A Defense of the Doctrines of Grace
A Biblical Response to
"An Examination of Tulip – The Five Points of Calvinism by Robert L. Sumner"
Part One - Total Depravity
by Dan Norcini S.S.
Recently, a short essay written by a gentleman by the name of Robert L. Sumner found its way into my hands through the auspices of Agape Chapel Ministries. The name of the essay is entitled, "An Examination of Tulip – The Five Points of Calvinism". In this article, Mr. Sumner attempts to refute what he believes are false teachings of the system called, "five-point Calvinism". The arguments that he offers to do so are nothing new and are the same well-worn ones that have been raised time and time again by those opposed to the doctrine of God’s grace. Over the centuries these vain reasonings have been systematically and thoroughly bested by our fathers in the faith and like beaten down old soldiers who have had to retire from the battlefield beaten and bruised, they hobble back into a den of confusion where they seek to hide their shame at having been so well trounced. Yet, each generation seems to bring new life and vitality to them once again and out they trot determined as if to again regain their honor and vanquish the enemy before them. Nevertheless, each new generation deals harshly with them and soon sends them retreating in disgrace once again. So often has this occurred that one wonders how they can continue to muster the courage to sally forth on their inevitable way to ruin. It is reminiscent of the beast that, in the Revelation, received the mortal wound and yet was healed and returned to life!
It is with this in mind that I undertake to answer the charges and calumnies that Mr. Sumner heaps upon the glorious system referred to as "Calvinism". I venture nothing new but rather seek to mine the treasures of the storehouse of wealth bequeathed to the church by those who have done battle with the Arminian dragon and slain him in the past. For that I am greatly indebted to one man in particular, John Owen. To this day, two of his treatises, "A Display of Arminianism", and "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" serve as an immovable rock of truth that Arminianism has thrown itself upon only to find itself broken and bleeding when all is said and done. Although I may not quote him directly at times, I have borrowed extensively from these two writings to serve as the launching point to respond to Mr. Sumner’s tired charges. And now to begin.
It is typical of those who are opposed to what we Calvinists refer to as the Doctrines of Grace to use alarming terms such as "dismay", "indignation", "shock", etc. when describing their reaction to our views. A typical example being the use by Mr. Sumner of Gaebelein’s descriptive quotations of Arthur W. Pink’s work entitled "The Sovereignty of God". "Totally unscriptural"; "a monstrous thing"; "akin to blasphemy"; "perversion"; as if the mere mention of the words should be enough to frighten any would be Calvinist away from adopting that position. Perhaps the intent is to intimidate those who are not well versed in these matters into fleeing the tenets of the Reformed faith lest they run the risk of being thought dolts or ignorant clods for even considering adopting the view in the first place. However, merely bandying about sensational words and phrases does nothing to enter into a solid, sensible discussion of the great issues that are involved nor does it deal with the exegesis of the multitude of Biblical texts that those of the Reformed faith base our doctrine upon. Expressing one’s opinions of the opponent’s views is one thing – accurately stating their position and then interacting with the Biblical texts upon which those views are based is something entirely different. Sadly for his own cause, Mr. Sumner refuses to have anything to do with the texts that we Calvinists bring forward to defend our position nor does he correctly even state our actual views. Instead he insists on caricaturing our position and then heaps scorn and ridicule upon it with an attitude almost daring anyone to embrace it after he has finished his dubious work discrediting it. Anyone can build up a "straw-man" and then proceed to tear it down and cry aloud in triumph over its ruin. However, wisdom dictates that one should not rejoice too hastily in his triumph lest he be found boxing at shadows and striving after wind. The things that he ascribes to those of us who love and embrace the tenets we call Calvinism have little in common with the views of the saints of God that I have been privileged to know.
We will first take up his response to the first of the five points of Calvinism, that which we refer to as, "Total Depravity". Mr. Sumner in attempting to overthrow what he considers the "extreme Calvinists’" view termed "total inability" brings forth certain comments and passages which he believes will overthrow the "extreme Calvinist" position.
"Five point Calvinism erroneously insists that man’s spiritual deadness makes such a voluntary decision impossible short of the actual reception of spiritual life. Proponents of this position fondly illustrate by pointing to the total inability of man physically dead. They argue that such a man cannot speak, cannot hear, cannot move a hand, or a foot, cannot do anything at all. Since man is dead in trespasses and sins, they reason, he is hopeless to even hear the Gospel with spiritual perception or move a finger to act upon it".
