promised salvation, unless they accept His gracious gift through faith [See Rom. 4 for a description of the children of promise and the spiritual descendants of Abraham].

    The issue Paul is addressing is not whether personal salvation is by faith or not. That fact has already been thoroughly established. The point Paul is making is that God has the sovereign right to elect his people on whatever basis He determines.

    When he says, “it is not of him who will…but of God who shows mercy”, he means that while man may have their own ideas on what basis God should show mercy, the decision is not theirs but God’s. There is no unrighteousness with God if he does not elect according to heritage, or works, but on the basis of faith. He has the sovereign right to show mercy on whomever he pleases according to whatever conditions he determines.

    For an excellent and very detailed exegesis of Rom. 9 I highly recommend reading the following essay, which I think will answer all of your questions from an Arminian perspective: http://www.geocities.com/bobesay/electionromans1.html If the link doesn’t wrap then click on “link to” when you enter the comments section and the full link should appear.

    Hope that helps.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. Ben,
    Thank you for your response.
    I have several questions. It seems that you believe that a person is elect on the “basis of faith”. If you believe that mankind is “Totally Depraved” then where is man conjuring this faith from? Unless God grants it. Please help me understand this conundrum. If someone is depraved, how is he able to resist God’s will? Can you site more Scripture verses other than Mat. 24:37 to illustrate “free will” doctrine.
    Also, why does one person believe and another doesn’t, yet they both are give prevenient grace? I understand that we all have general revelation (Rom. 1:20) and withoue excuse, but it seems that something additional needs to happen beyond common grace to lift the veil from a unbelievers eyes. (2 Cor. 3) If we can reject Christ, what does that say for His power, does He not know who will be saved? Does He not have the power to save and keep them . (Phil 1:6)
    Help me understand your viewpoints, because I am having a lot or problems with them.
    Finally, Do you believe Christ paid for all the sins of all people on the cross? If so, if someone rejects Christ such as Charles Darwin, did he go to Hell? Isn’t unbelief a sin? I’m not negating human responsibility, I’m just a college student persuing my BS in Religion and trying to undestrand the Arminian view.

    Thank you for your time,
    Matt

  13. Matt,

    You asked a lot of questions and I don’t really have the time to address them all individually. I think some of my other posts might be of some help to you. I would recommend reading “The Nature of Saving Faith”, “John Fletcher on Being Dead in Sin Part 1” and “Part 2”. As far as two people responding differently to God’s grace, I addressed this with another person in the comments section of my post, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith”. For more on free will and other Arminian doctrines I recommend going to http://www.geocites.com/bobesay/index.html. He has several excellent essays that should help you with these questions.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Dear Matt, perhaps I can help a bit with your questions,

    If you believe that mankind is “Totally Depraved” then where is man conjuring this faith from? Unless God grants it.

    God grants faith to those who will hear His word (Romans 10:17). God doesn’t elect based on His knowledge of a future devoid of His grace in which a sinner simply believes of his own accord, that would be an impossible and merely hypothetical future. God knows who will receive His grace when He convicts and draws them, and grants them repentance and faith in Christ.

    Please help me understand this conundrum. If someone is depraved, how is he able to resist God’s will?

    If God is determined to force someone to do a thing, then indeed no one can resist His will, yet it does not follow that He never allows men to do so, as Stephen said to those in the synagogue, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51)

    Can you site more Scripture verses other than Mat. 24:37 to illustrate “free will” doctrine.

    Well for one, free will is a logical necessity for anyone to do anything outside of the will of God. See how many times scripture says God was displeased with something occurring (Gen 38:10, Num 11:1, 2 Sam 11:27, Zec 1:2 et al), it follows that if God was displeased with the actions of someone, that the action originated not with God, but the creature who performed it, unless you wish to argue that it was God’s good pleasure that He be displeased.

    Also, why does one person believe and another doesn’t, yet they both are give prevenient grace?

    That’s obviously where free will comes in, to assume that there could be no difference between how two people would react is to assume that they don’t have free will.

