"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
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.
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
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
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
and man's responsibility in the realm of soteriology, Covenant theology
stresses God's sovereignty, and eliminates man's responsibility.
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.
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
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
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 
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
"As many as received Him, to them gave He power
to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name"
"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.
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.
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.
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).
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"
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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
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).
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).
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
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
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.
[bracketed comments mine]
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]
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
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.
Mail this article to a friend