He then proceeds to give us various Scripture passages which he feels will refute this position. As is common throughout his entire essay, the passages he refers to have nothing to do with the issue that is at stake.
First, Mr. Sumner employs the story of the rich man and Lazarus as found in Luke 19: 19-31 to inform us that the rich man "after departing this life, was able to lift up his eyes, he saw, he cried, he prayed, and was apparently in full possession of all his facilities." He also then brings in the phrase, "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1 Tim 5:6) and states:
"Those outside of Christ are spiritually dead, yes; but they eat, talk, think, move, act, work, play, sleep and react in every way just as do the saved people who have spiritual life. Spiritual deadness is not annihilation."
The question we would pose to Mr. Sumner is, "What does this have to do with the issue at stake?" Reformed theology teaches no such thing as Mr. Sumner insinuates that it does. What we see here and will see repeatedly throughout the entirety of his work is Mr. Sumner arguing with a straw-man of his own contrivance. The fact is Mr. Sumner confuses "natural inability" with what we Calvinists call "moral inability". When Calvinists use the term, "total inability", we are not arguing that man dead in sins does not possess the use of his faculties. Quite the contrary – we argue that the problem is not that man does not have the use of his faculties; the problem is that the faculties he has are all hopelessly damaged by the fall and thus no longer function properly.
We Calvinists properly term this "moral inability". By that we mean that by the fall in Adam, the natural or unregenerate man is morally unable to come to God apart from a work of divine grace. He still possesses all his original faculties; the mind, the affections and the will, but they are all corrupted by the fall and no longer function properly.
These three faculties are what make up any man: the mind or the understanding- the thinking, reasoning part of man; the affections or the heart – that part of man that loves or hates, approves or disapproves of something or someone; the will – that part of man which makes choices or decisions. Each one of these faculties is specifically mentioned in the Scriptures and its condition is perfectly and explicitly described.
Let us start first with the mind or the understanding of the man dead in sins and transgressions. Consider the following Scriptures:
"…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8: 7-8 NASV).
"And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds," (Col 1: 21 NASV).
"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2: 14 NKJV).
"This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Eph 4: 17-19).
"For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." (Eph 5: 8).
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor 4: 3-4).
Every one of these verses points out the abysmal ruin which has befallen the noblest part of man, his understanding or his mind. It has been totally and completely corrupted by the fall. Notice that in the natural or unregenerate man, the mind is hostile toward God. It is not merely ambivalent or indifferent, but actively hostile! Simply put, the natural man hates God! Oh he doesn’t hate the sugar-coated God of modern Christendom who is all love and mercy and winks at the manifold transgressions of His law. But the God of Scripture as He has revealed Himself, a God of justice whose pristine purity is such that he cannot behold iniquity with favor and whose holiness burns against the transgressor – this God is hated by man dead in sins and trespasses. This God is the absolute sovereign Lord of heaven and earth and whose authority extends over every creature in heaven above and earth beneath. This God issues commands, not benign requests of His creatures and reserves the right to punish all those who dare to despise His authority. Yes, natural man hates this God because He forbids the very things which man’s lustful heart longs to do. Hence, unregenerate man views this God as a restrictive kill-joy who is out to ruin his "fun".
Not only this, but the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. They are total foolishness to him if the Scriptures above are to be believed. Paul is even more forceful – he states that the natural or unregenerate man CANNOT understand them! Why? Because they are spiritually appraised! In other words, natural man, left to his own devices simply cannot understand the gospel. That Paul is specifically referring to the gospel and to the mysteries it contains is evident from his statement in the preceding chapter of that same letter.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1: 18 NKJV).
What this teaches us is that if unregenerate man is going to be able to correctly understand the gospel and respond to it in a saving fashion, he is FIRST going to have to be GIVEN an understanding before he can respond appropriately. This is in complete harmony with the letter of John where we read:
"And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5: 20 NKJV).
Simply put, without this understanding being given, no man would be able to understand the gospel. Paul and John are saying the exact same thing.