    I understand that we all have general revelation (Rom. 1:20) and withoue excuse, but it seems that something additional needs to happen beyond common grace to lift the veil from a unbelievers eyes (2 Cor. 3)

    Actually, 2 Cor 3 talks about the veil being lifted after one turns to the Lord (vs 16); I personally believe that no man can come to Christ unless the Father specifically draws him, but it does not follow that this is the same thing as being given spiritual life (regeneration), as kangeroodort has already touched on.

    If we can reject Christ, what does that say for His power,

    It says that God has in His sovereignty delegated to us a measure of power of contrary choice.

    does He not know who will be saved?

    Yes.

    Does He not have the power to save and keep them . (Phil 1:6)

    Yes, but He has chosen to do so through faith (1 Peter 1:5), which scripture also warns us to hold fast to (1 Timothy 1:19).

    Finally, Do you believe Christ paid for all the sins of all people on the cross? If so, if someone rejects Christ such as Charles Darwin, did he go to Hell? Isn’t unbelief a sin? I’m not negating human responsibility, I’m just a college student persuing my BS in Religion and trying to undestrand the Arminian view.

    The problem is that you view atonement as unconditional. Christ did die for all men, as scripture plainly states in several places (1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 2:9, Romans 5:6), but being atoned for is conditioned upon faith. So if one does believe, his sins (including his past unbelief) are forgiven, whereas if one does not, then despite the means of pardon made available to him, his sin remains.

  15. J.C. Thibodaux,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Election is a hard subject and I don’t like being overly dogmatic about it completely, but I have some comments. I hope I am understanding your comments, please forgive and correct me if I do not.

    How would you define foreknowledge? Isn’t unmerited favor the same as unconditional election? If we have anything to do with the process of salvation, does that nullify grace? Are we not dead in sin and children of wrath outside of grace? What am I missing?

    “If God is determined to force someone to do a thing, then indeed no one can resist His will, yet it does not follow that He never allows men to do so, as Stephen said to those in the synagogue, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51)”

    So, if someone does resist His will, it is because God’s is allowing it? That’s what I believe. My understanding is that no one ultimately resists God’s will. In John 10 Jesus told the Pharases that they weren’t His sheep and that’s why they couldn’t believe. Why did Christ speak in parables if it were for everyone to understand? Jesus said in (Mat. 13)that it wasn’t for them to know, but for the disciples.
    John 3:16 “who so ever believes…will have eternal life”

    “That’s obviously where free will comes in, to assume that there could be no difference between how two people would react is to assume that they don’t have free will.”

    I’m not sure I understand what you said. I guess free will needs to be defined. We’re free to do what? Sin and go to hell, right?

    “it follows that if God was displeased with the actions of someone, that the action originated not with God, but the creature who performed it, unless you wish to argue that it was God’s good pleasure that He be displeased.”

    That’s a tough one. But, could not God stop Satan and sin in a nano-second if He wanted to? God hates sin, but allowed sinful men to kill His Son. Sin served its purpose. That’s really hard to understand, but I trust His character.
    I don’t believe God forces us to come to Him. He doesn’t have to. Once He opens our eyes we will run to Him for salvation.

    “Yes, but He has chosen to do so through faith (1 Peter 1:5), which scripture also warns us to hold fast to (1 Timothy 1:19).”

    I agree. If you believe that we must exercise faith on our own, do you believe that we can lose our salvation?

    “It says that God has in His sovereignty delegated to us a measure of power of contrary choice.”

    Choice over the His sovereignty? That not sovereignty, by definition. We chose according to our nature which is fallen and can’t choose anything outside of that. I cannot image someone being granted faith and repentance, seeing their sin in light of God’s moral law, understanding God’s wrath against sin and their need of a Savior and then finally deciding to reject Christ. I would argue if anyone rejects Christ, He wasn’t drawing them.
    John 6:

    “So if one does believe, his sins (including his past unbelief) are forgiven, whereas if one does not,”

    So, Christ died for those who believe? If someone dies in sin, his sins sends to hell (1 Cor. 6:9). Is that what you are saying? That’s what I believe.

