"Arminians will say that faith is first, meaning a human faith, not a divinely implanted faith.  The Calvinist will say that regeneration precedes faith.  Neither is true.  God implants both faith and a new nature simultaneously--through the instrumentality of His Word used by the Spirit of God acting on the person." RAH

Much confusion and misunderstanding exists regarding these difficult subjects.  While our History in the First Adam leaves us in bondage to sin (no free will), the Fall did not erase mankind's intellect, emotion, or volition.  As sinners, our power of choice (controlled by our ontological nature) is limited to expressing our independence from the Creator (sin) until such time the Holy Spirit enables us to believe the Scriptures and trust the Savior.

The following polemic paper by Miles Stanford attempts to address the confusion, in the minds of many, of God's role and man's role in salvation.  This appears to be the sense in which Mr. Stanford uses the term "responsibility" in his paper.  Both Covenant Calvinists and all sovereign grace Dispensationalists (including Miles Stanford) affirm the truth that "No one can come to Me [Christ] unless the Father who sent Me draws him."  John 6:44.

However, Calvinists view this action of God drawing the sinner to the Savior as evidence of regeneration--the new birth. Representative of this emphasis, Dr. Bob Wright writes:

"The doctrine of total depravity states that fallen human nature is morally incapable of responding to the gospel without being caused to do so by divine intervention (1 Cor. 2:12-15).  Once the soul is sovereignly regenerated, it willingly responds in saving faith to God's command to repent and believe the gospel, but not before."

"God regenerates each elect person so that he or she invariably responds willingly to the gospel."

Similarly, Reformed Baptist Phil Johnson states:

The effectual call, sometimes known as the internal call, is the regenerating work of God in the hearts of His elect, whereby He draws them to Christ and opens their hearts unto faith.

Despite the many examples from the Scriptures of God controlling the actions of unregenerates, the Reformed require an "initial infusion of the resurrection life of Christ into the human soul" for John 6:44 to be effective.  Anyone who refuses to accept their salvation model is a synergist--a pejorative term used historically by Protestants to describe the semi-Pelagian views of Roman Catholics. 

But think for a moment about the 22nd chapter of Numbers.  The false prophet Balaam heard the Lord speak, his donkey spoke, and both he and his donkey saw the "Angel of the Lord" (Christ) all without the benefit of Calvinistic regeneration.   Supernatural? yes!  Regeneration? no.  Strangely, while the Calvinist prides himself in being a stalwart defender of God's sovereignty, he limits what God the Father is capable of doing.  He erroneously requires that the doctrine of effectual calling be made synonymous with the new birth.  Cannot the Father supernaturally enable the sinner to "believe the Word in order to accept the Savior."  Cannot His work of drawing unregenerate sinners be kept separate and not confused with the New Birth itself?  Apparently not for those of the Reformed tradition!

At issue are the serious spiritual ramifications of a broad and sweeping use of theological terminology; a chronic problem for those whose tradition prescribes an over-riding continuity on the sixty-six books of the Bible.  The obsessive emphasis upon continuity contributes to their use of all-inclusive theological terms.  As shown above, Reformed authors typically use the term regeneration to describe any supernatural activity on or within an elect individual.  No differentiation is made for different ages (e.g., earthly dispensations) or for differentiated elect (Israel and Church), since for them redemptive history is largely unitary.

While both camps correctly see that lost sinners are "dead in trespasses and sins", nearly all Reformed theologians, as Stanford points out, view this death as a form of annihilationism rather than separation.  The Calvinist's system often devalues, then obscures, the biblical truths of volition, responsibility, and particularly the believer's Adamic natures.  Sadly, their flawed soteriology was forged in the heat of century-old battles with the heretical, religious humanism of Roman Catholicism.  This contributes heavily to a insularity in their theological perspective.           Dan R. Smedra.

See further email comments below.


Miles J. Stanford

Concerning God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in the realm of soteriology, Covenant theology stresses God's sovereignty, and eliminates man's responsibility. [1]

Covenant Calvinism correctly maintains the doctrine of Total Depravity: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18).  But their definition of total depravity is "total inability."

For this their proof text is Ephesians 2:1: "And you hath He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins."  Their illustration of this total inability is a man physically dead, who cannot see, hear, speak or move.   Hence he is totally unable to respond to God in any way--he cannot believe. [2]

Chapter IX, Section 3, of the Westminster Confession of Faith, makes it official:

Man, by his fall into the state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability to will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, he is not able by his own strength, to correct himself, or to prepare himself thereto.