In addition, the mind of this natural man is completely darkened by sin. His judgment is completely warped so that he calls good, evil and evil, good; darkness, light, and light, darkness; bitter, sweet and sweet, bitter (Isaiah 5: 20). Not only is his mind darkened, but according to Eph 5: 8, quoted above, he is darkness itself! In other words, his mind is not merely darkened, but the darkness is in the man! He is darkness! Now, this is not to say that natural man is not a clever fellow. On the contrary, he is quite ingenius and resourceful and has made and will make many astounding discoveries and scientific advancements. That is not what we Calvinists are contending for. We are saying that his darkness consists of a profound ignorance concerning the true nature and character of God. Simply put, natural man’s entire conception of God is completely and diametrically wrong! He fails to perceive the majesty of God and is insensible of His perfect holiness. He foolishly imagines that the great and awesome God of Scripture is very much like himself.
"These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes." (Psalm 50: 21 NASV).
"Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness and does not perceive the majesty of the Lord." (Isaiah 26: 10).
As a result, the only god that the natural man worships is a god who is simply a figment of his own warped imagination and who can easily be appeased by attending to a few do’s and don’t’s and the observance of some occasional religious activities and ceremonies.
If this wasn’t enough, the mind of unregenerate man is blinded by the god of this world. This is along the same line just mentioned and basically informs us that Satan, the god of this world, has been instrumental in fostering this ignorance of the true God among fallen mankind. He does this by suggesting to their minds misrepresentations and falsehoods regarding the person of God. In this manner he subtly influences their minds with what then become preconceived notions that they harbor concerning God that are completely antithetical to His true character. In so doing, he is able to snare them and keep them captive to do his bidding (2 Tim 2: 26). It is not until the conqueror of this mighty tyrant comes to them and first strikes off the shackles of Satan and looses his victims that they are able to see clearly and escape from his power. They do not first free themselves and then have the Lord come in and finish the work any more than a blind man first sees by his own power!
Consider for a moment the meaning of the word, "blinded". A blind man has his faculties; he has a set of eyes. But something is wrong with them; they do not function properly. All the coaxing, begging, pleading, coercing, moral suasion that one can muster will not open the eyes of one born blind. You can take him out into the sunlit day and tell him all about the sun; you can describe it completely and tell him what color, shape and size it is. You can tell him to summon all his will power and muster all his strength and open his eyes and behold it. Yet it will avail nothing in the end. He simply does not have the ability to see even though he has complete possession of the faculties of sight. The only way that this man will be able to see is sight must first be given him. Simply put, that is not within his own power. Period! His faculties must be restored to their proper function and that requires a power outside of himself.
How many times do we read in the gospels of our Lord Jesus opening the yes of the blind? Where do we see the Lord Christ informing these blind men that He is willing to open their blinded eyes provided that they take the first step by opening their own blinded eyes first! Yet this is precisely the cruel taunting Mr. Sumner would use toward those whose minds the god of this world has blinded - their minds blinded by Satan, filled with darkness, nay, darkness itself, unable to understand the gospel, completely and totally ignorant of the true God, hostile toward God and not even able to subject itself to His holy law. Mr. Sumner would have us believe that if God sees this sinner somehow first open his own eyes by his own power, fill his own mind with light by himself, dispel his own darkness, give himself understanding, and remove the hostility of his natural mind all by himself, then He, God, will graciously consent to save him! I should hope so, for this wonderful creature really has no need of salvation since he has effectively managed to save himself by his own power! Yet this is precisely what he is saying.
His irrelevant use of the Scripture in John’s gospel, "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" is completely without merit or foundation and has no bearing on the matter at hand. What this light is, Mr. Sumner makes no attempt to explain. Is this the light of the gospel? Then what are we to say concerning those who never heard the sound of the gospel? How can every man be said to be enlightened if they never once heard any word of this "light"? Is it the light of nature? If so, then all that Mr. Sumner can tell us is that every man has this light within him that enables him to see that there is a God who created the visible world he sees around him? And what did the men of Paul’s day do with this light? Why they turned it into darkness and fashioned a god like unto themselves!
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became as fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things." (Romans 1: 20-23).