    “then despite the means of pardon made available to him, his sin remains”

    So, Christ’s suffering on the cross for the person, making him savable, still died in sin and Christ’s payment was useless, and the drawing of the Holy Spirit wasn’t strong enough to over take that persons free will?

    Thanks once again for answering my questions,

    Matt

  16. Dear Matt,

    I’ll try as best I can to answer your comments/questions line by line.

    How would you define foreknowledge?

    Generally, definite knowledge of the future.

    Isn’t unmerited favor the same as unconditional election?

    Not necessarily, for that to be true, then ‘condition’ would have to be a synonym for ‘merit.’ Merits can be conditions, but it doesn’t follow that all conditions are merits.

    If we have anything to do with the process of salvation, does that nullify grace?

    I wouldn’t see how, as it would be in fulfillment of a condition, not meriting God’s grace.

    Are we not dead in sin and children of wrath outside of grace? What am I missing?

    Ben and I both believe in what is called ‘prevenient grace,’ that is to say, man is spiritually dead and unable to come to Christ on his own, so God gives grace to sinners whereby they may receive the gospel. The big differences between what most Calvinists believe is what precedes repentance unto life, the Calvinist/Monergist model has irresistible regeneration first, the Arminian/Synergist has resistible prevenient grace first. We do not believe in regeneration before salvation primarily because scripture indicates that spiritual life comes by faith in Christ.

    So, if someone does resist His will, it is because God’s is allowing it? That’s what I believe. My understanding is that no one ultimately resists God’s will.

    God will see satisfaction either way in the end, but as Stephen testified, many do resist the Holy Spirit.

    In John 10 Jesus told the Pharases that they weren’t His sheep and that’s why they couldn’t believe.

    Yes, but the sheep are the ones who hear Christ and follow Him. Someone who won’t hear His voice will certainly not believe.

    Why did Christ speak in parables if it were for everyone to understand? Jesus said in (Mat. 13)that it wasn’t for them to know, but for the disciples.

    I agree, Christ’s words weren’t for everyone to understand, and no one can receive the things of God apart from them being revealed by God. I’ve debated with many atheists who argued that the Bible was stupid and hard to understand, but this is the case doubtless because their eyes have been blinded. I don’t think God wants them to perish, but will let them as long as they are proud and unwilling to listen.

    I’m not sure I understand what you said. I guess free will needs to be defined. We’re free to do what? Sin and go to hell, right?

    The theologians call it ‘power of contrary choice,’ the ability to heed the gospel call and be saved, or reject it and go to hell.

    “it follows that if God was displeased with the actions of someone, that the action originated not with God, but the creature who performed it, unless you wish to argue that it was God’s good pleasure that He be displeased.”

    That’s a tough one. But, could not God stop Satan and sin in a nano-second if He wanted to?

    Certainly. He is still sovereign. Everything that happens does so with His permission, but everything that happens is His design, still in other things (such as the death of Christ, the enslavement of Joseph) God can turn the wickedness of men and angels to His own purpose for a greater good.

    “Yes, but He has chosen to do so through faith (1 Peter 1:5), which scripture also warns us to hold fast to (1 Timothy 1:19).”

    I agree. If you believe that we must exercise faith on our own, do you believe that we can lose our salvation?

    I don’t think ‘on our own’ expresses it very well, but nonetheless, because the Bible warns against forsaking it (and gives several other strong warnings to believers as well), I do believe it is possible to forfeit salvation.

    “It says that God has in His sovereignty delegated to us a measure of power of contrary choice.”

    Choice over the His sovereignty? That not sovereignty, by definition.

    Incorrect. When power is delegated, the one to whom it is delegated can make a decision, but the one who delegated it to him retains ultimate control. This does not interfere with authority in the least; in fact, authority necessitates it, unless we are arguing that God is so powerful that He is not allowed to let someone make a decision.

    We chose according to our nature which is fallen and can’t choose anything outside of that.