The Reformed solution to this self-inflicted error is regeneration.   [Regeneration: (Gr. paliggenesia, a being born again), the spiritual change wrought in a man by the Holy Spirit, by which he becomes possessor of a newly-created life (Unger's Bible Dictionary, p. 916)].

Covenantism teaches that the Holy Spirit first regenerates those whom God has elected.  Israel's New Covenant is erroneously resorted to for this "regeneration." "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezek. 36:26). It is supposed that God thereby gives one the new life so that he is enabled to exercise faith, and live.  In other words, according to Calvinism, one must be born again in order to be born again!

In their book titled The Five Points of Calvinism, Defined, Defended, and Documented (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1971), Drs. D. Steele and C. Thomas wrote:

The Holy Spirit creates within the elect sinner a new heart and a new nature.  This is accomplished through regeneration--or the new birth by which the sinner is made a child of God and is given spiritual life.

Because he is given a new nature so that he loves righteousness, and because his mind is enlightened so that he understands and believes the biblical gospel, the renewed sinner freely and willingly turns to Christ by the inward supernatural call of the Spirit, who through regeneration makes alive and creates within him faith and repentance.

The late Dr. John Murray, professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton is Seminary and then Westminster Seminary, taught the same error:

It should be especially noted that even faith that Jesus is the Christ is the effect of regeneration.  We are not born again by faith or repentance or conversion; we repent and believe because we have been regenerated (Redemption Accomplished & Applied, p. 103).

Regeneration is that which is wrought inwardly by God's grace in order that we yield to God's call with the appropriate and necessary response.  In that case the new birth would come after the call and prior to the response on our part.  It provides the link between the call and the response on the part of the person called (Ibid., p. 94).

The venerable Plymouth Brethren, Dr. Samuel Ridout, stood against this error:

"Being born again [regenerated], not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Pet. 1:23).  The new birth is "by the Word of God."  That it is a sovereign act of God, by the Spirit, none can question.   But this verse forbids us to separate, as is often done, new birth from faith in the Gospel.

It is being taught that new birth precedes faith, but here we are told that the Word of God is the instrument in the new birth. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God"; "the Word by the Gospel is preached." John 3:3 and 3:16 must ever go together.  There is no such anomaly possible as a man born again, but who has not yet believed the Gospel.

As Dr. John F. Walvoord put it, in his book, The Holy Spirit, (p. 132):

The important fact, never to be forgotten in the doctrine of regeneration, is that the believer in Christ has received eternal life.  This fact must be kept free from all confusion of thought arising from the concept of regeneration which makes it merely an antecedent of salvation, or a primary quickening to enable the soul to believe.

Although the sinner is dead in sins, he is not an unresponsive corpse, he is not annihilated; rather, he is separated from God.  He is certainly alive [3] enough to adamantly reject the Saviour!  Although dead to God, the Holy Spirit enables him to believe the Word in order to accept the Saviour and thereby be regenerated--born again.  The Word of God is perfectly clear as to the sequence of salvation!

"As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1:12).

"By the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

"Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth" (James 1: 18).

If the Word of God is not presented in its proper sequence, and if it is not rightly divided, the result could be ruinous. Therefore, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer totally repudiated the Calvinistic error as to Sovereignty and Responsibility in the realm of Soteriology.  He clearly did so in his classic Systematic Theology:

The Bible clearly asserts that the influence of God upon the unsaved must be exercised if ever they are to turn to Him in saving faith.  Christ declared, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:44).  The will of man is a creation of God and in relation to it He sustains no timidity or uncertainty.  He made man's will as an instrument by which He might accomplish His sovereign purpose and it is inconceivable that it should ever thwart His purpose.

When exercising his will, man is conscious only of his freedom of action.  He determines his course by circumstances, but God is the author of circumstances.  Man is impelled by emotions, but God is able to originate and control every human emotion.  Man prides himself that he is governed by experienced judgment, but God is able to foster each and every thought or determination of the human mind.  God will mold and direct in all secondary causes until His own eternal purpose is realized.

How else could He fulfill His covenants which commit Him to the control of the actions and destinies of men to the end of time and into eternity?  His election is sure; for whom He predestinates, them--not more nor less--He calls; and whom He calls, them--not more nor less--He justifies; and whom He justifies, them--not more nor less--He glorifies.  When predestinating, He assumes the responsibility of creating, calling, saving, and completing according to His own purpose.

