Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Bondage of the Will

Serial Number 044
The Bondage of the Will

By: Charles D. Alexander
A paper given at a conference commemorating the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 Theses on Indulgences on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, 31st.October, 1517.
The conference, ‘Luther’ was held at Birches Green evangelical Free Church, Birmingham, England on 28th October, 1967.

 

I
On 1st September, 1524, the printer Froben of Basel published a small book. The book was in Latin, the Language of the scholars. It had been written by Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Renaissance scholar, probably the most highly educated man in Europe, whose knowledge of the Classical authors and languages was unsurpassed. His new book was one which he had been pushed into writing in order to show his allegiance to Pope and Church. You see, it was a polemical book directed against the teaching of the upstart monk, Martin Luther. The title of Erasmus’ book was “A Discussion Concerning Free-will.” Was this just a controversy about words, a scholastic argument of little consequence? Maybe one of the many skirmishes in writing that went on between the Philosophers and theologians of this time. Let us look a little closer and see what was going on.
Erasmus' book was about ‘free-will’. Now what is there to argue about in ‘free-will’? Didn’t Luther believe in free-will? After all he was an evangelical, supposed to believe in the Bible, and does not the Bible say ‘Whosoever will may come’? Yet Erasmus was writing against Luther and Erasmus believed in ‘free-will’. And. I am afraid I shall have to tell you that Martin Luther definitely did not believe in ‘free-will’. How strange! Martin Luther, a man so right about so many things did not believe in ‘free-will’. Still, nobody is perfect and we know that Luther was wrong about a lot of things. Perhaps this was just a side issue, one of these peripheral matters that shouldn’t concern us too much these days. What Luther has taught us is about the Pope and purgatory and indulgences and the horrors of the Romish system.
Luther’s reply to Erasmus' book appeared over two years later, in December, 1525. It is called “The Bondage of the      Will”. Did Luther think that it was just a side issue? Listen to what he says to Erasmus at the end of the book:-
“I give you hearty praise and commendation on this account - that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, Purgatory, indulgences and such like - trifles, rather than issues - you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.”
No, this was no side issue. To Luther this touched on the central point of his theology, “the hinge on which all turns …, the vital spot.” Without it there could be no justification by faith, no sovereign God, no salvation and no Gospel. On this matter the whole of the Reformation stood or fell. I venture to say that the position is the same to-day. On this matter the Gospel stands or falls. If ‘free-will’ stands then the Gospel falls. And I propose, with God’s help, to show you during the course of this paper, why this is my belief and why it was the belief of Dr. Martin Luther.
II
Erasmus called into the fray the massive forces of his eloquence and rhetoric, his scholarship, and the testimony of the tradition of the Church with but a few exceptions. But first, in his preface he tried to cut the ground from under Luther’s feet by saying things like “on these matters the scriptures are ambiguous and equivocal” and “I find, no satisfaction in assertions and prefer an undogmatic temper to any other.” How like the 1967 Evangelical was Erasmus. How much do these things remind us of phrases like, “As long as we agree on the fundamentals, why argue about doctrine?” and “As long as you have the Spirit what does your doctrine matter?”
How long will we play at sacrificing truth for so-called fellowship? We just want peace at all costs, even at the cost of the Gospel. We should thank God that Paul did not think like this, for where should we be to-day if he had? No, as he stood to give farewell to the Ephesian elders he declared:-
“I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of  God.” Brethren and Sisters the Gospel is a matter of life and death, not just an argument about doctrine. We must make sure we are right instead, of trying to smooth things over all the time.
There is a slightly different line we are always hearing:-
“Let’s drop our differences and get on with the work of evangelism.” Erasmus has one like that; he says:-
“Luther’s doctrines are fables and useless things. Christ crucified should rather be preached according to Paul’s example; … wisdom should he taught among the perfect; … the language of Scripture is accommodated to the various capacities of the hearers; I think, therefore, that it is best left to the discretion and charity of the instructor to teach what will profit his neighbor.”