    I believe that when God draws a sinner, he can.

    I cannot image someone being granted faith and repentance, seeing their sin in light of God’s moral law, understanding God’s wrath against sin and their need of a Savior and then finally deciding to reject Christ. I would argue if anyone rejects Christ, He wasn’t drawing them.
    John 6:

    Yet God still warns us against doing so,

    Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let [them] slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard [him]… (Hebrews 2:1-3)

    “So if one does believe, his sins (including his past unbelief) are forgiven, whereas if one does not,”

    So, Christ died for those who believe?

    He also died for the sins of all mankind.

    If someone dies in sin, his sins sends to hell (1 Cor. 6:9). Is that what you are saying? That’s what I believe.

    Yes.

    “then despite the means of pardon made available to him, his sin remains”

    So, Christ’s suffering on the cross for the person, making him savable, still died in sin and Christ’s payment was useless, and the drawing of the Holy Spirit wasn’t strong enough to over take that persons free will?

    Useless for that person, as Christ has become of no effect to him (Galatians 5:4). I don’t doubt that God could override our wills completely if He chose to, but apparently He does not choose to.

    But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. (Luke 7:30)

  17. “How would you define foreknowledge?

    Generally, definite knowledge of the future.”

    God can see in the future who will believe therefore chooses them based on their foreseen faith?

    “If we have anything to do with the process of salvation, does that nullify grace?

    “I wouldn’t see how, as it would be in fulfillment of a condition, not meriting God’s grace.”

    Would you say that no one can have faith and repent without God initiating it?
    I’m seeing a huge conundrum with saying that Christ paid for the sin of all mankind, yet only some believe and others die in unbelief. What sends someone to hell if all sins have been paid for already by Christ, even the sin of unbelief? I understand that this may be unanswerable, I am finite and can’t completely understand the mind of God.
    I understand that this battle is only fought in the Scriptures, and isn’t logic, but there are several verses that really seem to lean toward a Calvinist’s view of the doctrine of election.

    “…the Bible warns against forsaking it (and gives several other strong warnings to believers as well), I do believe it is possible to forfeit salvation.”

    Romans 8:29,30; Eph 1: ; Eph. 2 ; Phil 1:6
    Who in their right mind would want to forfeit salvation if they understand their sin, God’s wrath, Hell, and the gift of salvation. I don’t see how some one could just decide one day to walk away, unless they really didn’t get it the first time. I do understand we should “fight the good fight of faith”(), and “constantly examine ourselves” ( ). I know in my life then I sin I immediately ask for forgiveness. Repentance is a daily process. I don’t ever want to be separated from Christ, yet I do still fight my sinful nature. I can’t imagine ever throwing Christ aside and living like the devil the rest of my life. I know what Scriptures demands and warns, so I strive to resist sin and live in obedience to the Word.

    “So, Christ died for those who believe?”

    “He also died for the sins of all mankind.”

    So, Christ died for those who do not believe. John 3:16 as well as other verses say a person must believe to have eternal life. What about Judas Iscariot, is he in heaven? He was labeled “son of perdition”. What about the other thief on the cross, that ridiculed Christ?
    Have you ever read “The sovereignty of God” by A.W Pink?

    “Useless for that person, as Christ has become of no effect to him (Galatians 5:4).”

    In context isn’t Paul talking to the Galatians who were was mixing law keeping and grace. Someone trying to keep the law deprives themselves of every advantage from Christ, and treats God’s grace as if it were no value.

