I will be away from the computer until Monday.  I hope to get a few posts up then.  Have a great weekend!

Defining Terms

It is pointless to debate an issue if your terms are not properly defined.  Pizzaman has done us all a great service by providing us with the Calvinist Dictionary.  Be sure to check it out.

What Can The Dead In Sin Do?

Calvinists love to point out that we are dead in sin.  That we are dead in sin prior to conversion cannot be denied (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); the question has to do with what it means to be dead in sin.

Calvinist are fond of comparing spiritual death to physical death.  This gives them the framework with which to press their theological conviction that regeneration precedes faith.  If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more “hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see.  But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical?

Nowhere in Scripture is such a strict parallel drawn.  To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential.  The sinner is presently “dead” because, in the absence of faith,  he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.   The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel.  The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life.  In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life.  This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.

But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support.  If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd.  A single example will suffice.

The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit.  Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something?  Of course not.  So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21).  Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything.  This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin.  It is not Biblical.

“You’re pushing it too far” says the Calvinist.  Really?  And how is it that you determine how far the analogy should be pressed?  We are either as spiritually useless as a physical corpse or we need to abandon the parallel.  You can’t just draw from the illustration what suits your fancy and ignore the rest.  That is special pleading.

Now it is important to remember that Arminians do not deny the need for God’s gracious enabling before a sinner can believe and embrace the gospel.  Without divine initiative and enabling no one would ever come to God in faith.  We are confident, however, that God is powerful enough to overcome our depravity and there is no need for the priority of regeneration since there is no strict parallel between the inability of a physical corpse and the inability of those dead in sin.  We can therefore accept the Biblical teaching of depravity and God’s prevenient grace without needing to turn the Bible on its ear in an effort to put spiritual life before faith.

For a more detailed defense of the Arminian ordo salutis see the following posts:

Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin”

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

Is the “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 3: The Argument From Universality

We continue with Ralston’s second argument for self-determinism from his Elements of Divinity:

2. Our next argument for the self-determining power of the mind over the

will is founded upon the history of the world in general.

Turn your attention to any portion or to any period of the world’s history and you find among all nations, in their very language and common modes of speech, terms and phrases expressive of the power which all men possess of determining, or being the authors of their own wills. You will find men speaking of the acts of their minds and the determinations of their wills as though they were free. And you will also find terms expressive of blame and of praise, clearly recognizing the principle that when a man does wrong he is blamed, because he might and should have avoided the wrong.  In all countries it is a fact that, in public estimation, a man’s guilt is extenuated in proportion as the impediments in the way of avoiding the crime are increased; and upon the same principle, when the difficulties in the way of avoiding the act are absolutely insurmountable, no one is then blamed for doing the unavoidable act.

This is not to suggest that there have never been philosophies which men have held that have minimized or rejected man’s power of self-determination as Ralston had previously made clear.  Rather, the point being made is that throughout history and in every culture men have acted with regards to praise or blame in such a way as to presuppose man’s self-determining power.  This can especially be seen in various systems of justice and self government throughout human history.

Again: the laws of all civilized nations punish the criminal upon the supposition that he might have avoided the crime. And if it could be made appear that, in the act in question, the man was not a self-willing agent, but was only a tool used by the force of others which he had not the power to resist, in this case, there is not a government upon earth that would not as readily punish the sword of the assassin as that man who was merely a passive instrument, having no power to resist.

This is an excellent point and cuts right to the heart of Calvinistic determinism undermining the claim that accountability for ones actions is compatible with divine determinism.  If we are but instruments that God uses to accomplish His will in such a way that we cannot possibly avoid doing the very acts that God has determined for us to do, then we should no more be blamed for such actions than the “sword of the assassin” or the gun in the hands of a killer.  No one would ever think to blame or punish the gun or sword rather than the killer who controlled it.  Calling the gun the “proximate cause” and the killer the “remote cause” does nothing to relieve the difficulty.  Likewise, it is just as absurd to blame men and count God innocent for the sins which God determined that they should perform in such a way that they had not the least bit power to resist or do otherwise.

Why, we might ask, are rewards and punishments connected with the statutory provisions of all countries, and held out before the community, if it be not to encourage to virtue and to deter from vice? And why should these sanctions be exhibited to the subjects of all civilized governments, if men have no power to influence their own wills? Will you exhibit motives and inducements to excite them to endeavor to control their wills, when they really possess no such power? I know it may be said that these motives are designed to fix, by a necessary and invincible influence, the will itself, independent of any active agency in the man. Nothing can be more absurd and contrary to fact than such a supposition. If motives are to fix the character of the will necessarily, why is the man called upon to attend to the motives, to weigh them carefully, and make a correct decision in reference to their real weight?

This is just a little teaser of the treatment that Ralston will later give to the subject of motives and how they relate to the will when dealing directly with the arguments of Mr. Edwards.