Hear Martin’s reply, “Silly, ignorant remarks, all of them! We teach nothing save Christ crucified. But Christ crucified brings all these doctrines with him, including also among them that are perfect.' No other wisdom may be taught among Christians than that which is ‘hidden in a mystery’ and this belongs only to the ‘perfect’ - not to the sons of a Judaising law-bound generation which has no faith and boasts of its works! So thinks Paul. Do you I wonder take preaching Christ crucified to be just a matter of calling out “Christ was crucified” and nothing more?
No, let us not say with Erasmus that the scriptures are unclear, equivocal and ambiguous. Let us rather say with Moses “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto as and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Next, Luther meets Erasmus’ challenge to work some miracle to support his position. Erasmus had enumerated many Saints and church fathers who believed in free-will and yet were saintly, spiritual and able to work miracles. Luther, he said, had no such support. Erasmus wrote “You’re a voice - and that’s all. They speak; -we for that reason alone they expect to be believed.” Even granting that they were saints and spiritual and could work miracles, Luther asks:- “was any one of them a saint, did any one of them receive the Spirit, or work miracles, in the name of ‘Free-will’, or by the power of ‘free-will’ or to confirm the doctrine of ‘free-will’? Far from it, you will say; all these things were done in the name and by the power of Jesus Christ, and to confirm the doctrine, of Christ. But why, in that case, do you bring forward their holiness, possession of the Spirit, and miracles, to support the doctrine of ‘free-will’, which they wore not wrought to support?” Then he goes on to say, “But come now, you that support ‘free-will’ and claim that the doctrine concern­ing it is true, that is, that it has come forth from the Spirit of God - do you here and now show forth the Spirit, work miracles and give evidence of holiness! The Spirit, holiness and miracles should not be required of us, who deny, but from you who assert … Come, then, come, I say, and prove that this doctrine of yours about a mere human vanity and lie is true! Where, now is your demonstration of the Spirit? Where is your holiness? Where are your miracles? … Come, then! We shall not compel you to work great miracles … You may choose to work as tiny a miracle as you like. Indeed, to prod your Baal into action, I here challenge and defy you to create a single frog in the name and by the power of ‘free-will’. I will suggest a more trifling matter still: take a single flea or louse and combine all the powers and concentrate all the energies both of your God and of all your supporters; and if, in the name and by the power of ‘free-will’, you can kill it, you shall be conquerors, your cause shall be established, and we will at once come and adore that god of yours, the amazing louse – slaughterer!”
III
Now to the matter in hand. Erasmus defines ‘'free-will’ in this context as “a power of the human will by which a man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same.” Luther denies this. But is this not what vie hear from the lips of Christians in the 20th Century? How many times we must hear words like “When God made man he gave him a free-will to obey or disobey”. But man is not the same any more. The moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God, man became dead. This is the meaning of original sin. That each and every one of us has inherited from our first parents, death and the curse. Now by nature we are inclined, away from God. And we cannot conceive or do anything that will be favourable to us in God’s sight. The natural man is not just poorly, he is not just ill, he is not just critically ill, but he is dead in trespasses and sins! “Oh, but we believe that. But we still believe in free-will”. You cannot believe both. The scripture says that “God saw that every imagination of man’s heart was only evil, continually.” (Gen..6:5) Is “accepting Christ” (to use a modern evangelical, though entirely unbiblical term) a good thing? If it is then the natural man cannot do it for he is capable only of evil, This is what we must continually present to the unbeliever; that he cannot by his own self-effort attain to any position in which God will accept him. “There is none that doeth good, there is none that seeketh after God - no, not one.”