In calling He moves those to believe to the saving of their souls, whom He has chosen.  In justifying He provides a substitutionary, efficacious Saviour by whose death, resurrection, and ascension He is legally able to place the chief of sinners in as perfect a relation to Himself as that of His own Beloved Son.

And in glorifying He perfects all that infinite love has designed.  The precise number that will be glorified will be the precise number and the same individuals--not more nor less--that he predestinated.   Each one will have believed, have been saved, have been perfected and presented like Christ in glory.

Men enter consciously into this great undertaking only at the point of believing, or responding to the efficacious call.   Naturally, it seems to them that they, acting in freedom within the restricted sphere of their consciousness, determine everything.  Their action is vital, for no link in God's chain can be lacking.

The point where misunderstanding arises is with reference to the fact that, so far as their cognizance serves them, they are certain that they act freely; yet every truly regenerated person will testify that he would not have turned to God apart from that all-important divine drawing of his heart.

Divine election is absolute.  If this seems to come to be taking things out of the hands of men and committing them into the hands of God, it will at least be conceded that, when thus committed to God, things are in better hands and this, after all, is God's own universe in which He has sovereign right to do after the dictates of His own blessed will.

It will also be conceded that the sphere of human action, so far as it can mean anything in the sphere of human consciousness, is left in perfect freedom of action.  It should be deemed no crime on the part of God that He discloses to His own elect that His sovereign power and purpose are working through and over all human forces and secondary causes (1:241,242).

"Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, then He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.  What shall we then say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" (Rom. 8:30-33).

It is certain that, in the vast range of creation, God has manifold purposes and there will be no question raised about whether His will is done in other spheres.  It is only within the restricted realm of certain human beings that doubt is engendered relative to the sovereignty of God; and it is significant that such doubt springs from men and not from God.

His Word may be taken as the declaration of what He deems to be true, and He asserts His own sovereignty with no condition of qualification.  After all, the opinions of men, who are steeped in self-exalting prejudice and afflicted with satanic independence of God, are of no value whatsoever.   The entire theme of predestination is outside the human horizon.

In the verses cited above, the Holy Spirit, the divine Author, asserts that precisely what God purposes He brings to glorious fruition.  By specific steps and by wholly adequate means God realizes what He purposes.  Whom He predestinates, He calls; whom He calls, He justifies; and whom He justifies, He glorifies.  These are among the things which "work together for good" to those who are the called according to His purpose.

The divine call not only invites with a Gospel appeal, but inclines the mind and heart of the one called to accept divine grace.   Here the human will--a secondary cause--is recognized.  The will of man is guided by what he knows and what he desires.

The divine method of reaching the will is by increasing man's knowledge and by stimulating his desires, while on the divine side of this method there remains not a shadow of possible failure.  The end is as certain as any eternal reality in God.

On the human side, man is conscious of doing only what he actually does; he chooses in an act of his own volition to receive the grace God offers in Christ Jesus.  It is a problem to the mind of man how God can predetermine and realize the eternal salvation of a precise number which no human being has ever counted, and guarantee that not one will fail, and yet each one of that incomprehensible company is allowed the free exercise of his own will, and could, if he so determined, reject every offer of divine grace.

By loving persuasion and gracious enlightenment God realizes His purpose to the point of infinite completeness; yet no human will has been coerced, nor will one ever be.  God's call is efficacious, for all who are called are justified and glorified.

All that enters into the problem of qualifying a sinner for heaven's holy associations is perfected in justification, it being the consummation of all that enters into salvation both as a dealing with demerit and as a provision of infinite merit before God--the very merit of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a divine undertaking, justification, which is secured without reference to any human cause (Rom. 3:24), incorporates, as essential to it, not only the value of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, but every step of that which justification incorporates that leads the Apostle to declare, as he does in verse 31 and 32, that God is "for us."

This is a marvelous truth and His attitude of love is demonstrated by the fact that He did not spare the supreme gift of His Son, but delivered Him up for us all.  Having given the supreme Gift, all else will easily and naturally be included. God gives unqualified assurance that He justifies all whom He predestinates and He bases that justification on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, which basis renders it at once a divine act altogether righteous in itself--even to the point of infinity.

"Who shall lay anything to God's elect?" is "It is God that justifieth."  That is, the very thing which would serve as a charge against the believer has been so dealt with already that there can be no charge recognized.