What this passage has to do with the ability of the unregenerate man to see the light of the gospel completely escapes me. All that Paul is saying is that it should be obvious to men that there is a God who created all things. There is no mention here of the mystery of the gospel or of any knowledge of God’s redemptive purpose in Christ Jesus. How Mr. Sumner leaps from this passage and draws the conclusion that because men know there is a God who created everything they therefore have the capability of responding to the gospel that is foolishness to them and which they cannot understand because their mind is blinded to it by the god of this world and is thus filled with darkness and hostility toward God is beyond me. I will leave that to others that are capable of such exegetical gymnastics. I can do no better than to quote from the illustrious John Owen on this passage:
"Christ, then, coming into the world, is said to enlighten every man, partly because every one that hath any light hath it from him, partly because he is the only true light and fountain of illumination; so that he doth enlighten every one that is enlightened: which is all the text avers, and is by none denied. But whether all and every one in the world, before and after his incarnation, were, are, and shall be actually enlightened with the knowledge of Christ by his coming into the world, let Scripture, experience, reason, and sense determine." "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ"
The idea that this Scripture somehow implies that every man has been given this light and somehow is now capable of responding to the gospel is sheer nonsense and is of no help to Mr. Sumner in his attempt to discredit us.
So much for the mind or the understanding of the unregenerate man. Let us now look at the next faculty of man – the heart or the affections and let us see what the Scriptures say concerning it.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer 17: 9 NASV).
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick!" (Jer 17: 9 Ampl).
"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders. These are the things which defile the man…" (Matt 15: 18-20 NASV).
"And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…" (Gen 8: 21 NASV lit).
If these verses teach us anything at all, it is that the heart of the unregenerate man, the seat of his affections, is completely and utterly inclined toward evil. It is not merely slightly flawed, but rather is hopelessly corrupt! In other words, man gravitates toward evil as naturally and as surely as a stone falls to the earth when released from someone’s hand.
One has only to look within themselves to see the truth of this statement firsthand. How easily prone to see and evil we are even after being regenerated by the work of God. Even after seeing the evil and hideousness of sin we are still drawn to it and must constantly fight against it. Of the Lord Jesus it was said:
"Thou hast loved righteousness and hated wickedness…" (Hebrews 1: 9).
Of all men by nature, the exact opposite can be said:
"We have loved wickedness and hated righteousness".
The truth is because men’s hearts are bad, their affections, their likes and dislikes are all wrong. We love what we should hate and we hate what we should love. In other words, the heart of every single unregenerate man and woman is impure and since Jesus taught us that it is only the "pure in heart that will see God" (Matt 5: 8), no one left to themselves will ever see Him unless somehow their heart is changed or transformed by grace. This is precisely the point that the Scriptures make where it says:
"Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!" (Job 14: 4).
Simply put, no one can make himself clean or purify his own heart and transform it such that it now loves righteousness and finds delight in that and hates and despises wickedness. You might as well ask a leopard to change its spots or an Ethiopian to change the color of his skin (Jer 13:23). Only God can change the heart of man and this He does by granting faith to those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the earth. It is this faith which transforms the human heart.
"And made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." (Acts 15: 9 NKJV).
According to Mr. Sumner, the unregenerate man is out of his own ability "capable of responding to the gospel". It is obvious that what Mr. Sumner’s is saying is that responding to the gospel is the same as responding in faith. Since the Scriptures clearly reveal that it is faith which purifies the heart, then according to this logic, the sinner in effect purifies his own heart by his own faith! He becomes his own savior and sanctifier! He can now pat himself on his own back and offer praise to himself for effecting such a great change within! Whether or not this is utterly derogatory to the glory of Christ, let those who are sensible judge.
One last thing concerning the human heart and that will suffice to rebut Mr. Sumner’s quaint notion concerning this marvelous ability in the unregenerate man to purify himself. There is a wonderful Old Testament passage which speaks of the grace of God that would be revealed in the New Covenant. It is found in the prophet Ezekiel’s description of what was to occur in the days in which that covenant would be inaugurated.
"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances." (Ezek 36: 26-27).
Please notice that it is God who is the initiator in this entire work. Look at the number of, "I will’s", that are found in this one verse alone. In particular notice how God says that it is He who would grant a new heart and take out this heart of stone. Think about that expression, ‘heart of stone’, and it is obvious how vivid it is and how suitable a description of the natural man dead in sins and transgressions. Stone is unresponsive material, impervious, unyielding, senseless, unfeeling. So too is the heart of the sinner prior to the impartation of divine grace. Yet Mr. Sumner somehow believes that this stony, unresponsive, unyielding, impervious, senseless, unfeeling heart is quite capable all by itself of turning to God by an act of its own free will! That is some rock indeed!