Man is by nature inclined downward, weighted away from God, toward the bottomless pit. And he cannot lift himself up from the mire. No, he cannot even want to unless he is first given a new nature, unless his heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh. Now do you see what you do if you grant the natural man freedom of will? You grant him merit before God. You grant him something to stand on before God which he himself has provided. And so you detract from the atonement of Christ. You say that Christ has not quite done all to save, but we must do a little bit ourselves be it ever such a little bit. You can no longer say “Salvation is of the Lord.” You can no longer say that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Now you must say “Christ Jesus came into the world to made salvation possible.” or “Christ Jesus came into the world to help sinners save themselves.” Perhaps you begin to see now why Luther considered this matter “the hinge on which all turns,” For listen, you who subscribe to free-will, what-else you must subscribe to. You must subscribe to merit. Salvation is no longer a gift of God. For if God has done equally for all men’s salvation and some are saved and others lost, then their salvation or damnation must depend on something they have done or not done over and above that which God has already done for them. You must subscribe to a Christ who is a failure because he failed to do what he came into the world to do, to save sinners. You who proclaim “Jesus saves”, do you believe he does, or do you believe that he did as much to save Adolf Hitler as he did to save the Apostle Paul. You must subscribe to a God whom you call almighty but who cannot save millions of those who he wants to save because their ‘free-will’ says otherwise. You have put God in the gutter and the sinner on the throne. It is this issue of ‘free-will’ that decides the basic difference between the Reformation and Rome.
If you believe in ‘free-will’ you must logically believe also in meritorious works done by sinners, a half-completed atonement and a God who is not sovereign in salvation. If you believe that salvation depends on man’s free-will why pray God for the salvation of souls? Why not go and pray to men instead?
But the Bible says “Whosoever will may come”. Surely this teaches ‘free-will.’ I fail to see how any intelligent person with a reasonable command of the English language can imagine that this verse gives any support whatsoever to the doctrine of ‘free-­will’. What does it mean, “Whosoever will may come?" It simply means “anybody who wants to come may come”, not that “anybody can want to come.” Nor does it say by what power a man will want to come. It does not say anything about ‘free-will’. Simply, “Anybody who wants to come may come”. And it is not unless a man is moved and born again by the gracious influence and power of the Holy Spirit that he will want to come. '”But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his
name, which wore born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”.
Then what is the use of commandments if man cannot obey them? What is the use of the law if we cannot keep it? Surely God is unjust to expect us to do those things of which we are incapable. But who among the supporters of ‘free-will’ would tell us that the natural man is capable of keeping the Ten Commandments? Yet God requires of all men perfect obedience to his revealed will; to teach otherwise would be blasphemous. Is not God then unjust to command those creatures that have not the ability to obey him? No, we pervert language if we say that responsibility implies ability. We turn imperative into indicative. What is the use of the law then? “By the law comes the knowledge of sin”. (Romans 3:20) The law is to show us that we have no ‘free-will’' to effect our own salvation, but to make us despair of ourselves and cry to God for mercy, for there is no help in us. The law is not to make us righteous but to show us that we are unrighteous.
But what is the use of preaching the Gospel if none have ‘free-will’ to accept? The use is that, as God has ordained the recipients of salvation, so He has ordained, the means of their salvation, and that means is the preaching of his word, which he applies effectually to the quickening of the hearts of his sheep.
But yet another objection raises its head – “God does not force us to love him. He does not compel us to accept him against our will”. No, that is true. But first of all he lovingly changes our will that we might, that we cannot but, believe in Him; not because we are compelled to do so but because we love to on account of the new nature which he has implanted in us.