From the standpoint of infinite holiness, it is no slight achievement for God to justify eternally an ungodly enemy who himself does no more than believe on Jesus, and to do this in such a manner as to shield the One who justified from every complication which mere leniency with sin and unworthiness would engender.

This is not a human disagreement where one believer is charging another with evil; it is an issue of far greater proportions.   It is God who is challenged to take account of the sin of His elect.  The Arminian contends that God must judge and condemn the one He has saved if there is ought to charge against him.

Over against this notion, which notion seems never to have comprehended the workings of divine grace, is the clear assertion that God has already justified the one who has given full proof of his election by believing on Christ, and this in spite of not just one evil being charged against him, but in spite of every sin--past, present, and future (Vol. 3, pages 350,351).

No human will was ever created to defeat the will of God, but rather the human will is one of the instruments by which God realizes His purposes for humanity.  It has always been thus and must be so of necessity, since God is what He is.  The one who meditates on the Person of God, the eternity of God, the omnipotence of God, the sovereignty of God as Creator of, the Ruler over, all things, and the elective purpose of God, will be fortified against that form of rationalism--subtle in character and natural to the human heart--which imagines that, in his creation, God has unwittingly so tied His hands that He cannot with that absoluteness which belongs to infinity realize His eternal purpose (Vol. 1, page 235).

Having designed that man shall be possessed of an independent will, no step can be taken in the accomplishment of God's sovereign purpose which will even tend to coerce the human volition.  God does awaken the mind of man to spiritual sanity and bring before him the desirability of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

If by His power, God creates new visions of the reality of sin and of the blessedness of Christ as Saviour, and under this enlightenment men choose to be saved, their will is not coerced nor are they deprived of the action of any part of their own beings (Vol. 3, page 284).

When God by His Spirit inclines one to Christ, that one, in so doing, acts only in the consciousness of his own choice.  It is obvious that to present a convincing argument to a person which leads that one to make a decision, does not partake of the nature of a coercion of the will.  In such a case, every function of the will is preserved and, in relation to the Gospel, it remains true that "whosoever will may come"; yet back of this truth is the deeper revelation that no fallen men will to accept Christ until enlightened [not regenerated] by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11).

If God fore-ordained certain actions, and placed man in such circumstances that the actions would certainly take place agreeably to the laws of the mind, men are nevertheless moral agents, because they act voluntarily, and are responsible for the actions which consent has made their own.

Liberty does not consist in the power of acting or not acting, but in acting from choice.  The choice is determined by something in the mind itself, or by something external influencing the mind; but, whatever is the cause, the choice makes the action free, and the agent is responsible. --Dr. John Dick (Lectures on Theology, p. 186).

[1]  Some may feel that this statement is unfair and that all Covenant Calvinists affirm human responsibility.  However, Calvinists like John G. Reisinger acknowledge that "Hyper-Calvinism denies the necessity of human action."  Mr. Reisinger states, "The Scriptures clearly show that faith and repentance are the evidences and not the cause of regeneration."  See God's Part and Man's Part in Salvation.  But no!  By the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, Scriptures show that faith and repentance are neither the evidences nor the cause of the new birth.

Reformed Baptist Phil R. Johnson (Grace to You - John MacArthur) also attempts to battle the problem of the Reformed tradition sliding into hyper varieties of Calvinism.  He states, "Virtually every revival of true Calvinism since the Puritan era has been hijacked, crippled, or ultimately killed by hyper-Calvinist influences."  See A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism. Sadly, brother Phil is currently at a loss to explain the theological phenomenon he calls the "hyper-Calvinistic tendency."

The following statement from the article God Ordains All Things by Dr. John S. Feinberg of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in PREDESTINATION & FREE WILL, Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, 1986, InterVarsity Press, may help explain the problem:

Indeterminists, of course, assume that causal determinism automatically rules out free human action.  But indeterminists usually think no other definition of freedom than their own is possible.  That commits the logical error known as 'begging the question' or 'arguing in a circle'.  Many determinists also claim that their view rules out freedom.  Moreover, since an agent is only considered morally responsible if he or she is free, such determinists claim that no agent is morally responsible.  Likewise, many social scientists [and unethical lawyers] argue that since we are all products of our heredity and environment, we are not free and thus are not morally responsible for what we do.  Such views, however, represent a very hard form of determinism.