A farther consideration of the doctrine of motives will be assigned to another chapter. Under the present head we only add that all men, in all ages and in all places, have treated each other as though they believed they were free agents. If we discard this doctrine, and assert the principles of necessity, we must change universal customs which have stood from time immemorial, and rend the very foundations of society. If man be not a free agent, why is he held bound for the fulfillment of his promise, and censured in the failure thereof? Why is he held up as an object of scorn and detestation for any crime under heaven?

Again, Ralston is not denying that certain people or even societies have held to forms of determinism.  He is only pointing out that, regardless of such philosophies, people have universally treated each other as if they had some power of contrary choice.

Why, we might ask, are jails and penitentiaries, and various modes of punishment, more or less severe, everywhere prevalent in civilized lands? If the advocates of necessity really believe in the truth of their system, let them be consistent, and go throughout the civilized world and plead for the destruction of all terms of language expressive of blame or praise; let them decry the unjustifiable prejudice of nations, by which benevolence and virtue have been applauded, and selfishness and vice condemned. Let them proclaim it abroad, that the robber and the murderer are as innocent as the infant or the saint, since all men only act as they are necessarily acted upon; and let them teach all nations to abolish at once and forever every description of punishment for crime or misdemeanor. Such would be the consistent course for sincere necessitarians (pp. 186-188).

And again we see the difficulty in trying to live consistently with such philosophies.  All of us live and interact as if we have the power of self-determination, even if we hold to philosophies which deny that power.  In our next post Ralston will begin his appeal to Scriptures.

Perseverance of the Saints Part 9: Hebrews 10:32-39

We finish our exegetical examination of the warning passage in Hebrews 10 with verses 32-39:

[32] But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, [33] partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. [34] For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have a better possession and a lasting one.  [35] Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [36] For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [37] ‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [38] But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  [39] But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (NASB)

Verse 32:  “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.”

Here we encounter the word “enlightened” again.  Grudem argued that the term was used only of hearing the gospel in Hebrews 6:4, and therefore had no reference to any saving experience.  Verse 32, however would strongly suggest otherwise.  Here the writer of Hebrews uses the same word to describe those who were truly saved and the fact that they were “enlightened” seems to have reference to conversion rather than just hearing the gospel message.  His audience is instructed to remember that after they had been “enlightened” they “endured a great conflict of sufferings.”  Verses 33 and 34 give us more information regarding what these “sufferings” entailed.  They suffered by being made a “public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” and they accepted “joyfully” the seizure of property, “knowing that [they had] a better possession and a lasting one.”

These had suffered joyfully for the sake of the gospel and yet we are to believe that this enlightening had reference to only hearing the gospel?  Such a shallow concept of “enlightened” simply does not fit the description that immediately follows.  It makes no sense to say that as the result of merely “hearing the gospel” they endured a great suffering.  Many hear the gospel, reject it, and suffer nothing for it.  It is only those who embrace and appropriate the gospel by faith that are willing to suffer for it.

It should be clear, based on the context, that “enlightened” means far more than just “hearing the gospel” to the inspired writer of Hebrews.  It has reference to conversion itself which only reinforces the contention that the “enlightened” apostates of Hebrews 6:4 were truly saved prior to having “fallen away.”  We also find that these “enlightened” ones gladly suffered the seizure of their property because they knew that they had a “better possession and a lasting one.” (verse 34b)  That can only mean that they were looking forward to the heavenly reward of their faith and proves that they were indeed in the faith since faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)  They had already passed one test of faith and were now being called on to pass yet another.  The reminder of their past success is for the purpose of strengthening their resolve that they might not “shrink back” from the faith they began with (see comments on verse 38 below).

Verses 35 and 36: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

Notice that the inspired writer is not admonishing them to gain confidence (i.e. believe the gospel and be converted), but to keep the confidence that they already have.  They are being told to endure in their faith which plainly assumes that their present faith is genuine.  In fact, their faith has been proven so by the way they had responded to prior trials.  However, they cannot rest on what they had done in the past but must continue to press on in the face of present trials to gain the promised reward of final salvation.  They “have need of endurance.”  The inspired writer never questions whether or not his readers have genuine faith.  He only questions whether or not that faith will last.  This is the main concern of the entire epistle.  Verses 37-39 decisively drive this truth home:

‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Just as Hebrews 6:7-8 conclude as a further description of the apostates in verses 4-6 so do verses 10:37-38 conclude as a further description of the apostate spoken of in verses 26-31.  The point that is very important here is that the servant who “shrinks back” in verse 38b is not a different servant from the one who lives by faith in verse 38a.  It is the same servant, “and if he [that same servant] shrinks back [from the faith that made him righteous], my soul has no pleasure in him.”  Robert Shank quotes Franz Delitzsch:

The subject in both clauses is the same- the just man, the man who is justified by faith; and in the sense in which hupostellesthai is here used is that of not keeping faith, wavering in faith, forsaking the path of faith and the community of the faithful.  The just man, the man accepted before God, lives by faith; but if he loses his faith, and faithlessly draws back from the right path, his acceptance is forfeited.  That such apostasy is possible even for those who have been truly justified, i.e., for Christians who have more than a superficial experience of divine grace, is one of the main points of instruction in this epistle. [Life in The Son, 163]

It cannot be overstated that the servant is described in verse 38a as “righteous” by God Himself.  It will not do to say that the servant only appeared righteous, for the Lord Himself confirms the servant’s justification.  This righteousness is due to a life of faith.  However, if that same righteous servant were to shrink back from the faith that justified him, then the Lord would no longer take pleasure in him.  And why not? Because “without faith it is impossible to please Him”(Heb. 11:6).  What happens to those who shrink back?  Verse 39 tells us that they shrink back “to destruction.”

Adam Clarke is even more frank with his comments concerning the servant mentioned in this passage as well as the erroneous translation of the KJV:

But if any man draw back] kai ean uposteilhtai. But if he draw back; he, the man who is justified by faith; for it is of him, and none other,that the text speaks. The insertion of the words any man, if done to servethe purpose of a particular creed, is a wicked perversion of the words ofGod. They were evidently intended to turn away the relative from the antecedent, in order to save the doctrine of final and unconditional perseverance; which doctrine this text destroys.  (Commentary: Hebrews pg. 209, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

This is detrimental to Grudem’s exegesis.  If Heb. 10:37-38 speaks of the same servant, then we have even more reason to believe that Hebrews 6:7-8 has reference to the same land.  The servant of 10:37-38 shrinks back from the faith which had made him righteous, and the land which once bore fruitful vegetation in 6:7-8 later bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  These are not descriptions of irrevocable reprobates who rejected the gospel message upon hearing it; these are descriptions of true believers who have turned away from the truth that they had once fully embraced.

It is significant that the writer of Hebrews altered the text from which he drew this warning.  The LXX reference in Habakkuk speaks of one who is puffed up in pride shrinking back contrasted with the righteous one who lives by faith, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-[Septuagint: And if he shrinks back I will not be pleased with him.] but the righteous will live by faith.” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Hebrews, pg. 302)

Donald A. Hagner explains the significance of the altered reference:

The author also transposes the clause of Hab. 2:4 (which the LXX begins with the words, ‘but if any of them shrinks back’) so that it is the righteous one who must directly confront the possibility of turning back and experiencing the displeasure of the Lord.  The author thus accepts the messianic understanding of the passage (as in the LXX) but applies Heb. 2:4 to the Christian believer (despite the singular, my righteous one). (NIBC Hebrews, pg. 176, emphasis his)

If the writer of Hebrews was trying to express what Grudem believes he was trying to express (that the apostate never had justifying faith) then the Habakkuk text would have better served the author’s purpose left as it was originally penned.  Instead, the author of Hebrews deliberately changed [inverted] the reference to describe a single servant who shrinks from the faith which had previously justified him before God.  That the writer of Hebrews changed the reference in such a way further demonstrates that he understands and defines apostasy as the decisive repudiation of justifying faith once held.

In verse 39 the author expresses confidence that his intended audience has not presently abandoned the faith and is given as positive encouragement in order to complement the negative encouragement of the previous warnings.  The inspired author is not expressing infallible confidence that they will persevere since even in Calvinism no such infallible assurance can be given to another.  While he is supremely hopeful that these “justified servants” will not shrink back, he cannot be certain.  Such uncertainty is the basis for the dire warnings and urgent encouragements which preceded verse 39.


We have found in verses 32-39 further confirmation that our exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31 was accurate.  One who is both justified by faith and sanctified by the blood of Christ can yet shrink back from the faith and face eternal punishment as an enemy of God.  We also gained further insight into the warnings expressed in Hebrews 6:4-8 by confirming that “enlightened” has reference to the experience of conversion and not just exposure to the gospel message.

We have also discovered that the metaphor of the land in Hebrews 6:7-8 parallels the description of the righteous servant who shrinks back from the faith in Hebrews 10:38.  This undermines Grudem’s main thesis which was built on the errant assumption that the metaphor in 6:7-8 had reference to two lands rather than one.  Just as it is the same justified servant who shrinks back from saving faith in Heb. 10:38; so it is the same productive land which ceases to bear fruitful vegetation and instead bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  The servant (10:28 ) and the land (6:7-8 ) are both “destroyed” and “burned” as the result of  falling away from faith once held.

Go to Part 10

Go to Part 1

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 2: Its Self-evident Nature

We now continue with Ralston’s defense of free will from his Elements of Divinity

II. We proceed now to consider some of the leading arguments by which the free moral agency of man, as briefly defined above, is established.