IV
We have seen then, that if we view man as a sinner we cannot view him as having ‘free-will’. But the matter runs much deeper than that. We deny man’s ‘free-will’ on account of his sin, but we must also deny it on account of the fact that he is a creature. Only God has ‘free-will’ in any proper sense of the term. For only God is free to determine his own actions. Let us get things clear. Christians today arc shallow in their beliefs. They prefer not to think about the way in which God governs the universe, but if they were to do so they would come to realise that all things come to pass by necessity. They like to think that God is sovereign in the important things but that he leaves the smaller things to themselves. Tell me, how can God control anything if he does not control everything? How, for instance, could God be certain of prophecy being fulfilled if he did not take steps to ensure its fulfillment? The argument here is usually that God looks into the future and by reason of his foreknowledge he knows what will happen, and so does not impugn anybody’s freedom. This is an argument which Erasmus uses. But Luther, in reply, points out that if God foreknows a thing will happen then of necessity it will happen and nobody is free to change it or make something else happen instead. So if God foreknows that I will be saved, then in what sense am I ‘free’ not to be saved? Or if God foreknows that I will not be saved then in what sense am I ‘free’ to be saved? I am only free insofar as God’s foreknowledge is in error, or is a piece of pure guesswork. So here is another blasphemy that the subscribers to ‘free-will’ must add, to their list. They must say, to preserve, their ‘free-will’ either that God’s knowledge of the future may be in error or that God has no knowledge of the future.   If God has no knowledge of the future then what a remarkable coincidence it is that the prophecy of the Old Testament should be fulfilled in the New. But there is more blasphemy yet for the ‘free-will’ subscribers list. For the scriptures teach not only that God foreknows, but also that God has decreed all things that come to pass. But if we believe in ‘free-will’ then we cannot allow that God has absolute control of our lives, because, ultimately what we do depends on our own ‘free’ choice. So we have reversed the positions of man and God. Now it is us who are sovereign over our own lives. It is by our decree that things happen, and God must wait to see what the future holds. If we are free then God is in bondage to our freedom. And this applies to Christians and non-Christians alike, Now although this is plainly taught by Scripture in such passages as Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” and Romans 9:13, “So then he has mercy upon whomsoever he wills and he hardens of heart of whomsoever he wills,” although it is plainly taught it is the prey of several seemingly insuperable objections. The three main ones are these; first that it makes God the author of sin; and second that it takes away all motive for effort and exertion on our part, giving us a fatalistic view; thirdly that if God works good and evil in us then he is unjust to punish us for what we could not help doing. (In case you are wondering, the reason why I have stopped quoting from Luther is that pretty well everything in his book relates to a great deal of the surrounding material and makes quotation difficult except in very large chunks. But don’t  worry, if you read the bock for yourself you will find that I am not saying anything with which Luther does not agree).
Now to our objections. Does not a consistent application of the doctrine of God’s decree make God the author of sin? Luther answers thus:-
“Since God moves and works all in all, He moves and works of necessity even in Satan and the ungodly. But he works according to what they themselves are, and what He finds them to be; which means, since they are evil and perverted themselves, that when they are impelled into action by this movement of Divine omnipotence they do only that which is perverted and evil. It is like a man riding a horse with only three, or two good feet; his riding corresponds with what the horse is, which means that the horse goes badly … and so it is bound to be, unless the horse is healed. Here you see that when God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God is good, and cannot do evil; but he uses evil instruments … 
The fault which accounts for evil being done when God moves to action lies in these instruments, which God does not allow to be idle”. There is no doubt that this is the teaching of Scripture. If we look at Acts 2:23, which is a verse in the record of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, we read:- “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hand of lawless men.” Here we see God’s commandments heinously broken. Yet it is by God’s own decree that they are so broken. Now here is a mystery. It is true that all our knowledge of God must terminate in mystery for his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Nevertheless we must accept what God has revealed. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (SEE NOTE ON ‘FREE-WILL’, THE FALL, AND DR. F. A. SCAHEFFER)
Now we hear the voice of the objector again. “If God does indeed work all things according to the counsel of his own will, then what is the point of my exerting myself?” Professor Louis Berkhof answers this objection by saying:- “This objection is to the effect that people will naturally say that, if all things are bound to happen as God has determined them, they need not concern themselves about the future and need not make any efforts to obtain salvation. But this is hardly correct. In the case of people who speak after that fashion this is generally the excuse of indolence and disobedience. The divine decrees are not addressed to men as a rule of action, and can­not be such a rule, since their contents become known only through, and therefore after, their realisation. There is a rule of action, however, embodied in the law and in the Gospel, and this puts men under obligation to employ the means which God has ordained. This objection also ignores the logical relation determined by God’s decree, between the means and the end to be obtained. The decree includes not only the various issues of human life, but also the human actions which are logically prior to, and are destined to bring about, the results. It was absolutely certain that all those who were in the vessel with Paul (Acts 27) were to be saved, but it was equally certain that in order to secure this end, the sailors had to remain aboard. And since the decree establishes an interrelation between means and ends, and ends are decreed only as the result of means, they encourage effort instead of discouraging it. Firm belief in the fact that, according to the divine decrees, success will be the reward of toil, is an inducement to courageous and persevering efforts.  On the very basis of the decree Scripture urges us to be diligent in using the appointed means.” For instance in Phil 2:13 we are instructed to     work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” and in Ephesians 2:10 we learn that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before­hand that we should walk in them”.