Away with such banal nonsense! The simple truth is that God first "takes out the heart of stone" and thereby enables the sinner to feel his deep need of Christ; be sensible of his misery and the danger he is in; yield himself to the gospel call to repent and lay down his weapons of warfare against the Lord; and then respond in faith which has been granted him by God for Christ’s sake. (Phil 1:29). This is a sovereign, monergistic work of divine grace. The sinner does not take out his own heart of stone and replace it himself. He is completely dependent upon God to do this work within him. We Calvinists call this work performed upon the sinner while he is still dead in sins and transgressions the miracle of the new birth or the doctrine of regeneration. Only after having this work performed upon him can the man savingly turn to Christ.
Thus far we have now proven that both the mind or the understanding, and the heart or the affections of the natural man are completely ruined. There remains one more faculty in man that we will briefly examine and that is the will.
Simply put, the will is that faculty in man that makes decisions. It chooses or it refuses. On the surface that seems straight-forward enough but there is something very important that must be understood regarding it. The will is not some stand-alone faculty in man that is unaffected by the mind or the affections. It is not the determining factor of the understanding or the affections but rather is determined by them. In other words, the will is governed by either one, or both of these two faculties in every decision it makes.
The majority of those reading this have probably heard the expression:
"You always do the things you really love to do."
There is a real and vital truth in that statement and it applies directly to the issue at hand. Simply put because men are in love with sin, they freely and gladly of their own will choose to do it. They do not sin because they hate it and are forced into committing it. Quite the contrary, they freely choose to practice it because they love it. In other words their choice of sin is determined by their corrupt affections toward it. They choose to sin because their hearts are evil and their will follows their evil heart.
Additionally, the mind or the understanding also moves the will. For instance, a man may be late for a critical appointment and may be in a great hurry to drive there as quickly as possible. He may greatly desire to run every red light that lies between him and his destination. Yet, his mind informs him that he is taking a great risk to both himself and others and thus he "chooses" to slow down and stop at the red lights. In this instance, even though his heart or affections were set on getting there on time, his mind swayed his will and thus he choose to slow down. At the time, that seemed to be the most desirable course of action to follow and thus the will followed after his enlightened judgment.
Jonathan Edwards, in his classic work entitled, ‘The Freedom of the Will", clearly proved that the will always chooses to do that which seems the most desirable at the time of the decision. In other words, whatever object or course of action is viewed as the most desirable at the very moment is the one the will ALWAYS chooses. There simply is no exception to this rule. To say otherwise is to utter incomprehensible nonsense and to assert that men always choose to do the things that they hate the most to do and that their mind says is the worst for them to do. This would reduce man to a completely irrational and incomprehensible creature whose behavior makes less sense than that of a brute beast.
Now if the reader has followed the presentation of our previous argument concerning the nature of the unregenerate man’s understanding or mind, he will quickly be able to perceive the fatal flaw in the argument of Mr. Sumner and those of his persuasion that the human will is completely free and is thus able to choose God. If the mind is filled with darkness, blinded by sin and Satan, unable to comprehend the things of God since they are foolishness to him, and the heart is completely wicked and in love with evil, then what, pray tell, is it that is supposed to so move the will that it freely chooses to turn to God? The obvious answer is nothing in the unregenerate man!
His heart is completely corrupt and thus hates righteousness by nature and wants nothing to do with it so it cannot be moving the will to choose a God that it detests by nature. His mind is clouded with darkness and full of ignorance and thus cannot provide the will with the necessary arguments to induce it to close with God either. What we are left with by a simple process of elimination is one inescapable fact. The will of man is free, but it is free only to follow the inclination of a corrupt heart and a darkened mind which means that left to itself it is UNABLE to ever turn to God unassisted by divine grace. It is thus MORALLY BOUND, or to borrow from Martin Luther, it is in bondage to sin.
This fact the Scriptures make abundantly clear.
"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father." (John 8: 44).
"For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness." (Romans 6: 20).
"For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures…" (Titus 3: 3 NASV).
"…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." ( 2 Tim 2: 25-26 NASV).
"But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’" (Luke 19: 14 NKJV).
"But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life." (John 5: 40 NKJV).
Unregenerate man is a slave to both sin and Satan and thus is not willing or able to turn by his own power to God. The only way that he can come to Christ is to first be made free. His understanding must first be enlightened and capable of perceiving what is in the man’s own best interests. His heart must be changed so that he now loathes his sin and yearns for deliverance from it. Only then will he flee to Christ and find refuge for his soul. This is precisely what the Lord Christ came to do for His own when He said,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…" (Luke 4: 18 NKJV).