1. We rely upon our own consciousness.

By consciousness, we mean the knowledge we have of what passes within our own minds. Thus, when we are angry, we are sensible of the existence of that feeling within us. When we are joyful or sad, we know it. When we love or hate, remember or fear, we are immediately sensible of the fact. The knowledge we possess of this nature is not the result of reasoning; it is not derived from an investigation of testimony, but rises spontaneously in the mind. On subjects of this kind, arguments are superfluous; for, in reference to things of which we are conscious, no reasoning, or external testimony, can have any influence, either to strengthen our convictions, or to cause us to doubt. In vain may we endeavor by argument to persuade the man who feels conscious that his heart is elated with joy, that he is, at the same time, depressed with grief. You cannot convince the sick man, who is racked with pain, that he is in the enjoyment of perfect health; nor the man who exults in the vigor of health and vivacity, that he is writhing under the influence of a painful disease.

Knowledge derived through the medium of consciousness, like that which comes immediately through external sensation, carries upon its face its own demonstration; and so strongly does it impress the soul, that we are compelled to yield ourselves up to the insanity of universal skepticism before we can doubt it for a moment. Here, then, we base our first argument for the proper freedom of the will of man, or, more properly speaking, for the freedom of man in the exercise of the will. Who can convince me that I have not the power either to write or to refrain from writing, either to sit still or to rise up and walk? And this conviction, in reference to a self-determining power of the mind, or a control of the will belonging to ourselves, is universal. Philosophy, falsely so called, may puzzle the intellect, or confuse the understanding, but still the conviction comes upon every man with resistless force, that he has within himself the power of choice. He feels that he exercises this power. (pg. 185)

Ralston begins by appealing to our intuitions.  This is a significant argument because it establishes the fact that necessetarian dogma, in order to succeed, must overcome one of our most basic beliefs concerning human nature; not a belief that we have been taught, but a belief which we base on our own experience. Through the processes of the mind that we are all aware of, it seems painfully obvious that we do indeed have the power of self-determination.

We know the advocates of necessity admit that men generally, at first view of the subject, suppose that they are not necessitated in their volitions, but they assert that this is an illusion which the superior light of philosophy will dissipate. An acute metaphysician has advanced the idea, “that when men only skim the surface of philosophy, they discard common sense; but when they go profoundly into philosophic research, they return again to their earliest dictates of common sense.” In the same way, a mere peep into philosophy has caused many, especially such as are predisposed to skepticism, to assert the doctrine of fatality; but a thorough knowledge of true philosophy generally serves to establish our first convictions that we are free in our volitions. Can that philosophy be sound, or that reasoning correct, which would set aside the strongest testimony of our own senses? which would persuade us that it is midnight when we behold the full blaze of the meridian sun? No more can we accredit that mode of reasoning which would uproot the testimony of our own consciousness.

One may attempt to reason all sorts of absurdities but it is not improper to rely on our senses when such reasoning is brought to bear on us.  That is not to say that our senses cannot deceive us, but to recognize that if our senses can be verified without difficulty, then any contrary suggestions should be rightly rejected. Ralston uses the example of trying to convince someone that it is midnight while in the presence of the midday sun.  A clever person might derive some convincing arguments, but if someone were convinced by such arguments in the presence of the sun, we would likely reckon such a person to be quite the gullible fool.

That, in my volitions, I am free to choose good or evil, and not impelled by a necessity as absolute as the laws of gravitation, is a position which I can no more doubt from my own consciousness than I can doubt my own existence. This is evident from the fact that all men have a sense of blame when they do wrong, and of approbation when they do right. Am I charged with the commission of a crime? – convince me that the force of circumstances rendered its avoidance absolutely impossible, and I can no more blame myself in the premises than I can censure the tree that fell upon the traveler as he was journeying on the highway. Remorse for the past depends upon a consciousness of our freedom for its very existence. This conviction of freedom is so indelible and universal on the minds of men, that no human effort can erase it. It may be smothered or obscured for a season in the minds of sophisticated reasoners, but in the hours of sober honesty it will regain its position, and reassert its dominion, even over the minds of such men as Voltaire, Hume, and Edwards, who have discarded it in their philosophy (pg. 186)

Indeed, such convictions will eventually rise to the surface despite our best efforts to keep them submerged for the sake of our philosophy.  For more on this see my post Struggling With Regrets.

We will examine Ralston’s third argument in our next post

Weekend of Work

I will be away on a work related trip and away from the computer until Monday.  I won’t be able to interact with any comments until then.  If you leave a first time comment it will not appear until I return on Monday to approve it.  If you have left approved comments before then they will appear immediately.  Hope everyone has a far more relaxing weekend than I will 🙂

God Bless,