Now the third objection which is raised by the supporters of ‘free-will’ against the sovereign God is that if God works all things in us then He is unjust to punish us for the evil that we do. This blasphemous objection is taken up by the Apostle Paul in his discussion of ‘free-will’ in Romans 9:19. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? ...For who can resist his will?” Paul answers, “But who are you a man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded Say to its mouldor, “Why have you made me thus?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?” Look it up for your­self when you get home. He that has an ear let him hear. One of the amusing things about this objection or perhaps one of the tragic things is that the objector does not seem to realise that if God is unjust to condemn the undeserving he is also unjust to save undeserving.
Luther, taking up this point, says:-
“Behold … the wickedness of the human heart! When God saves the undeserving without merit, yes and justifies the ungodly with all their great demerit, man’s heart does not accuse God of iniquity, nor demand to know why he wills to do so; although by its own reckoning such action is most unprincipled; but because what God does is in its own interest, and welcome, it considers it just and good. But when he damns the undeserving, because this is against interest, it finds the action iniquitous and intolerable; and here man’s heart protests, grumbles and blasphemes … Now since Reason praises God when he saves the unworthy but finds fault with him when he damns the undeserving, it stands convicted of not praising God as God, but as one who serves its own convenience - that is, what it looks for and praises in God is self, and the things of self, and not God and the things of God. But if a God who crowns the undeserving pleases you, you ought not to be displeased when he damns the undeserving!  If he is just in the one case, he cannot be just in the other. In the one case he pours out grace and mercy upon the unworthy; in the other he pours out wrath and severity upon the undeserving; in both he transgresses the bounds of equity in man’s sight, yet is just and true in his own sight. How it is just for him to crown the unworthy is incomprehensible now; but we shall see it when we reach the place where he will be no more on object of faith, but we shall with open face behold him. So, too, it is at the present incomprehensible how it is just for him to damn  the undeserving; yet faith will continue to believe that it is so, ‘til the Son of  Man shall be revealed!”
V
Having looked at the Bondage of the Will and seen that man is not free firstly because he is a sinner and secondly because he is a creature, we must take a little time to try and discover why it is that we have rejected this doctrine in the Twentieth Century in favour of a belief in     ‘free-will’. Why did the theologians of the Sixteenth Century show such repulsion for the doctrine of the enslaved will? It would be easy to pass it off as the result of cheer ignorance of the Word of God as a whole. Easy, because that is largely the truth. Before the time of the Reformation men were living virtually in ignorance of God’s revelation to them and there is no doubt that the Reformation was accompanied by a large scale return to the Bible and its teachings, although this may be a case of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” It is also true that we are living today in a time of great spiritual dearth and darkness and that a symptom and a cause of this state of affairs is the neglect of Scripture accompanied by the undermining of Scripture by so-called “scientific” textual criticism – “science falsely so called.” Now, I believe that a return to the Word of Cod is a crying and a desperate need in these days. The knowledge of scripture of the average Church member is confined to a few scattered texts which teach the “simple gospel”. How tragic it is to meet people who have been Christians for twenty, thirty, forty years who know as little of the Bible now as they did when they started. But although this largely accounts for the ‘free-will’ school and its accompanying heresies, it is nevertheless, not the whole story. First of all it is a fact that nearly all our Churches are geared to the perpetuation of the doctrines of ‘free-will’ instead of those of free-grace. So ‘free-will’ has become a machine that reproduces itself. The verses which we learned at Sunday School were those which, when taken singly ant approached without thought, appear to support ‘free-will’. Our evangelistic effort is concen­trated on telling people that they have ‘free-will’ and that they can accept or reject God just like that, and that God is just a bystander holding a pre-Raphaelite lantern, and pathetically knocking at a weed-infested door with no handle on it. The reason, let me tell you, why the light of the world will always stand outside that door is that the occupant of the house is dead, and if he who knocks does not first restore him to life then he will knock forever to no avail. We preach the Gospel like this because we have no faith in “the faith once delivered to the saints” - or rather we have no faith in the one who delivered it. C.H. Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher once said “What the Arminian (that is the believer in ‘free-will’) wants to do is to arouse man’s activity; what we want to do is to kill it once for all, to show him that he is lost and ruined, and that his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that we must lock upward. They seek to make the man stand up; we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and cry aloud, “Lord, save, or we perish.” We hold that man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel that he can do nothing at all. When he says “I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other,” marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow”.