    This is what John MacArthur says:
    “It is also possible to apply the concept of being severed from Christ to a Christian. You may ask, “Could a Christian fall from grace?” Yes, in a sense. You were saved by grace, and you are to live by grace–God’s free favor on your behalf. God’s blessing comes when you yield to the Spirit. When you operate in the flesh, you close the door to God’s blessing. When a Christian lives in the flesh, he forfeits the blessing he would receive if he were living in the Spirit. Second Corinthians 9:8 says that “God is able to make all grace abound toward you.” That’s a tremendous promise. God’s wants to unload blessings on us, but the condition is our Spirit-led service. In that particular passage it was the condition of Spirit-led giving. If the Corinthians responded to the Spirit in the matter of giving, God would pour His grace on them in return.
    However, a person can be saved and not grow in grace. Peter said, “Grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18), which implies not every Christian does that automatically. However, just because a Christian refuses the grace of sanctification does not mean he forfeits the grace of justification. If a Christian loses his grip on grace as a way of life, that doesn’t mean God has lost His grip on him in terms of saving grace. The process of sanctification can be retarded by the flesh. A Christian can live in the flesh, hoping to earn God’s favor, but that only cuts him off from the flow of daily blessing. If justifying grace were interrupted every time sanctifying grace was interrupted, it wouldn’t be worth anything; you would need to retain your salvation by works. If every time you sinned you lost justifying grace, how would you keep it except by working for it? Salvation would no longer be the result of grace but of works. If you try to add works to grace, you destroy grace. Everyone would be required to be a legalist to keep saved.”

    Finally, I must ask, at what point do you know you have lost your salvation? Is this a feeling or emotion? And how do you gain salvation back?

    Matt

  18. Dear Matt,

    “God can see in the future who will believe therefore chooses them based on their foreseen faith?”

    I would more accurately say, that God foreknows who will receive His grace when He offers it. It could also be effectively argued that ‘the elect’ spoken of in scripture are those He knows will persevere.

    “Would you say that no one can have faith and repent without God initiating it?”

    No.

    “I’m seeing a huge conundrum with saying that Christ paid for the sin of all mankind, yet only some believe and others die in unbelief. What sends someone to hell if all sins have been paid for already by Christ, even the sin of unbelief?”

    Salvation is paid for, yet also conditioned on faith. If one does believe, then their prior sin of unbelief is atoned for, if he does not, then his sin remains.

    “I understand that this battle is only fought in the Scriptures, and isn’t logic, but there are several verses that really seem to lean toward a Calvinist’s view of the doctrine of election.”

    Well, the scriptures do speak of election according to the will of God, I don’t think anyone is arguing that point. The Calvinist view of unconditional election could be extrapolated from a few texts, but as far as I can see has no real solid scriptural basis.

    “Romans 8:29,30; Eph 1: ; Eph. 2 ; Phil 1:6
    Who in their right mind would want to forfeit salvation if they understand their sin, God’s wrath, Hell, and the gift of salvation.”

    I didn’t say they had to be in their right mind, indeed a mind hardened by the deceitfulness of sin is anything but right. As for the texts you offer, the only one I see that relates to the matter directly is Philippians 1:6,

    Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ

    Which is being spoken to those continuing in the faith. God does continue the good work in those who abide in Him, as Christ said in John 15 concerning the branches that remain, “every [branch] that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit”, yet of those that do not, he states, “he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast [them] into the fire, and they are burned.”

    “So, Christ died for those who do not believe. John 3:16 as well as other verses say a person must believe to have eternal life.”

    Yes, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Salvation is available to all by the death of Christ, but conditioned on faith.

    “What about Judas Iscariot, is he in heaven?”

    I would say no.

    “What about the other thief on the cross, that ridiculed Christ?”

    No. There is no indication that he believed.

    “Have you ever read ‘The sovereignty of God’ by A.W Pink?”

    I’ve perused it a bit, he’s not touching on anything I don’t already understand. I much prefer to rely on the Bible for my beliefs on such issues.

    As for the question about Galatians, for starters, the Galatians weren’t just ‘forfeiting blessings’ as MacArthur asserts, Paul made it clear that they were turning to another gospel altogether, and pronounces anathema on any who would teach such a thing (Galatians 1:6-8).

    Concerning MacArthur’s quote,

    “If every time you sinned you lost justifying grace, how would you keep it except by working for it? Salvation would no longer be the result of grace but of works. If you try to add works to grace, you destroy grace. Everyone would be required to be a legalist to keep saved.”