Unfortunately, some Calvinists, because of their understanding of God's sovereignty, have denied that humans are free.  Yet some of those Calvinists maintain that we are morally responsible for our sin, while God, who decreed our sin, is not morally accountable.  When asked how this can be true, they respond that it is a paradox which nonetheless must be true because Scripture demands it.

I do not affirm this paradox.  Instead, like many other determinists, I claim that there is room for a genuine sense of free human action, even though such action is causally determined.  [p. 24]

[bracketed comments mine]

[2]  This emphasis became one of the tragic side-effects of the battle between the Protestant/Reformed and Catholics.  At the heart of the conflict was the Reformation's effort to expose the semi-Pelagian foundation of medieval Romanism and later the theologies of the Arminian tradition.  Catholicism would not and could not yield ground upon which its entire meritorious system was built--free will and the ability of man to make a first move toward God.  O. R. Johnson wrote:

Erasmus [on behalf of Catholicism] championed the view that, though sin has weakened man, it has not made him utterly incapable of meritorious action; in fact, says, Erasmus, the salvation of those who are saved is actually determined by a particular meritorious act which they perform in their own strength, without Divine assistance.  There is, he affirms, a power in the human will (though, admittedly, a very little power only) "by which man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation," and thereby gain merit (though, admittedly, a very little merit only).  It is by this meritorious application to spiritual concerns that salvation is secured.

...denial of 'free-will' was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

...Luther's [and some Reformed theologians] denial of 'free-will' has nothing to do with the psychology of action.  That human choices are spontaneous and not forced he knows and affirms; it is, indeed, fundamental to his position to do so.  It was man's total inability to save himself, and the sovereignty of Divine grace in his salvation, that Luther was affirming when he denied 'free-will', and it was the contrary that Erasmus was affirming when he maintained 'free-will'.  The 'free-will' in question was 'free-will' in relation to God and the things of God.  Erasmus defined it as "a power of the human will by which man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same."  It is this that Luther denies.  He does not say that man through sin has ceased to be man (which was Erasmus' persistent misconception of his meaning), but that man through sin has ceased to be good.  He has now no power to please God.

All ideas of merit, Luther insists, whatever names you give them and whatever distinctions you draw between them, come to the same thing--man performs some action independently of God which does in fact elicit a reward from God.

[bracketed comments mine]

[3]  Again, some comments by Dr. Feinberg may prove helpful:

...determinists who hold to free will [volition] distinguish two kinds of causes which influence and determine actions.  On the one hand, there are constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will.  On the other hand, there are nonconstraining causes.  These are sufficient to bring about an action, but they do not force a person to act against his will, desires or wishes.  According to determinists such as myself, an action is free even if causally determined so long as the causes are nonconstraining.  This view is often referred to as soft determinism or compatibilism, for genuinely free human action is seen as compatible with nonconstraining sufficient conditions which incline the will decisively in one way or another.  [p. 24-25].

[bracketed comments and bold emphasis mine]

Let me re-phrase Dr. Feinberg.  As sinners in the first Adam, the "law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2) operates upon the basis of 'nonconstraining causes' and in no way mitigates our accountability to God.  Our rebellion is consistently reflected in our will, desires, and wishes.  As saints positioned in the Last Adam, the "law of the Spirit of life" operates upon the basis of 'nonconstraining causes' as well.  Thus, mankind retains volition while the will is inclined decisively in one way or another.



Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to respond.  This has been good for my edification!  As I said before I was an elder in the Presbyterian Church Of America--i.e., R.C. Sproul, Steve Brown, and D.J. Kennedy etc.  I resigned two months ago, so I enjoyed this article.  I recognize the "speak" of the Westminster doctrine.  I had to memorize the first 29 points of the shorter Catechism.  In the article you recommended, I especially liked this succinct statement by Dr. Samuel Ridout: "There is no such anomaly possible as a man born again, but who has not yet believed the Gospel."  I am so glad that I came across your website.  Even the covenants (Garden works to later grace) idea which seemed so logical to me before, now looks like just another theory that caught on and stuck.  Here are some other things that bother me about the reformed view: the denial of man being a trichotomy.  To me, it looks like the Scriptures proclaim that we are body, soul and spirit.  I think this may be another reason why regeneration and positional truth are fuzzy concepts to one stuck in the Reformed tradition, which holds that we are but body and soul.  Also, the baptism of infants...we baptized our baby boy by the way--oh well.

Kerry K.

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