We are frightened to tell unbelievers that they are dead, not just poorly, in trespasses and sins. We are frightened to tell them that they can do nothing to satisfy God’s righteous demands. We don’t want to frighten them away by offending them. So we compromise our God, and His Gospel. We make him like one of us. The first blasphemy in the Garden of Eden – “you shall be as God”. A deeper reason yet why we want to keep a hold on our ‘free-will’ is that it gives us a measure of independence of God. And this is what sin is. It is independence of God and his law. We determine our own course of action and our own destiny and we don’t mind if you give us a hand, God, but don’t poke your nose in too much. This is the basis of all sin. Man’s refusal to recognise that he is a creature, and his desire to be on an equal footing with God, even to get rid of God altogether if possible. And so, in order to keep our independence and our ‘free­will’ we have limited God. The ‘free-will’ supporter has a finite God. He is a God whose arms and legs have been cut off because he is limited in his operations. And though we call him omnipotent it is only a token name. We have a God with a split personality, who loves men and yet casts them into eternal hell at the same time. We have a frustrated God. Frustrated because he is incapable of performing the very thing that he wants to do most, to save mankind. But because they have their ‘free-will’ he cannot save them but has to leave them to their own devices though he lovingly pleads with them to return to the fold. No wonder men say that God is dead. Anybody in that state of health would be dead. But Martin Luther says you can keep your ‘free-will’ and you can keep the God who goes with it. For this is not the God of the Bible. This is not the God who created man in his own image. This is the God whom man has created in his own image.
In the opening of his book against Luther, Erasmus says – “I assert nothing, but I have made comparisons;- let judgment rest with others." Luther, however, finishes “The of the Will” thus:-
“Now I, in this bock of mine, have not made comparisons but have asserted, and do assert; and I do not want judgment to rest with any­one, but I urge all men to submit! May the Lord, whose cause this is, enlighten you and make you a vessel to honour and glory. Amen."
The quotations from Packer and Johnston’s translation of Luther’s ‘Bondage of the Will’ are made by permission of the Publishers, James Clarke & Co, Ltd.
NOTE ON ‘FREE-WILL’, THE FALL AND DR.F. A. SCHAEFFER
The question of man’s creatureliness and his consequent lack of ‘free-will’ inevitably bring into focus the relationship between God’s Decree and the Fall. In what sense was man free to fall or not to fall? Did God decree Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, or did God have to wait with bated breath to see what would be the outcome of the probation? Here is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems involved in any discussion of ‘free-will’. Either solution is bristling with difficulties. If we say that the Fall was not decreed by God, then we make the whole plan of God rest, even if only for a moment, upon Adam. Man becomes the Lord of history. Supposing that man had not fallen then Christ would never have come to save sinners, for there would have been no sinners to save. Adam would than have been deciding not only whether or not to sin, taking the whole human race with him, but also whether or not Christ should come into the world. To say that the fall of man was not included in the decree would effectively destroy all talk of an eternal covenant between the Father and the Son (John l7). Not only so, but all ideas of the election of some to salvation from before the foundation of the world (Eph.1:4) would go by the board. The problems of this alterna­tive multiply faster than they can be written down. If, on the other hand, we say that the Fall of man was included in the Divine Decree then we involve ourselves immediately in problems about God’s relationship to sin, and man’s moral accountability for the Fall. If it was decreed by God that Adam should sin then how is Adam to be charged with true moral guilt? Are we not determinists if we take this position; and do we not involve ourselves in all the problems which determinism incurs?