Notice carefully the words of this passage – "heal the brokenhearted". We have already seen that the heart of the natural man is compared to stone. Yet here Christ is said to be sent to heal those whose hearts are broken. Let the reader understand that this broken heart that Christ came to heal is that of His Spirit’s own work in the man as He prepares him for conversion. As the Lord also has said:
"Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden" (Matt 11: 28).
The undeniable truth is that very few are actually weary of their sins and heavy-ladened with a burden of guilt. The vast majority ‘Eat, sleep, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die". This weariness and burden is none other than the heart of flesh, the new heart that God grants to all those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world. It is a heart that has now become tender toward sin and easily pricked by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is a repentant or broken and contrite heart and it is a gift from God who grants this repentant heart to all those whom He intends to save.
"…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." ( 2 Tim 2: 25-26 NASV).
First God wounds the heart in conviction, and then He comes and binds it up with His grace.
Notice also from our above passage in Luke where Christ is said to set the captives free. They do not first set themselves free by some supposed act of their "free-will". Quite the contrary – the Mighty Emancipator strikes off their chains and breaks their shackles by His grace and thus frees them so that they may then freely choose Him! This is in perfect accord with Jesus’ words in the gospel of John:
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you…" (John 15: 16).
Lastly, notice the expression, ‘the recovery of sight to the blind’. Christ first gives the poor sinner sight and then, and only then, can he respond to the gospel in faith. He does not first bid the blind man to, ‘Open your own eyes and first see and then I will give you sight’. Perish the thought! Christ FIRST opens the eyes of the blind and then he is enabled to clearly see. Then, and only then, he sees his need of Christ and beholds a glorious and all-sufficient Savior. Before he saw no beauty or comeliness in Him that He should desire Him (Isaiah 53: 2). Now he sees that Christ is altogether lovely. Again, this is in perfect harmony with the Lord’s statement to Nicodemus in the gospel of John.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3: 3 NASV).
This is so critical to understand that I cannot emphasize it enough. Arminians such as Mr. Sumner are constantly confounding these words and wresting their order and thus completely misrepresenting the nature and manner of the new birth. They insist on twisting the meaning here to suit their own fallacious opinions. The divine order is first the birth, then the seeing. Mr. Sumner and his Arminian cohorts teach that a man hears the gospel, responds in faith and as a result "gets born again." Nothing could be further from the truth.
This Scripture teaches that first, the man is given life or born again, and then as a result of that life, he is able to see and thus believe. How natural this explanation is and how beautifully succinct. Even the physical birth of a child follows the exact same process. A baby must first be born to see anything. It does not first see and then as a result of that seeing obtain life. Rather, as a result of being given life, it is enabled to see. The baby has as much do with his or her own physical birth as the child of God has to do with their own spiritual birth! They contribute absolutely nothing to it. Period! They are simply the recipients of life and that life is then manifested by their various actions. In the case of the child of God, Thus, his faith is not the cause of the new birth as Arminians impiously claim, but rather is the result of the new birth! Thus, the granting of this life from God is a sovereign work independent of anything found within the sinner. It is solely of grace and irrespective of some imaginary, so-called, "free-will" decision of the sinner.
We close this section of our essay by referring the reader to the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead as recorded in John’s gospel, the eleventh chapter.
This entire scene is a wonderful picture and a type of what happens when a sinner is raised from his grave of "sins and trespasses" (Eph 2: 1). What is important to note here is that Lazarus contributed absolutely nothing to his own resurrection from the dead. He was simply a recipient of God’s great power as manifested in Christ Jesus our Lord. Again, Jesus did not mock Lazarus by standing outside the cave in which he was buried begging him to let Him come in and save him. Neither did He ask Lazarus to take the first small step and then, He, Jesus, would meet him the rest of the way and then raise him up since He now saw that he was sincere. Quite the contrary – He put forth His power and called him out of that grave and when the Lord called, out came Lazarus! In much the same manner, the Lord comes to each of His own precious sheep and at the exact, predetermined moment in time, He calls them by name out of their grave of sin and iniquity. As a result of His power being put forth upon them, they are granted life and are thus able to respond to His command to repent and believe the gospel. As the Lord said:
"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes…Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." (John 5: 21,25-26 NASV).
We Calvinists rejoice that the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory, has called us to Himself and granted us life, faith, and repentance and thus enabled us to close with Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!
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