    That’s a bit off base as far as general Arminian/Synergist belief, one falling from grace isn’t a result of stumbling into sin, but casting off the faith of Christ and departing from Him.

    “Finally, I must ask, at what point do you know you have lost your salvation? Is this a feeling or emotion? And how do you gain salvation back?”

    I’ll answer the first question with another: How do you know you are truly saved at all? If one has become estranged from God, then the Bible prescribes confessing our sin and repenting of it. Hebrews 6 does seem to indicate that there does come a point of no return for some, the point where they are completely fallen away and can no longer be renewed to repentance.

    Josh

  19. “Salvation is paid for, yet also conditioned on faith.”

    Sins are paid for or salvation is paid for?

    Someone is misinterepting Scripture if there are 2 different views on this subjest of any subject.

    “I much prefer to rely on the Bible for my beliefs on such issues.”

    Me too, it is the final authority.
    However, we do read commentaries and original languages to help determine the correct meaning.

    “I’ll answer the first question with another: How do you know you are truly saved at all?”

    I trust Romans 10 “If we confession with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Also 1 John 1:9, John 6:39 “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (40) For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
    (44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me(BH) draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
    (65)And he said, “This is why I told you(CV) that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
    Since not everyone comes to Christ, that gives me confidence in Him. Obviously, there are times of doubt, because of sin or lack of fellowship with the Lord, but I always come back to trusting what the Scriptures say. Those verses are either true or they aren’t. Thats how I know I’m saved.

    What do you do with the Parable of the sower? Isn’t it possible if someone falls away that the gospel never took root in the beginning?

    “If one has become estranged from God, then the Bible prescribes confessing our sin and repenting of it. Hebrews 6 does seem to indicate that there does come a point of no return for some, the point where they are completely fallen away and can no longer be renewed to repentance.”

    The difference is the elect will always confess their sin and repent, because God keeps them by grace.

    This continues to be an eye opening conversion. Thank you for your comments.

    Matt

  20. Dear Matt,

    Sins are paid for or salvation is paid for?

    Someone is misinterepting Scripture if there are 2 different views on this subjest of any subject.

    I didn’t quite understand that last sentence, but if I’m reading you correctly, then it is not a contradiction to say that sins are atoned (paid) for and salvation is purchased for us (i.e. we are purchased unto salvation by God) in the death of Christ; the two concepts go hand in hand.

    For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor 6:20)

    And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

    “I much prefer to rely on the Bible for my beliefs on such issues.”

    Me too, it is the final authority.
    However, we do read commentaries and original languages to help determine the correct meaning.

    Scripture in its origninal language is still scripture; commentaries, while sometimes useful, must be taken with a grain of salt.

    Since not everyone comes to Christ, that gives me confidence in Him. Obviously, there are times of doubt, because of sin or lack of fellowship with the Lord, but I always come back to trusting what the Scriptures say. Those verses are either true or they aren’t. Thats how I know I’m saved.

    Solid answer, but how do you know for sure that you are not simply experiencing ‘evanescent grace’ rather than actual saving grace?

    What do you do with the Parable of the sower? Isn’t it possible if someone falls away that the gospel never took root in the beginning?

    Yes, of course it’s possible for someone to act Christian but never actually be saved, but that has no bearing on whether it’s possible or not for one who is actually saved to fall away.

    The difference is the elect will always confess their sin and repent, because God keeps them by grace.

    1 Peter 1:5 indicates that we are kept by the power of God through faith, and scripture also warns in several places against casting off faith in Christ, even indicating that some already have.

    Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19)

    Josh

  21. [...] The fault lies with them because they were in full control of their will.  If there decisions were predetermined then the fault does not lie with them for it was not in their control to do other than they did.  Yet the Lord lays the blame on them for not exercising their wills properly.  Matthew 23:37 is especially significant as Christ makes it clear that He desired to gather them but their unwillingness prevented that which He desired for them.  The common Calvinist attempt to make a distinction between the “children” and those who “would not” is desperate and far from convincing. [...]

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