At this point let us say that we are grateful to God for the work of Dr. F. A. Schaeffer whose two recent books on Christian apologetics, ‘Escape from Reason’ (I.V.F.) and ‘The God Who is There’ (Hodder and Steoghton), have doubtless been a help to many. Despite their value, however, these books appear to offer a solution to the above problem which we consider to be both superficial and damaging. Let Dr. Schaeffer speak for himself:
‘The Reformation confronts us with an Adam who was, using twentieth century thought - forms an unprogrammed man - he was not set up as a punch-card in a computer system … the biblical position is clear - man cannot be explained as totally determined and conditioned - a position that built the dignity of man … He was an unprogrammed man, a significant man in a significant history, AND HE COULD CHANGE HISTORY.’ (Escape From Reason. Page 24. Capitals ours).
‘Because God created a true universe outside of Himself (not as an extension of His essence), there is a true history which exists. Man as created in God’s image is therefore a significant man in a significant history, who could choose to obey the commandment of God and love Him, or revolt against Him. There is no reformed theologian, however strong his reformed theology might be, who would not say that Adam in this way was able fundamentally to change the course of history.’           (The God Who is There: Page 103)
We contend that Dr. Schaeffer’s statements are superficial mainly because they appear in works which by their scope and intent in the nature of the case are bound to render them superficial. Dr. Schaeffer does not mention the decree of God and it would be foolish to suppose him to be ignorant of its existence, It must be concluded, then, that he does not consider its inclusion in his discussion to be of sufficient importance. The charge of superficiality need not, I think, be pressed further. Dr. Schaeffer just has not solved the
problem.
We contend that Dr, Schaeffer’s statements are dangerous because the supporters of ‘free-will’ are likely to clutch at them as a drowning man clutches at a straw. But in doing so they will be clutching          something which is, at heart, dishonouring to the God who “works all things according to the counsel of his own will”, who declares, “Woe to him who strives with his maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, what are you making?” or “Your work has no handles?”
(Isaiah 45:9).
Does Dr, Schaeffer intend us to understand that the Fall of man was outside the scope of the decree of the Almighty? Does Dr. Schaeffer wish us to believe that man is really the lord of history? If; not, then just what does he mean by ‘… he (Adam) could change the course of history’ and ‘… Adam in this way was able fundamentally to change they course of history?’ We fear that, in order to represent history as meaningful, Dr. Schaeffer has removed the very factor, the only factor, which renders it meaningful, namely the decree of God. If the decree of God was inoperative at the time of the Fall then what guarantee is there that the same decree has ever functioned or does ever function? Again, what does Dr. Schaeffer mean when he writes ‘There is no reformed theologian, however strong his reformed theology might be, who would not say that Adam … was able fundamentally to change the course of history?’ If we are to understand by this strange statement that there is no reformed theologian who would say that Adam’s Fall was decreed by God, then what are we to make of the following statement by B. B. Warfield in ‘Calvin and Augustine’ (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Page 298):-
‘In point of fact there is and can be, no difference among Calvinists as to the conclusion of the fall in the decree of God; to doubt this inclusion is to place oneself at once at variance with the fundamental Calvinistic principle which conceives all that comes to pass teleologically and ascribes everything that actually occurs ultimately to the will of God?’
Examples of such statements by Calvinistic theologians could be multiplied. We feel it just to ask Dr. Schaeffer that if B.B. Warfield is not to be described as a ‘reformed theologian’, then just who does qualify for such denomination?
We do hope that Dr, Schaeffer does not feel picked-on. It is just because his otherwise worthy books are so much in current interest among Christians at the present time that we have felt that attention should be drawn to his somewhat woolly thinking an the point of issue; namely the relationship between the decree of God and the Fall of man. Let us be careful that in thinking about problems such as this we really are biblical. Let us always go for the solution which is honouring to God and does not imply that He is feeble and sickly. If Dr. Schaeffer’s view (or what we suppose to be Dr. Schaeffer’s view) had done no despite to the supremacy of God, then well and good. But if God’s sovereignty has to be modified so that our anthropology is not damaged then let us beware. Let us rather modify our anthropology, despite the problems such modifi­cation may appear to raise, than compromise our view of the sovereign might of the Lord of Hosts.
‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ (Rom 9:20)

1 comment:

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